I hear this book’s really going to town against the FV. Check it out.
June 28, 2007 at 10:55 am (Federal Vision)
In reviewing chapter 10 of RINE, we need to start out with some definitions. Sacerdotalism has to do with a priesthood caste in the church. It is the idea that the priesthood in the church has supernatural powers. It is the idea that such a priesthood needs to be exalted at the expense of the laity. As such (although obviously related in practice) it may be distinguished from sacramentalism, the idea that the Sacraments work ex opere operato, or magically.
The reason this distinction is important is because Wilson has not quite grasped what Warfield was targeting, in my judgment. Wilson says that Warfield is “disparaging the means of grace” (p. 85). This is the result of a rationalist system (Wilson’s own words). Then follows a lengthy quotation from Warfield’s book The Plan of Salvation. In this quotation, what Wilson sees is a denial of the means of grace in salvation in the interests of pure supernaturalism (p. 86). He calls Warfield’s view “closer to refried Gnosticism” (p. 86). Just to be clear, Wilson argues thusly: “I take his insistence that God works ‘directly’ on the human soul as a claim that God is working ‘apart from means’” (p. 86). Now, Wilson immediately qualifies this by saying that Warfield elsewhere acknowledges that God uses means of grace (p. 86). And he ends by asking this question, “But how is this not God working ‘indirectly’?” (p. 86). I will explain how this is so.
Warfield’s target is not sacramentalism in the quotation, but rather sacerdotalism. This is evident from the reasoning: “and has not suspended any man’s salvation upon the faithlessness or caprice of his fellows” (emphasis added). The target here is plainly a human priest getting in the way of God’s grace. He explicitly says “Sacerdotal system” in the quotation, which in turn defines “this human factor indeed, is made the determining factor in salvation” (quoted on p. 86 of RINE). It is plain, then, that the human factor which is intruded is the target of Warfield’s statement, and not the means of grace unmediated by a priest. Because Wilson has seemingly conflated sacerdotalism with sacramentalism in the mind of Warfield, he thinks that a denial on Warfield’s part of the former must also imply a denial of the latter, and furthermore a downplaying of the significance of the sacraments. Wilson further misreads Warfield when he says that “According to Warfield’s definition, to have the covenant dispensed in ordinances and to have them be spiritually efficacious, is sacerdotalism” (p. 88). This is plainly not Warfield’s definition of sacerdotalism. Warfield’s definition is plainly that mentioned above: a human intruder in the pathway of God’s grace. But surely we can therefore see that just because Warfield denies sacerdotalism does not mean that he has too low a view of the sacraments. What was Warfield’s view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper?
To answer that question, we must go to the Selected Shorter Writings, volume 1, pp. 325-338. Given the fact that Warfield was such a target of Wilson in this chapter, it might have been good had Wilson referenced these two short articles, which are quite clear concerning Warfield’s view. Warfield starts out his chapter on baptism by talking about circumcision, coming to the standard Reformed conclusion that (from circumcision to baptism) “the form of the rite was changed, not its substance” (p. 327). Then follows this statement:
God gave it to (Abraham) as a “sign” and a “seal,” not to others but to himself. It is inadequate, therefore, to speak of baptism as “the badge of a Christian man’s profession.” By receiving it, we do make claim to be members of Christ…The meaning of that (the “honorable name in James 2:7, LK) is that we have been marked as the peculiar possession of our Lord, over whom he claims ownership, and to the protection and guidance of whom he pledges himself…What it means is just this and nothing else: that we are the Lord’s. What it pledges us just this and nothing else: that the Lord will keep us as his own. (pp. 327-328). Salvation is cleansing, salvation is ransoming. Baptism represents it from the one point of view, the Lord’s Supper from the other (p. 330).
Does this sound like a rationalistic downplaying of the Sacrament to you? And furthermore, in Warfield’s view of the Lord’s Supper, he uses the same procedure: he starts from the OT type, and moves from there to the antitype.
