Monday, May 26, 2014

Jesus the Prophet (Matthew 13:53-14:13)

As noted in a previous post, Matthew 13:53—14:13 comprises the first subsection of the distinctive narrative section that extends from 13:53 to 17:27. This subsection is identified as section "A" in that post. (It is really only for mnemonic reasons that the literary structure of this narrative section is often presented as extending from chapter 14 to chapter 17. A closer examination of Matthew’s gospel shows that this narrative section actually begins at the end of chapter 13, specifically verse 53, which notes the end of a lengthy discourse section: “And when Jesus had finished these parables…”.)

(For quick reviewing purposes Matthew 13:53—14:13 can be found here.)

In this section Jesus is found visiting his “hometown” for the first time since the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, immediately after his baptism (2:23; 4:13). So far, Matthew has told us nothing about Jesus and his childhood relationship with the people back home in Nazareth, but there is nonetheless much to be gleaned from this encounter in chapter 13.

At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is clearly honored enough in his hometown to be teaching his Jewish brethren within “their synagogue.” But by the end of this section Jesus is dishonored, and the reason why is because of his prophetic authority. Matthew illustrates this in various ways.  

First, instead of focusing upon his teaching in the synagogue, Matthew focuses on the people being “astonished” (ἐκπλήσσεσθαι) by him. The last time anyone Matthew records anyone as “astonished” (ἐκπλήσσεσθαι) is immediately after Jesus’ discourse on the Law (i.e. Sermon on the Mount) at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry of healing (7:28-29).

In 7:28-29, the people were astonished because Jesus was like Moses in his giving of the Law, except Jesus was giving the Law in a way that was greater than the Pharisees, and teaching with more authority than their scribes. However, at the end of chapter 13 the situation that Jesus encounters in Nazareth is different. Instead of simply teaching greater things than their scribes, Jesus is performing “mighty works” (δυνάμεις) which none of their scribes could perform. These “mighty works” were, of course, nothing new to Jesus’ ministry. He had been performing these works all along (11:20-23). Just like Jesus’ earlier report of his ministry to John (11:5-6), the blind were receiving sight, their lame walked, their lepers were cleansed, their deaf heard, and their poor had the gospel preached to them. Yet unlike John’s positive response to this news, the people of Nazareth were astonished because they knew who Jesus’ family was—who his father, mother, and siblings were—but they did not know from what source Jesus’ mighty works had come. Certainly they did not come from his family or even from the teachers of Israel!

Apparently there was too much pressure for Jesus’ “hometown” to accept him as having greater authority than anyone they knew—even their religious authorities—and they were offended (ἐσκανδαλίζοντο) by this. Like Jesus’ parable in the previous chapter, they received Jesus like the “rocky ground” received the seed sown by the Sower. They received Jesus with joy initially, yet because they had no “root” in them, they “fell away” (σκανδαλίζεται; 13:20-21). These aren’t the only instances when Jesus spoke about “falling away” or being “offended” (Greek: σκανδαλίζω). Earlier, Jesus had told the disciples of John that those who are not “offended” or “caused to fall” (σκανδαλισθῇ) by him are, in fact, blessed by him (11:6). So in comparison, this portrait of Jesus’ hometown is clearly not a blessed one. Instead, Matthew’s portrayal of Nazareth is more like a cursed “household” which refuses to honor its own family members who prophecy on behalf of Yahweh (13:57). The fact that Jesus is hated as a prophet in the same way that adulterous Israel hated the prophets of Yahweh—like Elijah, Elisha, and Jeremiah—is significant. It’s also significant that this the first passage within Matthew’s gospel that Jesus explicitly likens himself to a “prophet” (13:57).

