An Early Directory for Public Worship (1 Cor 14:26-40)

posted by R. Fowler White

As we come to 1 Cor 14:26-40, we arrive at the close of our brief series on 1 Corinthians 12-14. Paul has covered certain fundamental truths regarding the Spirit and His gifts. It is the Spirit, he declares, who brings unity to the church’s confession of Christ, its gifts for ministry, and its members (12:1-31). Moreover, he maintains, it is not any one gift of the Spirit that is indispensable to seeing our ministries thrive; rather, it is the Spirit’s fruit of love (13:1-13). If we wonder how indispensable love is to ministry, the Apostle would have us compare the greater gift of prophetic speech to the lesser gift of untranslated tongue-speech. In light of that comparison, we’re to see that the former benefits others; the latter does not and cannot benefit others unless it is translated (14:1-25). With those fundamentals as background, Paul will now sum up the regulations that will result in the edification of others during the ministry of God’s word in congregational worship. In the content of his summary, we see what amounts to evidence of an early apostolic directory for congregational worship.

Paul begins his directives with a regulation in 14:26b that applies to all ministries of God’s word in public worship: let all things be done for edification—or as the preceding context puts it: edify others, not oneself alone (14:4-5, 12). No one who delivers God’s word should hinder the instruction and exhortation of God’s people through the public ministry of that word (cf. 14:31). Whether the form of that ministry was a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, a translation (14:26b), all who would minister God’s word were to subject themselves to the Apostle’s directions regarding when to speak and when to be silent (14:27-35). Consequently, he directs the ministry of God’s word to be delivered only by qualified men, by up to three in number, in an orderly fashion, and with testing to ensure the edification of those assembled. Just how firm the Apostle was on these regulations is clear from his declaration that only those who complied with the Lord’s directives through him were to be recognized as those who have the Spirit and His gifts, and those who would not comply should expect divine discipline (14:36-38).

As we consider Paul’s instructions, it is vital to notice where he anchors these regulations. They are rooted in the very character of God (14:33a; the God who distributes gifts for ministry is the God of peace [i.e., harmony], not disorder), in the practice binding on all the churches (14:33b; 11:16), and in the Law (14:34b; likely referring to Genesis 1-3 to which Paul had already alluded in 11:7-9, 11-12). Together, these three anchors tell us that there was more at stake in Paul’s directives than a special rule for a special situation in a specific local church like the one in Corinth. What was at stake was the standing rules that Paul instituted in all the churches over the entire course of his ministry, rules that governed the elements of public worship, including the ministry of God’s word. In fact, as we observed above, we see in 14:26-40 and their context (1 Corinthians 10-14) not a few of the elements of an early ‘directory of public worship,’ the latest presentation of which are arguably apparent in 1 Timothy 2–5.

The sum of Paul’s regulations for public worship here in 1 Cor 14:26-40 is that during the ministry of God’s word, the churches were to prefer the greater gifts without prohibiting the lesser ones and to do so by following the regulations laid down by the Apostle to ensure that the ministry of God’s word was done in that fitting and orderly way that instructed and exhorted His people (14:39-40). Interestingly, insofar as Paul seems to bring into view the broad spectrum of speaking gifts in 14:26b, we find here regulations that have present-day application to the ministry of God’s word through the gift of teacher, a gift less than those of apostles and prophets but greater than that of tongue-speaking (12:28; 1 Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 2:2; 4:1-4; 1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9).

Self-Edification Is Not Enough (1 Cor 14:1-25)

posted by R. Fowler White

Having established love as the precondition for fruitful ministry through the Spirit’s gifts, the Apostle’s attention in 1 Cor 14:1ff. turns back to two of those gifts, one greater, one lesser: respectively, that of prophecy and that of tongue-speaking. His treatment of these gifts is crucial for our understanding of the purpose for which all gifts are given to Christ’s church.

For what follows, we’ll understand that both tongue-speaking and prophecy have ceased (a point raised and discussed elsewhere on this blog), but when they operated, they involved the God-given ability and aspiration to minister to His people by communicating His inerrant word to them. The two gifts differed, however, in that tongue-speech was spoken in a language understood by the speakers themselves but not by their hearers, while prophecies were spoken in the language of both speakers and their hearers.

Two additional observations may also help us. First, let’s note that the phenomenon of tongue-speaking is not unique to Christ’s church. For instance, tongues-speech, dreams and visions, and other extraordinary experiences took place in Corinth’s temples to Apollo and in Egypt’s palaces. Even today, tongue-speaking can be heard among certain Muslims. We should not think, then, that tongue-speaking has its source always and only in the Holy Spirit. Scripture is clear that such occurrences may have their source in ‘the flesh’ (i.e., sinful human nature) or even in servants of Satan disguised as apostles or prophets of Christ (e.g., Acts 16:16-18; 2 Cor 11:13-15). Second, let’s remind ourselves that by the Spirit and His gifts Christ is building His people as His ‘sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true.’ (This divine building project is a topic about which Paul, Peter, and John wrote.) For that work to be done, our gifts must be used not merely to build up ourselves, but to build up others too. In 1 Cor 14:1ff., Paul’s concern about that project focuses on the Spirit’s gifts of prophecy and tongue-speaking. His remarks are blunt: the lesser gift—tongue-speaking without translation—had no place in public worship because such tongue-speaking built up only the speakers themselves, not other believers also. Let’s take a look at the particulars of those remarks.

Paul launches his argument in chapter 14 by restating in 14:1 God’s order of priorities for fruitful ministry in congregational worship. Priority #1 is to pursue love for others, because love is the precondition to a congregation becoming a sanctuary pleasing to God. Priority #2 is to maintain an eagerness for spiritual gifts, for by them God makes the many members one body. Priority #3 is to edify others in public worship. It is Priority #3 that is in focus in 14:2ff. as Paul contrasts prophecy and untranslated tongues-speech. The basis of his preference for prophecy reduces to this: self-edification by any gift may be beneficial, but it is not enough. In fact, the gifts have never been given to edify oneself alone. They are given to edify all (14:4, 18-19). As for tongue-speakers, Paul says, unless their speech was translated, they built up only themselves, not others too. As a result, untranslated tongue-speech had no place in public worship.

