The Man from Uz – Part 3

job 3(11)Job has lost his ten children, all his property, and even his own wife had advised him to just “curse God, and die!” (Job 2:9). He responded with a theologically correct statement (“shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:10) that makes us both wonder at his faith, and become suspicious about false piety. Almost despite ourselves, we’re tempted to be skeptical:

  • Can a man in Job’s position really just ascribe everything to God’s providence? Is this a realistic response? Would you respond this way?

I don’t think this is false piety, or a pathetic show of “simple faith” in the face of a ruined life. As we’ll see, Job quickly loses the ability to say the “right things” and degenerates into a man who accuses Yahweh of uncaring fatalism:

It is all one; therefore I say,
he destroys both the blameless and the wicked.
When disaster brings sudden death,
he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.
The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;
he covers the faces of its judges—
if it is not he, who then is it? (Job 9:22-24)

Even worse, he later seems almost eager to stand before God to plead his case, even as he resigns himself to death:

Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope;
yet I will defend my ways to his face (Job 13:15)

 

He even rehearses the questions he plans to demand that God answer:

Behold, I have prepared my case;
I know that I shall be vindicated (Job 13:18)

He continues:

How many are my iniquities and my sins?
Make me know my transgression and my sin.
Why dost thou hide thy face,
and count me as thy enemy?
Wilt thou frighten a driven leaf
and pursue dry chaff? (Job 13:23-25)

We’ll look at all this in the chapters to come. But, for now, I think we can dismiss all notions that Job is putting on a false front. He truly believes what he said:

… the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD, (Job 1:21).

He knows God is there, God is sovereign, and God controls the course of human history – including the details of our own small lives. He knows he belongs to God through faith; “This will be my salvation, that a godless man shall not come before him,” (Job 13:16). And, he actually believes God has the right to give and take away from His children, and that He must have a good and holy reason for doing it.

Job’s first statement

But, for Job, all that is more theoretical right now. It’s not so much disbelieved, but rather pushed far into the background. Basically, Job wants to die.

Let the day perish wherein I was born,
and the night which said,
‘A man-child is conceived.’
Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it (Job 3:3-4)

He wishes he hadn’t been born, or even conceived. But Job’s motivation is rather different than poor old George Bailey’s, from the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. In the film, George finds himself in a sticky financial situation after his uncle misplaced $8,000. But, this is really just the final straw in George’s increasingly bitter and disillusioned view of his life.

George wishes he’d never been born because he’s feeling sorry for himself. Job wishes the same thing, but for a very different reason – he’s tired of the pain.

Why did I not die at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Why did the knees receive me?
Or why the breasts, that I should suck?
For then I should have lain down and been quiet;
I should have slept; then I should have been at rest,
with kings and counselors of the earth
who rebuilt ruins for themselves,
or with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver (Job 3:11-15)

If Yahweh had ended his life before birth, then Job could have been at rest, and skipped the difficulties of “real life.” There is no injustice, no pain, no toil – the grave is a place of rest, where all people wait for their final judgment (cf. Job 14:7-17):

There the wicked cease from troubling,
and there the weary are at rest.
There the prisoners are at ease together;
they hear not the voice of the taskmaster.
The small and the great are there,
and the slave is free from his master (Job 3:17-19).

Consider this:

  • Have you ever felt the same way? Have you ever felt so beaten down by life that you longed for death?

One thing the Book of Job does is give us an “everyman” whose own struggles echo our own. We understand Job’s pain, because some of our lives have been turned upside down, too. We feel the force of Job’s questions, because we’ve asked them, also. They’re our questions, because they’re real questions.

Even more interestingly, the author doesn’t bother to answer these questions now. Like Job, we’re left to ponder the answer. We know the Lord allowed this to happen. We also know His character, and that means we know He had a good and holy reason for doing this. Why did the Apostle Peter tell Christians to submit themselves to all human authorities (1 Pet 2:13-17)? Why did he tell Christian slaves that God had called to salvation to do right and endure hardship while suffering unjustly (1 Pet 2:18-25)? Why did he counsel Christian wives to not leave their pagan husbands, but to stay in the hopes they’d become Christians, too – even in the face of hostility (1 Pet 3:1-6)?