Placing this label of “prophet” upon himself also makes perfect sense within the larger context of John the Baptist’s death. After we learn that the people of Jesus’ hometown are caused to fall by Jesus’ “mighty works” (δυνάμεις), Matthew segways onto a brief discussion about Herod hearing rumors about Jesus’ ministry in Nazareth. Apparently Herod heard about these same “miraculous powers” (δυνάμεις) that Jesus had done in Nazareth and elsewhere (14:1-2). But Matthew doesn’t merely tell us about Jesus’ fame reaching Herod; instead he focuses on something which at first glance appears out-of-place and off-topic: he focuses on John the Baptist’s death and it’s relationship with Herod’s wife, Herodias.

At first glance, Matthew’s focus upon Herodias appears to be beside the main point of Jesus’ ministry, but really it highlights Jesus’ place within this gospel, within Matthew's story of Jesus as Israel. Back in chapter 11, when Jesus told the disciples of John about those who are blessed for not stumbling by his “mighty works,” we learned that John was in prison anticipating the coming of the Messiah; but he was still alive then. Here in chapter 14 we hear about John again, but we learn that John has been murdered because Herod’s wife summoned John’s head to be served to her on a platter. Like the Queen’s murderous plot against Elijah for prophesying against her “house,” Herodias wants to destroy John for prophesying against her “house.” But Matthew’s main point is not actually about John or Elijah. It’s still about Jesus, but by recalling John the Baptist’s ministry, Jesus’ ministry is clearly likened unto Elisha’s. It’s only when we find out that Herod thinks Jesus is John the Baptist—as though John was raised from the dead—that we also can see Jesus is to be likened very closely to Elijah and even more importantly, his successor, Elisha. (This typological association is even more explicit by the time we arrive at 16:14.)

Just as the ministry of Elijah foreshadowed the ministry of Elisha, so the ministry of John would foreshadow the ministry of Jesus. Like Elisha, Jesus would carry the prophetic mantle of the prophet before him and perform more “mighty works.” Indeed, throughout the following narrative section (i.e. chapters 14-17), the mighty works of Jesus make far more sense in light of Jesus as a type of Elijah and Elisha. Like Elijah before him, Jesus’ life is in danger from the King and Queen; he then flees to a mountain, then to the wilderness, and then to a widow in the region of Tyre and Sidon, like Elijah. Yet the parallels with Elisha, his successor, are even more striking.

Like Elisha, who is the only explicitly “anointed” prophet of the Old Covenant, Jesus is explicitly called the “Annointed One” by Peter (16:16 c.f. 1 Kings 19:16). Jesus also multiplies loaves of bread for his disciples, which is like Elisha, who was the only prophet in the Old Testament to do that particular miracle! Like Elisha, Jesus crosses the waters connected with the Jordan and is met by a school of disciples who “worship” him (Matt. 14:32; 2 Kings 2:14-15 LXX). When his disciples are tormented by the waves surrounding them, Jesus tells them “do not be afraid,” which is the same thing Elisha tells his disciples when they are tormented by surrounding armies (2 Kings 6:15-17). As the Shunammite woman prostrated herself before Elisha seeking help for her child, so the Canaanite woman prostrates herself before Jesus, and for the same reason (15:25; c.f. 2 Kings 4:27).

In an indirect manner, Jesus is also portrayed as a type of Elisha because of his disciple, Peter.1 Peter is highlighted as a type of chief disciple, similar to Gehazi, Elisha’s chief disciple. Like Gehazi with Elisha, Peter fails to understand his master’s mission, and he foolishly sets himself up as an obstacle between Jesus and other disciples. He is, in fact, the only disciple within the gospels to be singled out as both a chief disciple and a man of “little faith” (14:31). In this light, the resemblance between Peter and Gehazi is unmistakable.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Jesus is like Elisha in the way he forms a community of disciples around him. Unlike Elijah, who, like John the Baptist, attracted a lot of attention but not a lot of disciples to follow in his footsteps, Jesus accomplishes the opposite. Jesus attracts most of his disciples in chapters 14-17 of Matthew’s gospel. Like Elisha, Jesus ministers throughout the land of Israel, gathering, nourishing, and sustaining a new community of disciples in a time of great spiritual famine. But his ministry as the greater Elisha has only been alluded to briefly in this first subsection, when Jesus first hears news that Herod thinks he is the resurrected John the Baptist (14:1-3, 13). By his relationship with John's suffering as a prophet, Jesus suffering for the kingdom is foreshadowed, and by his relationship with Elisha's prophetic ministry, the rise of a new and greater Israel is anticipated. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Faith as more than simple belief

