Thursday, July 30, 2015

Planned Parenthood: What Would the Prophet Micah Say?

And I said,
Hear now, heads of Jacob 
and rulers of the house of Israel.
Is it not for you to know justice?
You who hate good and love evil,
who tear off their skin from them
and their flesh from their bones,
who eat the flesh of my people,
strip off their skin from them,
break their bones 
and chop them up as for the pot
and as meat in a kettle.
Micah 3.1-3

Monday, July 27, 2015

Lord's Table Meditation

* One of the occasional meditations I write for our church bulletin.

In 1 Corinthians 11.23-25 the apostle Paul recounts the words of Jesus at the last supper before his death.  These are familiar words that are often used in the celebration of Communion:

This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me…This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

Paul then adds these important words which state one of the purposes of this special sacrament:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  1 Corinthians 11.26

In this sacrament we are proclaiming the central glory of salvation—the death of Christ.  Earlier in 1 Corinthians Paul had stressed that importance and centrality of “the word of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1.18).  Paul preached the message of “Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1.23).  In fact, he argues that, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”  (1 Corinthians 2.2).

So when we participate in the Lord’s Supper we are also proclaiming the gospel message—Jesus has died for sins.  We are not proclaiming the funeral of Jesus as if he is still dead.  No.  We are proclaiming the glory of the cross as that place where Jesus takes away sin.  Consider these words from Ephesians 1.7-8:

In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished on us.

Think of it—we have redemption; the release from our sins.  We have forgiveness from God.  All this is due to the riches of God’s grace which has been lavishly poured out on us.  These blessings are bought for us by the blood of Christ that he shed on the cross.  Let us proclaim with joy the Lord Jesus’ death today.  He is the risen One and his blood is strong to save!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Isaiah's Polemic Against Idolatry

I came across a profound statement by John Oswalt regarding Isaiah's polemic against the idols as it is found especially through Isaiah 40-48.
  Many interpreters accuse Isaiah of creating a straw man at this point. They argue that he has engaged in reductionism of the worst sort, refusing to admit that no pagan ever thought his or her god was restricted to an idol. In pagan thought, the idol partook of the holiness of the being who was spiritually continuous with the idol but yet transcended it. The accusers say that Isaiah understood this quite well but conveniently chose to overlook it because it was much easier to attack the practice of idolatry. Isaiah, however, is not disregarding that issue at all, as is clear from his case against the Babylonian gods in 40-48. He challenges their worshipers to produce evidence that any of the gods had ever explained "the former things" or, failing that, "the latter things." That is, could the gods explain how the world began or how it would develop in the future? Of course they could not because they are a part of the world's cycles, and, just as the thunderstorm does not know how it arose or where it will go, neither do the gods. A further question is even more pointed: which of the gods ever once specifically foretold the future? The answer is never. Of course there were plenty of cases of prediction, but like those of modern astrologers, they were so cloaked in ambiguity that they would always be "right" no matter what happened. 
Yahweh, on the other hand, did make specific predictions in case after case, particularly those of the exile and the return. He can do that, the prophet says, because he "sits above the circle of the earth" (40:22). He is not a part of the stars, "the host of heaven," but is the one who calls them forth by name (40:26). In short, Isaiah boldly asserts that Yahweh is not a part of earth's cycles. He is not a personification of any of its forces. He is beyond it and directs it. Therefore, he alone can specifically predict the future. Furthermore, he alone can do "new things." The gods can only do what they have always done. They cannot transcend the past because they are part of the past. Neither can they alter the future because they are whatever that future unfolds to be. This is a far more sophisticated argument than merely an attack on idol making. To be sure, the prophet includes idol making in his polemic because that is at the heart of the issue. To make your god into an idol is a fundamental expression of the conviction that the gods are continuous with the cosmos and fundamentally at one with it. The Bible's profound iconoclasm is aimed precisely at this point. 
If Isaiah was struck in his call experience with Yahweh's absolute transcendence, both in essence and in character, there was something else that struck him in the experience with equal force. Although Yahweh is utterly other than the earth and all that is in it, it is his glory and his alone that fills the earth (6:3; cf. 40:5). Transcendence is often faulted by its detractors as making creation completely inaccessible to God and making God completely inaccessible to the creation. This was certainly the concern of the neo-Platonists, who sought to overcome what they saw as this inevitable outcome of the doctrine. Isaiah (and the rest of the Bible) is blithely unconcerned about philosophical conundrums. Although God is not the creation and has no essential continuity with the creation, he is everywhere present in his earth He can intersect it at any and every point. Thus, its glory is his glory, and it has no other. This is the wonder of the biblical doctrine of revelation. Truth does not emerge from within the cosmos because the cosmos is not self-explanatory. To attempt to make it explain itself is to deify it and that is the way of endless horror, as both Romans 1 and modern film culture amply demonstrate. 
Instead, truth and glory have broken in upon us from beyond ourselves. More than that, God has broken in with his truth and glory for the express purpose of sharing that truth and glory with us. Thus, we have the astonishing phrase The Holy One of Israel." He is the only Holy One in the universe, and yet he has chosen to become immanent in Israel. He has chosen to be owned, as it were, by this broken, fallible people. He is pleased to become localized in them.[1]