What is done in the two feasts (passover and the Lord’s Supper, LK) is therefore precisely the same thing: Jesus Christ is symbolically fed upon in both…It is much rather only a new form given to the Passover (p. 333). All who partake of this bread and winde, the appointed symbols of his body and blood, therefore, are symbolically partaking of the victim offered on the altar of the cross, and are by this act professing themselves offerers of the sacrifice and seeking to become beneficiaries of it. That is the fundamental significance of the Lord’s Supper…by which we testify our “participation in the altar” and claim our part in the benefits bought by the offering immolated on it (pp. 336-337).
Finally, it should be noted that Wilson says this: “I quote Warfield at this point knowing that as a confessional Presbyterian he had to (and did) acknowledge that God established and used means of grace within the Church. I do not want to misrepresent him as overtly denying that there are means of grace. But I do want to argue that Warfield was being inconsistent here” (p. 86). I am arguing that Warfield was not being inconsistent, but rather was denying sacerdotalism, and not sacramentalism, and even though he would also deny sacramentalism, he would not thereby downplay the importance of the sacraments. At the very least, he does not approach a refried Gnosticism. I will go over the latter part of this chapter in another post.
Update: to tack on something that is unrelated to this specific post, but very much related to the FV, see this outstanding quotation from Jonathan Edwards.
In this post, I will address 1 Samuel 24:1-22. This is the amusing story of how David had Saul in his power, when Saul was “relieving himself,” but did not take advantage of the situation in order to make himself king, but honored the Lord’s anointed. David’s righteousness is surely defined by verse 6: “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” I will argue that this is an application of the fifth commandment and is thus primarily about David’s relationship to the law of God. Leithart’s position is that this use of tsedeq counts as an example of the meaning “count as a friend.” Leithart’s own words: “David did not count him as an enemy, but as a friend, and that witnessed to David’s undiminished loyalty to the king” (p. 210). I don’t doubt that Leithart would acknowledge that the fifth commandment is involved. But I think that he would draw different conclusions from that fact than I would.
The fifth commandment has traditionally been interpreted as including submission to the proper authorities in government (as being ordained by God). This is why verse 6 is so crucial. I am a bit puzzled, frankly, as to why Leithart does not discuss this verse in connection with his claim, since I believe it challenges his claim. Verse 6 clearly connects David’s contemplated action with his relationship with the Lord and with the Lord’s law. The Lord God Himself ordained that Saul should be king. He is the Lord’s anointed, mentioned twice in verse 6. And surely the phrase “the Lord forbid” should clue us into the fact that David believes it is unthinkable for any attack to be made on the Lord’s anointed. In fact, the Lord did forbid any attack upon Saul. He forbade it in the fifth commandment. So, David’s relationship to the law is clearly the substance of verses 17-18, where Saul acknowledges that David upheld the law. The law is never far away from Saul’s speech here in this chapter. Now, surely we can see that interpersonal relations between Saul and David are surely important here. That is evident from verse 17, where the reasoning for Saul’s declaration is that David has upheld the second great commandment by loving Saul, his neighbor, as himself. However, it is the conclusions that Leithart draws from this that I challenge. His argument goes like this: tsedeq is here used in a broader way than a judicial setting (although he clearly acknowledges that this is at least somewhat judicial: his term is “quasi-judicial”); it is used in an interpersonal setting; if justification terms can be used in broader settings than judicial, then justification itself has more dimensions than judicial. There are two things that need to be said here. First of all is the hermeneutical point that I have already made: just because a term is used in broader senses than just one meaning does not mean that the doctrine of justification needs to be broadened. Words are not equal to concepts. Justification can be explained without any reference to tsedeq the term. I could say ”Christ’s law-keeping, or merit is imputed to us and our sins are imputed to Christ when God graciously gives us faith.” The word-concept fallacy is a fundamental fallacy that Leithart makes here. It is tightly related to the illegitimate totality transfer explained in previous posts. Secondly, the setting is more than quasi-judicial here. David explicitly calls on God to judge (vs. 12) between Saul and David. How much more judicial does it need to be? Are we assuming that it has to be in a courtroom in order for it to be completely judicial? The Lord doesn’t need a courtroom! Furthermore, it can be argued that many if not most judicial scenes in the OT don’t actually take place in a courtroom. Think, for instance, of the standing stones. They are placed in whatever location it was thought to be needed, and they served as a testimony (see Joshua 22:10-34, for a good example). So, the Samuel passage does not prove what Leithart thinks it does.