The truth is that God’s people are not called to a life of leisure and comfort. God calls us to Himself, gives us salvation, and puts us in specific place, in particular circumstances, to be witnesses for Him throughout our lives, in whatever way He decides we should be.

The Belgic Confession says this about God’s providence (Article 13):

We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.

Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.

We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.

This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father.

In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.

And yet, Job isn’t in the mood for deep theological reflection just now. He gave the “correct” answer to his wife, earlier (Job 2:10) – and he believed it, too. But, there are times when we’re tempted to put the theological treatises away and ask questions we often assume we “shouldn’t” ask. Job isn’t accusing God of anything yet, but he’s on his way. And, to be honest, do you blame him?

In a backhanded way, he accuses God of being unfair (Job 3:23). Yahweh has “hedged” us all in and set us on a particular path, so why does He continue to “give light” (i.e. life) to His people after they endure all the pain, sorrow and misery He Himself determined they’d suffer?

Indeed, the very thing Job has feared the most (destruction from the Lord) has come to pass (Job 3:25-26). But, like his three friends, Job has always tied personal calamity to God’s displeasure. If you do what God wants, life is good. If you fall short, life will be bad. This is incorrect. There seems to be no room in Job’s world for the concept that God may have a holy purpose for our own sufferings; a purpose beyond our limited perspective to understand. This idea is distasteful to many people (sadly, even to some Christians), because we don’t want to admit our perspective is very, very small.

We’re like slobbering babies, flailing around in our cribs, drooling on ourselves, helpless to understand the wider world. Yet, so many of us are indignant at the very idea that Yahweh, the Creator, Sustainer and Governor of all creation, may have a holy purpose for our own discomfort which is beyond our ability to understand.

A 6-month old doesn’t understand why he has to go down for a nap, and Job doesn’t understand why this has happened to him. The issue is perspective. Presumably, the parent has a good reason for putting her baby to down for a nap. Likewise, we know the Lord has a good reason for putting one of His children through trials and tribulations.

Job’s friends aren’t buying any of this; their perspective is very simple:

  1. Job is suffering
  2. God disciplines His children when they sin,
  3. So, Job must be a sinner
  4. Therefore, Job must repent

They’re are both wrong and right. We’ll chat about this next time.

How Can We Know God?

booksMore wisdom from the Belgic Confession (1619), about how we can know who God is (Article 2):

We know him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, his eternal power and Godhead, as the Apostle Paul saith (Rom. 1:20). All which things are sufficient to convince men, and leave them without excuse.

Secondly, he makes himself more clearly and fully known to us by his holy and divine Word; that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to his glory and our salvation.

Somebody created the universe. Somebody preserves the universe to keep it intact. Somebody also governs it, by establishing and upholding it day by day. I particularly like the description of the creation as “a most elegant book.” We can look at creation, and tell something of our Maker and Sustainer.

To be sure, this world isn’t the way Yahweh originally made it. But, even though marred and ruined by the Fall, it still reveals His glory, goodness, grace and kindness each and every day. This is enough to “convince men, and leave them without excuse” that He exists, and it tells us something about His “eternal power and Godhead.” This general knowledge doesn’t tell us how to know God, who He really is, or what has gone so wrong with our world (and with us). It doesn’t even tell us His name! But, it does tell us He is there, He is powerful, and He is Almighty.

From there, God “makes himself more clearly and fully known to us by his holy and divine Word,” which another confession of faith calls “a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction,” (1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, Article 1). The Bible doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about Him. But, it does tell us everything “as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to his glory and our salvation.”

So, if you want to know God – look at the world around you, see the evidence of His presence in creation, and His goodness and grace in sustaining that creation. Then, look to His Holy Word, and read about who He is, and what He sent His eternal Son to do so long ago.

Start with one of the Gospel accounts, like Mark.

Read a summary of the Good News. Go through this short presentation. Contact me, if you wish.

