A Small Backlog

It is Doug’s turn to move. I just want to remind Doug of where things stand at the moment. First there are the several points of this post, to which points Doug has responded to only a few here. Then there is this post, to which I responded in the comments, and to which Doug has not yet responded (it is possible that he thinks some of the commenters there have adequately answered my queries).  Finally, there is this post, to which we do not have an answer yet. Now, no reproach is intended by pointing these out. Doug has been quite busy recently with the Maryland trip, and his new novel coming out. I just thought it would be handy for Doug not to have to dig through these old posts to find out which have been answered and which haven’t, but instead to have them all in one place.

Moving on to the place of Christianity in the public place, my previous handling of it is here. I would say, in explanation of the piece, that I think David G has a good take on Matthew 28 and discipleship. Making disciples is the overarching category, with baptism and teaching making up the components of discipleship. However, it is important to point out that the Joint Statement does not ignore the teaching, for in the clause immediately following the baptism clause, it says, “accepting their responsibility to obediently learn all that He has commanded us.” It might be a tad more accurate to say that it is the church’s responsibility to teach more than it is the world’s responsibility to learn. Certainly the emphasis is on the former in the actual text of Matthew 28.

New Series of Books on Calvin

There is a new series of books being published called the Calvin 500 series. It is in honor of the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth. The publisher is P&R. The first volume to come out is this very fine volume. The author list is a Who’s Who of Calvin scholars: William Barker, Scott Oliphint, Robert Reymond, Douglas Kelly, Scott Clark, Joseph Pipa Jr., Michael Horton, Peter Lillback, Derek Thomas, Robert Peterson, Richard Gaffin Jr., Joel Beeke, David Jones, William Edgar, David Calhoun, Robert Godfrey, Joseph Hall, David Hall, Cornelis Venema, Richard Gamble, and Zachary Kail. Readers should know who everyone on this list is. I certainly know who everyone on the list is, except Zachary Kail, who I find is a TA in ST at RPTS in Pittsburgh (I love abbrev’s). In fact, the only major Calvin scholar I can think of who did not contribute is Richard Muller, and we have a fairly comprehensive access to his take on Calvin anyway. This is an extremely important book for Calvin scholarship, and certainly the most important to come out in recent years. It is an analysis of the Institutes. Almost every section of the Institutes is covered in some detail (the book itself is an impressive 506 pages).

I want to whet people’s appetite for this book, so I will concentrate on just one article, by Richard Gaffin, just because I think his article will probably be the most controversial. He talks of justification and union with Christ in Calvin’s Institutes, and it is an analysis of Inst. 3.11-18. He starts with a detailed analysis of how Calvin’s treatment of the subject changed from the 1536 edition to the 1559 edition. Justification went from being part of another chapter in the 1536 edition, to being a substantial portion of the 1559 edition, being more than four times the length.  

Gaffin goes on to describe Calvin’s unio-duplex gratia schema, referencing Garcia’s book as he does so (Gaffin only deals by implication with Godfrey and Horton’s interpretation of Calvin: Gaffin clearly sides with Garcia). Calvin’s ordo salutis consists of union with Christ being the most basic, most architectonic way of understanding salvation. Union with Christ has a double benefit (sometimes Calvin says “double” benefit, emphasizing their inseperability; and sometimes he says “first grace” and “second grace,” accenting their distinction, along with justification’s priority): justification and sanctification. To prove that the order does not matter (in my opinion, this tells rather heavily against any idea that justification happens before definitive sanctification; they happen simultaneously. Therefore sanctification is started at the same instant that justification is granted), Calvin treats sanctification first, no doubt in polemic against Rome’s insistence that free justification produces antinomianism and licentious living.

My focus on this one article should not in any way be taken as a slight against any of the other fine articles. I only focus on Gaffin, because it is more controversial. I will say this: if you are looking for one secondary source to help you understand Calvin, this should be it. You should read Calvin first, of course. However, this book places Calvin in his historical and literary context, takes full advantage of the recent gains in Calvin scholarship, provides a wonderfully focused and organized bibliography (the last article by Gamble/Kail), and is focused on one work of Calvin, not on everything he wrote (which would make for a somewhat haphazard production).

 

To the Jew First

Anyone interested in the relationship between Jew and Gentile in the Kingdom of God will be interested in this book. Authors include Walter Kaiser, Darrell Bock, Mitch Glaser, David Turner, and Craig Blaising. Most of the authors are from a modified, or progressive dispensational perspective, with one covenantalist (Richard Pratt) more than holding his own, and also one regular dispenstionalist. Walter Kaiser, Jr. wrote the forward, which makes this helpful point: “A church cut off from Israel is a church that merely floats in the air with no past, no grounding, and no promises on which to build her present or her future” (p. 7). Indeed. Of course, one could say that such a sentiment accords better with covenantal thinking than with dispensational thinking, since the classic view of dispensationalism (which is not really the perspective of this book) does precisely what Kaiser wants us to avoid, whereas the covenantal position argues that Jew and Gentile are one in Christ. By the way, a progressive dispensationalist position still argues for a national Israel being important. However, they will not call such a people a parallel salvific reality. There is only one olive tree for progressives. So, they are half-way between classic dispensationalists and covenantal thinking (my impression is that they are somewhat closer to covenantal thinking than to dispensational thinking).  

