Showing posts with label Mark. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mark. Show all posts

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What Shall I Cry? (A homily for Advent, Isaiah 40:1-11)

Advent  (Second Sunday, Year B)
Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a, 18
Mark 1:1-8



In the 14th year of Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib the king of Assyria waged war against the cities of Judah—including Jerusalem. But Hezekiah, king of Judah, was not willing to surrender to the Assyrians. So Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, sent his ambassador—the Rabshakeh—along with a huge army to Jerusalem to intimidate Hezekiah, and to persuade the people of God to think differently about their situation.

Once the Rabshakeh arrived outside the gates of Jerusalem, Isaiah tells us that he addressed the people Israel with a loud voice, informing them that their surrounding cities had been laid to waste, and that their city was next, unless, of course, they surrendered peacefully. And if they were to surrender peacefully, not only would they not be destroyed, but the King of Assyria would give each of them their own fig tree and vine from which to eat and their own cistern from which to drink. By making an agreement with the King of Assyria, they would no longer need to worry about their warfare, for they would receive care by the hand of a good shepherd who leads his sheep to a new land of promise, “a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards” much like their own (36:10-17).

King Hezekiah had a decision to make. He and his people could surrender to the Assyrians, or they could repent before the Lord, ask for His help, and hope that the Lord would answer favorably according to their prayers.

Hezekiah made the wise decision and he went into the Temple and prayed. That night the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, and Isaiah let King Hezekiah know that the Lord heard His prayer and was pleased with it. And in response to his prayer, the Lord promised to end the war of the Assyrians against them. That night the angel of the Lord would pass over Jerusalem and plague the Assyrian armies, causing many to die and the rest to flee away from the city.

Jerusalem was then spared. Her warfare had ended. The Lord delivered His people once more from their enemies. Now it was time to celebrate the Lord’s victory.

All of these events I just described are recorded in the book of Isaiah, chapter 36-37, only a few chapters prior to our reading in Isaiah 40. And if you were to gloss over chapters 38 and 39, at first glance the message of Isaiah 40 seems to be describing that victorious event (i.e. that event of Jerusalem’s deliverance from Assyria). Consider how Isaiah 40 begins:
Comfort, comfort my people! says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her in iniquity is pardoned… (vv. 1-2)

Here the Lord declares that His people ought to be comforted by His good news, and His good news is this: her warfare has ended, and the Lord has pardoned her iniquity. That sounds like a reference to the warfare which ended in the previous story about the King of Assyria attacking Jerusalem.

Then Isaiah hears another voice crying out:
Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness!
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God!
…Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.  (vv. 3-5)
Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news!
Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news! Lift it up, do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”  (v. 9)

Because Israel’s warfare is over, now the time has come to prepare a path for a procession of the Lord to His throne. The imagery of paving a highway for God through the wilderness is reminiscent of Israel’s exodus from bondage in Egypt, when God first claimed Himself as Israel’s King and carried them into the promised land. In chapters 36 & 37, we found a “Passover” theme: The people were in bondage and the angel of the Lord passed over His people, striking down all of Israel's enemies. Here in chapter 40, we find a clear “Exodus” theme. Here we see God leading His people in a victorious procession through the wilderness and into the promised land.

However, as I said a few moments ago, if you were to read Isaiah 36-37 and then gloss over chapters 38-39, Isaiah 40 seems to be describing that victorious event mentioned in 36-37. But Isaiah is not actually talking about Israel’s deliverance from the King of Assyria. And we know this because of chapters 38-39. In those chapters, Isaiah tells us a strange little story that doesn’t appear to be very important until we connect it with the message of chapter 40.

In chapters 38-39 Isaiah tells us that King Hezekiah became very sick and when the king of Babylon heard he was sick, he visited him and brought him lots of gifts; and Hezekiah not only accepted his gifts, he expressed his gratitude to the King of Babylon by giving him a tour through all of Jerusalem and even inside the Lord’s Temple, showing him all his treasures (Isa. 39). That action of Hezekiah provoked the Lord, and so the Lord sent Isaiah to give an important message to Hezekiah:

Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. (39:5-7)

And take special notice of Hezekiah’s following response as well (39:8). Then Hezekiah responded to Isaiah saying,

“The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” (For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my days.’)