Some Advice About Church Fights

angry smileyIn this article, I’m posting an excerpt from a letter written around 96 A.D. It’s the earliest letter we have from Christians outside of the New Testament. Though it is traditionally titled “1 Clement,” it was really written from the congregation in Rome to the congregation in Corinth. Of course, Paul had written at least two (and probably more) letters to that unfortunate church about 50 years previously. Now, however, a new problem had cropped up.

The congregation in Corinth had apparently dismissed its pastors at the instigation of a few troublemakers in the congregation. It’s both encouraging and depressing to know that this has been a perennial problem. Politics, power struggles and infighting characterize every organization – and it’s always particularly depressing when it happens in a congregation which allegedly confesses allegiance in the same Lord, the same faith, and has the same baptism of the Spirit which has placed them into the New Covenant!

Read this excerpt, and consider how relevant it is for today. It could describe some churches in 2017 . . .

Clement’s advice

You are contentious, brethren, and zealous for the things which lead to salvation. You have studied the Holy Scriptures, which are true, and given by the Holy Spirit. You know that nothing unjust or counterfeit is written in them. You will not find that the righteous have been cast out by holy men.

The righteous were persecuted; but it was by the wicked. They were put in prison; but it was by the unholy. They were stoned by law-breakers, they were killed by men who had conceived foul and unrighteous envy. These things they suffered, and gained glory by their endurance.

For what shall we say, brethren? Was Daniel cast into the lions’ den by those who feared God? Or were Ananias, Azarias, and Misael shut up in the fiery furnace by those who ministered to the great and glorious worship of the Most High? God forbid that this be so. Who then were they who did these things?

Hateful men, full of all iniquity, were roused to such a pitch of fury, that they inflicted torture on those who served God with a holy and faultless purpose, not knowing that the Most High is the defender and protector of those who serve his excellent name with a pure conscience, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

But they who endured in confidence obtained the inheritance of glory and honour; they were exalted, and were enrolled by God in his memorial for ever and ever. Amen.

We also, brethren, must therefore cleave to such examples.  For it is written,

Cleave to the holy, for they who cleave to them shall be made holy.

And again in another place it says,

With the innocent man thou shalt be innocent, and with the elect man thou shalt be elect, and with the perverse man thou shalt do perversely.

Let us then cleave to the innocent and righteous, for these are God’s elect. Why are there strife and passion and divisions and schisms and war among you? Or have we not one God, and one Christ, and one Spirit of grace poured out upon us? And is there not one calling in Christ?

Why do we divide and tear asunder the members of Christ, and raise up strife against our own body, and reach such a pitch of madness as to forget that we are members one of another? Remember the words of the Lord Jesus; for he said,

Woe unto that man: it were good for him if he had not been born, than that he should offend one of my elect; it were better for him that a millstone be hung on him, and he be cast into the sea, than that he should turn aside one of my elect.

Your schism has turned aside many, has cast many into discouragement, many to doubt, all of us to grief; and your sedition continues!

Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle. What did he first write to you at the beginning of his preaching? With true inspiration he charged you concerning himself and Cephas and Apollos, because even then you had made yourselves partisans. But that partisanship entailed less guilt on you; for you were partisans of Apostles of high reputation, and of a man approved by them.

But now consider who they are who have perverted you, and have lessened the respect due to your famous love for the brethren. It is a shameful report, beloved, extremely shameful, and unworthy of your training in Christ, that on account of one or two persons the stedfast and ancient church of the Corinthians is being disloyal to the presbyters.

And this report has not only reached us, but also those who dissent from us, so that you bring blasphemy on the name of the Lord through your folly, and are moreover creating danger for yourselves.

Let us then quickly put an end to this, and let us fall down before the Master, and beseech him with tears that he may have mercy upon us, and be reconciled to us, and restore us to our holy and seemly practice of love for the brethren.

Notes

This excerpt is from “1 Clement 45:1 – 48:1,” in The Apostolic Fathers, ed. Kirsopp Lake, vol. 1, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge MA; London: Harvard University Press, 1912–1913), 85–91.