The book is a good reminder that certain formulations of supersessionism are not helpful (Pratt deals with this in an extremely helpful way, discarding dispensationalism and the more rigid forms of supersessionism, in order to advocate what he calls the “unity theology” (p. 173). He notes that many dispensationalists mistake the Reformed position for a raw supersessionist position that advocates no place for Jews in the people of God at all. This mistake is sometimes understandable, given the rhetoric of Reformed people against the dispensationalist position (see pp. 172-173). The unity theology position that Pratt advocates is that Jew and Gentile can again become one in Christ. There is no salvation outside of Christ. However, Jew and Gentile both belong in the people of God when they are in Christ. There is one olive tree in Romans 11.   

New O. Palmer Robertson Festschrift

You need to buy this book straightway. Essays are by such folk as Nick Willborn, Bruce Waltke, Benjamin Shaw, Richard Gaffin, George Knight, Knox Chamblin, Simon Kistemaker, Robert Reymond, Douglas Kelly, Richard Phillips (on baptism in 1 Peter 3:21!), Guy Waters (on Norman Shepherd’s theology, presumably a summary of his upcoming book!), Duncan Rankin, Dominic Aquila, Joey Pipa, Terry Johnson, Michael Milton, Chad Van Dixhoorn, Morton Smith, and Will Barker.  

New John Frame Book

I fully expect to be alternately enthralled and infuriated by this book. Certainly, one cannot remain neutral for very long about anything that Frame says. The book contains a rather full (470 pages!) exposition of the Ten Commandments. An important contribution to the field of ethics. The book as a whole is over 1100 pages.

Christ and Culture

Daniel 1

5/25/2008

Audio Version

Once upon a time, there was a man named John, who worked for a building company. They made those massive I-beams that support bridges. He was a very important man, because he signed off after the inspection of these I-beams, so that they could be sent to the construction companies that needed them. If he didn’t sign the papers, then the building company could not sell the I-beams to the construction company. One time, there was an especially large shipment of I-beams about to go out, and John discovered an inherent weakness in the manufacture of this shipment. So, he refused to sign the papers. He was a Christian. The building company came to him and looked at the cost-benefit num-bers of the analysis, and came to the decision that these I-beams would have to be approved, or the company would lose money. So they told John to sign the papers. John refused. Then the board of the company got involved and said to John that if he still refused to sign the papers, he would lose his job. It was the only job he had, and the money was sorely needed by him. What should he do? What would you do? I’m sure that something of the same dilemma faced Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, as they were exiled away from their home, and sent off to Babylon. In many ways, their situation is similar to ours, for we are Christians, and members of a heavenly kingdom, ad are currently exiled away from where our citizenship is. How do we relate to the world? How do we relate to the pressures of culture? What do we do when the world tells us that we must look and behave a certain way, or else face the consequences? And what motivates us to do the things we ought to do in such a situation?

The historical situation is this: Nebuchadnezzar had just finished his siege of Jerusalem and taken Jehoiakim captive, along with the religious booty of the instruments of the Lord’s temple. This is not a small thing, since what Nebuchadnezzar was saying as he put those instruments in the house of his god was that his gods had conquered the God of Israel. He had won, and so had his god. So, a very real question for the Jews was this: had God been defeated? Had God been unfaithful? The answer is in the first part of verse 2. Nebuchadnezzar had a different idea of what had happened than Daniel himself had. Daniel’s evaluation of the exile was that the Lord had given Jehoiakim into the hand of Nebuchad-nezzar. The Lord was faithful indeed! But He was faithful in judging the people of God for abandoning their trust in God for trust in Egypt, or Assyria, or their own military might, or whatever else they want-ed to trust. As they abandoned God, God gave them over to their enemies. God is faithful!

Nebuchadnezzar was wise in the ways of the world. He knew that the best way to rule Judea was to brainwash the best and brightest of their young people, so that Babylonian ways, and language, and thought patterns would be characteristic of Jewish people. So, he found four of the best and bright-est of all the Jews, and had them educated (or could we say brain-washed?) in Babylonian language and literature. Furthermore, he wanted them to forget about their powerless God (hadn’t he defeated their God), so he changed their names. The names of the four friends originally had something to say about God. Daniel’s name means “God is my judge.” Hananiah means “The Lord is gracious.” Mishael means “Who is like God?” and Azariah means “the Lord has helped.” Instead, Nebuchadnezzar gave them Babylonian names. Belteshazzar means “may Bel protect him” (Bel is the name of one of the Babylonian gods). Shadrach means “the command of Aku” (another god). Meshach means “Who is like Aku?” And Abednego means “servant of Nebo” (yet another god). Lastly, and most importantly, he wanted to switch their allegiance from their homeland and their own God over to him. That is the significance of eating from the king’s table. The issue is not unclean food, since wine is not unclean, according to the Old Testament. Rather, in eating the king’s food, they would be admitting that they were dependent on the king, and they would be acknowledging that the king gave them all blessing and honor. That would defile Daniel, since it would be idolatry. It would be putting money and position over God, much like John was tempted to do, in our story about the I-beams. Nevertheless, the temp-tation would be quite strong. It would be easy to rationalize the decision, too, since Daniel could have thought to himself, “Well, I am only outwardly eating this food. I am not inwardly serving Nebuchad-nezzar as a god.” The problem with that kind of thinking is that the very eating of this food was an acknowledgment of Nebuchadnezzar as god, whether one intended this or not. So Daniel resolved not to eat of this food. It is very instructive to notice here that Daniel’s resolve in this comparatively small issue is foundational for Daniel to be able to resist temptation in the future. I’m sure that many of us have noticed that if we fall to temptation, it is much easier to fall into temptation again. Fortunately for us, the reverse is also true: if we resist temptation, it can become easier to resist temptation more.

