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.

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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.