Paul becomes even more insistent in 14:6-19. In the interest of edification, the Apostle lays out regulations that tongue-speakers should obey. His general rule is straightforward: benefit (i.e., profit, help) others (14:6). He illustrates the rule as we see it in music (14:7), in the military (14:8), and in human communication (14:10-11). Without distinct tones, instrumentalists keep others from recognizing and enjoying the song being played. Without distinct sounds, a military bugler keeps others from preparing for battle. Without translation, a foreigner’s language remains, well, foreign. Applied to tongues-speech, the Apostle’s general rule means that, when left untranslated, it keeps others from participating (14:9) and from being built up (14:12). Given that reality, Paul goes on to set down a specific rule for tongue-speakers: they should pray to translate for others (14:13-19). Why? Because otherwise, tongue-speakers don’t communicate with others as they should in public worship. Only with translation would tongue-speech be good for others in public worship. To illustrate his point, Paul appeals to his own experience in 14:14-15: ‘Look at what happened when I prayed in tongues without translation: my praying bore no fruit for others. In that light, I should pray and sing only with translation so that I speak both to God and to others, thus building up both myself and others.’ He goes on in 14:16-19 to apply his point: ‘Look at what happens when you and I don’t do what I just described. Without translation, tongue-speakers keep others from participating in public worship. Only with translation are others able to join tongue-speakers in prayer or praise’ (14:16-17). ‘Further, without translation, tongue-speakers keep others from learning in public worship. Only with translation will others be able to learn from tongue-speakers’ (14:18-19). ‘Let no believer, then, be like that bugler who can’t play “Reveille.” Let’s use our gifts to build up all members of Christ’s body, not just ourselves.’ In light of all this, Paul insists that tongue-speaking was not to be part of congregational worship unless it was translated.

Closing his case against untranslated tongue-speaking in public worship, Paul urges, ‘Let’s be grownups about tongue-speaking’ (14:20). ‘Recognize that the statements I’ve made here about tongue-speaking are consistent with what OT prophecy says about it, specifically in Isa 28:11’ (14:21). Turning back to Isa 28 we read there that Judah’s hearing of speech they did not understand was a sign that God was judging them as unbelievers (Deut 28:49; cf. Isa 33:19). In fact, He was rebuking Judah for their unbelief at His new temple building work (Isa 28:16). The same was true in the Apostle’s day. Paul himself was doing foundation-laying in God’s new temple building project (1 Cor 3:9b-11), and his ministry was a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1:23; 14:21-24). Paul’s point in 14:20-25, then, is that ‘grownups’ will recognize untranslated tongue-speaking for what it is: it is a sign of God’s judgment against unbelievers (14.22a), be they Jews (this people, 14:21) or Gentiles. Indeed, when believers spoke in a foreign tongue in the presence of unbelievers, such tongue-speech only antagonized them and hardened them against the gospel (14:23; cf. Acts 2:13). By contrast, when believers prophesied in the presence of unbelievers in their own tongue, prophetic speech convicted and even converted them (14:24-25). It was prophecy, then, that was a sign of God’s blessing on believers (14:22b) and a means of evangelism for those outsiders who might have entered the setting of the church’s public worship. Paul’s conclusion is clear: in the church’s public worship, tongue-speaking without translation benefited neither other believers nor outsiders.

In 1 Cor 14:1-25, Paul gives us a grownup church’s perspective on tongue-speaking: unless it was translated, tongue-speech had no place in public worship. Because it built up only the tongue-speakers themselves, not other believers also … because other believers could not understand it … because it antagonized and hardened unbelievers against Christ’s gospel, untranslated tongue-speech was not to be part of the church’s worship. With all this in mind, a key enduring takeaway for us from Paul’s instruction in 1 Cor 14:1-25 would be that, as God’s temple building project continues, we must be careful to use our gifts not merely to edify ourselves, but to edify others also. Self-edification is just not enough.

Love and the Spirit’s Gifts (1 Cor 12:31b–13:13)

posted by R. Fowler White

As we’ve said in two previous posts, the Holy Spirit unifies the church’s ministry-gifts and members as well as its message. Through Paul, God requires us to continue to be zealous for the Spirit’s gifts, especially His greater gifts (1 Cor 12:31a; cf. 14:1, 12). Zealous as we may be, we’re also to keep the Spirit’s gifts in proper perspective with God’s priority for fruitful church ministry.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the gifts of the Spirit are not God’s priority. Instead, the fruit of the Spirit, especially love, is His priority (12:31b). Love is His priority because, as Paul will say, it is the precondition for the effective use of the Spirit’s gifts in ministry. No matter how great the Spirit’s gifts may be, then, a congregation’s pursuit of love must be a higher priority than its pursuit of spiritual gifts. Yes, eagerness for spiritual gifts should be a trait of a congregation, but Paul would have us understand that its zeal for gifts must be subordinate to its zeal for love. Indeed, there is a way of congregational life that is more excellent than gifts or the status that may be associated with them. That way is expressed in none other than the Second Great Commandment: love of neighbor, that benevolent attitude and activity of placing ourselves at the service of others, not to improve our status with them, but to promote the common good in which together we are all built into a site of sacrifice pleasing to our God.

We might ask: what proof does Paul offer that love is God’s priority over gifts? He answers in 13:1-3: “Just look at what happens if love is absent when our gifts and our acts of self-denial are manifested at their highest level: those gifts and acts amount to nothing. There’s no benefit, no fruit, no witness to others when love is absent from the exercise of our gifts.” Love of neighbor is indispensable to our ministries because its presence in our lives is the precondition of fruitful ministry.

We might press the issue once more: what is it that makes love so indispensable? Paul argues: the indispensability of love comes from its properties, from its nature and actions (13:4-7). As he spells out what love does and does not do, Paul personifies it. No doubt, there’s a reason why he personifies love here: it’s because love is to be lived out; it is to be incarnated. It was gloriously lived out and incarnated in Christ our Lord. But there is even more here: the love Paul describes also becomes incarnated in the members of Christ’s body as the Spirit of Christ regenerates us and begins His work of forming Christ in us and conforming us to His image. To apply 13:4-7 to ourselves, we need only insert the pronoun I wherever Paul uses the word love. (Paul points us in this direction by putting himself before us in 13:1-3: if I speak … And if I have …  If I give away … and if I deliver up … .) By doing so, we’ll find out the degree to which God’s priority and love’s nature and actions are ours. Comparing ourselves to God’s standard, we see why love is so indispensable: it’s because love, in a word, is selfless. When love is present in us, we selflessly place ourselves at the service of others, not to improve our status with them, but to promote the common good in which we’re all being built together as a site of sacrifice pleasing to God.