This rise and fall of King Hezekiah, and God’s promise to send his people into exile in Babylon, is the background of our reading today from Isaiah (40:1-11). If we were to skip over Isaiah’s brief mention of Hezekiah’s sickness (Isa. 39), we would be missing out on the fact that this great promise of comfort was not supposed to be fulfilled in the days of Hezekiah, even though many people of Israel probably thought it was. Isaiah's proclamation of God's promise was for a future generation, long after the destruction of Jerusalem and Israel's exile to Babylon.

Even Isaiah seems to have believed God’s word of comfort was too good to be true. He hears a voice telling him to cry out God’s good news, but he doesn’t know if God’s message really is good news for his generation. “What shall I cry out?” Isaiah asks, for “all flesh is grass and all of its loyalty is like a flower of the field.” Isaiah knows that the people of Israel in his generation were not loyal to God. “Surely the people are grass,” Isaiah says. And just as surely as the people are grass who will fade away by the breath of the Lord,  so shall the word of the Lord stand firm. The days were coming when Jerusalem and the glories of its Temple would be carried away to Babylon, and nothing would be left; all would be destroyed, and the people of Israel would be taken captive to Babylon too.

Now, at this point you might be wondering what all of this has to do with Advent.

Advent is a season when we—people of God—are called to wait upon the Lord to enter our lives again. And as we wait up Him we’re supposed to be preparing ourselves for His coming by repenting of our sins and by meditating upon His promises.

But what has God promised for us? What has God promised that we need to be preparing ourselves to receive?

Perhaps it’s best to answer those questions by imagining ourselves as the people of God in Isaiah’s day. Are we that much different than them? Are the people of God today much different than the flowers of the field in Isaiah’s day? When the Lord speaks to us—His people—addressing our foolishness directly, just as He did with His people in Isaiah's day, what is our response? Even when Hezekiah received a warning from the Lord directly, all he seemed to care about was peace and security while he was alive. Are our ways of thinking much different than Hezekiah's? Are we willing to sacrifice our time, energy,  and petty inconveniences to ensure greater peace and security for the next generation, or do we care more about having peace and security in our own lifetime at the expense of future generations?

When we want God to come to our rescue, of course then we pray fervently to Him, and we teach our children to pray too. When we need rescuing, then we wait attentively for Him to respond favorably to our prayers; but let's be honest: when God graciously delivers us from our sins, our tendency is to go right back to where we were before, to our old foolish ways. And to make matters worse, sometimes we don’t even seem to care much about what happens to the next generation because of our foolish sins. We care far more about what happens to us. We care far more about having peace and security in our lives, even if that means a future generation of God’s people would suffer from our foolish decisions today.

So what message should we be crying out? What message should we be crying out in a generation like ours, whose loyalty is like a flower of the field that fades away with every gust of wind?

The answer to that question comes from our Gospel reading today (Mark 1:1-8). John the Baptist referred to this prophecy of Isaiah as confirming his ministry of baptism, which means that Isaiah’s message of hope was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus and in John’s baptism of Jesus. Jesus was the one of Isaiah’s prophecy for whom a highway was to be cleared, and John’s baptism was the way that highway to Jesus was paved. Jesus was the one for whom even the mountains of Johns world were to make room. Jesus was the one whom the people of Israel needed to repent before and receive forgiveness. Jesus was the Word of comfort for Israel.

But Jesus wasn’t simply the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Jesus was and is the glory of God revealed for all “flesh” to see (Isa. 40:5), therefore Jesus is the one for whom even the mountains of our world need to make room. Our world has mountains of pride, valleys of despair, crooked places of perversion, rough places of bitterness, but Jesus comes as our Word of comfort and paves a highway for us. He is the one who pays the penalty for our iniquity and delivers us from exile. His body, into which we have been baptized, is the Temple he destroyed and raised to life again. Jesus is the name above all names that we lift up without fear before the world, saying “Behold your God!”

