You Are Not Christ’s Plunder

Christ’s present role in glory is referred to as his “heavenly session.” Session means “sitting.” Presbyterian churches have a form of church government led by elders, who collectively constitute the session. The body of elders is known as the session because when they meet to deliberate, to establish policy, and to give supervision to the spiritual lives of the Christians under their care, they sit down and discuss these things. Likewise, when we say that Congress is in session, we mean that our representatives are assembled, and in their seats, ready to transact the business of the United States. The word session is appropriate to describe these situations because it is derived from the Latin sessio, which simply means “the act of sitting.” The most important session of all is the session of Jesus Christ in heaven.

In Psalm 110 God sets the Messiah at his right hand as king and priest—as king to see all his enemies under his feet, and as priest to serve God and channel God’s grace forever. This picture is applied directly to Jesus Christ, who since the Ascension actively reigns in the mediatorial kingdom of God. This was the early church’s confession and framework for Jesus’ rule.

Ephesians 1:20–23 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Acts 2:34–35 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Hebrews 1:13 And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 1 Peter 3:21–22 through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

In the NT world the triumphal procession was developed by the Romans to celebrate the occasion of a major victory. The victorious general or ruler in ceremonial dress would drive his captives – usually those of high status – and the spoils of war before him through the outer districts and into the very heart of Rome. When the victor arrived at the god’s temple, the prisoners, or representatives of their number, would be executed. In this processional the glory and power of Rome was celebrated, with the triumphant general playing the role of Jupiter, the god who had blessed the warrior with victory in battle. Then distribute the wealth to his followers. Paul employs the image of the Roman triumphal procession to depict the victory of Christ on the cross. Ephesians 4:7–8 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

How does Paul understand his own Christian life amidst these realities? 2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. Continue reading “You Are Not Christ’s Plunder”

An Object of Scorn

Jeremiah 6:10 To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it.

On Good Friday, the Christian Church gathers to commemorate the murder her king. This is our unique calling as Christians, to be a very different kind of people, following a very different kind of King.

Jesus, the word of God, allowed Himself to be held up as an object of scorn so that we would have our ears opened and cease to hold His words up as an object of scorn.

Jesus descended from heaven to make a way back to God, the Father, for us all.

Consider the messianic promise of Isaiah 40:3-5 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Imagine the word of God booming out over a rough land and in response, the valleys rise while the mountains recede, as the great voice crushes every rough rock and levels every forest, creating a straight path back to the Father in Heaven.

The Garden of Obedience

Mark 14:32–42 [32] And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” [33] And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. [34] And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” [35] And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. [36] And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” [37] And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? [38] Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” [39] And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. [40] And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. [41] And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. [42] Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

 Obedience is a responsive action. It assumes that God has already acted on our behalf, and that our fitting reply is to follow his will. This is understood even in the basic commandments of God. The preamble to the ten commandments, intended to be the basis for obeying those commands, as we see in Exodus 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. The ten commandments are a response. To what? To a God who simply commands from on high? They are a response to God’s deliverance.

In both the OT and the NT, the category of words relating to obedience are often words related conceptually to hearing and watchfulness. Both concepts express the ideas of yielding to persuasion and submitting to authority. Commands “to hear” often express a general call to God’s people to follow God’s commands, whereas the visual words (signifying “to watch, to keep”) tend to focus on individual statutes as in the Garden of Eden. The first man was told to Watch and keep the Garden and was given a Command; “don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil.”

The biblical idea of obedience is a response to the actions and commands of God – hearing that leads to compliance with his requirements. The first Adam failed to watch out for enemies. He failed to keep what was given to Him by disobeying the word of God’s command. Adam failed to protect the garden by disobeying in the garden, leading to His hiding in the garden.

Paul comments on this passage in the book of Hebrews.

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. [8] Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. [9] And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Hebrews 5:7–9).

The only begotten of the Father prayed in anguish, was heard and yet still suffered death, that he might be taught fully what it means to obey. Every word of this passage is full of meaning. Without the dark night of the soul and its anguish of sorrow; no solace would be found in Christ’s suffering for us. Jesus prayed with tears, in intense grief and by showing forth this miracle of the incarnation, Mark encourages his readers to do likewise. Continue reading “The Garden of Obedience”

I Thirst

The Theologian Fred Sanders explains in his book, How the Trinity Changes everything, this important aspect of Biblical interpretation;

“One of the most powerful features of the Trinitarianism of the New Testament is that it is revealed to us largely in the conversation between the Father and the Son.…Even in the darkness of the cross itself, the Son keeps up an intimate running dialogue with his Father. Jesus is confident that his prayers are heard and that the Father is with him, and in a few spectacular instances of a voice speaking from heaven we get to hear the Father declaring his attitude toward his beloved Son. All this inner-Trinitarian conversation is intentionally held in public, for our instruction….what they said to and about one another for us to overhear is not only a solid foundation for the doctrine of the Trinity, but it is also a marvelous invitation to us to be included in that conversation.

