Why They Followed the Law (Pt. 2)

lawRead the series

Why do people follow God’s law, both then and now? We do it because we love God, and we want to serve Him with our lives. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way. Jesus addressed this issue directly (Mk 12:28-34), so let’s look at what He had to say.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mk 12:28)

This goes to show you that stereotypes aren’t always accurate; a scribe is the one who asks this question. The context which prompted the question is Jesus’ dispute with the Sadducees about the validity of the resurrection (Mk 12:18-27). This man is a Pharisee.[1] He’s somebody who is very concerned with the letter of the law. So, naturally, he wants to know what the greatest commandment is – so he can follow it![2]

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these,” (Mk 12:29-31).

Here is the content of Jesus’ answer, from Deuteronomy 6:4-5.[3] Think about what it tells us about why God’s people should obey His law.

Our God is the Lord

God is your master. He is in complete charge of your life, your soul, your blessings, your cursings, your destiny. If you’re a Christian, God created you as a new person in Christ “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10). You were saved in order to serve the Lord, and work for Him.

 God is your Lord! If He saved you, then you are now a willing and enthusiastic slave for righteousness.[4] This is the foundation for Jesus’ answer.

The Lord is One

There is only One legitimate Lord you can serve – everything else is a pagan counterfeit. He is the God of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures. He is the God of the First Covenant and the God of the New Covenant

You will love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength

You must love God with everything you have, with every fiber of your being! These terms are not synonymous (we could look at each of them individually), but together they express a simple concept – a complete, all-encompassing love for God![5] Anything done for a reason other than this is counterfeit, and God is not pleased by it. This is why God’s people should want to do what He says.

You will love your neighbor just as you love yourself

Who is your neighbor? In the context of Leviticus 19:18 (which Jesus quoted from), your neighbor is a covenant brother and sister – including a believing Gentile (cf. Lev 19:34). In short, Jesus is talking about “brotherly love,” (cf. 1 Jn 4:20). You should love and value your Christian brothers and sisters just as much as you love and value yourself.

All of the Old Covenant law can be summed up in these two commands (cf. Mt 22:40). God is your Lord, therefore you exist to serve Him. Your Lord is One, therefore any other worship is idolatry. So, you must love God with everything you have. This is the only appropriate motivation for service.

  • You serve God because He saved you from yourself, knowing who you are, what you have done, what you are doing now, and what you will do in the future.
  • Because you’re so grateful and love Him so much, you’ll want to serve Him with your life.
  • And because all this is true, you also love your covenant brothers and sisters because, together, you’re each part of God’s family.

Jesus refers to these two commandments as one singular commandment[6] because, together, they sum up the entire teaching purpose of the law.[7] They’re inseparable. If you love God, then you’ll love God’s children, because they’re your brothers and sisters.

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mk 12:32-33)

Why does the scribe have such insight? Isn’t he supposed to be a legalistic hypocrite!? This is why we must always remember we can’t read the Bible like it’s cardboard. This is the story of real people, with real minds of their own, who act like real people would actually act. It’s always dangerous to over-generalize about people; it’s true today and it was true then.

Most of the scribes were legalists like the Pharisees, but not all of them were! This scribe seems to be genuinely sincere.[8] It is likely God was drawing this man to saving faith. I like to think he repented and believed one day. After all, some of the Pharisees did believe (e.g. Nicodemus, Acts 15:5).

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any question (Mk 12:34; cf. Mt 22:34-40)

This is Jesus’ inspired statement about why God’s people should obey God’s law; especially the Old Covenant law. You obey God’s law because you love Him, and want to serve Him. Real salvation produces real fruit. That fruit is wholehearted love for God, which proves itself by action.

The entire bible agrees.

Notes

[1] William L. Lane suggests the man could be a Sadducee, because that group had its own group of legal interpreters (The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974], 431). I doubt this. I’m not aware of any place in the NT where the phrase γραμματεύς refers to the Sadducees; however, the reference to “scribes of the Pharisees” (Mk 2:16) is intriguing, suggesting different sects may have had their own scribes.

Generally, however, the scribes are associated with the Pharisee party. Add to it that Jesus had just handily dispatched the Sadducees’ ridiculous argument against the resurrection. If this particular scribe were a Sadducee, one would not expect him to engage in a discussion over which commandment was first of all! This is a Pharisaical question, through and through. A Sadducee would likely be smarting over the discussion which had just ended. “Most scribes aligned with the Pharisees in their theology, including their teaching on the resurrection and the authority of Scripture,” (Mark L. Strauss, Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 541).