Jesus as the New Moses

loaves
“Miracle of the Bread and Fish,” by Giovanni Lanfranco (ca. 1620)

This passage covers Mark 6:35-44

A person can know who Jesus really is by looking at what He said about Himself, and what He did. His actions tells us who He is.[1] Here, in this miracle account, Jesus’ actions show He is both divine and yet distinct from the Father. And, in doing so, Mark shows us the doctrine of the Trinity.

This miracle is mentioned in all the Gospel accounts. It clearly occurred in an isolated location (Mk 6:31); likely in the hill country north of Capernaum and west of Bethsaida.[2] Mark has already identified Jesus as the shepherd who leads and teaches Israel (Mk 6:34); a metaphor of royal power and military might, not pastoral tenderness.[3] Jesus is often compared to Moses, especially by Peter (cf. Acts 3:22f), who tradition tells us was Mark’s mentor.[4] Now, Mark gives us another parallel. Just as Moses led the Israelites into the wilderness and relied on God to supply their needs in the desert, Jesus led His people into a “lonely place” and He, too, must find a way to feed them.

Moses was angry at the people, and preferred to die rather than continue to endure their treachery (Num 11:15). Earlier, immediately after the miracle at the Red Sea and their divine rescue from the Egyptian armies, the people had begun their grumbling;

Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger (Ex 16:3).

Yahweh responded by miraculously supplying them with bread; “It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat,” (Ex 16:15).[5] In the same way, Jesus will supply His people with bread. Moses waited on Yahweh to act; here it’s Jesus who acts – because He is God. He is infinitely more than Moses, or even Elijah (2 Kgs 4:42-44).

The meal itself is a stunning contrast to Herod Antipas’ court of debauchery. This man had married his sister-in-law, wanted to kill John the Baptist for condemning his behavior, and had lecherous designs upon his niece (Mk 6:17ff).[6] Jesus, though, had compassion on the people because they had no spiritual and political leadership. So, “he began to teach them many things,” (Mk 6:34). Throughout the sermon in this desert place, the massive crowd never asks for anything. They’re enthralled. In Mark’s account, it’s the disciples who begin to worry about the logistics (Mk 6:35-36).[7]

Why does Jesus respond the way He does; “You give them something to eat,” (Mk 6:37)? He’s allowed this situation to develop, and now casts the responsibilities back on the disciples. In John’s account, Jesus is the one who brings the matter up on purpose (Jn 6:5); “this he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do,” (Jn 6:6). Jesus is using this situation as a teachable moment, to help his disciples understand who He actually is.[8] This is key to their training (cf. Mk 8:27-30), and it should be to ours, too. The crowd benefits from the miraculous feeding, but the true audience is the disciples.

They’re astonished; even 200 days wages wouldn’t be enough to feed a crowd this size (Mk 6:37).[9] The disciples have accurately summed up the logistical impossibility of feeding the crowd, even as they misunderstand who Jesus is. Christ responds by ratcheting up the confusion; he commands them to pool their resources and report back on how much food they had among them (Mk 6:38). Again, Jesus intends to heighten their confusion to teach them a lesson – His actions always prove who He is.

Mark tells us Jesus took the small amount of food they’d collected, then “looked up to heaven, and blessed . . .” (Mk 6:41). Who did Jesus look up heaven to, and bless the food to? As he prepares to document Jesus’ miracle, Mark is careful to distinguish the Son from the Father. Jesus, as God the Son incarnate, is perfectly obedient to the Father, and understands “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights,” (Jas 1:17, KJV). Jesus models obedience for us by His thankfulness for food.

Mark doesn’t tell us how the miracle occurred; only that it did occur. It probably occurred as Jesus distributed the bread and fish; it just kept replenishing itself as He doled it out to the disciples.[10] This was not a flashy miracle, accompanied by thunderclaps or a booming voice from on high. The people who were most aware of it were the disciples; who’d just pooled their supplies and produced this small meal! In an understated but profound way, they’re forced to make a determination about who Jesus is. Who is this man . . .

  • who preaches He is the Messiah,
  • who claims to be the strong man who binds Satan and plunders his goods,
  • who gave them power over demons and the curse of sickness,
  • who now provides an unending supply of food for the Israelites in this desert place?
  • Is He a normal man? Or, is He something more?