Do we need more proof that love is God’s priority? The Apostle goes on to contrast the temporariness of gifts to the permanence of love (13:8-13). He reminds us that there’s a time coming when the partial, fragmentary state of the knowledge of divine things that we now gain through God’s gifts will pass away (13:9-11). As true as the present state of our knowledge may be, God’s gifts don’t provide us the full and final state of knowledge that will be ours when we see Him face to face (13:12). No, gifts and the knowledge we receive through them, though given by God, will be done away and are thus only provisional. Even faith and hope will give way to sight (Rom 8:24; 2 Cor 5:6-7). It is love that is forever; it is love that never fails. It is thus love that is greater than all gifts and even greater than faith and hope (13:13). Understandably, then, love is God’s priority, His way of congregational life, the very precondition for fruitful ministry with God’s gifts in this world.

Would we be fruitful in ministry as individual believers and as congregations? According to the Apostle, there is a path more excellent than even a zealous pursuit of the Spirit’s gifts. That path, that priority, that precondition is love of neighbor. Unlike the Spirit’s gifts, it is love that is indispensable, selfless, and everlasting. It’s indispensable in that we know what happens when love is absent: we amount to nothing spiritually. It’s selfless in that we know what happens when love is present: we place ourselves at the service of others to promote that common good in which together we’re built as a site of sacrifice pleasing to our God. It’s everlasting in that we know that, though gifts, faith, and hope are ours in this age, love is ours both in this age and in the age to come. No wonder, then, that the Apostle would have us affirm that the Spirit’s fruit of love is greater than His gifts.

The Spirit Unifies Our Ministries and Members (1 Cor 12:4-31a)

posted by R. Fowler White

In an earlier post on 1 Cor 12:1-3, we discussed the truth that the Holy Spirit of Christ brings unity to His church’s confession (i.e., message). It’s only by the work of the Spirit that the church makes a common confession with heart and mouth. It’s only by the work of the Spirit that the church proclaims with one voice that the once crucified Christ is now the resurrected and ascended Lord of all. Yet the Apostle Paul would have us understand that the Holy Spirit brings unity to the church’s ministries and members as well as to the church’s message. That truth comes into view in 1 Cor 12:4-31a.

In what ways does the Spirit unite the church’s ministries? Paul tells us that He unifies the church’s ministries by being the one Source common to all the gifts and by distributing them for one common purpose. The details in 12:4-11 elaborate the point. Three times Paul states that though the ministry-gifts are many and different, they have a common Originator. That Originator is none other than the Spirit (12:4), the Lord (12:5), God (12:6). He is the One who imparts His gifts-ministries-workings to each believer in the church. More than that, He makes it so that the gifts aren’t meant to give advantages to ostensibly ‘elite’ individuals endued for ostensibly ‘elite’ ministries. Instead, they contribute to the ‘common good’ of Christ’s whole body (12:7). The workings of the one Spirit are meant to edify, exhort, and encourage not the gifted individual alone, but all others in the church too (14:12, 26). This is the case if the Spirit’s manifestation takes the form of wisdom and knowledge (12:8), or of prophecy and discerning spirits (12:10b), or of tongues and their translation (12:10c). This is the case too if the Spirit’s manifestation takes the form of faith, or healing, or miracles (12:9, 10a). One and the same Source—the Spirit (12:11)—disperses all these diverse gifts. Contrary to views sometimes heard in certain church circles, we’re not to imagine that the Spirit divides Christ’s church by distinguishing ‘those who have’ from ‘those who have not.’ No, the church is brought together and held together by one Spirit who distributes gifts to each believer for ministry to all others with whom He has joined them.

Shifting his focus on ministries in 12:4-11, Paul stresses that the Holy Spirit brings unity to the church’s members in 12:12-20. In truth, he argues that Christ (yes, Christ) is like the human body (12:12). The human body has many different organs and limbs that together form a unit. So it is with Christ. If we ask how the church-body’s unity comes about, the Apostle again emphasizes that the one Spirit brings it about by baptizing and filling all diverse nationalities (Jews or Greeks) and social classes (slaves or free) that make up the church (12:13). Pentecost illustrates the point. As Christ builds His living sanctuary (Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:4-6), He does so by making the many categories of the human race (2:17-18; 1 Cor 12:13b; cf. 6:17) one in the Spirit and repentance (Acts 2:17, 21, 38-39). This is not to say that the body’s parts lose their individual identity (cf. 1 Cor 12:15-17). Nor is it to say that as God forms the body, He makes it of a single organ or limb (12:18-20). Think of it this way: we’re not literally ‘all ears’! So, what difference does this make to church-body members? It means that no member should say, “I don’t belong to the church-body because my gifts are different from others.” Nor should any member envy others or pity others. No, we’re to remember Paul’s teaching in 12:18: each different body part is in its place by the choice of the wise and sovereign Creator of the church. To think too highly (Rom 12:3)—or even too lowly (1 Cor 12:15-16)—of ourselves is to insult Him who makes the body. Through the one Spirit who distributes His diverse gifts, we who believe, each and all, belong to Christ’s church-body.

To unpack still further the unity of the church’s members, the Apostle argues in 12:21-26 that the body’s members are not only all different; they are also all necessary. This truth applies not just to those parts regarded as the most presentable. It applies to the least presentable also. All of the body’s diverse parts are required. No limb is self-sufficient or all-important. No organ should question the value of others to its own well-being or to the body’s overall well-being. When it comes to the church-body, no member should say of another, “I have no need of her” or “He’s of no use to me.” Even to think such things is to deny the truth that Paul asserts in 12:24b: our Savior has so combined the body’s different parts that He has made them all necessary. None other than our God has determined the place that each part has (12:28). Just as we’re Christ’s one body when taken as a unit, so when taken as individuals we’re parts necessary to that body’s composition (12:27). Therefore, every member, whether suffering or celebrating, is due the same care and attention (12:25-26).

So, what’s the payoff from all this? We’re to remember that the Spirit and His gifts unify the ministries and members of Christ’s church-body. No gift entitles its possessor to a higher, more exclusive status than others—even if, by divine arrangement, some gifts are granted more honor and some less (12:28; Rom 12:3-5; cf. 1 Pet 4:10). No member is any less a part of the body than any other (12:15-16). No member defines the body on its own: no one gift is meant for each of us (including tongues) (12:29-30). No gift makes its possessor self-sufficient: no member, whom God has placed in Christ’s church-body, is dispensable or nonessential (12:21). Rather, God designs the body so that each of its parts contributes to the good of the whole. In this light, our duty is to put to death the self-pity that moans, “I don’t belong to the body.” We’re to mortify the arrogance that declares, “I don’t need you.” Instead, we’re to stand firm in the truth that the Holy Spirit unifies our ministries and our members just as He unifies our message.