Jesus is also the one who makes good on his promises as the King of kings. Jesus is the one who rules over all nations and subdues our enemies under His feet, declaring and end to our warfare. Jesus is the one who calls us to lay down our carnal weapons of warfare and surrender to His rule; and by surrendering to Him, he promises to fulfill His word as our good Shepherd, leading us to rest in his good land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards.

And as we learned in our Epistle reading for today (2 Peter. 3:8-15a, 18), Jesus is not slow to fulfill this promise to us either. Rather, he is patient toward us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 


Therefore, this is the message we ought to be proclaiming: Come to Jesus for your warfare to end and your iniquity to be pardoned. Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. Confess your sins and surrender yourself unto God, then accept His invitation to feast on the grain and vineyards of His good land. Feast on the bread and wine which your King has prepared for you this day at His Table, so that you may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

* * * * * *


Heavenly Father, stir up your power, and with great might come among us; and, because we are greatly hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.







Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Yahweh's Chosen Servant: Matt. 12:15-21 (section D3)


Continuing where I left off in this series of Matthew's Gospel, we come now to the final section in the center of the larger narrative structure. This section (Matt. 12:15-21, section D3) reads as follows:
Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: "Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
 my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
 I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, 
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
 until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the nations will hope."
As mentioned in an earlier post, chapters 11-12 form one unit, and that unit centers on the theme of rest for the people of God. In chapters 1-4 we learn about the beginnings, birth, and exodus of the Son of God, but at the same time we learn that Jesus is really fulfilling the beginnings, birth, and exodus of Israel, God's "firstborn son". In chapters 5-7, after passing through the waters of baptism and entering into the wilderness, we find Jesus, as a new and greater Moses, ascending a mountain to give the people of Israel the Law. Afterward, in chapters 8-9, Jesus descends from the mountain to heal the people of Israel as many times as Israel fell in the wilderness (i.e. ten times; cf. Num. 14:22), and in Mosaic fashion we find Israel wandering in that wilderness like "sheep without a shepherd" (9:36; cf. Num. 27:17), whose burdens are carried by a greater Joshua. After that, in chapter 10, we find Jesus, the greater Joshua, commissioning and resting His authority upon 12 apostles, instructing and sending them into the land in preparation for future conquest. Finally, having reached chapters 11-12, Jesus and his disciples travel into the land, pronouncing woe after woe for the inhabitants who hate God, but also promising rest for those who put their trust in Him. It is in the very center of all this that we see the rise of Israel's Servant-King, Jesus.

When we looked at the rest of chapters 11-12 in detail, I pointed out that Jesus travels on the day of rest --the Sabbath-- to the synagogue of the Pharisees who are hostile to the gospel of His kingdom. After being harassed outside their synagogue, we then looked at His entrance into their synagogue, and there we found the Pharisees conspiring to destroy Him because He healed a man on the Sabbath, which was contrary to the traditions that held them in power. After that we arrive to the narrative before us. We arrive at a point when Jesus, aware of his enemies' plot to destroy Him, withdraws from their synagogue. It is at this point when we learn that "many followed Him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make them known." It seems that in context the "many" who followed Jesus came from the synagogue of the Pharisees. In other words, when faced with a choice to follow Jesus (who bears the burdens of Israel) or the Pharisees (who lay heavy burdens on them, Matt. 23:4), many Jews openly choose Jesus over the Pharisees. Like Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue (Matt. 9:18-26; Mk. 5:22; Lk. 8:41), the people within the synagogue of the Pharisees are beginning to recognize that Jesus' yoke is easy, his burden is light, and he's even willing to carry it along with them, whereas the Pharisees weren't willing to carry Israel's burdens at all (Matt. 23:4).