[2] There is more to this question, but I don’t have time to go into it here. See Lane (Mark, 431-432) and James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 370-371.

Lane observed, “Both the question and its presuppositions stem from a piety of human achievement, supported by scribal interpretation of the biblical mandates (Lane, Mark, 431).

[3] The UBS-5, TR and BYZ are each identical to the LXX (Rahlfs) here. Very interesting! This phrase can be rendered in a variety of ways, depending on how you interpret the nominatives – just look at the different English translations. I rendered it, “Jesus answered that [the] most important is, ‘Listen, Israel! Our God is Lord. [The] Lord is one.”

[4] “Jesus demands a decision and readiness for God, and for God alone, in an unconditional manner. Clearly this cannot be the subject of legal enactment. It is a matter of the will and action. The love which determines the whole disposition of one’s life and places one’s whole personality in the service of God reflects a commitment to God which springs from divine sonship,” (Lane, Mark, 432-433).

[5] See Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27 – 16:20, in WBC, vol. 34b (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 264.

[6] The Greek is clear here: μείζων τούτων ἄλλη ἐντολὴ οὐκ ἔστιν (“there is not another command greater than these”). Strauss, however, disputes this point grammatically (Mark, 546 [fn. 11]).

[7] Evans suggests they sum up the Decalogue (Mark 8:27 – 16:20, 265). I don’t have time to elaborate that here.

[8] Walter W. Wessel, Mark, in EBC, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 736.

When Patronage is a Good Thing

deSilvaThe New Testament was written in a world that operated in a social context of patronage and reciprocity. This is a complicated way of saying that you got things done by “knowing people.” Society at every level functioned by people operating as “patrons” for others (“clients”), who then repaid these favors by trumpeting the virtues and honor (etc.) of their patrons. Things got done because of these personal relationships, and patronage was an accepted part of society, in a matter that would likely be seen as “corrupt” today.

This patron/client relationship can help us understand the relationship Christians have to God. He’s the patron, and we are His clients. He’s decided to help us out by providing the gift of salvation, and we’re obligated to proclaim and trumpet His grace, goodness, mercy and kindness to anyone who will listen.

In his wonderful book, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture, David deSilva explains some of these implications (pgs. 155 – 156):

The fundamental ethos governing relationships of patrons and clients, benefactors and beneficiaries, and friends is that grace must answer grace. The receiving of favor must lead to the return of gratitude, or else the beauty and nobility of the relationship is defaced (dis-graced). As we grow in our appreciation of God’s beneficence, we are thereby impelled to energize our commitment to make an appropriate response of gratitude to God. When the magnificence of God’s generosity is considered, gratitude and its fruits must of necessity fill our speech, attitudes and actions.

The New Testament authors outline what a just and suitable response would entail, guiding us to act as honorable recipients of favor and averting us from feeling an ugly response of ingratitude, neglect or disloyalty, which would also lead to the danger of exclusion from future favors yet to be conferred. We come to engage evangelism more naturally (but also necessarily) now now as a contest for winning souls, but as an opportunity to spread the fame of God and testify to the good things God has done in our behalf.

The obligations of gratitude demand that we not hold our tongue in this reward! We begin to understand that obedience to God – throwing ourselves and our resources into the work of caring for the global church – is not something we ought to do over and above the demands of everyday life. Rather, these pursuits are placed at the center of each day’s agenda. As God did not bestow on us what was merely left over after he satisfied himself, so we are called on to make a like exchange by giving our all and our best to God’s service, first.

Moreover, we discover that loyalty to such a patron must be preserved without wavering. This can embolden us in our struggles with our sins, as we consider how indulging them enacts disloyalty toward the one we should only please. It can also embolden our confrontations with an unbelieving world that finds wholehearted loyalty to this God and his ways a threat and reproach to its way of life. Gratitude provides a clarifying focus to the Christian for his or her life, a single value that, lived out as the New Testament authors direct, will result in a vibrant, fruitful discipleship.

The Most Boring Sermon Ever – Jesus and the Burnt Offering

You haven’t read the Book of Leviticus lately … have you? Don’t be shy; I understand! This is a confusing and mysterious book to many Christians, but it doesn’t have to be. The book is about the moral, ceremonial and civil laws that God’s people had to follow under the Old Covenant. It’s full of lots of details, and lots and lots of blood.