June 26, 2007 at 9:50 am (Books (reviews and recommendations))
June 26, 2007 at 9:47 am (Ephesians)
It can be somewhat embarrassing to find out that you have an audience which is somewhat different from what you expect. That was certainly the case for Billie Burke, a famous actress. While she was enjoying a transatlantic ocean trip, Billie Burke noticed that a gentleman at the next table was suffering from a bad cold. “Are you uncomfortable?” she asked sympathetically. The man nodded. “I’ll tell you just what to do for it,” she offered. “Go back to your stateroom and drink lots of orange juice. Take two aspirins. Cover yourself with all the blankets you can find. Sweat the cold out. I know just what I’m talking about. I’m Billie Burke from Hollywood.” The man smiled warmly and introduced himself in return. “Thanks,” he said, “I’m Dr. Mayo from the Mayo clinic.” Well, Paul is here telling us in our passage that we have an audience, and that audience will be revealed one day. The question is this: will we be embarrassed, or will we be joyful? Our audience is the heavenly hosts, not to mention God Himself.
Paul, in chapter 3, has explained what the mystery of the Gospel is: that Jews and Gentiles are part of one new body in Christ, and that salvation is in Christ alone. Paul marveled that he had the opportunity to be a minister of that Gospel, even though he considered himself less than the least of all the saints. That sets the context for our passage here.
Paul tells us first that the riches that we find in Christ Jesus are inexhaustible. They are infinite, eternal and unchangeable riches. Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. That means that He owns all things. Everything in the world is His by right and by possession. But the amazing thing is not how rich Jesus Christ is, though that is amazing in and of itself. What is equally amazing is that Jesus Christ would share those amazing riches with us. We are His fellow heirs, those who trust in Christ.
Then Paul tells us that the secret, this mystery which Paul has already explained, was hidden for many long years. In fact, it was hidden by God even at creation. It was God who created all things, as Paul notices here. Why does Paul bring in creation at this point in his argument? I believe that the reason for that is that creation is mysterious in and of itself. We cannot know all things about the creation. Scientists today cannot even find out everything there is to know about a single living cell. So, if many of those kinds of things are still hidden, then it is quite natural for Paul to say that God’s dealings with mankind are not always revealed to us in every era of history.
What follows this is an account of God’s purpose. Verse 10 starts with the words “His intent.” that means God’s purpose. But God’s purpose is somewhat of a surprise. It is that the audience would know about God’s magnificent plan. Who is the audience? Verse 10 says it: the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. The angels and demons are our audience, in addition to God Himself. They desire to know what God’s plan is for the salvation of mankind. The plan of salvation, of course, centers on Jesus Christ, which is made plain in verse 11, where Paul states that the eternal purpose of God has been accomplished in Jesus Christ. The salvation of Jew and Gentile alike has been accomplished in Christ Jesus. But the mystery, remember the mystery! The mystery is that Jew and Gentile are part of one new body, the church. This is why Paul says, at the beginning of verse 10 “through the church.” God’s wisdom is manifested to the audience through the church. Isn’t that amazing? The church is hardly a lovely bride at this point in time. Haven’t people done shameful things in the name of Christianity? The church has had many heresies distress her. Many schisms have rent her asunder, as the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” says. And yet, God’s manifold wisdom still clearly shines through the church.