In chapters 11-12 we also find Jesus as a greater David, protecting the borders of Israel and providing rest for those who are perishing from the harassment of God's enemies. But during this time of rest we find out for the first time in Matthew's Gospel that the established rulers of Israel don't want the rest Jesus has to offer; instead they seek to put Him to rest, to harass, trap, and cause Him to perish. However, like we find in the rise of the Davidic kingdom, opposition to the King doesn't keep the gospel of the kingdom from advancing. That is because Yahweh sent His Son into the world to inherit the world as a kingdom for Himself. He was sent to die for the world so that a new world --a new Israel united to Him-- would resurrect with Him. Yahweh's purpose in sending His Son was to save the world, not to destroy it, and by saving it the increase of His kingdom, power, and glory on earth shall have no end. In this section of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus even receives a taste of what it will be like for the future nations to hope in Him. Even when Jesus withdraws from the synagogue of His enemies, whom we now knows are conspiring to destroy Him (Matt. 12:14), an exodus of many more disciples follows in His train. Instead of opposition from the world diminishing His Kingdom, His enemies bring Him even more attention and popularity.

After this Sabbath exodus Jesus does something else, only this time what he does is not entirely unheard of. This time He orders His new disciples not to make Him known, just as He did earlier with the two blind men who followed Jesus from Jairus' house (Matt. 9:30-31). But why do this? Why not tell all of Israel that their King has come, and that the increase of His kingdom shall have no end? (After all, Jesus is King whether the rulers of the land like Him or not.) 

The answer to this has something to do with Matthew's reference to Isaiah 42:1-4, and the fact that, as the King, He is on a mission to bring justice and victory to the nations. Because it would be in His name that the nations of the world would hope, He did not come to contend his regal authority. Instead He came to assert His regal authority by modeling what truly Godly authority looks like. He came as the King to save the perishing sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 10:6; 15:24), but He didn't come quarreling and making all kinds of commotion in the streets, as Isaiah says. He came to model faithful and compassionate service to the house of Israel (Matt. 9:36). For those Israelites who might have expected His voice to be heard in the streets like they did with John the Baptist, the message of Isaiah as quoted describes the character of His ministry well. He didn't come, bearing the burdens of Israel, healing withered hearts and hands as a form of self-aggrandizement. He came to take Israel's illnesses and diseases and carry them upon Himself because the people were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, no longer being able to bear the weight of the burden placed upon them by the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 8:17; 9:36).

When the Pharisees opposed Jesus, attempting to trap and destroy Him, Jesus also doesn't fight back the way we might expect Him to. Instead we find a humble Servant who is willing to lay down His life for His sheep. We find a gentle Servant who won't even break a bruised reed in His way (Matt. 11:29). Even at the point when the Pharisees fan the flame of controversy in their synagogue, Jesus makes no attempt to quench that flame either. Instead we find Jesus withdrawing from there, letting the fires which they started continue to smolder. This is because Jesus knows what the Father has in store for Him. He knows the great commission which His heavenly Father has sent Him to perform. Yahweh's Spirit is upon Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations --the justice of reconciling the world to God-- until He brings justice to victory; and in His name the nations will hope. 





Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Misconceptions of Mosaic Law




