Dec 092017
 

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Dec 092017
 

The Book of Revelation – Introduction Pt. 2

From my point of view, Revelation is a 5th gospel. The other four (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) gave accounts of Jesus in his humiliation – conception to his ascension. Revelation is the account of Jesus in all his glory, to the end.

 

This is a look through the eyes of John, through the visions that were given him; we will see what Jesus is up to now that he is in his glory – his state of exaltation. First and foremost we see that he is in control – no matter how chaotic, wild, violent, reckless and evil it is down on earth, Jesus is above it all and completely in control. All of the evil and violence go only to the point, to the bounds Jesus has set and will be used for the purposes he desires.

With the proper understanding of Revelation as a 5th gospel, we will see that this may be, as opposed to how it often and usually presented today, the most comforting book in the Bible.

Revelation is also the most powerful and focused book in the Bible to discuss Christology – the study of Jesus Christ. A Lutheran saying is “all theology is Christology.” Who is this Jesus? How is he manifest and what is he doing today? We will hear of many, but here are a few;

The Son of Man

The Lamb of God

A Mighty Angel

He is the Lord of the Church

The Judge of the World

The Everlasting God

The Word of God

The Source of the New Creation (the new heaven and the new earth).

The purpose of the Book of Revelation is to reveal – not weird stuff, although there is weird stuff going on, and not really the future, although we do peak into the future – it is to reveal the already from a heavenly perspective and to give comfort for that which is to come. What is to come? We will see terrifying horrors and suffering here on the earth and we will see the comfort of Jesus Christ, the slain lamb exalted in heaven. This will be a story told as a back and forth – terrible things happening on earth, ‘but meanwhile, back in heaven…’ So what is the point? We Christians, the church militant can take heart that we are a part of the family of heaven and because of this, we are not to be disturbed by the things happening on earth. We are not to allow the world to impede our mission as the Church.

We see so much gospel in Revelation. The 7 Beatitudes of Revelation show clearly where God’s heart is in this book.

  • 1:3 – “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”
  • 14:13 – “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
  • 16:15 – “(“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”)
  • 19:9 – “And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
  • 20:6 – “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”
  • 22:7 – “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
  • 22:14 – “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.”

The Cast of Characters

Jesus Christ as himself (we looked at titles and roles under Christology above)

John, as the author and the receiver of the visions

The Seven Churches as themselves and as representatives of all churches

The 144,000

The Great Multitude

The Two Witnesses

The Four Horsemen

The 7 Angels blowing 7 Trumpets

The Dragon

The Beast

The False Prophet

The Two Women

The 200 Million Man Army — can you name others?

Recapitulation

This is the style John uses telling the Revelation story – the story from God’s point of view. Some examples – (very simple and not comprehensive – just to get the thought rolling.) – at each stop, this is all end of the world language

  • The 7 Seals (5:1 – 8:5) leads to the end = 6:12-17.
  • The 7 Trumpets (8:6 – 11:19) leads to the end = 11:15-17
  • The Interlude (12:1 – 14:20) leads to the end = 14:9-20
  • The 7 Bowls (15:1 – 16:21) leads to the end = 16:17-21
  • If the back half of Revelation were lost to the ages and ended at Rev 7:17, I am sure that the readers would have been satisfied that they had been shown the end and the following heavenly scene.
  • If true, then this would show that John was not writing a chronology, but indeed, retelling the same history, over and over again.

A modern day example of Recapitulation. (Side note on seeing from God’s perspective.)

  • Let’s use a televised football game as an example. To see it all (to see it as God would see – so to speak) you would need to go up in the blimp to see it unfold as one continuous action
  • You are seeing it all at once, but you cannot describe it all at once – so John will then go back and in order to describe what he has seen, he will keep going back over the same action and go over and over again from different perspectives from all different angles and views. But it is the telling and retelling of the same events. (We will see this most clearly with the Seals, the Trumpets and the Bowls – recapitulating the story from the ascension to the end.)
  • John may first join in the tunnel walk – then give a view of and from the concession stands, and then a sideline view of the cheerleaders. Remember, all of this is a part of the football game.
  • How many ways can you see and describe a single play of a game? We mentioned the blimp, various sideline shots, from behind the QB, from behind the LB for example – and that does not include the close in shots following a WR as he runs down the sideline … all on the same play.
  • Each angle, each replay may be highlighting on that play a single piece (were both feet in?) that shows greater intensity and importance to that single play – do you see the hands to the facemask from the blimp?
  • Keep this in mind for the whole book.