Paul himself gives us some of the applications that can come from understanding this mystery, and how God has brought it about, and why. The first application is in verse 12: we have confidence and freedom to approach God himself. This was not possible before Christ came. Even the Jews could not all approach God in His holy sanctuary. Only the high priest could do that. But now, after Christ has opened the way through His blood, we all, Jew and Gentile, may approach the throne of grace. We have access to the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. Of course, it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we can approach God. That is why verse 12 says “in Him and through faith in Him.” Paul is talking about prayer here. Prayer and faith go together. You cannot trust in someone with whom you never have any conversation. That is impossible. Therefore, you cannot really trust in God, without also praying to the Father. This is not to make prayer into a work that gives us acceptance with God. Rather, it is saying that if you have faith, you will also have the desire to pray to God.
And prayer to God should not look like poor Billie Burke, who accidentally addressed Dr. Mayo with advice about his health. We think we have all the good answers for how the world should be run, don’t we? We address God in some fashion like this, “God, you really need to learn how to run this world of yours. I mean, look at how poorly my bank account is doing. Look at how poorly my relationships are doing. Why don’t you just shape up, God?” The problem here is that God doesn’t bow to us. God doesn’t answer to us. He doesn’t have to give an account of His providence to us. We answer to God. It is we who will have to answer for every thought, word, and deed before the living God on Judgment Day. And then we will find that we had rather a larger audience than we had supposed. We have angels as our audience, as well as God.
But the glorious flip-side of this audience is that God is showing the angels a thing or two by working in the church. God’s glory will be manifested, ultimately. God will show the angels just how much He can accomplish through a broken vessel, the church. That’s us. We are the broken vessels that God is using to accomplish His purpose. You see, it is easy for God to use angels to accomplish His purpose. It is incredibly fast, easy, efficient, and immediate for God to command His angels to do something. When God commands them, it happens. But for God to use us in His purpose, we who are slow, having only a small faith, inefficient, difficult, rebellious; that really shows the grace and glory of God! So, since God will use even us for His own glory and to accomplish His purpose, we should rejoice. It is a bit like your small children asking if they can help you. You know that the job would get done a lot sooner if they didn’t “help” you. They slow you down. But sometimes you allow them to “help” you, because you know that it is good for them to do that, and you bond with your children that way, as well. God doesn’t need our “help” any more than Dr. Mayo needed Billie Burke’s help. God could, in the blink of an eye, convert all the rest of the people who need converting, and then Christ would come back immediately. God could do that. But that is not God’s plan. God’s plan is to use the church to do that, the weak, inefficient church. Because God has chosen to do things that way, we should be encouraged to seek God’s help. God’s will is certainly going to come to pass. Therefore, we should ask God for the strength to carry it out.
The second application that Paul himself gives us is in verse 13. Paul asks his readers not to become discouraged because Paul is in prison and is suffering. Paul is just another one of those broken vessels that God is using to bring about His will. Even Paul’s sufferings will accomplish God’s task. And they are also the glory of the church. The blood of the martyrs is not only the seed of the church, but also the glory of the church. Therefore, we should not be discouraged at the sufferings of the church across the globe. Yes, we should pray that those who are persecuted would hold up under persecution by God’s grace. Pray for the missionaries. Pray for the converts, especially in Muslim countries where the persecution is quite fierce.
So, in conclusion, remember your audience! Remember your audience when you are tempted to sin, especially in private sins. They aren’t really that private, after all. God and the angels can always see you. Let that be a guard against sin in your life. Remember that you have access to the Father. Remember that you are a broken vessel whom the Lord will use to accomplish His purposes. And remember that your prayers to God are for strength to carry out God’s purposes, not to accuse God of wrongdoing. Amen.