Notice also Daniel’s tact. He didn’t want to trumpet the fact that he was rejecting this ultimate allegiance. He did not intentionally seek to be martyred. He did not intentionally seek to be weird. He intentionally sought to be faithful to his God. So he proposes this test to eat only vegetables, which would not be part of the richness of the king’s table. Vegetables by themselves would not normally be the thing that would be expected to make someone look better. The official does not like the plan, since his own head will be on the chopping block if the experiment fails.

The fact that Daniel and his friends do look better after ten days is proof that the Lord stepped in and worked miraculously to honor Daniel’s commitment to Himself. Remember our friend, John? Well, he decided not to sign the papers, and the company fired him for it. However, that is not the end of the story. As a result of his not signing the papers, the I-beams were not delivered to the construction company on time. The construction company investigated the reason for that. When they found out that John had protected their interests even at the cost of his own job, they hired him on the spot, and with a pay increase. Daniel and his friends not only looked better than the other young men their own age, but the Lord gave them high positions in Nebuchadnezzar’s cabinet. The Lord exalts those who worship Him, but those who do not worship the Lord, the Lord humbles. This we will see in the later story of Nebuchadnezzar.

In the meantime, let us remember that our Lord went through something very similar to Daniel. It is called temptation. Satan tempted Jesus to conform to the world’s way of doing things. It is only a small thing, Satan would say. But Christ would not yield to temptation. Eventually, Satan saw to it that Jesus was killed for that, a sort of revenge. Satan thought that he had conquered Jesus, just as Nebu-chadnezzar thought he had conquered not only Judah, but also Judah’s God. However, just as God handed Israel over to Nebuchadnezzar, so also did the Father hand over Jesus to death. Peter tells us this in Acts 2, where he says that Jesus was handed over to death “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” It was God’s plan all along! Thus did Satan find out that he had been tricked. On Easter Sunday morning, when the tomb was empty, only then did Satan realize that he had been beaten, rather than conquering Jesus himself.

So, if something is trying to undermine our allegiance to our King, we must resist. If someone tells us that we should overlook one of the Ten Commandments, because it is not practical, we should resist. If someone tells us to be dishonest, then we must resist. If someone tells us that holiness doesn’t pay, and that it is old-fashioned, and useless, we must not listen.

Our relationship to culture is not one of withdrawal. Daniel and his friends learned the Baby-lonian language and literature. That wasn’t a problem. Our relationship to culture is also not one of assimilation. This is our great problem in the church today: the church looks just like the world. We dress the same, act the same, divorce the same, steal the same, and in every other way, there is hardly a dime’s difference between the church and the world. Rather, we are to be salt and light, in the world but not of the world.

In order to do this, we must remind ourselves of our home. We must remind ourselves of heaven. And we must do that constantly. We must sing the songs of Zion, even if we are exiled current-ly from our homeland. North Dakota is not really our homeland. Heaven is our home. Our name is Christian. Remember that God is sovereign. The world may think that they have the church on the run. But God will show the true nature of things at the Final Judgment, and even though it may be difficult for us to see this now, rest assured that God will overturn the world, and that God is sovereign.

I Will Give You Rest

Matthew 11:25-30

5/18/2008

Audio Version

One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.” “But you didn’t notice,” said the winning woodsman, “that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest.” In today’s America, everyone is always busy. People are up all day and considerable parts of the night working. And this is in spite of the fact that we have many more machines now that are supposed to make our work easier! We have so many ways to make our work load easier, and yet we don’t seem to get nearly as much work done as our predecessors. Furthermore, we don’t seem to have any time left for fellowship or any kind of social gatherings, because we are so busy. Sometimes it makes me think that people are trying to earn their way to heaven by being busy. They think that they can get to the door of heaven, and God will ask them, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” and they will answer, “Because I’ve been so busy all my life. Just look at all the things I’ve done.” The Pharisees had similar thoughts in Jesus’ day. And Jesus alone has the answer. “Come to me,” says Jesus, “and I will give you rest.” The answer is not work, but rest, rest in Jesus. And only Jesus can give us rest.

Now, this passage seems like a shock, coming as it does immediately after Jesus has just finished pronouncing a scathing judgment on the people of three towns, Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. However, the connection is not difficult. The people of those towns thought they were being wise in rejecting Jesus. After all, shouldn’t the Messiah be someone they don’t already know? Wouldn’t He just drop out of heaven into their laps, so to speak? So Jesus starts to pray to the Father, thanking the Father, praising the Father that these things have not been revealed to those people who thought of themselves as wise, but instead have been revealed to people like the disciples. Now, we must be careful here. Jesus is not rejecting intelligence. He is rejecting intellectual pride. You can perhaps put quotation marks around the words “wise and learned.” They were wise and learned in their own eyes, but they could not see that Jesus was the Son of God come in the flesh to give salvation to people on earth. They could not see that. Last week we saw that there was no excuse for the people in those three towns. They should have repented. Here, we learn that the ultimate reason why they did not repent is that the Father had hidden these things from them. The Father did this in order to overturn worldly wisdom and arrogance, and instead exalt His own grace, by revealing these things to children. In other words, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