Next week we will begin Chapter 1 (1-8)

 

Dec 072017
 

Psalm 145: Praise to God, the King! – Part 1

Martin Luther called the Psalter “a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible.”1

If Luther’s claim is even half accurate, then for many years I have underappreciated an important book of Scripture.

I have attended churches that rarely mention the psalms; and I have attended others that incorporate psalms into worship regularly but without any explanation regarding the selection or meaning of any particular psalm. Therefore, I have decided to test Luther’s claim and perhaps discover what I have missed from the Psalter for many years.

So that my studies might also benefit others who are interested in, or curious about, the psalms, I intend to share what I am learning from the psalms in a series of articles, drawing on the many topics which we find addressed in them.

To orient our look into the psalms, I have incorporated into this first article the following introductory remarks concerning the psalms generally:

“The book of Psalms expresses the whole range of emotions that God’s people experience in this life. Nowhere will you find words expressing greater joy than in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving. Nowhere will you find words expressing deeper sorrow than in the psalms of repentance. Nowhere will you find more fervent expression of both the sorrows and the joys that life brings. The book of Psalms is a book for every occasion and for every season of life.”2

Like all of Scripture, the Psalter transcends time. It is a worship book within the Bible inspired by the Holy Spirit for the people of God in every generation. Summarizing Luther’s usage of the psalms:

“The psalmists asked for blessings and gave thanks for blessings as members of the covenant people of God, relying on God’s grace, trusting His promises, worshiping in His temple, receiving His forgiveness. Yet all of these – covenant, grace, promise, temple, forgiveness – found their fulfilment in Jesus Christ. Christ [says Luther] ‘is Himself the God whom we are exhorted to worship.’ When the psalmist exults that God’s ‘love endures forever,’ Luther responds that Christ ‘stands hidden’ in that phrase.”3

Luther divided the psalms into five groups: prophesy; instruction; comfort; prayer; and thanks.4 I will select psalms from each of these groups for upcoming articles.

With these introductory remarks in mind, let us begin our look into the psalms with one of the great psalms of praise:

Psalm 145: Praise to God, the King!

Psalm 145 is a psalm of thanksgiving for the kingdom of Christ, which was to come. This psalm belongs to the First Commandment with undivided worship of God the King who is above all things; the Second Commandment by using His name properly in praise and proclamation; and the Third Commandment by hallowing the genuine Sabbath with true worship and gladly hearing God’s Word. This psalm also belongs to the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, which prays for the hallowing of God’s name; and the second petition, which prays for His kingdom.

“A Song of Praise. Of David.

1 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.”

David, whom the Prophet Samuel anointed as king of an earthly monarchy, recognized that his God is the King over all creation. We cannot “extol” (i.e., exalt, praise, magnify, worship) Christ the King enough because it is His work as Redeemer which alone avails us before God. In this way we join in David’s vow to bless and praise the name of Christ the King both “forever and ever” and “every day.” “For David says about [Christ], ‘I saw the Lord always in front of me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; my body also will live in hope, because you will not leave my soul in Hades, nor permit your Holy One to experience decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of joy with your presence.’ ” (Acts 2:25-28)

“3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.”

In Psalm 145, David alternates between sections of praise and sections of proclamation. Verse 3 is a burst of proclamation. We might ask why proclamation? St. Paul rhetorically asked: “And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of?” (Rom 10:14b)

God’s “greatness is unsearchable” (i.e., unfathomable, inscrutable). To an unbeliever, this attribute of God is only terrifying. Mankind is endowed with some natural knowledge of God: “For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made” (Rom 1:20); but knowledge of His power and divine nature, without reconciliation through Christ the Mediator, only brings into sharp relief the contrast between the holy God and sinful man. In such a circumstance, man only fears God’s wrath, as, for example, Isaiah experienced in his vision: “And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ ” (Isa 6:5)

The problem is that man cannot reason or observe our way from the unsearchable God to the Lord God, from sinner before a Holy God to adopted child before the Father in heaven. The only move fallen man, left to ourselves, is capable of making is to the cult of sacrifice in the hope of placating an unsearchable deity. Here Luther answers aptly:

 “If the cross were not extolled through preaching, teaching, and confession, who could have ever thought of it, to say nothing of knowing it? But such is His kingdom and power, that He aided the fallen, called the needy to Himself, made sinners godly, and brought the dead to life.”5

Thus the Gospel of Christ and His kingdom must be preached, from one generation to the next. When one hears the grace of God proclaimed for him or her, e.g. – Christ “was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification” (Rom 4:25), the Holy Spirit teaches us about the grace of God, who through faith makes us His children, and turns our focus away from the “unsearchable” God to “the Lord” who is “great.” In Christ, God’s “greatness” is now for us and becomes the source of great comfort, rather than a source of fear and trepidation about God’s unsearchable providential works in creation. Amen.

