"The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty."
Psalms 29:4 ESV
There are many creative works that men have produced that may be said to be “inspirational.”
For instance, Michelangelo's paintings are some of the most brilliant of all time. If you watch the old classic “On the Waterfront” or a modern Spielberg film, you will be mesmerized by the quality of cinematography.
In the literary world, Milton’s Paradise Lost displays the mastery that he had over his pen. The oratory power of the ancient Greeks (people like Cicero, Plato, etc) sets them apart and puts them in the lofty category of “classics” because their rhetorical talent is obvious.
All of these present something of the supreme artistry of mankind. These works have a distinct beauty and demonstrate a higher level of creativity than what you normally find on earth.
But one of the distinct proofs for Scripture being the very word of God is that it has a style that is much more profound than all of these. As you read through the pages of Scripture you cannot help but notice that it exudes a heavenly elegance. Or, as theologians have often said, the Spirit of God verifies the divine origin and unique authority of Scripture in the majestic style that we witness in its pages.
The loftiness of the Bible, it should be noted, is not due to any rhetorical embellishment or sophistication. There is no particular cadence, flashy wording, or theatrical technique employed. If the truth be told, the Bible is unabashedly simple. As a matter of fact, it employs such a plain and ordinary style that small children can read and understand it.
Yet, despite having no excessive color or decoration, it is easy to perceive that “the Holy Scriptures breathe out something divine, and surpass all the gifts and graces of human industry.” (Calvin) Or, in the words of the Apostle Paul, Scripture does not possess “enticing words of man’s wisdom,” but it nevertheless is filled with a “demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
One pastor set forth a challenge to anyone to try and create a document that would rival the Bible's unique majesty. Could someone create a fifth gospel? Could another psalm be composed which would trick men to thinking it was penned by the Holy Spirit? The answer is no. For no man can imitate the supernal style of the Spirit.
In effect, imitations has already been attempted. Many other books could have been chosen to be a part of the Bible in the early centuries. They, however, eventually fell by the wayside. Even today, many books put themselves forward as sacred script. But none are recognized to possess the same grandeur that is found in the Bible.
It is not without reason that the Bible has been called the “God of books” and looked at as the most wonderful literary creation of all time. It declares its own uniqueness in every line. And if one wants proof that God speaks in and through His Word, all we must do is read and listen to it.
I have created a little study guide for the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It delves into the "meaning of life" and co stars great theologians like St. Augustine and Kurt Cobain.
If you are one who wants to understand what your purpose is, download it now.
(Note: Files are Microsoft Word docs)
It is no longer "in the closet." Our culture has given the green light to those who have gender confusion issues, and they are free to do as they see fit.
Since we are likely to meet people who identify as LGBTQ, we need to consider what the Bible requires of us. How do we as Christians relate to a person who has this kind of lifestyle?
Here are a few principles that can serve to guide us in this regard.
1. Take a holistic approach – We should never reduce a person to their sexuality alone. Neither should we limit our interactions with them merely on the basis of this one dimension of their life. We must treat them as people, recognizing that he or she still bears the image of God. We should be willing to get to know them and engage in meaningful friendships with them. Jesus certainly did the same as the one who was “the friend of tax collectors and prostitutes.”
2. Don’t reject them or disavow any type of relationship – In 1 Corinthians 5:9 Paul says that is permissible to associate with people outside the church who are immoral (at least so long as we are not corrupted by their lifestyle). If we weren’t permitted such liberty, Paul says we’d have to leave this world! To be sure, people outside the church should be expected to live ungodly lives. Our job is to reach out to them and be genuinely interested in them.
3. Never compromise – We may love someone who identifies as LGBTQ and we can seek to be a good friend, but we do not accept or tolerate patterns of sin in their life. If a friend would use crude language, we wouldn’t ignore it or act like it doesn’t matter. We’d politely request that they not speak in such a manner. We should do the same with a LGBTQ friend whenever issues of their sexuality come up. We can express in the kindest of terms that such urges, interests, and acts are not in accord with God’s will. All in all, being a friend doesn’t mean wholesale acceptance of their lifestyle.