June 25, 2007 at 11:54 am (Federal Vision)
It’s a pity that Wilson never lets us know what he thinks about anything. :-) I have a question for him, though. Wilson was examined by his presbytery on many issues related to the Federal Vision. Now, I am not familiar with the makeup of his presbytery, but here is my question: did Wilson invite TR’s to his examination? Of course, Wilson was not on trial. He wanted to do this to show people where he stood on certain issues. But did he feel compelled to invite TR’s to his examination, to insure that all points of view were represented in the questioning? Of course, we must ask the question, are there any TR’s in the CREC? If there are not, then two conclusions must result. The first is that Wilson was not required to invite any TR’s to his exam. But the second, equally important conclusion, is this question: how convincing has the examination been to the TR’s, who think that the CREC is basically a rubber-stamping outfit? Now, let me be clear. I am not well-enough aware of the makeup of the CREC to say that myself. In other words, I do not claim that the CREC is a rubber-stamp outfit. However, the question asked above is a valid question. Let me be clear on this point as well: I am not accusing Wilson of hypocrisy. Rather, I am asking whether he is being consistent on this point. I have no desire to continue talking about the makeup of the committee. Wilson can have all the last word(s) his heart desires. I will only say this logical syllogism: if the PCA as a whole thought that the “stacked” deck (to grant Wilson’s point for the moment, though I disagree with him here) seriously affected the accuracy of the report, they would not have approved the report. This, to my mind, was the entire issue of the discussion surrounding Novenson’s proposal. Novenson wanted a more accurate report. He felt that the addition of two more members to the study committee sympathetic to the FV would produce a more accurate report. Obviously, the majority of the PCA disagreed with him.
And really, the question of whether the committee was stacked is a distinct question from whether the nature of the committee affected the accuracy of the outcome. The committee acknowledged its mistake in the Wilson quotation by removing the inaccuracy. The committee felt itself to be on solid ground with regard to the rest of the report. One further point bears mentioning. By submitting the report to the internet, and listening carefully to the FV responses (and believe you me, they did listen very carefully to the FV responses!), the committee was able to test its conclusions against the reaction of the FV guys. So, in reality, though no FV men were on the committee, they still had plenty of chances to prove their point on the internet before GA. The report as it stands now would therefore be no different if there had been FV guys on the committee. The difference is that there would have been a minority report. And, given the nature of the vote at GA, is there really any doubt as to which report would have won out in the end? I respect Wilson quite a bit. I have never tried to use rhetoric against him. Therefore, I hope that these honest questions and points will attain a fair hearing with him. He has nothing to lose by considering whether these argument have any weight. I have no wish to antagonize him, especially since our conversation on the blogs seems to be benefitting people. At least, most of the responses I have received (from both sides, amazingly enough!) has been generally positive. Let’s keep that going. There is therefore no need for Wilson to use mockery in response to this blog-post. I hope he will not.
That being said, let’s move on to the next chapter of RINE. This chapter is concerned with the marks of the church (pg. 79). He discusses the Word, Sacrament, and discipline. He seems to take Calvin’s view on the place of discipline: not a mark, but exceedingly important, nevertheless. I like this statement: “A Church with no discipline is a Church with no immune system” (p. 80). I am not sure that the over-emphasis of discipline constitutes a reason to reject discipline as being a mark of the church (Wilson, in so doing, is not undervaluing discipline: he says that discipline is a matter of the well-being of the church, not of the being of the church). I was a tad puzzled by this statement: “In other words, lack of discipline will bring about a collapse soon enough but is not to be identified with that collapse” (p. 81). If he has just said that discipline constitutes the immune system of the church, then wouldn’t the lack thereof be very similar to AIDS? AIDS kills the person if no other disease takes the person first. AIDS then would constitute the collapse of the person, whether by first or by secondary causes. I realize, of course, that other factors often do contribute to the downfall of a church.
One other question I have for Wilson is this: when he affirms nulla salus extra ecclesiam (no salvation outside the church), does he allow for exceptions to this rule? As Wilson has previously agreed that someone can be in the church but not of the church, so is it not also possible to be outside the church, and yet have eternal life? I am thinking here of the discussion on baptism in WCF 28.5: if baptism is the mark of someone belonging to the church, and yet someone can be regenerated without that sign, then surely it follows that someone can be regenerated, and be part of the invisible church without being part of the visible church.
Shawn Roberson has given me permission to post his experience with the Federal Vision. It is a wonderful testimony about the power of Scripture. I find it extremely interesting that Shawn was not converted by systematic argumentation so much as exegesis, a study of the Bible. I will be closely monitoring the discussion on this post. Any personal attack on Shawn will not be tolerated.