Thank you for reading. Next week, we will pick up Psalm 145 at verse 4 where David begins his second section of praise for the wondrous works of his God the King. Amen.

 

_________________________

 

1 Ngien, Dennis. Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. Print. p. xviii.

 

2 Brug, John F. The People’s Bible Commentary: Psalms 1. rev. ed., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992. Print. p. 2-3.

 

3 Concordia Publishing House. Reading the Psalms with Luther. 2007. Print. p. 10.

 

4 Ibid. p. 14.

 

5 Ibid. p. 344.

Dec 062017
 

“There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand.

There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.

 

For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points.

Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together. Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat.”

 

Dec 052017
 

The Reformation viewed from the East…

Great piece on Warren Throckmorton’s change of mind about reparative therapy…

Jesus didn’t come to bring peace on earth…

Cop movie theology…

Where evangelicals are giving the most and the least…

Ravi and his PR firm’s response in CT…

Why that response cleared up nothing…

Remembering theologian Thomas Torrance…

Congregational serial killers…

Younger evangelicals indifferent towards Israel…

The Advent question…

Are American evangelicals reinventing Christianity?

Why we should all be observing Advent…

How often communion?

Four Christmas myths we’ve totally bought…

Mere sexuality…

Christmas belongs to those who mourn…

Are you ‘struggling” with sin?

Cocktail theology…

Don’t mess around with Jerusalem…

When a woman rewrites Proverbs 31…

The church’s fate is not electoral…

God’s plan for Mike Pence…

Russell Moore’s 17 best books of ’17…

Huge thanks as always to EricL for the link help…support him at top right…

 

Dec 052017
 

1. The Ravi Zacharias scandal has went just as I expected. He lawyered up, hired the standard PR firm, and used the mainstream Christian media whores to change the narrative to one that the insanely idolatrous free market celebrity church would accept. It will be accepted, accompanied by raging scorn for those who dared stand up to the machine.

If Nathan stood up to David today, David would hire a PR form, a host of attorneys, and sue the prophet into silence…

2. The prophetic ministry of the church today is almost solely being staffed by people with no resources except a computer, an internet connection, and the truth…and it’s going about as well for them as it did for many prophets of old who the enemies of God destroyed…

3. The reputable bloggers I know always have information that for one reason or another they can’t publish, usually to protect victims. It’s often the unpublished material that pushed them to publish in the first place. I will go to my grave with some things…and go to that grave early because of them…

4. What have we learned again? Never, never, repent, just ‘explain”… repentance is for losers and people who can’t afford lawyers…

5. It’s really hard to enjoy a football game when you’re waiting to find out if one of the participants will be paralyzed for life…this might be my last season trying…

6. When I look about at all the moral corruption and violence of this world and realize that this is the world Christ came to save in the Incarnation, wonder abounds…

7. I thought I’d given up my favorite sins to follow Jesus, then He had to mention my cynicism…

8. When that player was injured last night there were hundreds of comments on social media celebrating the injury. The next big reality show may feature lions and those deemed criminals by society…

9. The cure for cynicism is Advent…

10. Loving ones enemies is very difficult…because it requires that you have actual enemies before you can try to love them…Jesus wasn’t speaking hypothetically…

 

 

Dec 042017
 

Essentials

The Letter to Diognetus

“No, you can’t tell people anything, you’ve got to show ’em.” 

Bruce Springsteen 

Born to Run

 

The Franco-Prussian war was in full fury.  Prussian General August von Werder was laying siege to the French city of Strasbourg.  He had decided to reduce the city through a massive and continuous bombardment.  On 24 August 1870, Prussian artillery rained down shells on the city and destroyed Strasbourg’s Museum of Fine Arts and the Municipal Library. Thousands of manuscripts, rare books and ancient artifacts were destroyed.  Among them was the sole surviving manuscript of the second century Epistle to Diognetus. Discovered in Constantinople in 1436, the manuscript had made its way across Europe, eventually coming to reside in Strasbourg.  Now it lay in ashes.  Thankfully, before its destruction, two accurate recensions had been made so, while the manuscript was lost, the message was not.