In his book, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World, James Jordan comments on the misconception that the Mosaic laws were so tough, so demanding, and so stringent that nobody could ever keep them. He writes:
  Why do people think the Mosaic law was hard to keep? In general, it is because they do not know what the law really commanded, and because they have the Mosaic law confused with the rabbinical traditions of Judaism. The rabbinical traditions were  a "heavy yoke" (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23; Acts 15:10; Matthew 23:4). Jesus called the people back to the Mosaic law, making it his own, and in doing so said that He was offering an "easy yoke" (Matthew 5:20-48; 11:29-30). We should, then, briefly look at the Mosaic law. 
  What about all those sacrifices, you may ask? There were the Burnt, Meal, Peace, Thank, Votive, Sin, Reparation, "Heave," and "Wave" Offerings, for starters. Some used salt, and some did not. Some used oil, and some did not. Some required a lamb; others, oxen; others, birds. Leavened bread  was used with some, unleavened with others. Some parts of the animal were burned up, others given to the priests, and others were eaten by laymen. These things differed for each sacrifice. It was an awful lot of detail to master. The Israelite citizen, however, never offered any sacrifices himself. Only the priests were allowed to do the sacrifices, and they did them every day. They soon became familiar with all these details. 
  Compare the details of the complicated sacrificial system with the details of auto repair, and it suddenly becomes clear just how simple the priests's job was. How many different kinds of cars are there? Add on the fact that they change from year to year. Now consider all the different parts and aspects that can go wrong. Next time you take your car in, look at all the volumes of "Chilton" auto repair manuals that your mechanic keeps on hand, and compare their size and detail with the book of Leviticus. If your mechanic can learn to fix cars, and enjoy it, obviously the priests of Israel had no trouble managing the sacrificial system.
  What about the sabbath? Wasn't that a burden? No, it was a time of rest. But weren't they forbidden to cook on the sabbath? No, they kept the sabbath as a feast. But weren't they forbidden recreation on the sabbath? No, the Bible nowhere says this. Well then, what did they do? They went to church to worship God (Leviticus 23:3), and relaxed the rest of the day. The sabbath was not an "impossible burden."
  What about all those cleansing rules in Leviticus 11-15? Well, in the first place, becoming unclean only meant one thing: You were not permitted to go into the forecourt of the Tabernacle and bring a sacrifice. Since most forms of uncleanness only lasted a day or a week, it was no real burden to be unclean. Second, if you were seriously unclean, you could make other people unclean for a few hours (until sundown) if you touched them; but again, that was only a matter of concern if the other person were on his way to offer a sacrifice. At the most, being unclean was an inconvenience. Of course, if you were unclean for months on end, and could not attend festivals, it became a more serious matter.
  The laws of uncleanness were not hard to keep. You were to wash out a pot if a lizard fell into it and died. We would do the same today. You were not supposed to marry your sister, aunt, or child. Few of us would be tempted to. You were not supposed to eat dog-burgers or salted roast roaches. Most of us wouldn't either. That is because these are our customs, and we don't find them burdensome. If we were used to eating dog meat, as some cultures do, then the restriction would be temporarily burdensome until we got used to it. The Jews were not to eat pork either, but that was not hard for them. They were no more tempted to eat pork than we are to eat roaches. 
  So, the Mosaic law was not horribly complicated or impossible to keep. Of course, in the New Covenant we are not under the Mosaic law. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ replaces all the sacrifices of Moses. Christ has cleansed the world once and for all in His Resurrection, and so the laws of uncleanness no longer apply to us. That is, they no longer apply as laws. In terms of their symbolism, they still provide wisdom.1




1.  James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999], pp. 199-201






Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Healing the Withered Hand: Matthew 12:9-14 (Section D2)


[Jesus] went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with with a withered hand. And they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"--so that they might accuse him. He said to them, "Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. (Matthew 12:9-14)


Continuing where we left off in this ongoing series of Matthew's gospel, we arrive at the famous story of the man with a "withered hand." This story is found in the other two synoptic gospels as well (Mark 3 & Luke 6). Unfortunately, many commentators have taught this story in a manner very similar to their misunderstandings of the previous one. It has been taught as though Jesus is really concerned about "exceptions" to God's Law under the new covenant, exceptions such as acts of mercy. As a result, the Pharisaical misunderstandings of God's Law become the focal points of this entire story, when really, this section is less of a commentary on "exceptions" and misunderstandings of God's Law and more of a commentary on misunderstandings of the Lawgiver. Such was precisely the point of the previous story, and Matthew continues that thought here as well.

Matthew even makes it obvious that he is continuing where he last left off. He says that Jesus "went on from there and entered their synagogue." We might now want to ask, 'From where is "there" and whose synagogue is "theirs"?' 

In the previous story, Jesus is walking with his disciples on the Sabbath day, among whom were certain Pharisees. Those Pharisees upbraided Jesus for permitting his disciples to do what the traditions of 1st century Judaism had determined as unlawful. It is from that scene of traveling with Pharisees which Matthew now adds onto, only this time Jesus enters their synagogue on the Sabbath day. 