In verse 27 we have a remarkable statement from Jesus’ own lips about His relationship with His Father. If, in verses 25-26, Jesus has been talking about the people to whom revelation is given, here in verse 27 we learn where that revelation is located: it is in Jesus Himself! Only in Jesus can we see the Father. The relationship that the Son has with the Father is an exclusive relationship. No one knows the Father except the Son, and no one knows the Son except the Father. But they know each other. This is what constitutes “all things.” What the Father knows, the Son knows. Of course, this is referring to Jesus’ divine nature. There are things that the human nature of Jesus does not know. But that is not what Jesus is talking about here. What Jesus is talking about is His own divine nature as it relates to the Father. In other words, Jesus knew that He was divine.

Now, when we come to the last part of the passage, we might wonder how it all hangs together. What does God hiding things from the wise and learned, and all things being committed to the Son have to do with Jesus giving us rest? It has everything to do with it. There is no rest outside of Christ. These things have to be made known to us by Christ Himself. And any trust of anything outside of Christ will not lead to rest, but to a heavy burden. It is important here to notice that Jesus is not saying that there are people outside of Christ who have rest. In essence, we could paraphrase it this way, “All you out there, all you who don’t have me, you all are weary and burdened. Come to me to have rest.” In the context, however, Jesus is particularly targeting those people who have followed the Pharisaical way of thinking. This is proved by verse 29, which mentions a yoke. The Jews always said that people should take upon themselves the yoke of the law. Jesus is telling people that the yoke of the law is too heavy to carry. One must carry it perfectly if one is to have rest. None of us can do that. But Christ took that yoke of the law so that we would not have to carry it. Jesus, in effect, is the law. But the yoke He lays upon us is very different. I am not saying that the law is meaningless to us today. By no means. However, we do not carry the law as a burden. In other words, we do not work to earn our salvation. Instead, we trust that Christ has carried that burden for us. After all, Christ does not advocate the abandonment of the law. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus actually told us that the requirements are now stricter, and that our righteousness has to surpass that of the Pharisees and the scribes! This is what is ironic about what Jesus says. However, the key here is that Jesus helps us to carry the burden. A yoke was put on two beasts of burden, not just one. So when Jesus tells us to take upon ourselves HIS yoke, it means that Jesus is our yoke-fellow, the one who helps us to bear the yoke of righteousness. He helps us by implanting in us the Holy Spirit, so that we can bear that yoke. No longer do we have to carry that yoke of the law in order to obtain salvation. Rather, we can carry the yoke of Christ, who helps us to accomplish the law in our lives as a result of salvation.

The result is rest, rest for our souls. The problem with taking upon ourselves the yoke of the law is that we never know if we have done enough. And then, when we hear that the standard is God’s own perfection, we collapse into despair. This was the despair of Martin Luther before he discovered that the righteousness that was required of us by God is the righteousness that God gives in Jesus Christ, and not a righteousness that we ourselves earn. All we do is lay hold of that righteousness by faith without any kind of works of ours involved. Oh, it is rest to know that Christ has accomplished all for us. He took upon Himself the yoke of the law, the heavy burden of our sin, so that we could have a lighter burden. Our lives may be harder in this life that those lives of the non-believer. However, what we will discover is that our souls are lighter, for we can have the joy of salvation, the joy of knowing Christ. Christ denounced the Pharisees for laying on the people burdens too heavy to carry, and not lifting one finger to help the people carry those burdens. Not so, Christ! He has promised to carry our burdens, and oftentimes He does that by carrying us entirely! One is reminded of the woman who looked over the footprints in the sand of her own life, and saw for most of the way two sets of footprints, hers and Christ’s. However, there were times when she saw only one set of footprints. She accused God of abandoning her. Jesus said that He had never abandoned her. Then she asked why there were sometimes only one set of footprints. Jesus answered that it was not because He had abandoned her, but because He was carrying her. God will never give us a heavier load than we can bear. Any burden that we bear is certainly infinitely lighter than the burden that Jesus Himself carried for us. And these two things can be of great comfort to us when we undergo trials: Jesus carried more than we ever will, and Jesus is helping us to carry ours even now. He is yoked to us. What a merciful, faithful High Priest we have! Jesus is not aloof from us, but knows us. He knows our burdens, and helps us carry them.

So, we should all come to Jesus. Any other burden is simply too heavy for us. We certainly do not want the burden of judgment on us for ignoring Christ. We do not want the burden of hell. We do not want the burden of trying to earn our way to heaven, nor do we want the burden of being too busy. We need the light and easy burden that Jesus offers. Come to Jesus, and He will give you rest.