Rehabilitate the Son of Perdition? Judas in Eight Scenes

posted by R. Fowler White

Among the many searing and disturbing parts of the accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death is the fact that He was betrayed, as we all know, by Judas Iscariot. The impact of that act is so significant that Judas has become the prime example of ‘the betrayer’ in Western culture. Judas not only has a role in virtually every retelling of the Passion of Jesus; he appears often as the proverbial symbol of the profit-driven betrayer in much of our literature and cinema. Yet, every now and then, we hear of efforts to look at Judas in a more sympathetic light, to rehabilitate him. ‘Really?’ you say. Yes, really. Is such a rehabilitation even possible? Taking the Bible seriously, the unfolding relationship between Judas and Jesus can be told from a series of NT scenes. Reflect then on eight scenes in which Judas appears by name.

Scene 1: Judas was appointed by Jesus (Matt 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-15; Mark 3:13-19). The name Judas, taken from one of the sons of Jacob-Israel, was the Greek version of the name Judah. The modifier Iscariot most likely refers to his hometown, indicating that he was Ish-karioth, a ‘man of Karioth,’ a town in southern Judea. As a Judean, he lived closer to a center of education (Jerusalem) and was thus probably more educated and cultured than others among the Twelve (such as the fishermen). Still, like the other Eleven, Judas was chosen by Jesus after an all-night prayer session and was made ‘keeper of the common purse’ (treasurer) for Jesus and the Twelve. Indeed, Judas became one of the few to whom Jesus had spoken privately about the fact that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Judas, then, was one of the Twelve with whom Jesus had chosen to be most intimately associated. Still, we notice that the four Gospel writers all refer to Judas not just as one of the Twelve. No, they brand him the one who betrayed Him, the one who became a traitor, to underline the heinous nature of his sin and crime. We’re introduced to Judas, then, as one of the Twelve appointed by Jesus, but as the one who betrayed Him.

Scene 2: Judas secretly rejected Jesus (John 6:66-71). As we come to John 6, we’re two years into the earthly ministry of Jesus. Judas has just seen the sign of the feeding of the 5,000 and the sign of walking on the water. He has just heard the “I am the Bread of Life” sermon—which, we’re told, was not received well at all. In fact, the scene in John 6 is one of mass defection from Jesus after His mass popularity. Like many in the crowds, Judas stumbled when Jesus identified Himself as the true Bread of Life from heaven. Hearing that sermon, Judas grumbled as one who did not believe Him (6:61, 64). The surprise here is not only that Judas secretly disbelieved, for many disbelieved. The surprise is that Jesus knew from the beginning that, though he was one of His own choosing, Judas was a devil, a slanderer, who did not believe Him and was intending to betray Him (John 6:70-71).

Scene 3: Judas expressed public contempt for Mary of Bethany, who anointed Jesus for burial (John 12:1-8). By the time we reach this scene in John’s Gospel, we know that Judas has witnessed many signs that authenticated Jesus’ identity, including all seven signs that culminated in the resurrection of Lazarus in Bethany. Back again in Bethany, while Jesus and the Twelve were having supper with Mary and Martha and also with resurrected Lazarus, Mary’s act of devotion got everybody’s attention. Matthew and Mark show us that, in that critical moment, all the Twelve expressed contempt for her action. John, though, singles out Judas for protesting Mary’s act as if she were effectively stealing from the poor to benefit Jesus. Yet his complaint, John tells us, was just a pretentious cover for his pilfering from the common purse of Jesus and the Twelve. To be sure, Jesus rebuked all the Twelve for criticizing Mary, but John expressly identifies Judas at this point as a thief. Why? Because Judas’ protest not only depreciates Mary’s act of devotion; it also portends his complicity in the very events that made Mary’s act necessary and by which he would seek to benefit himself at the expense of Jesus’ life.

Scene 4: Judas bargained with the chief priests (Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-6; John 13:2). Shortly after Scene 3 at Bethany, we’re told that Satan entered Judas, putting it in his heart to betray Jesus. From the NT accounts of demon possession, we may justifiably infer that Judas began to exhibit any number of unusual symptoms. Perhaps he took on a new personality of the evil spirit within or spoke with an alien voice. Maybe he exhibited fits of rage or extremely violent behavior, or erupted into tirades and screaming, both obscene and blasphemous. Conceivably, he displayed physical disease, disability, or deformity, or even extraordinary physical strength. Most distinctive of Judas, we imagine him developing self-destructive behavior and a hardening to the things of God. Confident at least in these last two symptoms, it was in this state that Judas bargained for Jesus’ life and covenanted with Jewish leaders for thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. We can only gasp at the thought that Judas weighed Jesus in the balance and found Him to be worth such a pittance. Yet he compounds our shock by agreeing to a signal for his treachery: a kiss, the customary greeting of a disciple to his beloved rabbi. Just so do we see the stark contrast between Judas’ act of betrayal and Mary’s act of devotion, for deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Prov 27:6).

Scene 5: Judas eating and drinking at the Passover feast with Jesus (John 13:18-30). Yes, Judas was there at the Passover table in the Upper Room. The devil, we read, had put it in his heart to betray Jesus (13:2). During the Passover meal but before the first Lord’s Supper was instituted, Jesus washed the feet of the Twelve, including Judas. Then Jesus announced the presence of a betrayer at the table, giving Judas a piece of the Passover bread to identify him as the traitor. His true identity, however, remained hidden from all but Jesus. After Judas had taken that morsel, John tells us, Satan entered into him (again). Jesus said to him, What you are going to do, do quickly. And Judas immediately went out. And it was night. Revealed as the son of perdition (John 17:12), the night was his only proper habitat. Still, none of the Eleven so much as looked askance at Judas, much less said, Lord, is it Judas? No, the other disciples thought Judas had gone out to give something to the poor. His deeds of stealth hid his true identity: like his father the devil, he was a deceiver and an accomplice to murder.

Scene 6: Judas became a guide to those who arrested Jesus (John 18:1-9). After Judas left the Upper Room, the Gospel writers tell us how ‘the devil’s bargain’ all went down. Jesus went out with His disciples across the Kidron Valley to a garden where He had often met with His disciples. Meanwhile, Judas, being familiar with that place, proceeded there with a squad of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, carrying lanterns and torches and weapons—that kiss of betrayal included. Jesus, because He knew all that was to happen to Him, stepped forward to meet them. Most notably, Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. His heart filled by Satan, he had become a guide to those who arrested Jesus.