Even though Luke clearly says that this second account occurs on a separate Sabbath day other than the previous Sabbath confrontation (Luke 6:6), Matthew sandwiches the two stories together in order to give his readers the impression that all of these events of chapters eleven and twelves revolve around the same day of Sabbath rest. Here, on this Sabbath day and in the synagogue of the same contentious Pharisees, we read that "a man was there with a withered hand" (ESV). Actually the Greek text is much more startling than that. After entering "their synagogue," instead of focusing upon the confrontation with the Pharisees, Matthew interrupts a seemingly smooth transition into a conversation with the Pharisees by an abrupt and somewhat odd description of a man with a damaged hand. The Greek text literally exclaims: "And behold! A man having a dried-up hand!" The ESV tries to smooth out this startlingly literal translation, but in doing so they lose the original dramatic affect which Matthew intended his readers to notice. And by noticing this exclamation, many among Matthew's Jewish audience would have picked up the significance of these events.

There are quite a few interesting connections with this man's particular disability. For starters, according to 1st century Judaism, such disabilities as a "withered-hand" (cheira xeran) were considered curses from the hand of God. The historical significance of this belief comes to light in the history of Israel's kings. In I Kings 13:1-6 we learn about Jeroboam and his first attempt to take the kingdom of Israel away from David's descendants and seize it for himself, and that story also involves a man with a "withered hand" (cheira xeran). In that story, Yahweh tells Solomon that the kingdom will be torn from his "hand" and given to another (I Kings 11:12, 31, 34-5). We then learn shortly thereafter that Jeroboam is that man. But in order to tear power away from the Davidic line of kings, Jeroboam attempts to divide the allegiance of the people by erecting a sacrificial altar far away from Jerusalem, in Shechem, the place where Israel first renewed their covenant with Yahweh after conquering the promised land. But after Jeroboam erects his idolatrous altar in Shechem, a "man of God" prophesies against his idolatrous grasp of power, and when Jeroboam attempts to seize the man of God, his hand withers (I Kings 13:4). Jeroboam's "hand" (cheira) on the kingdom, which Yahweh took away from Solomon, withered (xeran) as soon as he attempted to stretch out his hand against the man of God, to destroy him. In the end, Jeroboam was at least wise enough to plead to the man of God for healing, and the man of God in turn pleaded to Yahweh for healing; and Jeroboam's withered hand was restored.

It was because of striking accounts like that, that other statements of God pertaining to "withered" body parts were viewed as part of God's covenant curse. For example, in Zechariah 11:15-17, Yahweh describes the leadership of Israel as "foolish shepherds" who don't care about those being destroyed, or about healing the maimed, or nourishing others; instead they devour the Lord's sheep (11:15-16). Then, in the following verse, Yahweh pronounces this covenant curse upon Israel's leaders: 
Woe to my worthless shepherd who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm and his right eye!
Let his arm be entirely withered (xeran), and his right eye utterly blinded!
In Matthew's story above, Israel's leaders aren't too much different from King Jeroboam or even the leaders of Israel described in Zechariah's prophecy. They are foolish shepherds who don't care about Yahweh's sheep. In their attempt to stretch out their arms against the people of God, Yahweh pronounces a curse upon their hands. But in Matthew's account, Jesus doesn't strike out against the Pharisees by withering their hands. Instead he strikes out against the Pharisees by healing the withered hand of a man. By healing the man with the withered hand, Jesus is pronouncing himself to be the wise shepherd of Israel, while leaving them to be the foolish ones.

But there is still more to this story. Notice carefully what Jesus implies in the answer he gives the Pharisees. They ask Jesus, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" The Pharisees were hoping he would affirm their suspicions by answering publicly, so that they could accuse him afterward (Matt. 12:10).  But Jesus doesn't respond by affirming that healing per se is lawful to do on the Sabbath. Instead he responds by affirming what is good to do on the Sabbath. "Which one of you who has a sheep," Jesus responds, "if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

By responding this way, Jesus is comparing the Pharisees to the foolish shepherds of Zechariah's prophecy. And by healing the withered hand of the man in their synagogue, Jesus also claimed to have the authority of Yahweh which the man of God appealed to when he restored Jeroboam. In other words, Jesus was claiming to be the Good Shepherd of Israel and the ruler who cares about those being destroyed, the one who heals the maimed and nourishes the sheep of Israel unto greater health. 