4. Listen and talk candidly when the opportunity affords – Some LGBTQ people like to let their sexuality be known and are very direct about their sexual deviance. Others may be more “in the closet” and wish to have someone to confide in about their struggles in this area. If that should be the case, welcome the opportunity to chat. Take time to listen to what they have to say and demonstrate interest in them as a person. If they are open to it, share with them what the Scripture teaches and be just as candid about God’s design for human sexuality. Whatever you do, don’t merely react or lash out at them in anger.
5. Take the long view -- Caring patience is key. Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian activist, said that a person who is a homosexual probably didn’t get there overnight. It likely came after a long time of real thought. The best thing you can do is to be part of the long thought process that leads them back, should God grant it. This is where those who lash out in anger or press for a quick “decision for the Lord” get it wrong. We must have a mind to take the long road of discipleship
The most egregious sin in the Bible is not homosexuality, adultery, greed, or failure to serve on a church committee. It is idolatry.
We evangelicals like to think that are much more sanctified than the Israelites of old-- who seemed to thrown themselves down before every stone statue that came their way.
But the truth is: evangelicals are just as idol prone as our forefathers were. The following are a few prevalent forms of idolatry that may be found in the church today:
1. Evan-jelly-fish: A faith that has no spine is no faith at all. If you're not willing to stand up for biblical doctrine, acknowledge Christ's supremacy, or affirm the authority of His law, then you're bowing to the god of toleration and moderation. Such a faith has been so overrun by postmodernism that it is Christian in name only.
2. Christi-tainment: Neil Postman's classic book "Entertaining Ourselves to Death" continues to be prophetic in our day, especially in our churches. Worship that is driven by fun, amusements, and showmanship plagues the evangelical world. Choosing a church on the basis of its music or youth group events, rather than its focus on Christ & His word, is much like making an offering on an alter of entertainment.
3. Superstition: Symbols have their place. A cross necklace can be something that proclaims who you are. A sticker on your car can identify where you stand in your beliefs. But such things can also become objects of worship. When we impute divine power to them, depend more on a trinket than we do prayer, or trust it as "God's channel of help" we've essentially created a golden calf.
4. Cult of Personality: Protestantism has always eschewed popery --kissing rings, thinking he is the head of the church, etc. Unfortunately, it is still alive an well in Prot circles in the form of celebrity pastors. While honoring good teachers is good, infatuations can be overboard. Leader worship breeds discontent with "ordinary," everyday clergy and "groupies" can follow certain charismatic fellows more than they do Christ.
5. Biblical Mutts: Christians must biblical thoroughbreds. If you mix breeds by mingling beliefs from other faiths or philosophies, you're rejecting the God of Scripture and forming a new religion. It is idolatrous to claim to be a Christian and believe in abortion, homosexuality, Marxism, Buddhist meditation, alternative means of salvation, etc.
The Israelites' idolatry was rarely ever a complete rejection of the Lord. They typically provoked the Lord by blending their faith with the pagan customs of the surrounding nations.
“Whoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” – The Athanasian Creed
Over the summer we have been doing a brief overview of several of the Historic Creeds of the faith. We are going to be wrapping up this series with a brief look at the Athanasian Creed. We’ll take a couple weeks to get a birds eye view of what is said here.
This Creed was originally said to be the work of Athanasius, who was one of the great defenders of the faith in the early church. Athanasius spoke out vehemently against Arianism, that heresy we’ve mentioned a couple of times through the summer: where Jesus was not God per se, but was God’s highest creation.
While a lot of what is said here would no doubt have been backed by Athanasius, most scholarship today does not see this as a product of Athanasius’ pen. We still call it the Athanasian Creed though, for tradition’s sake.
What I’d like us to focus on this morning is the first line of the creed. It starts off with a wallop when it says “Whoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” It also ends with a similar statement: "This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved."
These are sometimes called the “damnatory clauses” of the Athanasian Creed because these statements pronounce an anathema on anyone who does not hold to the tenets of this creed.