We see this dialogue at Christ’s baptism and at the transfiguration. We hear it in the prayer of Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb:

John 11:41–42, So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Jesus is talking to the Father, out loud, so that others may hear and join in the knowledge of the Father and the Son.

This is why the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray in Luke 11:1. The dialogue between Jesus and His Father is public and meant to draw us in.

So we turn to John 19:28–29 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

What we think is happening here is strictly an exchange between Jesus and His murderers.

Indeed, Jesus is fulfilling the scriptures, like Psalm 22:15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws.

But in this moment when Jesus speaks of thirst, as in His whole earthly ministry, He is misunderstood by His immediate audience.

Understanding what is being said, to whom and its meaning – is an invitation for us to join the inner life of the trinity.

Continue reading “I Thirst”

A School For Jezebels

Mark 6:14-30

Introduction

As Jesus’ mission began after John’s imprisonment, the disciples’ mission begins after his death. The two events may appear to be unrelated to each other, but Mark deliberately links them together.[1]

This story then clarifies matters for the Markan audience by distinguishing between the two men, while at the same time foreshadowing the sort of violent end that Jesus would also come to. 9:9–13, is in a sense the commentary on 6:14–29. Thus, we would do well not to see this as some colorful digression but rather as a story which sets forth the theme of martyrdom. The righteous often meet untimely ends in a dark and dangerous world.[2]

This and 1:4–8 are the only accounts in Mark that are not about Jesus. Mark devoted much more space to the death of John the Baptist than he did to his ministry and more than any other Gospel. John’s death was significant to Mark as a preview of the death of Jesus.[3] Just as John’s ministry has foreshadowed Jesus’, so does John’s death, for: Jesus, like John, will be executed by civil authorities; Herod, like Pilate later, hesitates to execute the person in question but then does so; Herodias, like the chief priests later, finally gets her way through scheming and pressure; the disciples come and bury John, like Joseph of Arimathea is to do for Jesus.

This tale then serves as an ominous warning about the fate of Jesus. The cross looms in the background from this point on in the narrative. [4]

Exposition

Mark 6:14–15 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 

Mark is driving His central theme. Who is Jesus? What does His ministry mean? All along people are asking who then is this? Where does this authority come from? What does he have to do with us?

So, some of the possibilities are growing in the popular mind. Jesus begins His ministry at John’s arrest (Mark 1:14). Jesus’s disciples begin their ministry at John’s death. John’s ministry is giving way to Jesus’ ministry, is it because Jesus is John Resurrected?

There is also a tradition that Elijah, who did not die but was taken up into Heaven (2 Kings 2), would return to instigate the Messianic reign. Malachi 4:5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. Jesus affirms that this Elijah character is John Himself. But there is also a tradition that is older which goes back to Moses. Deuteronomy 18:18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. Peter affirms in Acts 3 that Jesus is the greater prophet. But at this point in Marks account, who is Jesus? This has been a major plot point throughout the Gospel. Mark stated in 1:1 that Jesus is the Son of God.

We are approaching the moment the disciples make their decision at Mark 8:30. The center of this gospel account. Who is Jesus and what does His ministry mean? It is the decision everyone must make. We see that Herod Antipas is struggling to determine this as well. Antipas has a troubled conscience. Continue reading “A School For Jezebels”

Preaching 101

I

Like any work, preaching is a craft that requires time and failure to get really good at. This thread will discuss what preaching is, what it ought to accomplish and how to develop it as a craft.

Of course, we turn to the Bible to discover what it is preachers are doing.

Nehemiah 8:1–8 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose…They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. (ESV)

So how did it work? The preacher stood on a platform before both men and women. He read the word and the people of God listened attentively. The preacher gave the sense of the words and the people understood the words.

This is preaching in a nutshell. Read the text. Explain the text clearly and the audience receives understanding.

