Friday, July 22, 2011

Grain and Grace in Equal Measure

The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do." So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.
(Gen 41:53-57)

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
(Joh 6:48-51)

So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."
(Joh 6:53-58)

The physical famine that afflicted Egypt is overshadowed in human history by the true spiritual famine, our rebellion against God which stains mankind. In the sight of God's law no one is righteous, no one does good, and the whole world stands condemned under God's law and righteous judgment (Romans 3: 10-19). Not a pretty picture of our true spiritual condition.

But God through his storehouse of grace has made a way for us to be healed. In Joseph, a prototype of the Christ to come, the natural famine is overcome as God raises him up into a position of authority so that Egypt's great harvests are distributed to all the people, saving them from starvation and malnutrition.

In Christ, our spiritual needs are met not by the food that perishes, but by spiritual bread that endures to eternal life. This bread from heaven is found only in Christ who covers over all our sins and clothes us with his righteousness, as we feed spiritually and orally on him by faith in the Lord's Supper, which is given "for you", "for the forgiveness of sins". His body and blood distributed to cleanse us from the spiritual defilement so that our heavenly Father might refresh and strengthen us in our battle with sin. So as the Egyptians went to Joseph for their physical needs, let us approach the Lord's Table for our spiritual good, receiving Christ in Word and Sacrament for new power and encouragement.

In the name of Christ. Amen.

"Some Christians have a weak faith and are shy, troubled, and heartily terrified because of the great number of their sins. They think that in their great impurity they are not worthy of this precious treasure and Christ's benefits. They feel their weakness of faith and lament it, and from their hearts desire that they may serve God with stronger, more joyful faith and pure obedience. These are the truly worthy guests for whom this highly venerable Sacrament has been especially instituted and appointed. For Christ says:

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. (Matthew 9:12)
Whoever believes in (the Son of God, be it with a strong or with a weak faith) may have eternal life. (John 3:15)

Worthiness does not depend on the greatness or smallness, the weakness or strength of faith. Instead it depends on Christ's merit, which the distressed father of little faith (Mark 9:24) enjoyed as well as Abraham, Paul, and others who have a joyful and strong faith."

- from The Formula of Concord, "Article VII: The Holy Supper"

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Theologies of Glory II: More Kingdom Confusion - Good Government, not God Government

If the church confuses the two kingdoms - the earthly and the spiritual -
so can the fallen world through its myriad kings, governments and leaders
that "gather against the Lord and his Anointed One", forsaking his cosmic
reign, and setting themselves up as gods (Psalm 2:2). While Scripture
recognises that good civil government is a sign of God's common grace
(Romans 13:1-7), and that we should submit to its authorities; Scripture
also recognises that those who hold the reins of power often usurp the
claim to godhood:

Daniel 3

1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.

4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Ezekiel 28

1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, say to the ruler of Tyre, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
“‘In the pride of your heart
you say, “I am a god;
I sit on the throne of a god
in the heart of the seas.”
But you are a mere mortal and not a god,
though you think you are as wise as a god.

How do we respond to these insights from Scripture when dealing with current political events? As Christians we must be careful not to assign final authority to the power of government as if they can fix all the social and economic problems of our time. Or to embroil ourselves in the party political disputes where the danger is to assign Christian significance to either capitalist or socialist political ideals. When we compare Scripture to the thirst for greed expressed by the capitalist drive of the free market, or to the lack of moral compass in the identity politics of the Left, ultimately we can find positions that would prove untenable for Christian practice. Therefore our allegiance must be first and foremost to Christ, not to any ideological system that doesn't fit our theological profile, and which may be here today, but gone tomorrow, in the shifting tides of political history.

In Republocrat Carl Trueman writes that "the gospel cannot and must not be identified with partisan political posturing", but rather that Christians should use our God-given critical faculties when participating in the political process:

When Christianity was starting to penetrate the Roman Empire in the second century, there were a number of thinkers, called by scholars the Greek Apologists, who took it on themselves to argue the case for Christianity in the public square. One of their most powerful arguments was the Christians, far from subverting public order, actually made the very best citizens in terms of hard work, loyalty, and civil obedience. Later, Calvin made essentially the same point in the prefatory letter to his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Today, our obligation is no different: we are called to be good citizens in this world, and in a democratic society, that involves having as many well-thought-out and informed opinions on the things that really matter as times allows. It is incumbent on us not to surround ourselves with things that confirm our prejudices but to seek to listen to a variety of viewpoints. The listening is not an end in itself, as to many postmodern conversationalists would have it; the purpose is to become more informed and to have better-grounded and better-argued opinions. But that can happen only when watching the news becomes more than just having our gut convictions continually confirmed.