Scene 7: Remorseful without repentance, Judas committed suicide (Matt 27:3-11). Having seen Jesus condemned to death, Judas was now filled with sorrow and regret—but not with repentance or faith. His response was not that of a changed heart, but of a pained heart. We see him confess his guilt to the Sanhedrin, but not to God or to His Son Jesus. And he then died by suicide. Here we shouldn’t forget the consequences of demonic indwelling: self-destructive behavior. For the love of money, Judas forfeited his soul, showing remorse but no repentance.

Scene 8: God cut Judas out from among the Twelve (Acts 1:12-26). Son of perdition that he was, Judas became a branch broken off from the olive tree (Rom 11:22). He fell away and went to his own place. As Pss 69:25 and 109:8 put it, his dwelling became desolate, and another took his office (namely, Matthias; Acts 1:26). When John the Apostle saw the vision of the Holy City (Rev 21:9-14), he looked on the twelve stones of the foundation of that city and on those stones were the names of the Twelve. Knowing that God had cut Judas out from among the Twelve, we can be sure that John saw no stone with the name Judas Iscariot on it.

Is it really possible to rehabilitate Judas, to put him in a more sympathetic light? If we take the Bible seriously and reflect on Judas in these eight scenes, our answer has to be ‘No.’ But let’s ask another question: why do some of us want to rehabilitate Judas? I submit this reason: because we recognize ourselves in him. He was, after all, among the masses who persisted in rejecting Jesus. Oh, yes, we differ in critical ways from Judas, but we’re also like him. Enslaved to his sins he betrayed Jesus, and so it is with us all. If in that respect we’re like Judas, then the real question is, can we be rehabilitated when Judas was not? Well, let’s put it this way: which kiss would you give Jesus? The kiss of betrayal from Judas brought him the agony of damnation. But the NT scenes of Judas tell us of another kiss too. It’s the kiss of faith from Mary of Bethany who washed Jesus’ feet with her many tears out of her joy over His forgiveness of her many sins. If our kiss is like that of Judas, it will bring us agony in our damnation. But if our kiss is like that of Mary, it will bring us joy in our forgiveness. Be sure, then, that the kiss you give Jesus is the kiss of faith (Ps 2:12).

The Spirit and the Gifts are Ours (1 Cor 12:1-3)

posted by R. Fowler White

As Luther put it, the Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth. What a stupendous acclamation this is, especially in these days of increasing declension. Luther’s words provoke us to master and be mastered by Paul’s instruction on the Spirit and the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12–14. He starts his lessons for us in 12:1-3.

We must know who does and does not have the Holy Spirit and His gifts, 12:1-2. The Apostle does not want us to be uninformed or misinformed but to be well informed about who has the Holy Spirit and His gifts. How do we recognize someone who is genuinely “of the Spirit”? So often we hear that they take part in supernatural phenomena, speak in tongues, fall into trances, dreams, and visions. But we should not ignore that such things took place in Corinth’s temples to Apollo and in Egyptian palaces. They even take place in certain Muslim mosques today. We should not make the mistake, then, of thinking that supernatural happenings have their source always and only in the Holy Spirit of Christ. The biblical fact is that manifestations often associated with or attributed to the Spirit may actually have their source in sinful human nature (aka the flesh) or even in servants of Satan who disguise themselves as apostles or prophets of Christ (2 Cor 11:13-15; Acts 16:16-18).

Given the range of supernatural sources, Paul underscores that none of us had the Holy Spirit before we became believers in Christ Jesus, 12:2. To the contrary, he reminds us that before our conversion, we were in captivity to idols (cf. Hab 2:18-19). As idol worshipers, we were like Narcissus in Greek mythology: he fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. So it was with us: before our conversion we were just in love with an illusion of our own making, a figment of our imagination. Indeed, the Spirit of Christ was not ours, and we were not His.

Yet the Spirit changed us. The Apostle explains. Our captivity notwithstanding, none other than the Holy Spirit ended our bondage to idols and gave us hearts to believe and mouths to confess that Jesus is Lord, 12:3. Paul traces the change in our confession to the enabling power and presence of the Spirit of Christ. Consider this, he says: no confession that Jesus is accursed (i.e., justly condemned) has the Spirit of Christ as its source (12:3a). Only the confession that Jesus is Lord has the Spirit of Christ as its source (12.3b). Still we must be careful and clear: confessing Jesus as Lord is not about saying certain words (as Jesus Himself made clear in Matt 7:21-23). No, in Scripture, confessing Jesus as Lord is the fruit of the work of His Spirit within us so that we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths. To confess Jesus is Lord, then, is to acclaim His majesty and to swear absolute allegiance to Him as our Royal Deity, as our Savior and Judge. To confess Jesus is Lord is to confess that He has claimed us as His own and that we have claimed Him and His yoke as our own. To confess Jesus is Lord is to confess that He, the crucified one, has been, by His resurrection and ascension, publicly declared to be Lord of all, from whom, through whom, and to whom are all things. For many, such a confession is mere foolishness, even blasphemy. Paul would remind us, however, that for them there is no Lord but the idol of their own imagination. To confess Jesus is Lord actually sets believers apart from all others as those who are of the Spirit of Christ.

Knowing these things, how does the truth that the Spirit and His gifts are ours fit into the big picture of what God has been doing throughout history? That big picture is the macro-narrative that God has been following throughout the history of His work to save sinners. That pattern is that He first wins a victory for His chosen people and then celebrates that victory by giving His Spirit to enable His people to build a sanctuary where He dwells with them. We can see this story-line in both the OT and the NT. The two major OT examples are found in the histories of Moses and David-Solomon. In the book of Exodus we read that God through Moses delivered Israel from Egypt and then by His Spirit equipped His people to build the tabernacle as His dwelling place among them. Later, in the narratives about David and Solomon (2 Sam 2–8; 1 Kgs 5–8), God through David delivered Israel from their enemies and then by His Spirit endowed Solomon to construct the first temple as His holy house among His people. Turning to the NT, we see the same narrative, only better: Christ, full of the Spirit, rescues sinners from their sins and then by the Spirit and His gifts enables them to build and to be built as His living sanctuary.

Remarkable, isn’t it? Moses, David, Solomon, and Israel might well have sung Luther’s lyric with us. How so? They would have done so knowing that God was going to do something better through the One who is greater than they were. After all, Jesus is delivering His people from sin and death, the world, the flesh, and the devil. And by the Spirit and His gifts He is preparing not just a place, but His people, to be His sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. That work goes forward as we learn the lesson that Scripture has for us: the Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth.