I’d like us to think about that for a second. It might sound a little forward to you to say that if you do not hold to everything that is spelled out in this creed, you are damned. As a matter of fact, you might very well be offended that anyone would have the audacity to say such a thing. To our postmodern ears this sounds rather stringent (or even strident). The idea of making any particular document the boundary marker for one’s salvation is something we’re not used to hearing.
But you have to understand what the creed is saying. We do not mean that you have to understand every single iota of what is said here to be saved. Salvation is not by knowledge. Salvation is by grace through faith. But there is a particular God who saves, and it is important that you believe in the right God. If you do not, then you are not saved.
So you might not know exactly what is said here, but if you believe in the one true God, this is the one you’ll believe in. This is the God of the Bible.
Or, maybe a Christian is not educated well enough to speak exactly right about the trinity. Perhaps you speak of God in modalistic terms. Modalism is the belief that God existed in three forms at three different times: he was the Father at one point, then later on he turned into the Son, and now he has transformed into the Holy Spirit. That is a heresy that is corrected by this Creed.
But if you are a young Christian (or one that is not trained well) you might speak of God that way. If you do, it doesn’t means you are damned. It just means you don’t know God well enough at this point in your life.
The creed isn't talking about that kind of ignorance. It is talking about those who outright reject the truth. It condemns those who ought to know better and intentionally follow after another god.
Mormons and Jehovah’s Witness would be an example of who is anathematized by the Creed because they disavow any belief in the Triune God. They specifically reject Trinitarian doctrine and embrace a different god.
Another example would be TD Jakes. Jakes is a modern day preacher who has a huge following. Despite his radical popularity in the church today, TD Jakes confesses to be a modalist. I might clarify by saying he is wittingly a modalist. He does not believe that the Father, Son, and Spirit are eternally existent (as the Creed defines them to be). Rather, he believes that the Father existed for a little while as the Father, then he existed as the Son for a little while, and then he turned into the Spirit. That is a specific and forthright denial of the nature of God.
Such a person stands condemned by this creed, even as the Bible itself condemns the one who would create such an idol. Paul himself said,
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Gal 1:8-9 ESV
Last week we started looking at the Definition of Chalcedon and Mark talked about what it meant that Mary was the “Mother of God” or the “God bearer.”
This morning we are going to start focusing on the person of Christ and how his divinity and humanity relate. We believe that Jesus is both God and man. But one of the questions that has arisen in history is “How do these two natures relate to each other?” There have been a lot of questions (and a lot of wrong answers to this question) through history.
But the Definition of Chalcedon has been called “the watershed decision” when it comes to the relation of the two natures (sometimes referred to as the hypostatic union).
The creed states that we believe in “One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”
This morning we want to focus on the fact that these two natures are “without confusion.”
Some of you, when you wake up, drink cranberry juice. Some of you might drink apple juice. But there are still others who might drink cran-apple juice. Cran-apple juice is two fruits in one bottle. But it is a mixture of the two fruits. You cannot distinguish which part is cranberry and which part is apple. So, if you think about it, the two are so unidentifiably mixed it ends up being neither cranberry or apple juice. You’ve basically created a new fruit called. The two are so interfused (or confused) that you now have a hybrid fruitjuice.
This is a crude analogy to how some have understood the two natures of Christ. Some believed that they were mixed together and so interlocked that they became actually one nature. So Jesus becomes neither God or man, but he becomes a third kind of being.
There were two specific heresies in the early church that did this. The first is Eutychianism. Eutyches said that the human nature was fused into the divine nature. We might say it was swallowed up by the divine nature. Eutyches said that it was like a drop of honey in the sea. You know that a drop of honey is going to dissolve and become part of the sea. So basically it is indistinguishable.
That’s what he said happened to the human nature. It fused with the divine and got all mixed up in it to the point that it is basically lost.
The other heresy is called Apollinarianism. Apollinarius believed that Jesus had a human body but a divine soul. So the divine nature took over the soul (or the mind).