Lots of blood.

It may not be a spell-binding page-turner of a book, but it’s one of best resources God gave us for understanding who His Son is. When we compare the elaborate sacrificial rituals from the Book of Leviticus to what Christ did for sinners once for all, we see a beautiful object lesson. That’s what the sacrificial system is; God’s object lesson to prepare His people to understand and accept the need for a final, perfect atonement for sin and rebellion.

That’s what I preached about this past Sunday morning; how “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” (1 Pet 3:18).

Here’s the sermon (below):

For reference, here’s the graphic I referenced throughout the sermon, which depicts the Old Covenant tabernacle, as described in the Book of Exodus:

tabernacle

Jesus and the Woman from Tyre (Mark 7:24-30)

syrophonecianMark’s a guy who appreciates irony, and the best part is that he never has to go looking for it – Jesus supplies it. He’s just had a very sharp disagreement about ritual, ceremonial purity with the scribes and Pharisees who’d come from Jerusalem (Mk 7:1-23). They held to a racist interpretation of ritual defilement and believed any primary or secondary contact with a Gentile made them “unclean” before Yahweh. They even believed the very air itself could contaminate them, and proscribed bizarre and arcane rituals for cleansing pots, cooking utensils, and their hands before any meal.

In dramatic fashion, Jesus rebukes this heretical invention (“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites!”) then heads straight out of Galilee “to the region of Tyre and Sidon” (Mk 7:24), which is Gentile territory. Every Christian’s heart should be warmed as he reads this swift denunciation of legalistic foolishness. The Jewish leaders are blind as bats to Jesus and His message, whereas a Gentile woman in Tyre understands everything, and displays a mature and earnest faith. Jesus knew this would happen (cf. Lk 4:22-30). The trip to Gentile country deliberately emphasizes Jesus’ lesson against the heretical ceremonial rules of the day, and it makes the point to anyone who has eyes to see.[1]

He’s preached to people from this region before (see Mk 3:8), and even though Jesus seeks some degree of solitude, “yet he could not be hid,” (Mk 7:24). This isn’t an example of the “Messianic secret” theme that’s so common in Mark; it simply proves Jesus is so popular He’s unable to remain anonymous for long.[2] In an age before Twitter updates, “humble-brag” social media posts and Facebook Live, Jesus’ popularity is indeed startling. It’s here, at this anonymous little house far from home, where Mark shows us more evidence for Christ’s deity and the doctrine of the Trinity.

A woman shows up. Mark’s account is sparse. She “immediately” appears and falls down at His feet. But, there’s more. Matthew tells us she said, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon,” (Mt 15:22). When you consider Matthew’s addition, it’s clear this woman understood exactly who Jesus was. Skeptical commentators seem to forget Jesus went about, preaching and teaching the same message over, and over, and over, and over … and then over again. His last audience with a crowd from Tyre was as dramatic as they get. Jesus preached from a boat to untold hundreds (perhaps thousands), healed many, and the demons He cast out each screamed, “You are the Son of God!” as they bowed in homage to Him (Mk 3:7-12).

It’s difficult to think of a more memorable afternoon at the lake. We’ve no idea if this woman was there that day, but she’s obviously heard of this man from Galilee. She calls Him “Lord, Son of David,” which makes it clear her knowledge has some content. To her, this isn’t some carnival, miracle-maker; He’s the Lord of glory, the descendent par excellence from David. She knows she doesn’t deserve mercy, but she begs for it anyway. She “fell down at His feet” (Mk 7:25) in worship.

In the Tanakh, believers used the title “Lord” to refer to Yahweh Himself. When people of faith refer to Jesus as “Lord,” our mental eyebrows should raise an inch or two … or three. If Jesus is also Lord, then Scripture is showing us a distinction between Jesus and Yahweh. The woman’s second title for Jesus, “Son of David,” makes this even more explicit. Yahweh, in the triune sense, is Lord. Yet, Jesus, the Son of David and the promised Messiah, is also “Lord.” This is the same subtle distinction we see, for example, in Zechariah’s prophesies (e.g. Zech 2:9-11) where Jesus and Yahweh often switch speaking roles in the very same sentence. They, quite literally, complete each other’s sentences and thoughts. While they’re One, they’re also distinct, too.