But regardless of Jesus' ability to heal miraculously as Yahweh does, we learn from Matthew's account that "the Pharisees went out and conspired against [Jesus], how to destroy him."

The irony of this closing statement is great. Earlier in Matthew's gospel we learned that Jesus commissioned his twelve apostles to go to the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel, and to proclaim a soon-coming salvation for those who would follow him, but a soon-coming judgment upon those who would refuse. Also, in Matthew 15:24, Jesus will affirm again that he too has been sent, by his Father, but only to the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel. Yet the word for "lost" (apollymi) is the same Greek word used to describe the Pharisees seeking to "destroy" (apollymiJesus. Jesus is sent by his Father to the "lost" or "perishing" sheep of the house of Israel, but the shepherds of Israel are conspiring to "lose" him, causing him to perish. Jesus even sends out twelves apostles to represent him as they go to the "lost" sheep of Israel, but the rulers of Israel don't like the one whom the apostles represent. And so they try to destroy the Good Shepherd. 

According to Jesus' own argument, these Pharisees also recognize the value of a sheep that falls into a pit on the Sabbath. But the irony is that they are blind to the evil of their own thoughts--thoughts which conspire to throw the Good Shepherd into a pit of their own on the Sabbath. In this sense, Jesus is like Joseph and the Pharisees are like Joseph's brothers, conspiring to thrown their brother into the pit because their Father gave him the glorious robe of authority. In another sense Jesus is like "the man of God" and the Pharisees are like Jeroboam, attempting to seize the man of God in order to continue sacrificing in their own idolatrous temple (Herod's Temple). And last of all, in relation to the prophecy of Zechariah, Jesus is like Zechariah, called to be "the shepherd of the flock doomed to be slaughtered by the sheep traders" and sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11:7-14). But unlike Zechariah, Jesus would not only be the shepherd of the flock; Jesus would also become as one of the sheep doomed to be slaughtered. But in doing so--by suffering under the hand of the evil sheep traders--the rest of Yahweh's flock is spared, and the curse of withering is pronounced upon Yahweh's worthless shepherds instead. 





Sunday, July 21, 2013

Miserable Comforters, Infinite Fullness



We can see in affliction that the world is not what it seems, not what it promises, and not what we expected and flattered ourselves with. Whatever a man makes his riches, whether friend, wealth, or earthly interests, they cannot deliver out of the hands of death and judgment (Prov. 11:4). The soul finds by experience the unsuitableness and dissatisfaction in all these things. There is no comparison between an invisible soul and visible comforts; an immortal soul and perishing contentments; a spiritual being and an earthly portion. The air we breathe will as soon fill a hungry belly as creature-comforts will satisfy the spirit. In the hour of trial the soul says, 'Miserable comforters you all are, you physicians of no value' (Mark 5:26). Ah, but there is infinite fullness in Jesus Christ. He is suited to all the needs of poor undone sinners. No king was anointed with such power; no prophet with such wisdom; no priest with such grace, for God gave him the Spirit without measure (John 3:34), and of his fullness we receive grace for grace. ...He infinitely transcends all the beauty and glory of the world. He is our King to govern; our Prophet to teach; our Priest to save. 
-- Thomas Case, Select Works, A Treatise of Afflictions 
 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Vaughn Ohlman, the "practical theonomist"




Vaughn Ohlman, the "practical theonomist" and reformed baptist who has written a couple self-published books which are popular among the formalistic, baptistic crowd of "reformed" Christianity, says that he holds to "the Grammatico-historical method of interpretation," and that he believes "every text of Scripture must be interpreted with an understanding of both the language that was used, and the context/culture/historical setting in which it was given."1 Immediately following that assertion, he declares that:
All Scriptures are sufficiently plain that there are no facts of history or linguistics which are so obscure, or lost in time, that Christians living today, with revelation of the Spirit and diligent searching of all of Scripture, cannot understand what God would say to them through that text.2