Love and Truth: Do We Sacrifice One for the Other? (2 John)

posted by R. Fowler White

In Scripture, Christians are called to devote themselves both to truth and to love. But can we pursue one without sacrificing the other? To get the bottom of this question, it helps us to reflect on John’s second letter. For our purposes here, we’ll understand the sender, the Elder, to be the Apostle John and the recipients, the elect lady and her children, to be a congregation and its members (as a whole and in its parts) or perhaps a mother church and the congregations born (planted) out of it.

The letter’s opening (2Jn 1-3) stands out for the way John describes the recipients’ relationship to himself and to others. First, he indicates how the recipients are related to him: whom I love in [the] truth. John most probably means that his love for them is not merely sincere, but is consistent with and required by God’s revealed truth. It is a love based in the truth they share. In fact, he will confirm this in 2Jn 7, 9. Second, he describes in a most striking way how the recipients are related to others: all who know the truth love the elect lady and her children in [the] truth. And why is this the case? He tells us: because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever (2Jn 2). In other words, they were bound in love because they were bound in truth. The love they shared was based in the truth they shared. After expressing his gratitude that these believers were living according to the truth despite opposition (2Jn 4), John takes up his exhortation in 2Jn 5-11.

John is careful to start off his appeal by establishing the link between truth and love. Basically, he says, “live your lives in keeping with love, just as y’all are living your lives in keeping with truth” (2Jn 5). Commitment to truth will bear fruit in commitment to love, and devotion to love will bear fruit in devotion to truth. Before moving on, John emphasizes, as he does elsewhere, that this duty to love is not new, novel, innovative, or even original with the Apostle himself. It’s the same obligation we’ve heard from the beginning. Whether we’re talking about the teaching of Jesus during His earthly ministry (Jn 13:34), the code of Moses at Sinai (Lev 19:18), or a duty binding even on Adam and his children (1Jn 3:11-12), our duty to love is a longstanding responsibility.

After John briefly reminds us of our duty to love, he states his reason for recalling that duty: For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist  (2Jn 7). Adding to his portrait of the deceivers, he says in 2Jn 9 that every heretic goes too far, goes beyond the bounds of truth—the teaching of Christ—documented by His Apostles. False teachers are often heard quoting some new word from the Holy Spirit to take us beyond the Apostles’ eyewitness teaching. The Holy Spirit, however, does not take us beyond the teaching of the Apostles. He gives us light to accept and abide in the revelation He has given. It is for this reason that we’re to devote ourselves continually to the Apostles’ doctrine. It is also for this reason that serious Christians will learn from the history of doctrine: that dimension of church history is the locus of the Spirit’s work of illumination, telling us where the boundaries of orthodoxy have been historically. Certainly, only Scripture is the rule of Christian faith and practice, but the church’s historic confessions and creeds are a help to us. They guide us as we strive not to progress beyond the Apostles’ doctrine but to progress in it.

Notice then that to lay the groundwork for the believers’ proper attitude toward heretics and their heresy, the Elder has deftly linked love and truth. He insists that genuine Christian love will discriminate against those who oppose the truth. Indeed, authentic Christian love means protecting ourselves and others against deception by false teachers. John reminds us that just as adherents to Christian truth know that love matters, so devotees to Christian love know that truth matters. Therefore, the Elder tells the elect lady and her children—congregations of Christ’s church—to watch themselves (2Jn 8), maintaining their composure as they work firmly but patiently with those who oppose God’s revealed will (cf. 2Tim 2:24-26). Such vigilance, John says, is particularly necessary for a congregation because to allow heretics or heresies to go unopposed puts the fruitfulness of that congregation’s own ministry in jeopardy. In fact, John says more: he highlights what a congregation should never do in response to a false teacher: do not receive him into your house (i.e., your house church) or give him any greeting (2Jn 10). To get John’s point here, we need to bear in mind a few critical features of hospitality in the biblical world: it wasn’t about inviting someone into our home for coffee or even a meal.

One feature of ancient hospitality is that it was commanded by God (e.g., Heb 13:2) and was directed toward traveling strangers (e.g., Gen 18:1-8). Remarkably, our hospitality, particularly toward itinerants such as the Apostles, will be one criterion of our judgment by the Son of Man, the King (Matt 25:31-46). Second, hospitality sent a message to those who saw it practiced: it announced that Christians who hosted itinerants were sponsoring them and affirming their standing as Christians to outsiders. In fact, part of hospitality was to welcome itinerants, a greeting that amounted to recognizing their good standing as Christians (cf. 2Jn 11). In short, Christians showing hospitality to itinerants was an act of shared Christian love.

With that background in mind, John is quick and emphatic to add here that hospitality to itinerant strangers is never to be indifferent to truth. His point to the elect lady and her children, then, is clear enough: “Don’t show hospitality to known false teachers or their disciples. To do so would be to give them a platform to promote their heresies and thus to become complicit in their evil deeds.”

So, says the Elder, let those entrusted with the ‘ministry of the keys’  in Christ’s church (cf. Matt 16:19) be careful to protect those in their charge. Just as they examine prospective members and officers of a congregation, so let them also examine itinerants such as missionaries and guest speakers. Let them also carefully counsel individual families on their response to itinerant heretics lest their homes become a snare of the devil. Why do this? Because Christians are devoted both to love and to truth. In other words, authentic Christian love means always protecting ourselves and others against false teachers and their teachings.

The Truths of Which We Now Sing (1 Tim 3:16)

posted by R. Fowler White

The Apostle Paul wrote in First Timothy 3:16 (NASB95): By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. 

As we have entered another season of celebrating the incarnation of God the Son, we sing of that great mystery of godliness that, as expressed in the phrases of 1 Tim 3:16, has now been revealed in Christ. So let’s be clear: by mystery we don’t mean something esoteric or cryptic, but rather truth made known only by divine revelation. About this particular mystery there is said to be common consent in God’s confessing church. It is a mystery summarized here in six lyrical phrases from what was most probably an early Christian hymn, sung in three stanzas of two lines each. Let’s consider the truth revealed in each line.

We sing of the incarnation of Christ: He who was manifested in the flesh. According to the Apostle Paul, our song begins with the fact that that Child in the feeding trough was the pre-existent Son of the Father, God of God, God with God, who has permanently taken to Himself human nature, having become forever thereafter one Person with two natures, divine and human. Miraculously conceived and preserved from sin’s defilement by the Holy Spirit, His birth began His suffering. That suffering became hostility and insult; then betrayal, abandonment, scorn, rejection, condemnation; then torment, facing the terrors of death, feeling and bearing the weight of God’s wrath as a sacrifice for sin, enduring painful, shameful, cursed crucifixion. His death brought an end to the earthly phase of His manifestation in the flesh. Of His incarnation we sing in our song, because with it the historical accomplishment of our redemption began. But there is more to our song.