When He Came to Himself
Shawn T. Roberson
After being introduced to the doctrines of grace and the treasures of reformed theology in 1981, I immediately began to read and study everything reformed that I could get my hands on. I soon began concentrating on a serious study of the covenant as it is presented in Scripture. Since that time, I have been fascinated with the covenantal relationship which was established between God and His people, as He promised, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”
As I studied, certain questions began to present themselves. What does it mean to be in union with Christ? How does one become a covenant member? Just what does baptism do? How do we account for unbelievers in the church? These questions were answered, to some degree, by the first Federal Vision Conference in 2002. While never being an extremely vocal proponent of the Federal Vision theology, I soon found myself advocating many of its teachings in my writing. I had papers and correspondence published on line which spoke of there being no need for a covenant of works (life) in the Garden of Eden, presented the law as being obeyable, and questioned the doctrine of justification by faith alone. I also had one prominent anti-FV man tell me that I was a false teacher who needed to repent.
So, how did I move from that to being one of the men who contributed to the recent Humble Answers letter and paper regarding objections to the PCA Ad Interim Study Committee Report? What caused the change?
It’s really very simple. Over the last two years, I have taught Galatians, Ephesians, and Romans in the Sunday School class and Bible study which I teach each week. As I have prepared for my weekly lessons, I have been convinced from Scripture itself that there really is none righteous (Romans 3:10-18). Indeed, all have sinned (Romans 3:23). Adam’s breaking of the covenant of works (life) in the Garden plunged man into an estate of sin, misery, and death. He lost eternal life for all men, but Christ, through His active and perfect obedience to the law of God purchased eternal life for all whom the Father gave to Him (Romans 5:12-21). We are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8) apart from works of the law (Romans 3:28). Our own righteous acts are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), yet there is a righteousness from God imputed to us (Philippians 3:9); and, Christ’s death makes us the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our good works flow out of our justification (Ephesians 2:10), but they do not ultimately justify us before God. They are simply what is expected of us (Luke 17:10). And, no one can snatch us from the hand of the Father (John 10:29). Therefore, our perseverance in the Lord is assured. Those whom He has called and justified, He will keep.
And, that’s my story – short and sweet. I am convinced from Scripture that the original reformed doctrines, as taught by our fathers in the faith, are true. They are a comfort to us, for they continually remind us of the Creator/creature relationship. God is God, and we are not. He has saved us by His grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, and to His glory alone; and, this is the heart of the gospel. We did nothing to earn His favor, and we do nothing to keep it. It is a gift. Expensive for Jesus Christ, for it required His death; but, free for us.
I am now going to start the exegetical challenge to Leithart’s article. I plan on covering most of the passages which Leithart deals with in any depth. I will cover them in the order in which they appear in the article. First up is Genesis 30:33. The immediate context has clear boundaries, stretching from verse 25-43. The setting is Laban’s trickery, and Jacob’s “honesty.” Laban is motivated by greed, as is clear from the entire context of the Jacob story. He is only in this relationship for himself. He wants to keep Jacob as a hired hand, since Jacob has done such a good job, and “the Lord has blessed (him) because of (Jacob)” (vs. 27). Then follows a deal-making discussion where Laban desires to keep Jacob, whereas Jacob wants to have his own property and provide for his own family, rather than taking care of someone else’s (vs. 30). Jacob makes a condition that allows him to start providing for an estate of his own, while still looking out after Laban’s property. That condition is that any sheep that was spotted, speckled, or black, would belong to Jacob, whereas all the white sheep would belong to Laban. This would be a very easy way to tell whose sheep were whose. This point is crucial, since it informs the meaning of “honesty” (tsedeq). Laban would be able to judge Jacob’s integrity by whether there were any white sheep in Jacob’s flock. It is as sure a method of differentiation as branding would be today. The evidence of Jacob’s integrity would be the differentiation of the flocks (vs. 33).