In both cases, what you have is something that is neither divine or human. Jesus becomes a third kind of being. He’s not man (who has a human body and soul), and he’s not God (because his divine nature has changed).
So, we confess that Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. He has two distinct natures and they are not mixed or confused.
And the reason why we confess this is because we need Jesus to “become like us in every way.” If he does not possess a true human nature—if it is swallowed up or changed, then he cannot be the Savior of humanity. And if he is not human, we are still in our sins.
But thank God that he is human and that his two natures are not mixed.
Here is what I've been thinking: OT Israel and early America didn't have strict border control. They invited people to come and work. That was part of the pathway to greatness.
Of course, rampant social programs mean this is not possible as people are coming for handouts. Thus, amnesty & crazed border control is just a symptom of a larger issue: the stupidity of the welfare state.
Moreover, guys with guns on the border not only can keep people out, they can keep people in. That means that when you do want to escape the clutches of tyranny you can't...at least not wiz out your papers!
In sum, big borders is still big government, and it is still dangerous.
Review of the Covenants to this Point
For the last several weeks we’ve been tracing the Covenant of Grace through the pages of Scripture. We’ve been emphasizing that each particular covenant we meet in Scripture enlarges and expands the original gracious covenant made in Genesis 3. Rather than introducing a change in God’s plan and a distinctly new epoch of history, we see fluid development God’s gracious plan of redemption.
Adam, having broken the first covenant (i.e. the Covenant of Works/Covenant of Life), was given a second chance. God entered into a second covenant, wherein he promised life and salvation through a Savior.
After the flood, God reaffirmed his covenant with Noah. God furthered this covenant by promising to never send another flood. God demonstrated his kindness by rescuing Noah & his family and by ensuring that the promised Messiah would come (i.e. all life would continue).
In time the earth seemed to have run amok again. It also appeared that God had given up on man by his dispersing the nations in his wrath. In that dark hour God appeared to Abraham & entered into a covenant with him. In this covenant we see with greater clarity to the scope of this covenant. God established this covenant with Abraham and his children.
To reiterate this, the Lord instituted circumcision. This rite had a twofold purpose: it served as a sign, pointing to our need for cleansing (life & salvation), and it served as a seal, confirming to each child & person the fact that they belonged to God.
The Covenant at Sinai & the Giving of the Law
A person standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai would have been amazed and grateful. They had been in bondage for a long time, and it might have seemed like God had given up on them. Now, they had witnessed some of the greatest miracles of all time. Millions of people had been freed, protected, and assured of God’s loving-kindness.
How should they respond to God’s kindness? How could they do to show their gratitude? God showed them exactly what would please Him most in the publication of His law.
It is important to recognize the continuity in the covenant that is established at Mt Sinai. For what happens here is a significant movement forward in the unfolding of God’s plan. The giving of the law is so significant that some have seen it as a break of God’s plan up to this point and an initiation of a new era whereby God’s people now gain salvation by keeping the law. This, however, is not true. The continuity with the overall plan of God is seen in a number of ways:
1) God’s promise to Abraham was that he would become a great nation, as numerous as the sand on the shore. The throngs camping out at the bottom of this mountain are a realization of this (or at least a partial one).
2) The people are standing on the very edge of the land which was promised to them through Abraham.
3) God had just graciously delivered the people out of Egypt solely because He had “remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob.”
4) The requirements of the covenant were still the same: God required perfect obedience. To Abraham God said, “Walk before me and be blameless.” To Israel God gives his moral law and they respond by saying, “All that the Lord has said we will do.”
Instead of being a new era, the covenant at Sinai simply reiterates God’s promise to save His people and clarifies how the redeemed should live in light of it.
Why did God give the law?
Up until this time the rules that governed God’s covenant had been defined by the “eternal truths.” God was a spirit, so they were not to make images. God had rested on the Seventh day of creation, and set it as a pattern to be observed by the people. Man was made in God’s image, and the one who harms the image bearer was worthy of death because it is essentially an attack on the One whose image he bore.