We sing of the vindication of Christ: He was vindicated [justified] by the Spirit. When He was manifested in the flesh, the Son became the servant who submitted Himself to God’s law and conquered Satan, sin, and death. He became the one Man whom God has justified by His works. Made alive by the Spirit, everything Jesus said and did was certified as faithful and true. We sing, then, of Christ vindicated, the only immortal and now glorified Man.

We sing of the appearances of Christ: He was seen by angels. Even heaven’s angels have beheld Him, resurrected and ascended in theophanic glory. Through the incarnate and vindicated Son of Man, humanity has been restored to the heavenly sanctuary, and the angelic host now assist Him to maintain heavenly Mt Zion’s accessibility and inviolability even as they assist all who will inherit salvation. To paraphrase what another has said, the angels sang at His birth, ministered to Him in His hour of temptation, guarded His tomb, testified to His resurrection, witnessed His ascension, and look forward to His return. Just so, we sing now of His appearances to angels.

We sing of the proclamation of Christ: He was proclaimed among the nations. As the NT teaches us, the Apostles were equipped and authorized for their gospel ministry by Christ. Once He was vindicated by the Spirit and seen by angels, we read of how they labored hard to tell the nations about the saving mission, the justifying grace, and the transforming mercy of the patient and powerful Christ. They did indeed tell the nations in their day of Christ—and the church built on the foundation of Christ continues to tell the nations of Him, so that, at last, people from all families on earth will join in praise to Christ who is God our King. Even so, we sing the everlasting song of Christ proclaimed among all nations.

We sing of the reception of Christ: He was believed on in the world. For over 2,000 years now Christ has been believed on in the world. The first eyewitnesses of His resurrection believed: Mary, Peter, John, even Thomas, among others. After the Twelve believed, then Pentecost came and thousands believed on that day. The evangelistic mission only expanded to reach even the imperial capital of Rome. We see a global, worldwide mission bringing a global, worldwide harvest from all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, a harvest so great that no one can count its numbers. It is of this Christ—of Christ believed on in the world—whom we sing.

Lastly in our hymn, we sing of the ascension of Christ: He was taken up in glory. Raised from the dead in glory, Christ was taken up in glory into the highest invisible heavens. He is there at this very moment, crowned and enthroned, radiating majesty and splendor, preparing a place for all of us who believe, making intercession for us, answering all accusations against us, making sure that we have access with boldness to the throne of grace. From glory He came; to glory He has returned. And so of His ascension, His present coronation and reign, we sing.

These are among the truths of which we the church now do sing in this season of celebration. Singing of such things as incarnation, vindication, theophany, proclamation, reception, and ascension is outmoded for many today. Yet those who smear us who sing are full of balderdash and twaddle. We sing because we know ourselves to be sinners in the sight of God. We sing because we know ourselves to be justly deserving God’s displeasure. We sing because we know ourselves to be without hope except in God’s sovereign mercy. We sing because we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners. We sing because we have received and are resting upon Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel.

Don’t sneer at us who sing. Join us in our confession and sing with us the truths that express the great mystery of godliness, once hidden now revealed in Christ: Christ manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

“I believe … in the Holy Spirit”

posted by R. Fowler White

As we continue our series on the Apostles’ Creed, we come to Article 8 and confess that we believe in the Holy Spirit. As we do, we’re actually starting the third section of the Creed. The first section (Article 1) focused on the person and creating work of God the Father. The second section (Articles 2-7) focused on the person and saving work of God the Son. Now we come to the third section to focus on the person and work of God the Spirit.

Some describe the Holy Spirit as the “forgotten” Person of the Trinity. This is not, however, historically accurate. In fact, over the centuries, students and teachers of Scripture have made the Spirit the focus of much helpful attention. Still, with nearly 60% of Americans agreeing that “The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being,” we should concede that the Spirit is the lesser known of the Three Persons. We also do well to recognize that The Nicene Creed (AD 325, 381, 589) perfected and expanded the wording of Article 8 by affirming, “And [I believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son: Who together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified: Who spoke by the prophets.” We’re not surprised, then, when catechisms and confessions from the Reformation era explained Article 8 of the Apostles’ Creed in light of the Nicene Creed. Our comments below will do the same.

Confessing our belief in the Holy Spirit, we bear witness that He is, together with God the Father and God the Son, true and eternal God. Proceeding from the Father and the Son, He is the Third Person of the Godhead. He was active in the work of creation, forming and filling the visible creation. He has been active in the work of salvation, making all things new, particularly God’s people, in and through Christ. In His ministry, He gives the definitive, conclusive testimony (witness) to the Father who sent the Son and to the Son sent by the Father. As the Spirit relates specifically to the Son, Scripture describes Him as constantly present in and with the incarnate Son, from womb (conception) through tomb (death) to throne (ascension). As such, the Spirit is designated as Paraklete, that is, as Divine Defense Counsel, Advocate, Chief Witness, Eyewitness, Character Witness to Christ, the Son of the Father. We must, accordingly, take care to receive the Spirit’s witness. To do otherwise is to blaspheme Him.

The Spirit’s ministry as Divine Witness has had two aspects: revelation and conviction. As minister of revelation, He is the One who has provided all Christ-glorifying revelation through the Prophets and Apostles, guiding them into all aspects of the truth as revealed in Jesus, disclosing to them the fullness of His person and work in His ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. Because of this ministry of the Spirit, the church should be confident that the Scriptures are Spirit-taught words (1 Cor 2:13). He who is minister of revelation is also minister of conviction (John 16:8-10): He convicts the world of sin, on account of their unbelief and unrepentance; of righteousness, on account of the Son’s ascension to the Father’s throne; and of judgment, on account of the Son’s judgment of Satan.

The work of the Spirit goes beyond revelation and conviction too. In Scripture, we learn that, at creation God, by the Spirit and the word, overcame darkness and deep and made all the world into a veritable palace of the Majestic Creator on high. Then, through Moses, by the Spirit and the word, God overcame Egypt, made Israel a holy nation, and took up residence in the tabernacle as His holy dwelling place. Later, by the Spirit and the word, God overcame the Canaanites under Joshua and David, and had the first temple built under Solomon as His earthly holy house. In the present age, since His first coming, Christ, by the Spirit and the word, has been overcoming Satan’s kingdom and making His people into God’s earthly dwelling place in the Spirit. At His return Christ, by the Spirit and the word, will overcome death, and His people will thereafter reside forever with God in His eternal dwelling place. Clearly, from the beginning, the Spirit has bound Himself to the word, and, by that bond, God has brought and will bring beauty and bounty, security and purity to all the world.