Now, Leithart argues (pp. 210-211 of _Federal Vision_) that this passage does not take place in a courtroom setting, an opinion which is not quite as evident as Leithart believes. Jacob is invisaging the possible accusation of Laban that Jacob had stolen sheep from Laban. Jacob could, at that time, point to his innocence by pointing to his sheep. He would then be in the right in the court of common opinion. Again, there is other evidence of courtroom language here as well. The word “stolen” often appears in a judicial context. Gen 31:19 is judicial, arguably (especially after Laban tries to police Jacob into humility), and Gen 44:8 is quite judicial, as is Exodus 21:16, and Exodus 22:11. This raises the question as to whether this passage really is “covenantal” or “ethical-social,” or whether it is judicial in Genesis 30:33. However, even if we were to grant Leithart’s point here, that still does not negate the fact that he uses improper hermeneutics to arrive at a broader definition of justification. He says quite explicitly, “‘Justification’ in these passages is flexible enough to include not only ‘counting someone as legally innocent’ but also ‘counting someone as a loyal friend/servant’” (p. 211). This claim is demonstrably false. Jacob is concerned about his own integrity when accused of stealing by Laban (hardly an unlikely event, as the outcome proved). Jacob is not concerned here at all with being counted as Laban’s friend. Leithart has not proved his point with Genesis 30:33.
June 24, 2007 at 4:48 pm (Matthew)
Natural disasters have been on our minds recently, haven’t they? There was the tsunami in 2004, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, both causing much devastation. There have been many such events in the history of the world, going all the way back to Noah’s Flood. What can we say about them? How dangerous are they? Is God really in control? What about all those innocent people? Our passage here gives us some perspective on such questions. What we learn is that Jesus Christ is the Lord of wind and wave.
It looked like Jesus was finally going to get some rest. Remember that the entire Sermon on the Mount, the healing of the leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and demon-possessed men had all happened on this Sabbath day. Plus, Jesus had dealt with two would-be disciples. Humanly speaking, Jesus was utterly exhausted. He must have been exhausted, if He could sleep through such a storm as arose on the Sea of Galilee! Of course, we learn here that Jesus was fully man, subject to the limitations of the body. He is also fully God, as we will see. The Sea of Galilee is curiously situation. The winds can come down from the neighboring mountains and engulf the Sea in storm. What is remarkable is how swiftly such a storm arises, and how swiftly it goes away. But the disciples who were in the boat with Jesus were experienced fisherman, and well-acquainted with the ways of the Sea of Galilee. It must no have been any ordinary storm, then, that makes them so frightened. Verse 24 tells us that it was a “furious storm,” as the NIV translates it. Literally, the word is “earthquake.” The Sea of Galilee lay along a fault-line. An earthquake could indeed bring in large waves on the Sea of Galilee. It was more than an ordinary storm. That is the point. The waves were so large that the boat was hidden from view. We are to imagine a boat caught in the trough that is formed in-between two large waves. And Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat! Now, this is not a case where Jesus was caught napping. Rather, Jesus was testing the faith of his disciples. He really was tired. But he also knew that His Heavenly Father was keeping Him (and His disciples!) safe.
What was so small about the disciples’ faith? After all, they did the right thing when they woke up Jesus in order to plead with Him to save them. Isn’t that what we should always do? Yes, we should always flee to Jesus with all our problems. The problem was that they should have known that Jesus, the God-Man was not going to die this way. They should have known that Jesus was the Master of wind and wave. They should have known that God the Father would not allow His Son to die in such a way. They should have known that Jesus had a different death in store for Him, and not this kind of death.