Faith is more than simple belief because it involves commitment of a kind that is possible only between persons. I can believe that the ground beneath my feet is solid enough to build a house on and then construct one on the basis of that belief, but although I might say that I have "faith" in the ground, there is no relationship between us. For example, it would be unreasonable for me to pray to the ground in the hope that it might protect me from earthquakes. The ground does not have a mind or a will that would justify such behavior on my part, and no reciprocal relationship with it is possible. Faith in God, however, involves two-way communication, which means that there is something present both in us and in God that makes such dialogue meaningful. That something is what we call "personhood," and so it is with the personhood of God that our analysis of how we know and experience him must begin.1 

1.  Gerald Bray, God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology  [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012] p. 106

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Romance of Redemption (Warren Gage's latest book)

Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.”
(Genesis 24:58)
Reading: Genesis 24
Rebekah’s Story
It was not at all what she expected. The sun was setting already. Rebekah watched as the old man began to gather wood for a campfire. Rushing to help him, she quickly gathered even more than he did. As the old man, Abraham’s servant, kindled the fire to take away the nighttime chill, the travellers settled down to rest. It had been a long day.
“What have I done?” asked the girl quietly to herself. Rebekah sat on the ground watching the sparks from the campfire fly into the sky only to fall back to earth again. The sparks seemed to imitate the shooting stars in the heavens. “I have left my country and family. I have left my father’s house and all I have known to set out with this stranger to a far country. And now I am betrothed to his master’s son, a man I have never even met. Did I really agree to do all this?”
Just yesterday she had gone to the city well to bring water back to her family. When she arrived, she noticed the old man there, sitting by the well and seeming to be so helpless. He asked her for a drink, and she gladly gave him one. But while he was drinking, she noticed that he had come with ten thirsty camels. Ten camels. Ten to twenty gallons each, she quickly calculated. To draw water for them would take several hours of hard work. Still the Lord delights in gracious hospitality to strangers, she remembered. So she offered to draw water for the old man’s camels, too.
The man accepted. He watched in wonder as Rebekah drew water and went back and forth to fill the trough as the camels slowly quenched their thirst after so long a journey. As the hours went by, the old man said nothing, watching Rebekah draw bucket after bucket, not stopping until the work was done.
At last Rebekah finished, and all the camels were content. As she went to retrieve her own jar of water to take home, the man stopped her and asked, “Whose daughter are you?” Turning to face him she saw that he had golden rings and bracelets in his hands. As he handed these rich treasures to her, she said, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Nahor and brother of Abraham, sons of Terah.” Upon hearing and recognizing the family names of Abraham’s brother, the man fell to his knees and lifted up his hands to give thanks to the Lord. Rebekah ran from the well to tell her family that a stranger had come who was a servant of Abraham. Her brother Laban ran to the well to welcome the stranger and to offer lodging for the night. As the servant entered the home, the family set before him a hastily prepared feast. But the old man would take nothing, he said, until he had related his purpose for coming. What an amazing story the old man would tell!
His master Abraham had sent him on this journey to Haran to seek a bride for his son and heir, Isaac. Having arrived at Haran, the old man had prayed to the Lord asking God to identify the bride He intended for the son of his master. As Rebekah listened, the old man told her family that he had asked the Lord to reveal the chosen bride by the sign of her generosity to a stranger—specifically, that she would offer a drink to the old man and then offer to draw for his camels, too. Rebekah trembled as she listened to him, for she knew that the old man was saying that the Lord God had chosen her to be the wife of Isaac, son of Abraham! The old man and all of her family looked at Rebekah to see her response. Would she agree? Would she consent to go with this man to a country she had never visited? Would she leave her home and loved ones for a man she had never even met? No one but the Lord could have arranged all of this, she thought. Every eye was upon her. What would she say? To the surprise of everyone, Rebekah spoke the simple words, “I will go.”
The servant, according to the custom, gave the bride’s family a great gift for her release. Among the gifts were treasures of gold and silver along with beautiful garments. And so, with hardly a moment to consider what she was doing, Rebekah had said her farewell and was off.