     [1] John N. Oswalt, “The Book of Isaiah: A Short Course on Biblical Theology” Calvin Theological Journal 39 (2004), 69-70.  For more general reflections on similar themes from Acts 17 see my essay “Thoughts on God’s Transcendence and Immanence.”  Available online:  

Jesus Loved the Scriptures

* One of the occasional meditations I write for our church bulletin.

Jesus loved the scriptures.  When he was being tempted by the devil he turned to the Scriptures repeatedly to answer the temptation.  In the very midst of that temptation Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8.3: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”  Jesus saw the Scriptures as the word which proceeds from the mouth of God.  When Jesus began his ministry he again turned to the Scriptures to define his calling and describe his ministry.  He quoted from Isaiah 61.1-2 and declared that its fulfillment was to be found in him (Luke 4.14-21).  In his on-going arguments with religious leaders Jesus repeatedly pointed to the Scriptures as his authority.  He declared that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10.35) and when his opponents refused to see the truth he could simply declare, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God?” (Mark 12.24).  When asked about which commandment is the greatest Jesus, again, pointed to the Scriptures (Mark 12.29-31 quoting Deuteronomy 6.4-5 and Leviticus 19.18). 

Jesus understood the ancient Scriptures to be not merely the words of men but also the word of God.  Notice how he refers to Psalm 110.1:

David himself said in the Holy Spirit, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies beneath your feet.”

Jesus recognizes that the words of David are spoken “in the Holy Spirit”—there is both a human element and a divine element.  And the human and divine do not cancel each other out.  At other times Jesus could simply quote the Scriptures and say “God said…” (Matthew 15.5) thus showing his view of the Scriptures—they are the very words of God.

In his pain on the cross Jesus would again turn to the Scriptures to give vent to his suffering—“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22.1).  After his resurrection he did not stop looking to the Scriptures.  Rather he taught his disciples how to read the Scriptures rightly so as to see him in the fullness of God’s revelation (Luke 24.44-47).

If we would be faithful followers of Jesus Christ then we should also adopt his view of the Scriptures.  May we see them and honor them as the very word of God by which we live.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Some Meditations on the Lord's Table

* One of the occasional meditations I write for our church bulletin.

Today we celebrate the Table of the Lord.  In light of this it is good to reflect on what the Bible says about this glorious practice.  The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10.16-17 states:

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?  Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?  Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of one bread.

Two items are worth noting here—one that is toward Christ and the other which is toward the Church.

First, note that Paul speaks of our engagement in the Lord’s Supper as a “sharing” in the blood and body of Christ.  This word “sharing” is the Greek word koinonia which has the nuance of participating or sharing in something.  Some of have said that this passage deals with the central mystery of this sacrament—our participation in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of receiving this sacrament by faith and then when we do this we “spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ, crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being … really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers…” (WCF 29.7).  So in the Supper we are engaging with Christ in a real participation, by faith, with his body and blood.

Second, the Table of the Lord also has a church focus.  For Paul, the fact that we “partake of one bread” speaks of our unity in the body of Christ.  The Supper signifies our common bond in Christ.  Therefore, the Table speaks against all causes of disunity.  It reminds us to check our hearts and our attitudes toward others in the body of Christ.  There are times when we even need to seek reconciliation first with a brother or sister in Christ so as to maintain that unity (see Mathew 5.23-24). 

Our communion is with Christ and his body, the church.  The Table of the Lord speaks of both of these realities.  Let us participate with joy and love this day for we are a blessed people!