Jesus responds in a deliberately callous manner. “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” (Mk 7:28). It’s possible Jesus seized on this convenient analogy from the scene inside the home, with a meal either in process or just finished.[3] Commentators often engage in hand-wringing at this point; either desperately trying to salvage the “meek and mild” Jesus of fairy-tale lore or suggesting the woman’s “clever reply” changed His mind. Nonsense.

The “children” are the Israelites. The “food” is the Gospel, and the blessings the new and better covenant will bring to all God’s people. The “dogs” are the Gentiles. It’s unnecessary to re-imagine the “dog” reference as being a term of endearment (e.g. “little doggy”),[4] or to invent a twinkle in Jesus’ eye to soften this blow; this is exegesis of desperation. It’s also folly to believe the woman is stupid or ignorant, and doesn’t understand what Jesus is saying.[5] No, the woman understands very well what the issue is. She was either present that day at the lake (Mk 3:8ff), or heard a detailed, content-rich explanation of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God, and His role as the “Son of David” who would rule and reign over the world. Her words, and Jesus’ response, prove this.

But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone (Mk 7:28-30)

She responds by calling Him “Lord” yet again, and this is also not an accident.[6] She understands who He is. He’s the Son of David, the promised Messiah, the Lord of glory, the One who has power over the forces of darkness and can heal her little daughter. She also understands Israel’s primary role as the vehicle of blessing and salvation for the Kingdom of God. The Israelites will be the divine conduit, the priests who will mediate the message of salvation to the world (see Zech 8:20-23) during Jesus’ millennial reign. His blessings are for them first. She can’t, as it were, skip ahead in line.

The woman understands this. The Tanakh never excludes Gentiles from covenant blessings, but makes it clear these blessings will be brokered by Israelites. She has no problem with this, and we must assume she’d received a very accurate briefing indeed from that afternoon on the lake (cf. Mk 3:8ff). Jesus tells her, “for this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter,” (Mk 7:29). Another account tells us He also said, “O woman, great is your faith!” (Mt 15:28). She “got it.” Jesus knew she got it, so we should be sure she got it, too.

The woman goes on her way, and Jesus heals her little daughter from afar. The eternal Son of God incarnate, in whom all things hold together (Col 1:17), has the power to expel the forces of darkness from the girl from far, far away. “And her daughter was healed instantly,” (Mt 15:28).

The Bible suggests several important things about the Trinity from this little account:

  1. The woman knew who Jesus was; the Lord, the Son of David. This implies a clear distinction between Jesus and the Father above.
  2. She bowed before Jesus in worship. This indicates she knew He was divine, and acknowledged it.
  3. She trusted Him to have power over fallen angels, which means she understood something substantial about His identity.
  4. This understanding shows she was either present that day on the lake with others from Tyre (Mk 3:8), when Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God, conducted mass exorcisms, and the demons bowed in homage and screamed His identity as the eternal Son of God … or she had some very good intel, indeed.
  5. She confessed Jesus as “Lord” yet again, and understood the “Son of David’s” role as the leader of Israel and the mediator of blessings to the Gentiles.
  6. Jesus miraculously healed her “little daughter” from afar, demonstrating His deity.

The irony, of course, is that Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees for their legalism, then high-tails it for Gentile country where he immediately meets a desperate woman with a profound theological grasp of the big picture. This woman, whom the Jerusalem clique would likely dismiss as an ignorant heathen, knows who Jesus is, and understands His role in the redemptive story. She had ears to hear, and eyes to see. I like to think she was there that day on the lake, somewhere in the crowd. I look forward to asking her one day.

Notes

[1] See especially William Lane, The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: 1974), 259.  Robert Guelich remarked, “Therefore, this story about Jesus’ ministry that crosses the social boundaries of the day remains both consistent to what the tradition indicates about Jesus’ primary concern for Israel and makes clear how that ministry provided the impetus for the early Church to transcend these boundaries based on one’s response to Jesus,” (Mark 1-8:26, in WBC, vol. 34A (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1989), 389.

William Hendriksen remarked that, if Jesus had followed the Jewish leader’s racist and prejudiced policies, this woman would have been beyond all help; “was not the door of hope closed for this mother because of her race?” (The Gospel of Mark, in NTC [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975], 298).

[2] See Guelich (Mark, 389).

[3] Richard H. Lenski, An Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Columbus, OH: Wartburg, 1946), 302.