Like Moses before Him, but in an infinitely more powerful way, Jesus has provided a banquet for the Israelites in the wilderness. Moses had to wait on God for the manna. Jesus is God, and provides the bread Himself.

Some commentators suggest the crowd didn’t realize it was a miracle, and this demonstration was only intended for the disciples.[11] Unless the people in the crowd were extraordinarily dense, this is very unlikely. The obvious logistical hurdles necessary to feed such a massive crowd were surely obvious even to the simplest of men. Clearly, Jesus couldn’t have produced this feast by natural means. And, this position cannot explain the conclusion the crowd draws from this miracle (Jn 6:13-15).[12] It’s best to say the miracle was primarily intended for the disciples, but Jesus took no steps to shield the crowd from the obvious conclusion – this man who claims He is the Messiah is also divine. The dots are there, ready to be connected for all who have ears to hear, and eyes to see (Mk 4:9).

Mark tells us “and they all ate and were satisfied,” (Mk 6:42). John says they ate “as much as they wanted,” and had their fill (Jn 6:11-12). This wasn’t a light meal; Jesus allowed them to gorge themselves and eat as much as they wanted. And, once they were full, there was a large amount of food left (Mk 6:43).[13] The parallels with the wilderness wanderings are startling, and Jesus clearly eclipses Moses in power and authority. He is the shepherd who has come to lead Israel and provide for them materially, spiritually, and by divine appointment. He is the penultimate successor Moses asked for so long ago (Num 27:15-17).

Isaiah wrote about a time when Israel would return to the Lord, who would invite them to come and dine at the banquet table of salvation, sealed by the everlasting covenant (Isa 55:1ff).[14] The New Testament tells us Christ Jesus Himself is the new covenant for all who believe. The God-Man who will inaugurate this covenant sits before them, after a long day of teaching them “many things” about the kingdom of God. He produces an unending feast for them, and fulfills (in miniature) Yahweh’s call for Israel to “hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness,” (Isa 55:2). Yet, here, Jesus is doing the teaching and the people are listening to Him – because He is Yahweh.

These allusions (and others) explain Jesus’ instructions to some of these same people the next day. “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal,” (Jn 6:27).

We understand who Jesus is by considering what He does. “He is like Moses, not only in providing the people with food in the wilderness, but in acting as their shepherd and teaching them. Both activities testify as to who Jesus is.”[15] This miracle is so familiar that I fear it’s lost its impact. Mark tells us Jesus fed 5000 men (Mk 6:45), and Matthew adds, “aside from women and children,” (Mt 14:21). There were likely between 10,000 – 15,000 people present! What Jesus does here is extraordinary, but you won’t ever appreciate that unless you know and love the Old Testament scriptures the incident alludes to.

The Apostle John tells us the crowd understood what Jesus did, and understood at least some of His teachings about the kingdom of God. “When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!’” (Jn 6:14). They clearly grasped that Jesus was the prophet Moses wrote about so long ago – here at last (Deut 18:15ff)! They were right, but for the wrong reasons – but that will have to wait for another article . . .

In this passage, Mark showed us Jesus as the new Moses, shepherding (i.e. leading) and teaching God’s people in the wilderness, and providing for them. He is like Moses, but infinitely better (cf. Heb 3:1-6a). Moses waited on God to provide; Jesus provided for Himself – because He is God. In a real sense, Christ re-created the wilderness exodus in miniature, but played the part of Moses and Yahweh all by Himself. And yet, the Bible shows us a distinction in Yahweh’s being, because Jesus “looked up to heaven, and blessed,” (Mk 6:42).

These subtle but critical distinctions teach us our one God has revealed that He consists of Father, Son and Spirit. This is what Carl Beckwith has called the ordinary language of faith; “ordinary on the one hand because it is so prevalent throughout the New Testament, but also because so much is assumed by the New Testament writer and left unexplained . . . it represents for us the most basic way in which the faithful talk about the Trinity according to the Scriptures.”[16] We see our triune God not only in the usual didactic passages, but in the ordinary, unassuming and everyday descriptions of Jesus’ activities in Scripture.