Now let’s move into the NT. Let’s look at the master preacher.

Luke 4:16–22 …[Jesus] stood up to read. [17] And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. (ESV)

What pattern do we see in Luke 4? Jesus is handed the Scriptures from the attendant while standing. Jesus reads the Scripture. Jesus closes the book and hands it back to the attendant. Jesus sits down and begins to preach to them. At first they marvel but Jesus continues even thought he has already dazzled them. He isn’t satisfied with tickling their ears. He preaches the kingdom of God and repentance. Then we read,

Luke 4:28–29 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. (ESV)

The main thing we need to notice in these examples is how the sermon worked. The Word would be read, and then the preacher would teach the sense of the words, and preach an exhortation based on them.

But notice that Jesus’ conclusion infuriated the crowd, and they sought to kill him. That is why preaching takes a ton of prayer for boldness and wisdom. If it takes no courage to preach then you are doing it wrong, because if you go to the front lines, you can’t be surprised when the enemy starts shooting back at you. Sermons ought to ruffle feathers and mess up hair, because the preacher is a weapon in the hand of God.

Likewise, at the conclusion of Peter’s Sermon on Pentecost, we read,

Acts 2:37–38 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (ESV)

Read the word. Give the sense or the meaning of the word directed toward understanding, so that the crowd responds.

R.L Dabney, in Evangelical Eloquence, says of preaching, “its design is to evoke an act.”

Reading the word of God. Explaining the word of God. Giving an understanding of the word of God. Acting on the word of God.

This is preaching 101.

Neutrality is a lie

There is no neutrality in Education because there is no neutrality in anything. No aspect of human existence allows us to be both the servant of God and the servant of Satan. The servant of self and the servant of God.

Double minded, double tongued men who are tossed about by every wind of an idea are abhorrent to God.

John Frame, “Christians think differently from non-Christians; and when they don’t, they should. In describing the difference between Christian and non-Christian thinking, Van Til argued that the two groups of people hold different presuppositions. A presupposition, for Van Til, was the most fundamental commitment of the heart, a commitment that governed human life. Some people are committed to Jesus Christ and seek to “take every thought captive” to him (2 Cor. 10:5). The rest are committed to something else, either another religion, a philosophy, a political movement, or their own reason. There is no neutrality. To paraphrase bob Dylan, “you gotta serve somebody.” Our presupposition always commitments govern all our life decisions, indeed all our thinking. And in the end there are only two presuppositions: the supremacy of God and the supremacy of something in creation, which scripture calls idolatry.”[1]

The Fear of the LORD is the beginning of Knowledge.

1:7The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

“Knowledge” and “wisdom” are closely tied together in Proverbs: “knowledge” tends to focus on correct understanding of the world and oneself as creatures of the magnificent and loving God, while “wisdom” is the acquired skill of applying that knowledge rightly, or “skill in the art of godly living.”[2]
Continue reading “Neutrality is a lie”

Being and Doing

Comment on Mark 1:35-39

Amid a whirlwind of activity, Jesus seeks a still point in prayer with the Father. There is a suggestive parallel in wording between Jesus going out to pray (v. 35) and his going out to preach and expel demons (v. 39). The work of the Son of God is both an inward and an outward work. Jesus cannot extend himself outward in compassion without first attending to the source of his mission and purpose with the Father; and, conversely, his oneness with the Father compels him outward in mission. The significance of Jesus’ ministry consists not simply in what he does for humanity, but equally in who he is in relation to the Father. Jesus is, according to Mark’s narrative, neither contemplative ascetic nor social activist. He does not promote an agenda but derives a ministry from a relationship with the Father. He is the Son, one in being with the Father; and the Servant, one in purpose with his will.

 Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 66). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

A Ministry of word and deed

As we see in the opening chapters of Acts, the Apostles could care for the spiritual and physical welfare of their community.

The true ministry of the church is not gnostic, but grounded in the real-life circumstances of believers. The fallout of sin has real consequences. Dealing with poverty, addiction – all the practical and real-world circumstances of a fallen person, is as equally as important as renewing the mind and walking by the Spirit.

But neither is the ministry of the church what many have falsely deemed the “social gospel.” The problem with mankind is not merely circumstances. Poverty, a lack of education and economic inequality are not what ails mankind – they are the fruit of what ails mankind.

Jesus said in the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20 “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Teach them to observe, he says. Discipling the nations is about what is to be believed and what is to be done. Jesus says teach them my commands so that they can do my commands.