Now, as she sat upon the ground by this campfire, she knew she should try to rest, but sleep eluded her. “What will Isaac be like?” she pondered to herself. “Is he a kind man? His name means ‘laughter,’ ” she thought. “But what does that mean?” Strangely, she felt confidence in her decision. Still, she wondered about her new husband and what he was like. How odd, she thought, that not even having seen this man she loved him already! She was astonished that the Lord had chosen her for him, and that He had sent this stranger to call her to be Isaac’s wife.
The servant settled down at last by the fire, seemingly lost in his thoughts. Without wanting to disturb him, but unable to restrain herself any longer, Rebekah broke the silence of the wilderness and said, “Please tell me about the man I am to marry.”
The old man was looking away into the distance. But then turning to Rebekah, he began to speak.
“My daughter,” he smiled, “you have become part of a grand story far greater than you can imagine. It is the story of my master Abraham and God’s love for his Seed. Long ago God promised to give the world a Seed who would bring salvation to the earth. He promised that chosen Seed to Adam and Eve in the beginning, and now God has promised that this chosen Seed, so long expected, will come through the family of my master Abraham. You are highly favored, Rebekah, for God is with you and has chosen you to be the wife of Isaac and to be one of the mothers who will bring the Redeemer into the world!”
“How can this be?” asked Rebekah.
“Let me begin with the wonderful story of Isaac’s birth, announced by an angel to his mother and father before he was born. The Lord appeared to Abraham and promised him a son. Now the child’s conception was to be a miracle, for his mother was both barren and well beyond the age of child bearing. But the fulfillment of all God’s promises depended upon the birth of this son. God said that Abraham’s seed would number with the stars of the heavens and the sand of the seashore. God promised him that he would prevail over the gates of his enemies.
“Now in the fullness of time, Sarah gave birth to a son for Abraham, just as the Lord God had said. Isaac brought great joy to his father in his old age, and his father was well pleased with him.
“But as Isaac grew in wisdom and stature, one terrible day, God told Abraham to take his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved, and bring him to a mountain and offer him there upon an altar of sacrifice upon one of the hills as a whole burnt offering!” Rebekah’s heart began to race as the old man related the story.
“Abraham obeyed and prepared the wood. He also took the knife and the fire and brought his son to the mountain of Moriah, which God had appointed as the place of sacrifice. They arrived on the third day after God decreed Isaac’s death.
“When they came to the mountain God had chosen, Abraham placed the wood of the sacrifice upon the back of his son. Then they went on alone, Isaac carrying the burden of the wood of the sacrifice on his own back up the hill. As they went, Isaac noticed that Abraham had not provided a lamb for the sacrifice. Isaac asked Abraham, “Where is the lamb my father?” Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice, my son.” But when they came to the place, Abraham told Isaac that he was the sacrifice God required that day. Isaac hesitated. Would he permit his father to bind him and lay him down upon the wood to receive the piercing of the knife? Would he willingly submit his own will to the will of his father?
“Isaac chose to submit. He extended his hands to be bound and he lay down upon the wood of sacrifice to be pierced by the knife upon the altar. But as Abraham raised the knife to sacrifice his son, the angel of the Lord stopped him, and Isaac was spared. God revealed that He intended to provide another Lamb as the sacrifice. So on the third day, Isaac was released from the decree of death and restored to his father Abraham!”
“And so Rebekah,” the man continued tenderly, “to bring the joy of his son after he was delivered from death to completion, Abraham, knowing it is not good for a man to be alone, sent me to seek and find a bride worthy of his beloved son. And you, precious daughter, are that chosen one! You will be great Abraham’s daughter, and heir with Isaac of all of God’s covenant promises and blessings upon this family! Your Seed by this man will redeem the world, and He will triumph over the gates of all His enemies!”
Rebekah was unable to speak. She stared into the distance in utter silence. She lay back on her blanket and closed her eyes. All God’s promises were now hers. God, who had worked so mightily in Isaac’s life, had now begun a good work in her as well. And she knew the Lord would accomplish all His good pleasure through her. She was on her way to a far country. She would be the bride of a son of great blessing. She would share his inheritance and destiny. And her Seed by Abraham’s son would bring blessing to all the families of the earth, according to Abraham’s covenant promise!
Your Story
One of the most striking features of Genesis is that the longest narrative in the entire book is the story of Rebekah’s engagement to Isaac. Chapter 24 of Genesis accounts for no less than 67 verses in the English Bible. This fascinating story is filled with intricate detail. In fact, Moses devotes twice as much space to his report of this romance as he did to the immensely important account of the creation of the world. Why would he do this? Why would Moses dedicate so much space to the narrative of the engagement of Rebekah? Why give so much elaborate attention to the story of a romance?