Judgment On Indifference

Matthew 11:20-24

5/11/2008

Audio Version

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild. A Jesus who doesn’t judge anyone. God doesn’t judge me. Therefore, if I do the best with what I have, God will overlook my mistakes. God would never wend anyone to hell. Do any of these ideas sound familiar? People constantly repeat them. In fact, so keen are people on repeating these thoughts that you would think their life depended on how often they say them. Sometimes, however, you can detect some insecurity behind these brave but naive ideas. The reason they say them so often, is that it is their faith, and they need to say it often to take comfort in how often they say it. The more they say it, the more it must be true, they think. However, this passage strips away all such masks, and shows us the judgment of God in all its starkness. The fact of the matter is that no one speaks more of hell and condemnation than Jesus does. He also talks a great deal about grace and mercy, and so both sides are important. However, we hate to feel uncomfortable, and so we’d rather skip over passages like this one. Or, if we read it, we think that there is no way that these passages can apply to us. Or, we try to make Jesus speak a more meek and mild tone of voice. There is no softening of these words. We can still hear the Gospel in this passage. But the Gospel is presented as a freedom from judgment. Let us pay close attention to this judgment, in order that we may know the severity of that judgment from which we are freed. The judgment comes hardest on those who are indifferent to Jesus, or who ignore Him. That may surprise us to learn. We may think that the worst punishments are reserved for those who persecute Christians. However, if those who persecute Christians have never heard the Gospel, then they will not be punished nearly as severely as those who have heard the Gospel, and yet ignore it. Let’s see how this is so.

Jesus mentions three cities, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. These three towns were all on the northwestern part of the Sea of Galilee, fairly close to that Sea. It is where Jesus grew up. And it is the area where Jesus did the majority of His miracles. Probably all of the miracles that we looked at in chapters 8 and 9 took place in one of these three towns. These three towns are compared unfavorably to Tyre, Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrah. Now, Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician cities on the coast of the Mediterranean, northwest of Judah. They were arrogant cities, denounced by the Old Testament prophets for being in league with Egypt. However, Tyre and Sidon had never heard about Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry. They did not have the light of the Gospel. Chorazin and Bethsaida, however, did have the light of the Gospel. Notice here that Jesus knows not only what happened, but would have happened, had the conditions been different. Notice also that the miracles of Jesus are part of God’s revelation. They leave people without excuse. People who saw Jesus’ miracles are certainly supposed to believe in Jesus. However, unless the Holy Spirit acts in that person’s heart, then not even a miracle will make someone believe. We can see that principle at work in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man wanted to go back and tell his brothers about hell and the judgment, so that they would not go there, and Abraham told him that the brothers have Moses and the prophets. The rich says that if someone comes back from the dead, then they will believe. Abraham says that if they don’t believe Moses, then they will not believe a miracle. So, the hearts of the inhabitants of Chorazin and Bethsaida were hard as flint rock. Nothing would persuade them to believe in Jesus. Of course, not all the inhabitants of those three towns were condemned. Some of the apostles were from Bethsaida, after all. However, there were so many inhabitants of those towns who simply would not believe, despite all the evidence set before their very own eyes. Oftentimes, we will hear people today say that they only believe what their eyes and ears tell them. But this judgment that Jesus pronounces proves that that really isn’t true. People will not always believe their eyes and ears. Only the Holy Spirit can make someone to be born again.

So we learn here that there are degrees of punishment in hell. Those who have never heard about Jesus will receive a much lighter sentence of condemnation than those who have heard about Jesus. And yet, we learn also that even those who have not heard about Jesus will still go to hell. The reason for that is that there is still no excuse for sin. This is the answer to people who will say to us, “What about all those people in Africa who haven’t heard the Gospel? Isn’t God unjust to send those people to hell?” Well, no He isn’t. None of us deserve to be saved. The question assumes that people deserve to be saved. But no one deserves that. It is only by God’s grace that anyone at all is saved. We must recognize that fact if we ourselves are to escape God’s wrath. We must recognize that all alike are under God’s wrath. We all deserve God’s judgment. And if God were to send everyone to hell, it would only be justice. That is the human condition. And as long as we deny that, we cannot know the depth of God’s love for us, either.

Look again at Capernaum. Capernaum’s judgment will be worse that Sodom! Sodom was infamous for being a den of iniquity. That city was the example of iniquity in the Old Testament. Whenever God wanted to get the attention of His people when they were going astray, He would call them Sodom and Gomorrah. And yet, people who do not respond to the call of Jesus are more wicked than Sodom. This is really an amazing statement from Jesus. Think about America for a moment. Certainly there are cities that come to mind when we think of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, the primary problem with Americans today is that they are indifferent to the claims of Jesus. They think that Jesus is irrelevant. They think that Jesus is unimportant. They think that He is so old-fashioned. Certainly, they think that judgment does not exist. After all, “judge not, lest you too be judged.” How then can anyone dare to judge anyone else’s behavior as right or wrong? Well, it was the same Jesus who said “Judge not lest you be judged” who also said “By their fruit you shall know them,” and He also pronounced woe’s of judgment on the people who rejected His message. This indifference of Americans exists despite everything God has done for America. God set her on Christian principles. We are the only nation in the history of the world to have Christian principles and a Christian foundation there at the beginning. Therefore, we have much less excuse than any other nation, if we ignore the claims of Jesus. America should tremble!

However, it is not just non-believers that need to hear this message. We as believers are often indifferent to the claims of Jesus on our lives. We think that because Jesus has saved us that therefore we can live however we want. We think that we can ignore what the Bible says. We think that it doesn’t really matter what Jesus says. It never applies to me. We hear a sermon and are constantly ticking off in our heads a long list of OTHER people for whom this sermon would apply, and fail to realize that it is we ourselves who need to be zapped. Well, what about you? Are you without sin? Are you fully mature, never needing to hear the Gospel of grace?