Thus my basic argument is not that people should switch their brand loyalty from FOX to MSNBC or from Glenn Beck to Keither Olbermann. Although the penchant of conservative Christians for a media empire that may spout radical conservative politics but that also engages in activities that run directly counter to all they hold dear is bizarre, it is in this regard only the same as any other channel. The game for media barons is not to communicate the truth; it is to make money, and we should acknowledge that from the start. My point is not that Christians should abandon one biased news channel for another; rather, it is that Christians above all people should take seriously their responsibilities as citizens and make every effort to find out as much as they can about the issues that matter. Society needs Christians who are better informed and more articulate than the likes of Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, or Bill O'Reilly. Let us be Greek apologists once more, and show the civil powers that we can be the best and most informed and thoughtful citizens there are, not those who stock-in-trade are cliches, slander, and lunatic conspiracy theories.

(pp 58-59)

To change national structures is exponentially more difficult. In other words, the politicians might play up their significance with phrases such as "Yes, we can!" and "Change we can believe in!" but often the ability to change - at least to change quickly - is somewhat less available than those same politicians can afford to acknowledge during a campaign.

All of this leads me to believe that those Christians who participate in the democratic process need to do so with a realistic understanding of what is and is not possible. We are stewards who should do the best we can, not Utopians making heaven on earth. Politics is, even as its best, a thoroughly pragmatic business in that it represents the art of the possible. Now, as a Christian, one could take a hard-line purist position, and decide to vote for the politician who represents, in word and deed, only a consistent Christian position on those matters where such positions are identifiable. If that is the case, then I suspect that person is simply never going to vote, since there does not appear to be such a person or party in existence at this time. And if you do not vote, you really have no influence whatsoever. You can sit on the sidelines, hurling brickbats like Waldorf or Statler, but ultimately you have no voice.

Thus it would seem that most Christians, when they go into the voting booth, accept that they are going to cast a vote that involves a degree of pragmatism, since the candidate or party for whom they are voting will represent only a portion of the policies and positions they believe are proper and appropriate for a Christian.

(pp. 103)

from Republocrat by Carl Trueman (P & R Publishing 2010)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Spiritual Warfare III: Blindness

1 Samuel 11:

1 Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead, and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, "Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you." 2But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, "On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel."

2 Corinthians 4:

3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

In the Old Testament account, Nahash threatens to blind the inhabitants of Jabesh so that future generations would no longer be a threat to him on the battlefield. In ancient practice this tactic ensured that the conquered would not raise up an insurrection; for without the use of two good eyes in warfare any army was doomed to failure from the start.

Born to sin in a world hostile to God and his redemptive purpose, the eyes of our non-believing friends and relatives are likewise gouged out, albeit spiritually. Spiritually dead in their trespasses, they cannot wage war against the enemy of their soul, Satan, as a spiritual veil lies over their hearts making Christ hidden from sight. Spiritual blindness is Satan's principal weapon against faith, hardening hearts and minds to turn from "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" to their own desires and passions, which will perish at the end of the age.

God is not impotent in this battle. As the operation of the Holy Spirit is constantly working in human hearts, giving spiritual sight even to those who are physically blind:

Mark 10:

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 48And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" 49And Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart. Get up; he is calling you." 50And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51And Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" And the blind man said to him, "Rabbi, let me recover my sight." 52And Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well." And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

The accounts of Blind Bartimaeus, and other blind and disabled people reported in the Scriptures, serve as an acted parable for what the Holy Spirit creates in the inner man when confronted by Christ and his promise that "your sins are forgiven". Those not seeing and not hearing transformed into the believing people of God, as the God-man shows himself and is found by those who did not seek him (Romans 10:20).