There is a deep truth expressed in this remarkable allocation of a significant portion of the biblical text to a romantic tale. Creation, for all its magnificence, is merely the work of God’s “fingers” (Psa 8:3). Redemption, however, is the labor of God’s arm, and the travail of His soul (Isa 53:1, 11). The great picture of redemption in the Bible is the romance of an earthly bride chosen for the Son of heaven (Eph 5:23; Rev 21:2). The lives of Isaac and Rebekah are windows into this wondrous story.
As the servant recounted to Rebekah, Isaac was the beloved son of his father whose coming birth was announced by an angel of the Lord (Gen 18:1–15). His birth to a woman unable to conceive was truly miraculous (Gen 18:11). He was the son of promise, the one who would inherit the blessing of God given to his father’s family. But Isaac’s destiny to carry forward God’s covenant blessing on his family appeared to be in jeopardy when the Lord called upon Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice (Gen 22). Nevertheless, Isaac humbly submitted—even to the point of carrying the wood of his own sacrifice up Mount Moriah (which was later to be the Temple Mount in Jerusalem). As the Scripture declares, Isaac was delivered from death on the third day (Gen 22:4).
Must God not have ordained the events of Isaac’s life to point us to the coming Christ, who also was the beloved son of His Father and who was also called the Lamb of God? Jesus’ miraculous birth from a virgin’s womb was foretold before His conception by an angel, and He was the son of promise who would fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. And yet one day this only Son, like Isaac, was called upon to give His life as a sacrifice. He humbly submitted to His Father’s will, carrying the wood of His own sacrifice up the hill of Calvary. But on the third day, He was delivered from death.
If Isaac is a type of Jesus, then certainly Rebekah is a type of the church, the bride of Christ. How did this romance come to be, and might we learn about our own calling from the providence that directed Rebekah to give herself in love to a man she had never seen? What might we learn about our destiny from a bride who was promised to a groom in a far country, and for whom she would have to leave everything?
First, we must recognize that the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah does not begin with the love of the couple, but with the father’s decision to secure a bride for his beloved son (Gen 24:3–4). Trusting in the providence of God’s covenant faithfulness, Abraham sent his servant away to a far country to secure a bride for Isaac. Once the servant had identified the chosen bride, a great price was paid to her family for her release (Gen 24:53). Although there was an overwhelming providence in the divine destiny that selected her, Rebekah was not deprived of the dignity of giving her consent (Gen 24:5–8, 55–58). She then left all her family to undertake a long pilgrimage to go to be with her betrothed in a land she would share with him as an inheritance (Gen 24:61). Such was the marriage custom in the ancient Near East, and so is the pattern of the gospel of grace. For our betrothal began with the sovereign choice of God the Father to secure a bride for His beloved Son. Once we were chosen, a great price was paid for our redemption. And we, like Rebekah, have been divinely called to leave everything behind in order to persevere through the pilgrimage of this life to our own wedding celebration in a promised country, which is to be our new inheritance and home forever.
We, as Christians, can surely understand the difficulty of Rebekah’s painful decision. When we are first confronted with the gospel message of salvation in Christ, we too can hesitate at the prospect. It seems madness to leave the life with which we have become comfortable and follow after One whom we have never met, who asks us to abandon all for Him! Yet like Rebekah, a peace settles over our souls, and we find that we long to give ourselves to this Man, knowing little about what our life with Him will be like. Jesus is the one Peter speaks of when he says, “whom having not seen you love” (1 Pet 1:8). But like Rebekah, we can rest in the providence of our God who sought us out and called us to His side. We can find comfort in the assurance that He will be faithful to complete the good work He has begun in us (Phil 1:6). We remember the promise of Jesus: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Matt 19:29). His peace guards our hearts.
We, like Rebekah, are to marry the beloved Son of promise, and we are welcomed not only into His royal family, but to share His destiny to bless the nations. It is a glorious story, the eternal love story, of God’s love for His people and His desire to spread that love to all the families of the earth. He will have descendants, spiritual sons and daughters, who outnumber the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky, and we are part of this great multitude.
The same gospel question first spoken to Rebekah is asked of each of us: “Will you go with this man?” Like Rebekah, let us freely abandon all we have known to give our lives in love to the One for whom God has chosen us! For nothing in this world can compare to the glorious future that awaits those invited to the wedding of Christ and His bride. “Will you go with this man?” Freely, faithfully, with a heart fixed on absolute devotion to the One who has given His life for you, let your answer be Rebekah’s: “I will go!”[1]