It causes one to wonder, how much has been lost through the centuries?  From the destruction of the great library of Alexandria (first under the Romans, then under the Copts and finally under the Muslim conquest) down to the destruction of monastic libraries in our own time, by the former Marxist government in Ethiopia or the destructive rage of ISIS, tens of thousands of ancient Christian manuscripts  and codices have been reduced to ashes.  What treasures might have been among them? Perhaps the earliest Gospel manuscripts, or the original letters of Ignatius of Antioch, or some lost account of the Council of Nicaea?  Perhaps Jerome’s list of sources as he prepared his Latin translation of the Bible? We will never know.  Yet, in spite of the destruction of much that was written, the life of the Church has continued; and that life has been a greater witness to the truth of the Gospel than all the ancillary writings that have surrounded it.

Now, what of the text before us?  Firstly, it has been mistakenly called an epistle or letter, owing to the document being addressed to one Diognetus.  It is not a letter.  It is, perhaps, one of the earliest examples that we have of an apology for the Christian faith. It has been postulated that this apology may have been written to the famed tutor of Marcus Aurelius, which may indicate a dating of c. 150.  Another possibility, however, is a magistrate of the same name in Alexandria who is referenced in papyri dated between 197 and 203.  On the other hand, it may have been addressed to a figure from antiquity who is wholly unknown to us. The style of the letter and the concerns raised within the text causes me to opt for the earlier date of the mid-second century. The text itself has been divided into 12 short sections or chapters.  The final two chapters, 11 and 12, may be from a different hand. There are also two small gaps in chapters 7 and at the end of chapter 10 that perished after its original transcription in antiquity.  What has survived, however, is remarkable.

An “apology”, in this context, is not saying “sorry” for a slight or an offense. Instead is a reasoned defense of one’s belief and/or behavior.  Within the hellenistic culture of the day, an apology (apologia or “defense”)  was, strictly speaking, the speech offered by one accused in a judicial proceeding.  In time, however, it morphed into a defense of a philosophical or theological position given in a speech or in literature, sometimes, but not always, given at a trial or inquiry. We think of the speech given by Socrates at his trial in Athens or, indeed, Paul’s defense given at his hearing before Festus and Agrippa (Acts 26:2).  During the second and third centuries, the Apology became an important genre of Christian literature as the early Church sought to stake its own identity over against the claims of Judaism on one side, and Graeco-Roman culture on the other side. 

It is important to note in this context that Christians were viewed with enormous suspicion during this period.  Regarded as messianic renegades by the Jewish diaspora, Christians were also considered ignorant and superstitious when measured against the panoramic backdrop of Greek philosophy and Roman literature. Moreover, Christians avoided the normal social life of the day. They did not frequent the baths or the gladiatorial games.  Most Christians came from the lower ranks of society, even to the inclusion of slaves as equals.  They failed to participate in civic rituals.  They considered marriage as a permanent state, rather than transitory.   They refused to offer even token sacrifices to the genius of the Empire, or to the local gods who protected and ensured the welfare of the cities in which they lived.  Given to private meetings of “brothers and sisters” and secret ceremonies apparently involving private communal bathing (baptism) and participating in meals rumored to consist of human flesh and blood (the Eucharist) they were suspected of incest, immorality, magic, human sacrifice and cannibalism.  If all this were not enough, they worshipped a Jew who had been executed under Roman law, and spoke of another kingdom, exciting charges of disloyalty, revolutionary activity and treason.

It is against this background of popular perceptions, that the anonymous author pens his defense of the faith to Diognetus.

The text is very short. It can be read in the space of ten or fifteen minutes. The author writes to explain the manner in which Christians worship God (Diog. 1).  As would be expected, in chapters 2-4, the author carefully explains why Christianity is superior to the worship of idols (in the Graeco-Roman context) as well as superior to the sacrifices, laws, and customs of the Jews, from whom he makes a pronounced differentiation in terms of the Christian community.  In chapters 5-6 the author provides a description of the Christian community as a contrast.  This is followed in chapters 7-8 by a theological and philosophical defense of Christianity as being of not only divine origin, but also of being God’s instrument of salvation in terms of human history. The 10th chapter is an appeal to Diognetus himself to embrace this faith.  The remaining two chapters (Diog. 11-12) are likely an addendum by another hand (possibly later). It may, in fact be a short homily, which is of interest simply owing to its antiquity and the thematic presentation of Christ the logos coming into the world (a favorite theme of early apologists) and the Church as the continuation of that advent.