[4] You’ll find this suggestion discussed (if not endorsed) in most of the major exegetical commentaries, which are often incestuous in their observations. Morna Hooker observed, “There is no reason to suppose that a Gentile would consider it any less offensive to be called a ‘little dog’ rather than a ‘dog’, and descriptions of Jesus’ manner and tone of speech are, of course, sheer imagination. In its present context, the term is a challenge to the woman to justify her request,” (The Gospel According to Saint Mark, in BNTC [London, UK: Continuum, 1991], 183).

[5] Lane suggests this (Mark, 261 – 263).

[6] Guelich (Mark, 388), Hooker (Mark, 183) and Mark Strauss (Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 313) all agree this term is deliberate, here. Context also agrees!

Why They Followed the Law (Pt. 1)

lawThe entire book of Galatians is consumed with the problem of what to do with the Old Covenant law. What does “following the law” have to do with personal salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?

A large party of Jewish Christians, most of them likely from Jerusalem and former Pharisees, believed you had to follow the Old Covenant law and repent and believe in Christ (Acts 15:1-5). Luke, in a very understated fashion, observes “Paul and Barnabas had no small discussion and debate with them.” The Apostle has little time for this kind of terrible error. He calls this teaching “a different Gospel,” (Gal 1:6). He speaks of the Galatians “deserting Him who called you,” (Gal 1:5). He said this is a perversion of the Gospel of Christ (Gal 1:7).

Did these Pharisees actually understand the message of the Old Covenant scriptures? Why did God’s people follow the law, anyway?

This series of short articles has one simple purpose – to explain what the real impetus was for following God’s law, both then and now. In Galatians, Paul was not arguing against the Old Covenant. He was arguing against the twisted, warped version of the Old Covenant the scribes and Pharisees had been pushing for so long.

Some dispensationalists disagree. In any movement, there is a spectrum. A man might say, “I’m a Republican!” That’s fine and dandy, but what kind of Republican is he? That’s the real question, and we all know it – because there’s always a spectrum, isn’t there? It’s the same with theological systems. Some dispensationalists look at the Bible, and see a very, very sharp discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. These folks are usually called “classical dispensationalists.”

Their position is still usually close to what C.I. Scofield wrote in his study bible, way back in 1909. In his study notes, Scofield explained the Mosaic law this way (note on Gen 12:1):

The Dispensation of Promise ended when Israel rashly accepted the law (Exodus 19:8). Grace had prepared a deliverer (Moses), provided a sacrifice for the guilty, and by divine power brought them out of bondage (Exodus 19:4) but at Sinai they exchanged grace for law.

Lewis S. Chafer, the ground-breaking theologian and first President of Dallas Theological Seminary, agreed with Scofield. He built on Scofield’s study notes and eventually produced an 8-volume systematic theology text. It’s still used by many students today. I have a copy, and I’ll always treasure Chafer’s discussion of the doctrine of salvation. It’s still the best thing I’ve ever read on the subject. In his text, Chafer echoed Scofield’s comments:

When the Law was proposed, the children of Israel deliberately forsook their position under the grace of God which had been their relationship to God until that day, and placed themselves under the Law.[1]

I disagree with this reading of Exodus 19:1-8, but I won’t get into the reasons here. It’s enough for you to understand that this presupposition, that Israel voluntarily exchanged God’s grace for a system of works righteousness under the Mosaic Law, is a core tenant of classical dispensationalism. They view the Mosaic Law completely different than other Christians do. This is why they’ll often paint the law as a system of works righteousness. Chafer continued:

They were called upon to face a concrete choice between the mercy of God which had followed them, and a new and hopeless covenant of works. They fell from grace. The experience of the nation is true of every individual who falls from grace at the present time. Every blessing from God that has ever been experienced came only from the loving mercy of God; yet with that same blasting self-trust, people turn to a dependence upon their works. It is far more reasonable and honoring to God to fall helpless into His everlasting arms, and to acknowledge that reliance is on His grace alone.[2]

Dispensationalism has gradually edged further to the center in the past 60 years. Most theologians don’t emphasize such a sharp discontinuity between covenants. In other words, don’t expect John MacArthur and Charles Ryrie to sound like this! But, make no mistake, this perspective is still alive and well in some seminary classrooms. It’s even more common in many churches with a dispensationalist framework, because its pastors were likely taught by Chafer’s students.