Even so, what is remarkable is that, although Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith, He still saves them from the storm. The disciples should have rested easy without worries, even in the midst of such storms, because they know that God their Father watches over them. God is sovereign. This is a comfort that the Arminian can never have, since they do not really believe in the sovereignty of God. I read about the story of a man who was walking down the middle of a street, and there were dead people all over the place. Indians had massacred the town. There were all these dead bodies! It would be very easy to be afraid. But this man was was not worried. He walked down the street. As he did so, he saw another man walking the opposite way. That other man was equally calm. They passed each other. Then, at the same time, they turned to face each other. One walked up to the other and asked him, “What is the chief end of man?” That is the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, by the way. The other man answered, “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” The first man said, “I knew you were a Catechism man by looking at you.” The second man said, “Strange. That is exactly what I was going to say about you!” There is a calm even in the midst of life’s storms that true believers in the sovereignty of God have. The disciples lacked it here. That is not really surprising, since they were brand-new in the faith. Christ had just called them. As the daughter of my former pastor once said, “I just love the disciples. They are always messing up.” Yes, the disciples lacked faith in this storm, faith in the sovereignty of God. Jesus does say they have no faith. He says that they had a small faith. But the beauty of this is, as I have said, that Jesus does not snuff out a smoldering wick, nor does He break the bruised reed. He is gentle. To those who have little faith, Jesus ministers to them so that their faith grows. By the end of Acts, theses same disciples will walk into the lion’s mouth unafraid, since their faith is strong.
Notice here the language that the disciples use. They call out to Jesus to save them. That word is normally used of spiritual salvation in the NT. So it is fascinating that Matthew records their request in this way. Matthew surely does want us to see that the only way to avoid “perishing” as the text says, is to call on Jesus to save us. And we should do that. If there are any here who are not saved, and are perishing even though living, then call on the name of Jesus. For there is no other name under heaven and earth by which we are saved than by the name of Jesus.
What does Jesus do? He calms the storm immediately. Now, winds can come and go rather quickly, as we know very well here in North Dakota. However, what is miraculous about this is that the waves also instantly became calm. Even if the wind died out right away, the normal thing would be for the waves to continue on for awhile. You cannot stop waves on a dime, unless you are God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God. Jesus is precisely that. Therefore, He is Lord over the wind and the waves. Jesus’ action prompts the question from the disciples, “What sort of man is this?” He is no ordinary man, that is for sure. He is the God-Man. He has the full power of God in His own person. The wind and the sea obey Him. He was there at their creation, and He was there at their separation from land. Indeed, He did those things. As John tells us, without Jesus was not one thing made that has been made. Therefore, Jesus is Lord of all creation. We must trust in Him.
The obvious application for us in North Dakota comes in the form of farming. We trust in Jesus Christ as Lord of the harvest. But do we trust in Him? Yes, we can plant, and irrigate, and spray, and till. But unless God gives the growth, nothing will happen. We saw that quite plainly last year. It is certainly not wrong to do everything you can to obtain a good harvest. That is part and parcel of your work. But how much do you trust God? Do you have little faith or great faith? Do you trust God in the midst of drought? Do you trust God in the midst of plenty? Or, if we get a good harvest this year, will you forget the Lord your God? As on the Sea of Galilee, God can send earthquakes in your life at the drop of a hat, in order to test your faith? God is never caught napping. As the Psalm says, “God slumbers not nor sleeps.” Even though Jesus the man might sleep, Jesus as God does not. But are you trusting in Jesus Christ, not only for salvation, but for all other things in life, as well?
The other obvious application has to do with our trials in life. The easiest thing in the world is to say that God has abandoned me when life’s storms arise. God must be asleep. Rest assured that God does not slumber, nor does He sleep. He is taking care of you. The Children’s Catechism question says “Why ought you to glorify God?” The answer is that God made me and takes care of me. And that is true. If God works all things out for the good of those who love Him, then why worry? Worry is doubt about God’s sovereignty. Or, worse yet, it is a complete forgetting of God’s sovereignty. Worry doesn’t help you at all, because if what you fear comes to pass, then the worry doesn’t help you with the problem. It doesn’t give you a solution. But if what you fear does not come to pass, then you worried needlessly. That is why Jesus tells us not to worry. And His reason is that God takes care of us. God loves us. And the One Who loves us is the Lord of wind and wave. He is supremely sovereign.