But the burning question, the ultimate question, this passage raises is this: is there any escape from this fiery judgment? Who will save us? I can no better than to give you this illustration from H.A. Ironsides: pioneers had been making their way across one of the central states of the US to a distant place that had been opened up for homesteading. They traveled in covered wagons drawn by oxen, and progress was necessarily slow. One day they were horrified to see a long line of smoke in the west, stretching for miles across the prairie, and soon it was evident that the dried grass was burning fiercely and coming toward them rapidly. They had crossed a river the day before but it would be impossible to go back to that river before the flames would be upon them. One man only seemed to have understanding as to what could be done. He gave the command to set fire to the grass behind them. Then when a space was burned over, the whole company moved back upon it. As the flames roared on toward them from the west, a little girl cried out in terror, “Are you sure we shall not all be burned up?” The leader replied, “My child, the flames cannot reach us here, for we are standing where the fire has been!” Do you know that Jesus is burned ground? He has tasted the fires of hell’s hottest judgment upon Himself. He was scorched for our transgressions. He came behind us and allowed Himself to be burned, so that we could stand on Jesus Christ and escape the fires of judgment that were inevitably coming our way. Is that the ground upon which you stand? It is untouchable by the fires of judgment. Fire cannot burn on already scorched ground, since there is no fuel for the fire. Now can you see not only the fiery judgment coming, but also the way of escape? Do not be indifferent to Jesus.

Dare to Be a Daniel (Introduction to Daniel)

5/18/2008

Audio Version

There was a test conducted by a university where 10 students were placed in a room. 3 lines of varying length were drawn on a card. The students were told to raise their hands when the instructor pointed to the longest line. But 9 of the students had been instructed beforehand to raise their hands when the instructor pointed to the second longest line. 1 student was the stooge. The usual reaction of the stooge was to put his hand up, look around, and realizing he was all alone, pull it back down. This happened 75% of the time, with students from grade school through high school. The researchers concluded that many would rather be president than be right. This illustration is from Chuck Swindoll. It illustrates the stories of the book of Daniel very well, in that Daniel and his friends had the courage to stake their lives on the truth, even if everyone else in the whole world was telling them they were wrong. What we will see is that this is true of Jesus Christ as well. Daniel is a type, or forerunner, or shadow of the One who was to come, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ also did not care what the world said about Him. He was going to practice the truth. Even when the whole world thought He was wrong for dying on the cross, God said He was right. And the way the Father said that Jesus was right, was by raising Him from the dead. Death and resurrection is a recurring pattern all throughout Scripture, and we will see it in the book of Daniel, as well. It takes courage to face death. Even more importantly, that courage must spring from faith in the God of resurrection.

We live in a world where courage is almost unknown. It is ironic, isn’t it? The world would tell us that we are supposed to “be ourselves,” and that everyone’s belief is right for them. Of course, they don’t really believe that, since they would say that Adolf Hitler was wrong, even though Hitler thought that what he was doing was right. But the reality of the situation is that today’s world is desperately striving to stifle all courage, all originality, all true independence. Why is that? Because the world wants everyone to walk lockstep with the world!

The buzzword today is “postmodernism.” This is a word that describes the mindset of today’s world. Today the world wants everyone’s beliefs to be right for each person. The world says woe to anyone who believes that there is any truth that is true for everyone. Postmodernism says that there is no such thing as absolute truth. In other words, postmodernism says that there is no such thing as a truth that is true for everyone. Of course, postmodernists have to believe that that very statement is true for everyone! So, they kind of shoot themselves in the foot that way. And this is only a Western phenomenon. If you were to ask a Muslim if there is truth that is true for everyone, he would say yes. In fact, most of the great world religions are exclusive. All the great world religions believe that they are right and the rest of the world is wrong. And this is what is so helpful for us about the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel tells us that we must have faith in the one true God, the only God who can resurrect us out of sin and death, who does that by pure grace, who gives us the courage to worship and serve Him only, and no one and nothing else, and, who strengthens us to stand up for what is right.

Why is the Christian faith the only true faith? There are several reasons. Firstly, we have God revealed to us in the infallible pages of the Bible. Secondly, Christianity is the only religion where God saves us, and we do not save ourselves. We are saved by grace. Thirdly, Christianity is the only faith where it is even possible for our beliefs to match up consistently with what we practice. Every other religion has a fundamental contradiction between what is believed and what is practiced. A few examples will have to be sufficient here.

Take Islam, for instance. Islam is a very works-oriented religion. You have to do the five pillars, which are the confession of faith that there is only one God and that Mohammed is his prophet, three-fold prayer every day, giving alms, celebrating the yearly feast of Ramadan, and going once in one’s life on a pilgrimage to Mecca. If you DO these things, then maybe God will have mercy on your soul. But therein lies the problem. They want mercy and grace. And yet, they have to do these five things in order to get grace. That is a contradiction. Works are the opposite of faith. In the Christian religion, works are important, but only as a response to the grace of God. We don’t do works in order to earn God’s grace. Otherwise, grace would not actually be grace.

