Saturday, July 31, 2004

Virtues and Vices

One of the things that is interesting to note with regards to the homosexual marriage agenda is the justifications that proponents make in their minds. Homosexuality is considered to be genetic, something that one cannot control. Given the presuppositions then that most Americans hold, there is no reason that the cannot take part in family and society in the same way that heterosexuals can. In fact, to discriminate against a homosexual because of their biological urges goes against the American virtues of equality (or bland sameness) and individualism (or freedom from societal responsibilities).

To many Americans, these arguments are persuasive. That's why so much of the battle is fought over whether homosexuality is genetic (to which I respond "Who cares?"). If homosexuality is in fact genetic, then our virtues dictate that we accept it in the public square. After all, they're not hurting anyone, right?

And therein lies the problem, and the point of this post. Our problem as a people, and especially in the Church, is that our virtues need repented of. And this is great difficulty we have, and that men have always had apart from the grace of God. We cling to our sins not because we hate ourselves or want to openly defy God, but because we think they're our virtues. The Pharisees thought they were serving God when they crucified Christ. They made long prayers for a pretense, and their condemnation was all the greater. So it goes with us. We keep certain sins around that we know to be vices, and we fight against them to assuage our consciences. But our wicked virtues are the sins that bring the judgment of God upon us, because we refuse to repent of them.

We must let this knowledge guide us as we seek reformation in our lives and churches. We must pray that God would show us where we have sinned and how we cling to our stubborn sins, and then be willing to repent of them when we see them. And we should start by looking to our virtues first.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Location Reversal

Here's an observation from John to explore. In my study we've spent two weeks now looking at ways that chapter five (the lame man healed at the Sheep Pool) and chapter nine (blind man healed at the Temple) correspond and contrast. Here's one for further reflection.

The locations involved in the two stories are opposed as the plot unfolds. The lame man is found outside the city to the north by Jesus, healed, and then encountered again inside the Temple. The blind man is found near the Temple (Jesus is on his way out from nearly being stoned), healed, and then encountered again somewhere near the Pool of Siloam, almost outside the city to the south.

A couple of interpretations present themselves. First, we must remember that the blind man conducts himself with faith in the Christ as the Pharisees interrogate him. He is rewarded by Jesus in hearing who the Christ is and believing. The lame man doesn't have much faith at all and is warned by Jesus to "stop sinning or something worse will happen to you." Remembering this, it becomes evident that the miracles of Christ combining with faith move you closer to the Living Water, while scorning His works through disbelief will remove you from it. It was the blind man who got into the pool through faith and the hearing and obeying of Jesus' word.

And the converse has implications too. Jesus is taking His disciples out of the Temple, for it will soon be destroyed. The old covenant is perishing because of the disbelief of its members. The lame man winds up in the Temple, suitable for destruction because of his disbelief. The blind man is thrown out, but that is a blessing because the Temple is not long for the world.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Way Things Work

The reformed doctrine of the sovereignty of God teaches us that he does all things. That means that when something happens, God has done it. But He does not just ordain the end, but the means as well. And He has designed the world so that He does things best through certain ways.

Here's an example. When God wants to make bread, how does He do it? Countless of millions of times, He has done it by ordaining a farmer to plant seed in the ground, blessing that seed to sprout and grow, having that farmer harvest it, and causing a baker to mix the proper ingredients and bake it. Several times in history He has eliminated some of these steps and done it by what we might call a "miracle". Jesus with the four and five thousands come to mind.

But as we pray to God for our daily bread, we would do best to look for Him to answer through the established channels- by going to the supermarket, for example. Finding our bread there does not mean that we have provided it and God has not, or that the mundaneness of the answer to our prayers makes it any less miraculous. Gratitude and belief should never be conditioned on the "supernatural" quality of God's work. All of His work is both natural and supernatural at once.

Furthermore, we should seek to understand the means God has ordained for the end we want to pursue. Attempting to work to an end contrary to God's means is foolishness, and asking God to bless it is arrogance. Implications? Youth ministry and education should be done primarily by parents. Evangelism should be through worldview advancement. Cultural reformation should be accomplished through repentance and reformation in the Church.

Friday, July 23, 2004

The Ten Commandments in John

John's Gospel focuses a great deal on the struggle between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. The Jews accuse Jesus of breaking the Law, especially in regards to the Sabbath (5:18, 9:28-29). Jesus claims to be above the Law, because God is His Father (5:18), He is the author of it (8:6-8), and He is greater than Moses anyway. But I think He also turns around the argument to show how the Jews are not keeping the law either. There's some obvious passages that point to this, like chapter eight where Jesus tells the Jews that lying and murder is not the behavior of someone who loves God through faith.

Here's another idea I had though, which is still in its formative stages. I'm thinking that John makes a point of showing how the Jews break each of the Ten Commandments. I haven't figured all ten out yet, but some of the similarities so far as striking.

1. "You shall have no other gods before Me." - This is the main problem with the Jews throughout the book. The passage I would choose to illustrate this at its most blatant is 19:15, when the Jews proclaim "We have no king but Caesar". This sin is everywhere though, since Jesus is the Son of God and the Jews reject Him.

2. "You shall not make for yourself an idol..." - I'm not sure about this one yet.

3. "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain..." - Not sure.

4. "Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy..." - This is a major theme of the conflict in chapter 5. The Jews say that Jesus does not honor the Sabbath, but a careful study of the passage shows that Jesus is the one who honors it by bringing rest, celebration and salvation. The Jews prefer the wilderness wanderings instead of Sabbath rest, and set themselves against Jesus' right interpretation.