Be that as it may, many Christians are confused about why Israelites followed the law. I’ll repeat something I mentioned earlier in this article:

In Galatians, Paul was not arguing against the Old Covenant. He was arguing against the twisted, warped version of the Old Covenant the scribes and Pharisees had been pushing for so long.

Classical dispensationalists would vehemently disagree. They’d likely believe Paul was arguing against the Old Covenant. They’d probably think Paul was describing what the Old Covenant taught. I wrote this series of short articles to combat this error, and to set the record straight. If we don’t get this point, we’ll never understand the Old Covenant, we’ll never understand the book of Galatians and we’ll never understand a good bit of the Gospels, either.

Why do people follow God’s law, both then and now? We do it because we love God, and we want to serve Him with our lives. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way.

Let’s look at what Jesus has to say … in the next article.

Notes

[1] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas, TX: DTS, 1948; reprint, 1976), 4:162.

[2] Ibid, 4:163.

Some Thoughts on the Wisdom of Solomon

learnWe’ve no idea who wrote the book The Wisdom of Solomon. Well, we know Solomon didn’t write it, but that’s about it. We’re also not sure when it was written; the best estimates say sometime around the first century B.C. The book isn’t a collection of random proverbial sayings; it has a sustained argument.

This book was part of the Greek translation of the Old Testament that Jesus, the apostles and the early church used. The earliest citation comes from the late 90’s A.D., in the epistle of 1 Clement. This book was never considered canonical by the Israelites, but was used and known by early Christians and Hellenistic Jews of the New Testament-era.

The so-called Old Testament apocrypha is a fascinating collection of books. I’m slowly making my way through them; Judith and Tobit are my favorites so far. Here, I’ll provide a fascinating, extended excerpt from The Wisdom of Solomon, with some brief commentary along the way (1:1 – 3:1):

Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth,
think of the Lord with uprightness,
and seek him with sincerity of heart;
because he is found by those who do not put him to the test,
and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him.

That’s good advice.

For perverse thoughts separate men from God,
and when his power is tested, it convicts the foolish;
because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul,
nor dwell in a body enslaved to sin.

This is why Jesus came, to rescue us from ourselves. True wisdom only comes from a spiritual rebirth, which comes from repentance from sins and faith in Jesus Christ. AS we are, our “perverse thoughts” separate us from God. Just because a book isn’t canonical, doesn’t mean it still doesn’t say a whole lot of true things!

For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit,
and will rise and depart from foolish thoughts,
and will be ashamed at the approach of unrighteousness.

Yes, a true believer will always react this way. He may stumble and fall short in the heat of the moment. But, afterwards, when the moment has passed, a true believer will always feel the crushing shame of failure, and a disappointment that comes from knowing he’s let His Savior down. It’s the shame of a child who’s disappointed his loving father. This is the heart of a true believer.

For wisdom is a kindly spirit and
will not free a blasphemer from the guilt of his words;
because God is witness of his inmost feelings,
and a true observer of his heart, and a hearer of his tongue.

God hears and sees everything. No man should think he can escape His gaze.

Because the Spirit of the Lord has filled the world,
and that which holds all things together knows what is said;
therefore no one who utters unrighteous things will escape notice,
and justice, when it punishes, will not pass him by.

This should terrify us all. Even worse, the Bible tells us there’s nothing we can do in our own power to set things right (see Romans 3). Nothing at all. In order to save us from ourselves, God had to intervene on our behalf, for us. He did that by sending His eternal Son, Jesus, to be perfect for us, die in our place, and rise again for us, too.

For inquiry will be made into the counsels of an ungodly man,
and a report of his words will come to the Lord,
to convict him of his lawless deeds;
because a jealous ear hears all things,
and the sound of murmurings does not go unheard.

They say Santa keep a list, and checks it twice. Nonsense. That’s God’s job. But, all isn’t lost. This isn’t a balance sheet of credits and debits. There is forgiveness; perfect forgiveness. As the psalmist wrote, “If thou, O LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared,” (Ps 130:3-4).

Beware then of useless murmuring,
and keep your tongue from slander;
because no secret word is without result,
and a lying mouth destroys the soul.

If we actually believed God exists, He keeps account, and we’ll each have to answer to Him someday, how would we live? Christians claim to “get” all this, but it’s often theoretical, abstract. It shouldn’t be.

Do not invite death by the error of your life,
nor bring on destruction by the works of your hands;
because God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.

Thanks God for that.

For he created all things that they might exist,
and the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them;
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.