One other example of how a world religion contradicts itself: Buddhism believes that there is no god per se, but that the world itself is god. The idea of Buddhism is to escape suffering by achieving nirvana. However, there really is no such thing as evil. So there is really no hope that evil will ever be eradicated. And yet, Buddhists hope to achieve nirvana, which is their equivalent of heaven. How can that be, if there is no such thing as evil in this world, and there is always suffering? They live as if they can get rid of evil, and yet they do not believe that there is any such thing as evil. And so there is the contradiction. It is only the Christian faith that is consistent in life and practice. Now, many would accuse Christianity of being hypocrites. And there are many hypocrites in the church today. However, just because someone calls himself a Christian does not make him a Christian. A true Christian will be consistent with regard to what he believes and what he practices. Everyone sins. However, a Christian does not believe that he is sinless in this life. He believes that he is not controlled by sin, and that his sin is forgiven, and that his life consists of a continual process of becoming more righteous. And that is, in fact, what happens. So the Christian is consistent. And this is also part of the message of Daniel.

The book of Daniel is in two parts. The first part consists of chapters 1-7. This is definitely the more familiar part of Daniel, since it has all the famous stories: Daniel and his three friends not eating the king’s food (chapter 1), the vision of the image with all the different metals (chapter 2), the three friends not bowing down to the image that Nebuchadnezzar made, and being thrown into the fiery furnace as a result, and yet not being burned (chapter 3), Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation (chapter 4), the handwriting on the wall (chapter 5), Daniel in the lion’s den (chapter 6), and the vision of the four beasts (chapter 7). Chapters 2-7 are written in Aramaic, which is very similar to Hebrew, but a different dialect. Aramaic was the language of Babylon during this time, and was the language that everyone used if they were going to interact with another nation.

Chapters 8-12 consist of visions that describe the history of the world from Daniel’s time (during the exile in the 6th century B.C.) all the way to Jesus Christ (first century A.D.). Daniel was given a picture of what the history of the world would be. This proves that God is sovereign over the world. Indeed, God’s sovereignty could be called the major theme of Daniel. God’s sovereignty should result in our courage to have faith in that Sovereign God, who is sovereign even over death itself. We can be faithful, because we know that our God will protect us and vindicate us in the end. That is the message of Daniel.

So here are some practical applications of that message. Going back to the illustration I opened with, even if everyone else is telling us that we are wrong, even if everyone else is bowing down to the god of postmodernism, we cannot. Even if everyone else is brainwashed into telling us that the shorter line is actually the longer line, we must stand on the truth. We know the truth, and the truth will set us free. Hold fast to the truth. The world right now is seeking to undermine anyone’s faith in the one true God. They will ask us how we can be so narrow-minded as to suppose that there is only one way to heaven. Nowhere is this challenge more difficult than in college. College is aimed at changing the person into the mold of the world. You cannot even assume that so-called “Christian” colleges are actually Christian. My college called itself Christian, and yet had a Hindu professor teaching students about how to implement postmodernism in the world today. They didn’t even question whether postmodernism was correct or not. They assumed it. And this has filtered down into the high schools as well. Don’t be surprised if you find this at Strasburg High School. I don’t know whether that school is postmodern or not. But it wouldn’t surprise me. It starts out as saying that that we must allow everyone to believe what they want to believe. And actually, our country was founded on that principle of religious freedom. However, the step that people have taken is to say that no one can say that anyone else is wrong.

So, dare to be a Daniel. Dare to stand alone in affirming the truth. Dare to have the firm purpose of worshiping God alone, and dare to make that known to the whole world in the face accusations of religious bigotry and narrow-mindedness. And remember that God outnumbers the world.

Unsatisfied Children

Matthew 11:16-19

5/4/2008

No Audio Available

I’m sure you know people like this. They never smile at parties. They never cry at funerals. They are never impressed with something incredible. Instead, they wear a stone face all the time, as if to say, “Don’t you have anything better than that?” They will not be shown to love any part of life. Because if they did show something any emotion in life, it might be an indication that they might be, you know, human or something. I know and have met an enormous number of teenagers who are like this. They are bored with life, and they aren’t even 20 years old yet! They are a little bit like the Jews of Jesus’ day.

Now, Jesus is coming to the end of His talk on John the Baptist. We have seen that John the Baptist is a prophet of the coming Kingdom. That is stupendous. He is the Elijah whom people were expecting! People should have been excited about this, and should have started confessing their sins, and repenting of their sins, because the Kingdom of heaven was at hand! And yet, that was not the reaction of the people to John. However, it was not just John they rejected. It was also Jesus Christ Himself! Jesus tells us a very pointed parable to illustrate just what He means. Let’s follow the details closely.

First of all, Jesus wants to make a comparison. So, He compares the present generation of Jews to children sitting in the marketplace. However, there is a difficulty here. Is Jesus saying that it is the Jews themselves who are calling out to the other children? Or is it Jesus and John who are calling out to the other children? I believe that the children who are calling out in verse 17 are meant to represent John and Jesus. Jesus tells us a little allegory. The main point of this allegory is that it doesn’t matter how the Gospel is presented. It can be forcefully presenting judgment, a “fire and brimstone” sermon. Or, it can be a gentle, winsome sermon. If people do not want to hear it, they will not hear it.

So, Jesus is the one who played the flute, trying to get the Jews to dance. Flute-playing here means playing at wedding. On the level of the story, then, the children are playing a make-believe wedding. Yet the other children won’t play along. They don’t want to play wedding. So, the first children say, “You don’t want to play wedding? Okay, how about playing a funeral?” The other children won’t play that either. We are to understand that everything in between is also included. The first children tried everything to get the other children to play along, but the other children would not.