Although the moral law of God had been set forth since the creation, they were easily blurred by the corruption of man. At Mt. Sinai God publishes his 10 words to specifically spell it out so that there could be no blurring of the line. (Note: The law is good, it still is applicable today--3 uses of the law)
A blood bath
At the foot of Sinai the people vow to follow God and the law God had given (Ex 24:3, 7). Immediately after a most gory ceremony commences. Moses sprays the people with blood drawn from the animals that had been sacrificed. Why does he do this? Think of it as a blood shower; they are, for all practical purposes, “washed in the blood.” God knows that their devotion will not measure up, but He has provided a covering of blood.
1. God gives both the law and sacrificial system at Mt Sinai.
2. There is a distinction between covenant failure & covenant rejection
3. God begins to “dwell” with his people after this covenant in the form of the tabernacle. The law facilitates the relationship.
The Davidic Covenant: The covenant of kingdom
The author of the book “The Lord of the Flies” was once given an interview about his classic work. During the interview he commented that his intention was to write a book that gave a real depiction of what kids would be like if they were left to themselves. His book depicts how a bunch of boys devolve into raw pagans who have no sense of civility. It is only when the captain from a rescue boat shows up that the children regain a sense of morality.
Anyone who has kids knows exactly what William Golding had in mind. If you leave the room for a few minutes, it will not be long before your children start fighting.
Both Golding’s book and your regular home life illustrate the need for a righteous authority figure. It also illustrates part of the reason why God raises up David and establishes His covenant with him. If the law given in the mosaic covenant was going to be obeyed, it requires a king would administer it (Davidic covenant).
Israel was “prone to wander” and “do what was right in their own eyes.” This was much owing to the fact that “there was no king in Israel.” So, get a king and all will be well, right? Nope. Israel wanted a king like the “other nations.” They chose for themselves a robust looking fellow named Saul. He was the very picture of military might. But, in the end, Saul turned out to be an evil tyrant who oppressed the people and became to them a source of agony. God gave them what they wanted, a king like the other nations.
The people of Israel needed a unique king: a righteous one. God rejected Samuel and raised up David, a man after His own heart. He would be the Shepherd of God’s people who would go on to usher in and establish the kingdom of God.
In 2 Sam. 7 we read how David wanted to build a house for God. But these plans are halted. Instead, God says he will build a house out of David. In sum, the Lord vows to enter into a special covenant with David, promising him that he shall have an eternal dynasty.
The king though, is not just one who ensures righteousness within his land. He also is one who fights. Thus, the king of Israel was one who subdued nations and fought God’s battles.
It is easy to see how the king then becomes a messianic figure. It is easy to see how the covenant of David finds its fulfilment in Christ. He is the only Son of David who ensures an eternal dominion of perpetual peace.
The last post spoke of the ministry of the Spirit in the OT. In reading it, one may wonder if the Spirit of God dwell in the people of Israel like it does today?
The OT does not typically use language that is quite frequent in the NT, such as walking in the Spirit and living by the Spirit. For the most part “The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Old Testament times was selective and temporary.” Perhaps the only real OT passage that may indicate the Spirit’s indwelling of the redeemed is found in Psalm 51, where David sings, “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.”
The light of the New Testament helps us though. The NT reminds us that regeneration is only accomplished by the inward working of the HS. It is the HS who convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. So, for this reason the Spirit must have indwelt all of the OT saints.
Nevertheless, the OT’s view of the HS is mainly anticipatory. It looks forward to the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh and the new covenant wherein the law of God would be written on the heart. This, of course, comes to its fulfilment in the Pentecost outpouring.
Thus, in theological terms, it is said that the Spirit dwells in NT believers in a qualitatively different way than he does in the OT believers. It is not a quantitative difference, as all believers everywhere have the Spirit’s presence. It is a qualitative difference.