James makes the point well in James 1:22-25 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

The word of God teaches us what is to be done. The ministry of Jesus was a ministry of words and deeds. The Son of God came into the world to teach us love and to show us love. He calls disciples to observehis commandments– to obey his teaching.

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus traveling incognito asks his two disciples what this Jesus had done – Luke 24:19 And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.

Luke 4:16. Jesus opens the word of God and then expounds its meaning, teaching about Himself and His ministry from the word of God. Jesus preaches. Then what does He do? The things Isaiah says the messiah will do. Luke 4:31-41 goes on describing Jesus’s fulfillment of that teaching in real action.

Jesus preaches, and Jesus works out that message amongst the people. He says come to me all who are burdened and heavy-laden and then He relieves their burdens. Their spiritual burdens and physical burdens. He forgives sins and feeds five thousand. He declares sinners clean and raises the dead. He gives sight to the blind and instructs the masses on the mount. His ministry is a ministry of word and deed. Continue reading “A Ministry of word and deed”

The Gospel in the Gospels

What is the Gospel?

The gospel is hard to distill down to its essence. Lots of things could be said about the Gospel and its implications. But how does one summarize it into a forceful, hopeful, prayerful, encouraging statement?

Before the word gospel referred to a book of the bible, It was a Greek word that referred to a message of good tidings issued from the lips of an appointed messenger.

We are accustomed to using the word all the time. Gospel worship. Gospel community. Gospel preaching. Gospel music. We know the first four books of the NT belong to a literary genre called gospel.

Mark 1:1 “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” So, here Mark is referring to the document He is writing, right, the Gospel according to Mark?

But that word referred to something before the four evangelists’ books were designated with it. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote accounts of the Gospel.

One Gospel. Four accounts. The Gospel according to…. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Accounts of what? The gospels are not biographies in the modern sense. A Gospel is a proclamation. A proclamation of what? By whom?

The distinction I want to make is that the Christian Gospel was originally a message delivered by an appointed messenger and the four books that begin the New Testament are hand written accounts of that one messenger and His message. The gospels, plural, are a literary genre – a gospel is a message of good tidings proclaimed by an anointed messenger.

The original anointed messenger of the Christian Gospel was Jesus. And His Gospel was that He, Jesus, the son of God, is king. Not just of heaven, but of earth.

The Christian Gospel is that Jesus is King.

This is an earth altering, worldview altering, cosmic message of joy. It’ what the Apostles were proclaiming in 2nd Corinthians 4:5–6 “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Those living in darkness and the shadow of death have seen a great light and that light is the king, the son of God – Jesus. Jesus was the first messenger of this good news and He was the message.

Before we continue, let’s review this word Gospel that we know so well. Like I said last week, the words the NT authors chose to use had a context in the original Hellenistic culture. Understanding how the words were used before and outside the NT can help us a great deal in our understanding of their use in the NT.

It was a strategic move to incorporate this specific word into the Christian message.

The word gospel, or evangel among the Romans, meant “joyful tidings,” and was associated with the cult of the emperor, whose ascent to the throne or great military victory was accompanied by a gospel proclamation.

A calendar inscription from about 9 B.C., found in Priene in Asia Minor, says of the emperor Augustus: “the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of joyful tidings which have been proclaimed on his account.”

This inscription is remarkably similar to Mark’s initial line and it clarifies the essential content of an evangel in the ancient world: a Historical event which introduces a new setting for the world.”

Jesus’ proclamation of the coming of His kingdom in this world is the Christian Gospel.

Mark is writing one account of this world shattering news. The Roman world would have understood Jesus and then Mark’s use of this word, as both controversial and weird.

A poor Jewish on-time carpenter, traveling rabbi is a God? What affect could he possibly have on the world?

The use of the word Gospel by Jesus, is a tacit statement that His coming is an event that brings about a radically new state of affairs for mankind.

As biblical and historical scholar N.T. Wright sums up the evidence, “in the Greek world… a Gospel, is a regular technical term, referring to the announcement of a great victory, or to the birth, or assent of an emperor.” The point here is that a “gospel,” refers to a public announcement of glorious news about an emporer.

The gospel is not primarily about salvation. It’s not primarily about going to heaven. It’s not primarily about adoption as God’s children. All of those things are the fruit of the Gospel.

But the Gospel is not about you and your salvation. It’s about Jesus. Continue reading “The Gospel in the Gospels”