Notes

[1] Carl Beckwith, a Lutheran theologian, remarks, “Many New Testament scholars make a distinction between functional Christology and ontological Christology. The former focuses on the activities or functions performed by Christ, and the latter assigns metaphysical categories to the person and nature of Christ. A chief argument used by the Fathers to show the coequality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit centered on the relationship between nature and activity.

For them, we rightly understand ‘who’ someone or something is when we grasp ‘what’ they do. The activity reveals the identity of the doer. Furthermore, for the Fathers, common works indicate common nature. This insight stands at the center of patristic trinitarian thought, and it is an insight owing to Scripture, not philosophy. Simply put, Scripture demanded the correlation of activity and identity or function and ontology,” (Carl L. Beckwith, The Holy Trinity, in Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, vol. 3 [Fort Wayne, IN: Luther Academy, 2016; Kindle ed.], KL 3720 – 3722; 3727 – 3730).

[2] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 190.

[3] On this point, see the previous article in this series, entitled, “Against Cardboard Shepherds.”

[4] See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.15 and 3.39.15. He called Mark “the interpreter of Peter.”

[5] It is amusing to see how, almost without fail, commentaries on Mark’s gospel which I consulted repeat the same reference from Numbers 11:13, 23. However, that passage deals with the Israelites complaining about the manna, not Moses’ conundrum about supplying them with food. The contexts are different. I’m not sure why every commentator leaps to this passage. I suspect it is incestuous; commentators repeat each other and reuse trusty prooftexts without too much critical thought. The only possible parallel is Moses’ frustration contrasted with Jesus’ omniscience. But this, too, doesn’t gel. Jesus has no reason to be frustrated, whereas Moses was frustrated for good reason.

The real parallel is positive; Moses led the people out and God provided vs. Jesus led the people out and He provided – because He is God. Jesus is like Moses, but infinitely better.

[6] For a short discussion about the niece, see Edwards (Mark, 187-188).

[7] See Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, 6 vols. (New York, NY: Revell, n.d.), 5:489.

[8] “Jesus, in contrast to the circumstances depicted in all of the other miracles, appears deliberately to create the situation in which the people must be fed . . . His instructions to the disciples, which perplex and baffle them, are intended to lead them to understanding,” (William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974], 228).

[9] A denari was “a Roman silver coin. The equivalent of a typical daily wage (e.g., Matt 18:28; 20:2–13; 22:19; Mark 6:37; Luke 7:41; John 6:7; Rev 6:6),” (“Denarius,” in Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry et al. [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016]).

[10] Some translations, like the NASB, render the imperfect verb with an iterative sense to get this across (“He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them,” Mk. 6:41).

[11] “The disciples do not understand him although they were given an abundant opportunity to see his glory. That is why they alone are reproved for their hardness of heart and their failure to grasp the meaning of the miracle of the loaves in the subsequent narrative,” (Lane, Mark, 232).

[12] Mark Strauss agrees the crowd wasn’t aware of the miracle, and suggests Jn 6:14-15 refers to the actions by a select few in the crowd who did understand (Mark L. Strauss, Mark, in Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 277). I also find this unconvincing. The crowd understood what happened; this is the best way to explain John 6:14-15.

[13] “Jesus is therefore able to provide the people in the desert what Moses could not. Moses had to contend with disgruntled people teetering on the edge of starvation. Those gathered around Jesus are all satisfied. In contrast to the manna that could not be gathered up and held over until the next day, Jesus’ bread can be collected,” (David E. Garland, Mark, in NIVAC [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996], 254).

[14] “The feeding also echoes Isaiah’s call for Israel to come now to God’s banquet, celebrating the salvation about to be realized,” (Garland, Mark, 255).

[15] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, in Black’s New Testament Commentary (London: Continuum, 1991), 165.

[16] Carl L. Beckwith, The Holy Trinity, in Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, vol. 3 (Fort Wayne, IN: Luther Academy, 2016; Kindle ed.), KL 4743-4750.