But here is where it gets interesting. He then goes out of his way to make clear that he rejects the "redemptive historical" interpretation of Scripture insofar as it rejects, as a methodology, examples within the historical narratives of Scripture to be considered normative for applying Christian ethics  today. This is what he must strictly adhere to in order for his books on "biblical" marriage (here and here) which reject dating and courting altogether, as well as his requirement of "headcoverings" for women (here) and absolute patriarchal authority (here) to seem convincing among "biblically" sensitive Christians today. Ohlman says he finds that aspect of redemptive-historical method which does not presume upon all historical examples of Scripture as being normative for Christians ethics, 
...to contradict our understanding of the issues raised in II Tim 3:16-17, the linguistic nature of many of the texts themselves, the way these texts are treated in the NT, and the way most commentators and preachers have treated those texts and examples throughout history.3

Ummm... the redemptive historical method contradicts the "linguistic nature of the texts themselves"? Is he serious? Can he be so narrow minded as to miss what is obvious from the text of Scripture itself? When a christian chooses not to presume that the various examples of behavior found throughout the historical narratives of Scripture are normative for Christian ethics in every generation, that is not at all the same thing as denying the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures (II Tim 3:16-17), nor does that lack of presumption inhibit the Scriptures in their entirety from being "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (II Tim 3:16). Ohlman is not simply mistaken in this regard. He is wrong as well.

Secondarily, the way in which these "texts are treated" by the New Testament  authors affirms and confirms the solid foundation of redemptive historical interpretation, and that the historical narratives per se cannot be interpreted as standing laws which are normative for Christians ethics in all generations, but must be interpreted in light of their own redemptive-historical context. For example, God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins in the garden. And in Deuteronomy 22:11-12, God says, "You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together." Should we therefore disregard the narrative of redemption or the historical context of those passages and conclude that Christians ought to clothe themselves with animal skins only, and to avoid wearing clothing which use plant fibers (as linen does, as apposed to wool which is made of animal hair). Should we also conclude that it is immoral for Christians to wear clothing made of synthetic fibers? After all, God clearly clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins, not polyester

Consider another example. The Law of God says: "You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself." Later on the New Covenant we find Jesus wearing tassels on his garments (Matt. 9:20; 14:36; Mark 5:25; Luke 8:43, 44). Should we therefore conclude that all Christians at all times wear tassels on their garments too? Vaughn Ohlman's hermeneutic necessarily accepts these historical examples as normative for Christian ethics today. But don't misunderstand my main point: Vaughn Ohlman may not accept it himself. How can that be? Well, that can only be if his hermeneutic is arbitrary at this point. And if it's arbitrary, it's inconsistent too.

Last of all, Ohlman asserts that his interpretation is "the way most commentators and preachers have treated those texts and examples throughout history." That is simply not true. But even more embarrassing is the fact that he doesn't mention any commentators or preachers, let alone "most" of them, who support this narrow-minded claim of his. All one would have to do is take a cursory glance through the Nicene and Ante-Nicene church fathers, and the popular protestant reformers like Calvin, Luther, Bullinger, Zwingle, Knox, Baxter, Bunyan, Henderson, Rutherford, Owen, Turretin, etc.. in order to realize how bogus this claim of Ohlman's is. Such claims of his are a mask to cover up his bogus scholarship. "Most" commentators and "preachers" throughout history did not treat the various and widespread historical narratives of Scripture as standing examples of law which are normative for Christian ethics at all times. Ohlman needs to step down from his hermeneutical high horse to see what reality is like.

Sadly, Ohlman recommends Greg Bahsnen's books on theonomy ("By This Standard," "Theonomy In Christian Ethics," and "No Other Standard") on his blog. I say sadly because Dr. Greg Bahnsen spends an exhaustive amount of time demonstrating that this aspect of redemptive-historical hermeneutics, which Ohlman rejects, is fundamental to a consistent theonomic interpretation of Christian ethics contained within the Bible, and that Ohlman's rejection of such historic principles are an embarrassment to the "theonomic" community.



1.  http://vonstakes.blogspot.com/p/on-our-hermeneutic-summary-given.html
2.  Ibid. 
3.  Ibid.