Jesus explains the meaning of the story. John came as an austere man, who did not go to parties. He was a Nazarene. He lived a life very similar to a monk’s life. His message was a dirge, a funeral song. He preached judgment on the people. But the people didn’t like that message. “It’s too depressing! Play something else!” they said.

However, when Jesus came along, He went to parties. You will remember that the first party He went to was the wedding at Cana, where He turned the water into wine. Jesus was no monk. In fact, He went to enough parties that He got accused of being a glutton and a drunkard! Furthermore, He obviously kept the wrong company, in contrast to John the Baptist, who hardly had any company. Here is the point: John and Jesus preached the same thing! They both preached the kingdom of God. So, Jesus is here saying that the form of how it was preached makes no difference if the substance of the preaching is the same. This is extremely important for us to remember as we listen to sermons. We should not let ourselves become distracted by the manner of presentation. There are good preachers and not so good preachers. But many of them are faithful to preach the Gospel, and that is the important thing. We should listen for the Gospel. If we don’t hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, risen and ascended into heaven, then we should stop listening. However, if we do hear that Gospel, then we should be all ears in order to hear what God has to say to us. This is the main point of application for us. Listen for the Gospel, and do not be distracted by the form in which it comes to us.

There are several other very interesting applications to draw from this passage as well. For instance, (as a second application) the fact that gluttony is mentioned in the same breath as drunkenness ought to be very suggestive to us. It is not difficult for us to see that drunkenness is a sin. It is to be enslaved to alcohol. However, it is just as easy to be enslaved to food. Now, not every person who is overweight is a glutton. We need to remember that. However, gluttony is a sin. And it is a sin no less enslaving than drunkenness.

Thirdly, notice that alcohol itself is not evil. Jesus would not have been accused of being a drunkard if He drank no alcohol at all. Indeed, Jesus turned the water into wine at Cana. And that was His very first miracle! The Bible is clear on this issue: alcohol in and of itself is not evil, and it is not a sin to partake of alcohol. The Bible is equally clear, however, that drunkenness is a sin. We need to be very careful not to be judgmental about this issue. Unfortunately, many Christians rush to judgment. On the one hand, many will say that if someone else drinks at all, then they cannot even be a Christian at all. Such people judge Jesus Christ Himself not to be a Christian. If you think that it is a sin to drink alcohol at all, then you are saying that Jesus Himself sinned in this very way. There is no getting around the text of Scripture. Jesus did drink on occasion. Jesus never got drunk. And that is the proper balance, if one is going to drink. It is perfectly okay if someone does not drink, however. There are many very good reasons for someone not to drink, the most important being if they have a problem with alcoholism. If a person cannot restrain themselves to moderation, then they shouldn’t drink at all. However, it is also possible to judge people wrongfully from the other direction. People who think it is okay to drink alcohol often pass judgment on teetotallers, saying something like this, “Well, they are impinging on my Christian freedom. How dare they! And how dare they think I am not a Christian just because I drink every now and then!” Read Romans 14:1-4, 9-15 on the weaker and stronger brothers.

A fourth application has to do with evangelism. It is often thought that we should not keep bad company. We are told that bad company corrupts good morals. This is true to a certain extent. However, this is not always what Jesus did. Yes, He had His twelve disciples. That is where He spent a great deal of His time. But when it came to evangelism, Jesus went where the people gathered. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He was a friend of sinners. Isn’t this ironic? For the Jews reproached Him for doing the very thing that is so wonderful for us! He was our Friend. He is the only such true Friend, who will take upon Himself our sin and guilt. What a Friend! I wonder what would happen today, though, if a minister you knew walked into a bar in order to evangelize. What would you think? Would you be scandalized? Would that cause you problems? You see, there is a difference between engaging in sinful activity at a party, wherever that party happens to be, versus going to a party in order to evangelize. Of course, any principle can be stretched too far. It is not appropriate to go to a place where you know that great sin is going to take place, because you are going to “evangelize,” when what you really want is to join in with the others in their sinful practices. A rule of thumb here is if you are tempted to the kind of sin you know is going to happen at such a party, it is best not to go there, lest you be tempted as well. However, in our churches, I suspect that this is not our difficulty. Our difficulty is that we will not go where the people are at all. We will not go and evangelize. And that is often just an excuse on our part. We use the fact that there might be sinful people there as an excuse not to go share the Gospel. In other words, we are too good for Jesus. We are not willing to do as Jesus did. I can hear someone saying, “Yes, but Jesus was perfect, and did not have to worry about sin. I am not perfect, and therefore I shouldn’t go where the people are, because I might sin.” By that argument, no evangelism would ever get done. We are always tempted to sin everywhere we go, not just parties. The question is whether we will love the people enough to go. Jesus thinks we should.

Lastly, Jesus tells us that Wisdom is proved right by her actions. In other words, even if John and Jesus don’t have very many visible signs of success in their ministry, they still did the right thing. It is easy to get discouraged when we don’t see results. But who knows what that seed will do when once planted. Do we not plant in hope and faith the physical seed we put in the ground? Then let us plant with hope and faith the spiritual seed that we plant in people’s hearts. This is the proper reaction to what Jesus has preached about the Kingdom of God.

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