[1] Gage, W. A. (2014). The Romance of Redemption: Biblical Types of the Bride of Christ (pp. 9–14). Fort Lauderdale: St. Andrews House.

"The Deceived Belief Must Be Genuine" (more from Greg Bahnsen's doctoral dissertation)

We have maintained that deceived people believe false propositions, and we have elaborated a basic characterization of belief. It will turn out on the analysis being developed here that self-deception actually involves two beliefs which are in conflict. This will be defended in chapter 4. What can be observed here, however, is that the conflict that exists within the self-deceiver can be adequately described as a conflict between two beliefs, and need not be portrayed as a conflict between knowledge and belief. That is, rather than saying that the self-deceiver knows one thing and believes contrary to it, it will be sufficient simply to say that the self-deceiver believes something and yet believes something contrary to it. The contrary belief in either case will be false. However, there is no need to maintain that the other belief to which it is contrary is true and held on good evidence; that is, there is no need to say that it is knowledge (a true belief held on good evidence) to which the false belief is contrary in self-deception. What the self-deceiver takes to be true (i.e., believes) need not actually be true. What is at issue is not whether the self-deceiver holds a false belief in conflict with a true one. It is equally appropriate in self-deception that the conflict be between a false belief and another false belief, for it is the conflict-state that constitutes the condition for self-deception. As long as the self-deceiver actually believes a proposition to be true, it can be objectively false and still serve to set up or generate a conflicting (and similarly false) belief. Our analysis of self-deception need not become complicated, then, with a mixture of knowledge and belief. A person can deceive himself about a belief which he holds whether or not that belief actually has good supporting reasons and turns out to be true or not. Those are extraneous matters here. The important thing is that the self-deceiver believe some proposition and then (falsely) believe something which is incompatible with it.1

1.  Greg L. Bahnsen, A Conditional Resolution of the Apparent Paradox of Self-Deception (USC Doctoral Dissertation [Philosophy], June 1978), p. 147-8. Underlines for emphasis are original.