John Piper gives a good illustration:
Picture a huge dam for hydroelectric power under construction, like the Aswan High Dam on the Nile, 375 feet high and 11,000 feet across. Egypt's President Nasser announced the plan for construction in 1953. The dam was completed in 1970 and in 1971 there was a grand dedication ceremony and the 12 turbines with their ten billion kilowatt-hour capacity were unleashed with enough power to light every city in Egypt. During the long period of construction the Nile River wasn't completely stopped. Even as the reservoir was filling, part of the river was allowed to flow past. The country folk downstream depended on it. They drank it, they washed in it, it watered their crops and turned their mill-wheels. They sailed on it in the moonlight and wrote songs about it. It was their life. But on the day when the reservoir poured through the turbines a power was unleashed that spread far beyond the few folk down river and brought possibilities they had only dreamed of.
Pentecost is like the dedicatory opening of the Aswan High Dam. Before Pentecost the river of God's Spirit blessed the people of Israel and was their very life. But after Pentecost the power of the Spirit [increased significantly and] spread out to light the whole world. None of the benefits enjoyed in the pre-Pentecostal days were taken away. But ten billion kilowatts were added [and now enables] the church to take the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ to every tongue and tribe and nation.
Ordination is a doctrine that needs to be revived if we are going to see the church revived in our day. It is all but neglected because any old slub thinks he can do something for Jesus by becoming a campus parachurch worker or by jumping up in pulpit and "preaching." However, standing in a pulpit does not make one a preacher.
Preaching is an act only of the officially ordained (or licensed) man. In Romans 10:14-15 it says, "How are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'"
The preaching in this passage is done by someone who is officially "sent." The OT quote emphasizes this as it references an official messenger who has been given the special charge to go announce a victory.
Therefore, when a man is ordained, he assumes an office. He becomes God's ambassador with the specific charge of formally declaring God's message, which is the gospel. That is what preaching is: The official declaration of God's Word by the man who is distinctly appointed by God for this solemn affair.
In the ordination service the church publicly testifies that this particular man who they are ordaining has been raised up and equipped by God for that role. Then, as they lay hands on him, they formally recognize that God has invested him with the authority that specifically pertains to this office.
It is not until that has happened that he actually preaches. Anything that happens before that moment is not what is technically known as "preaching." This is why theologians have differentiated between preaching and exhortation. Preaching is what preachers do (that is, ordained men). Everyone else who speaks biblical truth exhorts his brethren (i.e. encourages or instructs).
This is not to say that what a non-ordained person says is not effective or that God cannot use this person to convert people or edify the church. It's just not technically preaching.
Why is it important to consider this? For one, we are required to sit under the preaching of God's word from week to week. Paul tells Timothy to "Preach the Word." As a result, the people to whom he is to preach are to submit themselves to that word. So when we gather together for worship, we are mandated to listen to the officially appointed man declare what God has to say.
What's the big deal? Isn't that what any non-ordained person does? The truth is that there is a large difference. It is one thing to hear a brother speak to us and teach us truth from the Scripture; it is another to hear someone who has the authority of the office preach.
Let me illustrate: Suppose you are driving down the highway and your speed exceeds the set speed limit. The person in the passenger seat can tell you that you are going too fast and need to slow down. That would be a useful exhortation. However, it is quite a different thing to have a police officer pull you over and tell you that you were going too fast. Both said virtually the same thing, but they were vastly different as to their nature and power.
Secondly, understanding this doctrine will help us sift through the scads of men who wish to serve as pastor (funny, I almost said "who wish to play pastor", which is a blog in and of itself!). Men who do not have the skills required to preach ought not to preach. If they cannot speak well, put together a coherent message, or interpret Scripture with any sort of meaningful intelligence, they should not act in the capacity that requires them to do so.
Similarly, men who have not the theological acumen for this work ought to leave well enough alone. Men who are ordained ought to be thoroughly examined as to their knowledge and beliefs. We would not want any old schmo walking off to some foreign country to act as a representative of our country. We want someone who has some intelligence and expertise in his area of work to act in that capacity. Ought then we not to expect the same of those who will serve as God's ambassadors.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, after worship the congregation should be able to walk away saying, "I heard from God today." The words might have had the intonations of a man, but the message most certainly had the authority and weight of God's very word.
And when a man preaches, that's exactly what happens.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.