Real Christian Life . . . and the Government (Part 6)

1 peter 2 (13)The audio from the latest Sunday School is below. As always, all audio and teaching notes can be found here.

Peter tells Christians we’re supposed to submit ourselves to every human authority because of the Lord. He says we must do this because it’s God’s will that, by doing right, we’d silence the ignorant slander of foolish men. We’re supposed to consider ourselves as slaves who’ve been freed from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son.

In Acts 4-5, the Apostle Peter left us an example of how to draw the line between obeying secular laws, and God’s laws. In short, Peter taught us that, no matter what we decide to do in a tricky situation, we must:

  1. Always be respectful
  2. Always tell them why (“we must obey God rather than men,” Acts 5:29)
  3. Always explain why (i.e. the Gospel)

The goal, of course, is to glorify God and be a testimony for Christ. We have to realize that God wants us to submit ourselves to every human authority so that, by doing right, we’d silence the ignorant slander of foolish men (1 Pet 2:15); so that they’ll see our good deeds and glorify God on the day when He returns to judge the world (1 Pet 2:13).

But, it’s often very difficult to know where to draw the line, and how to draw it. So, today, we discussed two difficult situations from American history to make this command “real” for us. Here they are:

Civil War-era fugitive slave laws

If you were a Christian, living in America in the pre-Civil War era, would you have ignored the Federal fugitive slave laws?

The U.S. Constitution (Article 4, Section 2) made it mandatory for a fugitive slave to be delivered up to his owner if he escapes and makes his way to another state. The Constitution doesn’t say how this should be done.

Eventually, a system developed where “kidnappers” (so labeled by anti-slavery advocates in the North) deployed forth in search of fugitive slaves, apprehended them, and simply brought them back South – with no legal recourse.This set up a terrible clash between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions. The former demanded the federal government assist slaveowners in re-capturing escaped slaves who crossed state lines. The latter factions in several anti-slavery states lobbied their legislatures and successfully passed “personal liberty” laws, which gave fugitive slaves who crossed into their states certain rights (e.g. habeas corpus, testimony, trial by jury) and imposed criminal punishments on kidnappers.

In 1837, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Pennsylvania’s “personal liberty” laws and, in one stroke, invalidated all such laws throughout the country. Even later, in the 1856 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared slaves were not “citizens,” as defined by the Constitution, and had no legal standing to petition for freedom.

What should devout Christians do in this environment?

  • If you’re a Christian, and
  • you live in Pennsylvania, and
  • Peter says you must submit yourselves to the civil authorities for the Lord’s sake, and
  • the Federal government says it’s unconstitutional to interfere with slave-owners trying to re-claim their “property” in the North

. . . then what should you do about it? How do you balance this? How do you do what Peter says, here (1 Pet 2:13-17)?

Oregon’s House Bill 3391

The State of Oregon recently passed House Bill 3391, which is widely acknowledged to be the most progressive and aggressive abortion law in this country. The bill (just signed into law this past Fall) requires all insurers in the State of Oregon to cover a large range of “reproductive services” (i.e. abortion) to anyone in the state.[1] More significantly, the bill allows a woman to get an abortion without any restriction, for any reason. 

Because insurers are forbidden to pass these costs along to the consumers, the State of Oregon will be contributing about $10,000,000 to offset the proposed costs for the 2017 – 2019 biennium. This cost is expected to grow to over $14,000,000 for 2019-2021.[2] This means, if you’re an Oregon resident, your tax-dollars will be used to reimburse insurers for abortion procedures – and the costs will only go up each biennium!

What should a Christian do in this environment?

Join us as we discuss these tricky issues, and consider how real and practical Peter’s letter is for our life today.

Notes

[1] See the text of HB 3391, Section 2(3).

[2] See the State of Oregon’s fiscal analysis of HB 3391.

Christless Christianity?

hortonI believe a troubling proportion of what passes as “Christianity” in contemporary American evangelicalism is at best sub-biblical, and at worst completely un-Christian. This isn’t necessarily true of the smaller churches scattered hither and yon throughout our fair land, amongst the amber waves of grain, in the shadow of purple mountain majesties. But, I believe it is generally true of the evangelical industrial complex in general, and celebrity ministers in particular.