Now, for contemporary students of apologetics, one might note that this is not an ancient version of Evidence That Demands A Verdict which focuses on “the trustworthiness of the Bible and its teachings”.  If anything, second and third century apologists might have a bit more in common with modern day equivalents such as C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton, all the while, however, addressing the concerns of their own time.  Today, of course, we have apologetics and apologists spread over a wide field of topics –  Biblical Apologetics, Scientific Apologetics, Philosophical Apologetics, Historical and Legal Evidentialism, Moral Apologetics, and even Creationist Apologetics.  Yet the heart of the apologetic argument in this second century text is not really about any of these topics.  It is about who Christians are and how their faith is evidenced by the lives they lead.  To quote Mr. Springsteen, “No, you can’t tell people anything, you’ve got to show ’em.”

“Christians differ not from other men in country, or language, or customs. They do not live in any peculiar cities, or employ any particular dialect, or cultivate characteristic habits of life. The truths which they hold result not from the busy ingenuities of human thought; the counsels of man in them possess no champion. They dwell in cities, Greek and barbarian, each where he finds himself placed, and while they submit to the fashion of their country in dress and food and the general conduct of life, they yet maintain a system of interior polity, which beyond all controversy is full of admiration and wonder. The countries they inhabit are their own, but they dwell like aliens; they take their part in all privileges, as being citizens; and in all sufferings they partake as if they were strangers. In every foreign country they recognize a home; and in their home they see the place of their pilgrimage. They marry like other men, and exclude not their children from their affections: their table is open to all around them; they live in the world, but not according to its fashions; they walk on earth, but their conversation is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their lives transcend all law; they love all men, and are persecuted by all; they are unknown, and yet are condemned. Death to them is life; of their poverty they make many rich, and in the extremity of want they still possess all things. They are treated with dishonor, and by dishonor are made glorious; their integrity is insured by the insults which they suffer; when cursed they bless, and reproaches they pay with respect. When doing good they are punished as evil-doers; and when they are punished they rejoice as men that are raised unto life. By Jews they are treated as aliens and foes, by Greeks they are persecuted; and none of their enemies can state a ground for their enmity.”

“In truth, Christians are to the world what the soul is to the body.”  (Diog. 5-6)

Today, we are surrounded by words. Books line our shelves. The inbox on our email servers are filled with correspondence, newsletters and the like.  If we tire of the talking heads spewing words on the television screen, we can self-select even more words in blogs and videos online. Moreover, we can also easily add to this proliferation of words. Owing to advances in technology, we have the ability at our fingertips to constantly “tell” people what we believe concerning a myriad of topics on a wide variety of social media platforms and in varied forums.  

Yet, maybe we have it wrong.  

For the apologists of the early Church, the central argument for the faith was to be found not in words, but in the actual lives lived by Christians. Interestingly enough, this is a pattern of what one might call “practical apologetics” that has been repeated through the centuries.  When, in the 13th century, the early Franciscans were viewed with suspicion and alarm by many owing to their embrace of a radical Christianity, their answer was remarkably simple – “Come and see the life we live”.  When John Wesley and the early Methodists were excoriated by church leaders for their “Holy Clubs” and societies, the response was the same, “Come and see…” When Anglo-Catholic clergy were exiled by their bishops to slum parishes in the 19th century and attacked for restoring the centrality of the Eucharist to Anglican worship, they invited their critics to leave their comfortable establishment parishes and experience for themselves the “beauty of worship” amongst the poor of the city.  Even in our own time when a middle-aged pastor in southern California outraged many of his fellow evangelical and charismatic leaders by allowing into his church hippies, kids off the beach, rock musicians and the like, his response to his critics was simple, “Come and see…”

Our greatest apologia is the life that we live as the Church.

Maybe it’s time to return to that earlier form of “practical apologetics”.

Maybe it’s time to not merely “tell” people what we believe.

Maybe it is time to “show” them what we believe; that is, if we can…

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

Dec 022017
 

Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

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