5. "Honor your father and your mother..." - Maybe the Jew's sin is that they are good at honoring their real father, the devil. They lie and murder because that's what he does (8:44). They claim that Abraham is their father, but they do not do his works (8:37-39).

6. "You shall not murder." - The Jews try repeatedly and succeed in killing Jesus. They also try to kill Lazarus after he's raised from the dead (12:10). The Jews are murderers because their father the devil is a murderer too (8:44).

7. "You shall not commit adultery." - It seems like Jesus is accusing the Jews of this sin in the story of the woman caught in adultery (8:1-11). The Jews bring her in on charges to test Jesus, but something funny is going on since this is the first time in recorded history where a single person was caught in the act of adultery. The Jews, if not directly involved with this woman, realize their guilt when Jesus asks for someone to cast the first stone.

8. "You shall not steal." - Not sure. Perhaps this is connected to making the temple into a "house of robbers" (2:16, Matt 21:13), or demanding the release of Barabbas, a robber (18:40).

9. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." - This is how the Jews get Jesus convicted, by lying about what He said. They are liars because their father is the devil (8:44,55).

10. "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife..." - Not sure.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Carnal Weapons

Here's some food for thought courtesy of Doug Wilson. He commented on these two passages in a recent sermon.  First, famous stuff from II Cor 10:3-4:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.

Most interpret this passage to say that Christians don't fight with guns or swords, but with "spiritual" weapons like prayer and singing. Very good. Now consider Hebrews 11:32-34:

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

Notice the contradiction between the interpretation of the first passage and the second. Did Samson fight by faith? Yes. Did Samson fight in the Spirit? Yes. (Here's a good word study- count how many times the Holy Spirit is associated with Samson in Judges. Then count all the times it's associated with anybody else in the OT). Did Samson fight with real, physical weapons? Yes. Many of them, including his bare hands. So did all the rest of the faith heroes listed here.

We have been conditioned to think of the "spiritual" as the invisible and immaterial, but that is not true. The spiritual is the material powered by faith.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Need for Theology

Take a look at this passage- Galatians 5:19-23:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

What I find interesting about this passage is that it comes toward the end of Paul's argument against why the first-century Judaizers are incorrect. In a nutshell, the Judaizers wanted fresh Christian converts from the Gentiles to be circumcized and to take up the vestiges of the Mosaic Law, primarily to avoid persecution. Paul writes to rebuke this train of thought and to encourage the Gentiles to avoid trusting in circumcision (or uncircumcision), and to remain in the Spirit by faith.

And then Paul hits us with this list of sins, the "fruit of the flesh" if you will, and the contrasting "fruit of the Spirit". In context, the argument is this: if you buy into what the Judaizers are telling you and get circumcized, this is what your fruit will look like - immorality, sensuality, etc. If you hold to correct doctrine in faith, Paul says, your fruit will look like love, joy and all the rest.

The point is this: doctrine and correct theology matters. We must not separate matters of Christianity in "head and heart", as if you could live correctly while believing lies. Theology always works itself out, given enough time. A man always reaps what he sows.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Light of the Gentiles

Later manuscripts of the Gospel of John add 7:53-8:11, the story of the woman caught in adultery. I've always taught that story as being part of the Gospel, because it picks up and advances a number of themes that are being developed at that point: Jesus' judgment of the Jewish leaders according to the Law of Moses, Jesus being greater than Moses, and Jesus being greater than the Temple.

If you take it out though, the story goes from the end of seven, where the Jewish leaders are arguing about Jesus' place of origin. "Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee." (7:52). Skipping through to 8:12, Jesus' response is "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." Now consider Isaiah 9:1-2:

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.

Jesus would rather be seen as "Mighty God" and "Prince of Peace" than merely a prophet.

Friday, July 02, 2004

The Five Senses in the Gospel of John

John tells us in the introduction to his Gospel that the Word "became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory" (1:14). One of the ways that John conveys that experience to the reader is by describing how Jesus engages all five of the reader's senses. Here's how.

Seeing and hearing are two main themes in the book. Jesus is, after all, both the Word and the Light (1:1-5). Hearing the Son of God leads to resurrection (5:28-29), it identifies His sheep (10:4), and it identifies those who are not (8:43). It even brings about new sight for those who believe, as it did for the blind man in Jerusalem (9:1-7). Sight is important in that chapter, with those who are blind starting to see, and those who think they can see being revealed to be blind (9:41). There's other important seeing examples in the book, with the most important probably being 14:9 - "He who has seen Me has seen the Father".

The next three aren't as pervasive as sight and hearing, but do appear in strategic places. We're told in a few places that belief in Jesus involves "eating" Him, for His flesh is true food and His blood true drink (6:55). We're not explicitly told what He tastes like, but we're given an example earlier when Jesus turns the Old Covenant water into New Covenant wine. Indeed, the headwaiter at the feast praised the groom for its excellent taste- "You have kept the best until now" (2:10).

Then there's two smell passages that come juxtaposed in chapters 11 and 12. Mary fears that when Jesus rolls away the stone from her dead brother's tomb that it will stink, but that does not happen because Lazarus is quite alive (11:39,44). Then in 12 Mary pours her expensive perfume on Jesus to anoint Him for His death, and the whole house is filled with the fragrance (12:3). (These two smells obviously highlight a connection between the passages that should and will be developed elsewhere).

And the most intimate sense, touch, is the key experience for Thomas at the end of the Gospel. When Thomas encounters Jesus face to face, he is commanded to put his hands in Jesus' hands and side and feel that Jesus is indeed alive and not a ghost (20:27-28). Having done so, Thomas exclaims "My Lord and My God!", the climax of the book.