To be sure, much of this pseudo-Christianity retains the same words, liturgies, creeds, confessions and outward form of orthodox Christianity. But, internally, it bears little resemblance to the true faith. Does this mean most pastors are wicked men, out to lead their flock to the flames of hell? Not necessarily; but make no mistake – such men do exist. I think this situation is more the result of a series of compounding problems:

  1. A drive to become “relevant” to the secular world will result in a subtle, then increasingly deliberate “softening” of the Christian message to avoid “offense.” Thus, the Gospel is increasingly buried under an avalanche of “love.” See my description of evangelism and “the church that’s ashamed of the gospel,” here.
  2. Our cultural climate is producing men in ministry who are timid. Such men are well-intentioned and quite pleasant people. But, they’re often weak, vacillating, hesitant, indecisive, and afraid.
  3. Our society is totally consumer-oriented, and this has filtered down to the churches. Many Christians shop for a church out of convenience and with a mercenary sense of entitlement. They view church like Wal-Mart, and they’ll hit the road or the Safeway down the street if you make them mad. This influences weak pastors to further round the rough edges off their ministries and Gospel presentations.

The end result of these (and other) problems is that you eventually end up with a “faith” that isn’t even Christian at all. God is somebody who just wants to bless. Jesus is the cosmic butler who lives to serve. The Spirit is there to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. The church exists to fill your needs.

Nearly a decade ago, a sociologist named Christian Smith observed five defining factors which summed up the defacto “creed” of modern “religious” teenagers in the United States, from many different faiths:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Basically, young people would take these propositions, and fit them into whichever faith system they happened to be associated with. The result, of course, is a syncretic stew of blasphemy which has no objective content whatsoever.

If you know somebody who is “religious,” and they’re not grounded and schooled in a very conservative version of their faith tradition, then I’m betting you right now that they’d sum up their religious outlook with some or all of these five propositions. You know somebody who is “religious,” but doesn’t take it seriously. You’re thinking of her right now, aren’t you? You know exactly who you can ask. Try it. You’ll see . . .

This isn’t a modern phenomenon, of course. The Israelites perfected this technique, and repeatedly gave God lip-service with empty cultic rituals, while worshipping pagan gods. They viewed Yahweh as a spiritual 911 operator; somebody they had in their back pocket for a rainy day, but didn’t want to chat with otherwise. For example, consider this (Jeremiah 2:26-28):

As a thief is shamed when caught,
so the house of Israel shall be shamed:
they, their kings, their princes,
their priests, and their prophets,
who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’
and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’
For they have turned their back to me,
and not their face.
But in the time of their trouble they say,
‘Arise and save us!’
But where are your gods
that you made for yourself?
Let them arise, if they can save you,
in your time of trouble;
for as many as your cities
are your gods, O Judah.

 

I suggest you read the book Christless Christianity by Michael Horton. It’s about, well . . . a “Christianity” which has taken Christ off the cross and made Him a cosmic butler. He writes:[1]

My concern is that we are getting dangerously close to the place in everyday American church life where the Bible is mined for “relevant” quotes but is largely irrelevant on its own terms; God is used as a personal resource rather than known, worshiped, and trusted; Jesus Christ is a coach with a good game plan for our victory rather than a Savior who has already achieved it for us; salvation is more a matter of having our best life now than being saved from God’s judgment by God himself; and the Holy Spirit is an electrical outlet we can plug into for the power we need to be all that we can be.

As this new gospel becomes more obviously American than Christian, we all have to take a step back and ask ourselves whether evangelicalism is increasingly a cultural and political movement with a sentimental attachment to the image of Jesus more than a witness to “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). We have not shown in recent decades that we have much stomach for this message that the apostle Paul called “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense,” “folly to Gentiles” (Rom. 9:33; 1 Cor. 1:23).

Far from clashing with the culture of consumerism, American religion appears to be not only at peace with our narcissism but gives it a spiritual legitimacy.

Harsh words. I think they’re warranted.

Notes

[1] This excerpt is from Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 19-20.