Now consider the long description of wicked people which comes next:

But ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death;
considering him a friend, they pined away,
and they made a covenant with him,
because they are fit to belong to his party.

The noted philosopher, the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, said at one point during the movie, “It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves …” I think Arnold was right. We’re bent on destroying ourselves, and we take pleasure in doing it. With gleeful abandon, individually and collectively, we take pride in tearing down all moral barriers and restraints on our own evil, and plunging off cliffs. Consider how our society has changed in the past 10 years!

For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves,
“Short and sorrowful is our life,
and there is no remedy when a man comes to his end,
and no one has been known to return from Hades.

This is the philosophical worldview of naturalism. Nothing matters, we’re all gonna die anyway, so let’s party. Some people mistakenly believe Solomon (the real Solomon, that is) advocates the same approach in the book of Ecclesiastes. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Because we were born by mere chance,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been;
because the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts.
When it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes,
and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.

Atheistic naturalists are rarely this honest with themselves. But, it’s the logical end-game of their worldview. Some things never change. The guy who wrote this book, about 2100 years ago, saw the same presuppositional dead-end in his theological opponents, too.

Our name will be forgotten in time
and no one will remember our works;
our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and be scattered like mist
that is chased by the rays of the sun
and overcome by its heat.

This is what Solomon saw in Ecclesiastes, but he urged people to turn to God, not to a fatalism marked by debauchery.

For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow,
and there is no return from our death,
because it is sealed up and no one turns back.

William L. Crag, in his classic book Reasonable Faith,paints a bleak picture of the logical outworking of a naturalistic worldview. This section reminds me of it.

Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist,
and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.
Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no flower of spring pass by us.
Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.
Let none of us fail to share in our revelry,
everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment,
because this is our portion, and this our lot.

Yes, party and forget the consequences! That always turns out well, doesn’t it? Hedonism and debauchery never get you anything in the end. You’ll eventually destroy yourself. Solomon realized that. He’d been there, done that, and had two or three t-shirts. He begged his readers to turn back to God, and not repeat his mistakes. More people should read Ecclesiastes. 

Let us oppress the righteous poor man;
let us not spare the widow
nor regard the gray hairs of the aged.
But let our might be our law of right,
for what is weak proves itself to be useless.

This is great insight. These theoretical opponents o Godly wisdom understand it; they just hate it and don’t want it. They set out to do the exact opposite. Things are the same today. “Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them,” (Rom 1:32).

Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.

This reminds me of Herod’s reaction to John the Baptist (Mk 6:14-29).

He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.

Their consciences hate to see Godly people in their midst. It reminds me of how the kings of Israel and Judah so hated to hear from honest prophets.

We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.

Oh, how the antinomians today would hate to read these words!

Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.

Let us test him with insult and torture,
that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected.

This reminds me of the two wicked thieves who were crucified with Jesus, and the Jewish leaders who sanctioned the execution. “So also the chief priests mocked him to one another with the scribes, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also reviled him,” (Mk 15:21-32).

Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray,
for their wickedness blinded them,
and they did not know the secret purposes of God,
nor hope for the wages of holiness,
nor discern the prize for blameless souls;
for God created man for incorruption,
and made him in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his party experience it.

What sad words. They’re all true.

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.

Amen to that.

Sermon – The Coming King (Zechariah 9)

Zech 9The sermon audio is below. Actually, this is a Sunday School lesson. But, the title has been published, so I can’t change it now!

The Book of Zechariah is a neglected book. At 14 chapters, it’s the longest of the so-called Minor Prophets. It’s an obscure book, tucked away in an even more obscure part of the Christian Bible – that wasteland after the Book of Daniel, before the New Testament.

And yet …

This book has perhaps more direct prophesies per column inch about the coming Messiah than any other book in the Bible. It promises a glorious future for the distressed Israelites, a new and better leader who’ll rule over the world in peace and righteousness, promises a new and better covenant, a new and better High Priest, and vows that Israel will be ashamed for betraying and rejecting her Savior. It’s a thrilling book, and a close reading (with a good commentary even closer at hand) will encourage even the most cynical Christian.

This is also the book which prophesies how the Messiah will reveal Himself to the world as King. That prophesy is found in Zechariah 9:9-11 (and following), and it’s what I taught about this morning. It’s a prophesy which bookmarks the start of God’s fulfillment of everything He’s promised to His people, ever since the Garden of Eden.