There is one more point for us to bear in mind here about the Spirit in whom we believe. Because true faith is discerning faith, we who confess faith in the Spirit will test both speakers and listeners who claim to be of God (1 John 4:1-6). Not all speakers (4:1-3) or listeners (4:4-6) should affirm that they are of God. No, according to the Apostles, speakers and listeners who truly are of God are created by the Spirit of truth (1 Cor 2:6–3:4). For wherever the Spirit of truth has been at work, speakers and listeners make a common confession that is in keeping with the Apostles’ teaching now documented in Scripture. Preeminently, they confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Eternal Son incarnate, fully God and fully man, one person with two natures, human and divine. If, then, we would discern speakers and listeners who are of God, we will look for the work of the Spirit of truth evident in their common confession of the Christ of the Apostles’ gospel now documented in Scripture.

In Article 8 of the Apostles’ Creed, following Scripture, we confess, I believe … in the Holy Spirit. We do so bearing in mind that the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error are both present in this world. How will we know the one from the other? We will know the Holy Spirit of truth because His work is to give sinners new ears to hear the Apostles’ gospel of Christ and new mouths to confess the Christ of the Apostles’ gospel. What, then, will our confession be in these days of widespread confusion about the Holy Spirit? Let’s be sure not to answer in an offhanded, cavalier way.

Our attention turns to Article 9 of the Creed here.

“The Third Day He Rose Again from the Dead”

posted by R. Fowler White

As we continue to work our way through the Apostles’ Creed, examining its articles in the light of Scripture, we come now to Article 5: The third day He rose again from the dead.

There is no doubt that this is what Scripture teaches. Moreover, this is what the church of Jesus Christ, following Scripture, has confessed throughout its history. That is, with Scripture, the true church continues to confess that Christ really and truly did rise from the dead, and in rising His soul was really and truly reunited with His body, inasmuch as the two had been separated at death. He really and truly did come out of His tomb in which He had been buried, despite the steps that the Roman guards had taken to make the tomb secure. He rose again the same Person, the same Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man—only now glorified! The same body, the one that had fallen victim to death and burial, rose again—only now it was a glorious body (Phil 3:21).

The particular phrase that the Creed uses to affirm Christ’s resurrection is noteworthy: He rose again. Elsewhere we read that He was raised again. What’s the difference? The Creed’s word choice puts an emphasis on Christ’s power to rise from the dead, to raise His body from the grave. In other words, the Creed bears witness that Christ rose again from the dead because Scripture teaches that, as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself (John 5:26). In this connection, we remember that Jesus had declared, speaking of His body: Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days (John 2:19). He had also proclaimed: I have authority to lay down My life, and I have authority to take it up again (John 10:18).

It’s equally noteworthy that the Creed specifies that Jesus Christ rose again on the third day. The Apostles’ gospel (e.g., 1 Cor 15:4), to which the Creed bears witness, was (and is) not a novelty. The resurrection that they preached and documented was the NT fulfillment of the promises of God in the OT Scriptures. Moses, the Prophets after him, and the Psalms testified that the Christ would suffer and rise again from death on the third day. Strikingly, Scripture provides many pictures (foreshadowings) of resurrection, including birth from barrenness, return from exile, release from a death sentence, release from prison, deliverance from the waters of death, deliverance from thirst, hunger, sickness; deliverance from the sting of the viper, and the raising up of a fallen tabernacle. In the places where we find these themes, we find that life comes from death after three days, on the third day. The Apostles’ gospel, then, was the OT gospel. 

So what difference does Christ’s resurrection make? How does it benefit us? First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, so that believers share in the righteousness that He obtained for them by His death. In other words, through faith, God reckons to sinners Christ’s righteousness in exchange for our sins. By Christ’s resurrection, God our Judge declares: “Debt paid in full!” And not only that. By Christ’s resurrection our Divine Judge declares to us who believe: “Accepted as righteous in Christ; in Him you have all the righteousness I require.” Second, by His power we are raised up to live a new life of obedience to God. United to the resurrected Christ by faith, we have been raised from death in sins to a new life of seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Third, Christ’s bodily resurrection is to us believers God’s sure pledge of our own glorious bodily resurrection. Christ is the firstfruits of those who have died (1 Cor 15:20), the first one to have been raised from the dead to die no more. Christ is God’s down payment in guarantee of more to come, the assurance of a full harvest. For believers, then, their resurrection is as sure as Christ’s resurrection. Particularly as believers get older, the more they appreciate God’s pledge of their own resurrection, a pledge that holds true because Christ is the firstfruits of the full resurrection-harvest to come.

Of course, our pagan culture is flooded with skepticism of the miraculous, particularly about the resurrection of Christ. Yet we forget that the original skeptics of His resurrection were His first disciples. Some folks like to portray them as a gullible, superstitious group that simply took resurrection as a given. But that portrait is fake news. For example, the NT Gospel writers make a considerable effort to show their readers that Jesus’ earliest followers did not go to His tomb believing in His resurrection or presuming His resurrection. No, they went to His tomb with spices because they expected to find a decaying dead body there. There was no hint that they anticipated His resurrection. In fact, it was a surprise to them. Now don’t get me wrong: the resurrection of Jesus should not have been the surprise to His disciples that it was. After all, what they found at His tomb was exactly what He had predicted on at least six different occasions. In fact, what they found at the sepulchre was exactly what they had been told they would find and what they could and should have remembered and expected. But they did neither of these things. In truth, so-called “Doubting Thomas” turned out to represent, to some degree, all of Jesus’ earliest followers when he said: Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.

The point is, Jesus’ initial followers became convinced of His resurrection as God bore witness to them in word and deed and as they saw Him, heard Him, and touched Him (1 John 1:1-3). The first followers of Jesus became what they were not at first. They became eyewitnesses of His resurrection. This is why the message of the Apostles, documented in the Scriptures, is what it is. Of the resurrected Christ, the Apostles all ended up confessing with Thomas, My Lord and my God! Readers and hearers of Scripture, then, are not expected to be gullible. No, they are expected to take seriously what the historic church of Christ persists in confessing forthrightly with the Apostles’ Creed, following the Scriptures of the Prophets and the Apostles: the third day Jesus Christ rose again from the dead.

Our meditations turn to Article 6 of the Creed here.

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