Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr.
Assistant Editors: Steven M. Baugh and Richard A. Riesen
The Editor ...…………..……………………………….…………….. 2
1. THE WEEPING OF RACHEL
Klaas Schilder ……………………………………….……………… 4
2. CHRIST, OUR HIGH PRIEST IN HEAVEN
Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. ………………………………………………. 17
3. FIRSTBORN OVER ALL
Steven M. Baugh ………………………………………………..….. 28
4. AN UNSUSPECTED AND HIDDEN GLORY
Charles G. Dennison …………………………………………….…. 35
KERUX is a publication of Kerux, Inc. and appears three times each year. Editorial offices are located at 1131 Whispering Highlands Dr., Escondido, CA 92027. Correspondence should be directed to the editor at this address. Subscription rates for one year are: $15.00 (U.S. and Canada); $20.00 (elsewhere). Costs per issue are: $5.00 (U.S. and Canada); $7.50 (elsewhere). All remittances should be made payable in U.S. funds.
ISSN 0888-8513 Vol. 1, No. 3
We close our first year of publication with this number. It has been a year in which we have featured exposition of the Word of God in biblical-theological or redemptive-historical terms. Our hope is that you have been led to an even deeper appreciation of the treasures revealed in Scripture.
This issue features a sermon by Klaas Schilder. Schilder is best known in the English-speaking world for his trilogy on the passion of our Lord: Christ in His Suffering, Christ on Trial, Christ Crucified. The sermon we are printing deals with Rachel as a weeping mother in Israel. Our readers may not agree with all the suggestions of Dr. Schilder, but we believe he provides an instructive example of the redemptive-historical method. In addition, all will benefit from his insights into the imagery surrounding the Rachel narrative.
Schilder was born December 19, 1890 at Kampen, the Netherlands. He became proficient in the classics at the local Gereformeerde Gymnasium. In 1914, he graduated from the Theological School of the Gereformeerde Kerken in his native city. After six pastorates (1914-1933), he was awarded the Ph.D. from Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen, Germany. In 1933, he assumed the chair of Dogmatic Theology at Kampen (a post he held until after World War II, when his chapter 31 churches formed a new seminary in Kampen). During the Nazi occupation, Schilder was arrested and imprisoned. Following his release, he was again threatened with incarceration; he fled underground until the end of the war.
Schilder was involved in the Dutch weekly De Reformatie from its inception in 1920. He became an associate editor in 1924 and sole editor in 1935. His articles frequently reflected upon the on-going debate over "exemplaristic" (moralistic) versus "redemptive-historical" (Biblical-theological) preaching. Our readers may pursue the issues behind this debate by reading Sidney Griedanus, Sola Scriptura: Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical Texts (1970).
Schilder was also involved in a celebrated disciplinary case which led to the formation of the Gereformeerde Kerken (31), the so-called Liberated (Vrijgemaakten) Churches in 1944. He died in Kampen March 23, 1952.
The Weeping of Rachel
(translated by Stuart Jones)
Christmas is the festival of the revolution. Rather, it is that of the divine revolution. The old is past. All is new. The old relationships are altered. The rich are sent away empty, but the poor are filled with good things. All is revolution.The revolution has pervaded the life of Israel as a nation. The fleshly Israel is supplanted; the spiritual Israel is raised. This is what we see this morning.
The murder of children at Bethlehem can be viewed from various perspectives; for example, the meaning it has for Herod, for the mothers, which children are killed and so forth. Today we view it as a symbol. It is the revolution of God. That is noteworthy because the people love revolution–except when God makes revolution. Then they are all together "anti-revolutionary."Rachel will not be comforted. But there is comfort here for us: the beginning of the holy dominion. We must understand that clearly. We are not here this morning to dwell on the person of Rachel, Jacob's wife. After all, you know that Rachel herself does not weep. The dead know not of earthly things.Even less may we pronounce a verdict concerning the lot of the children. Rome speaks here about the baptism of blood; others about the martyrs; we leave it with God. This is something different.
Fulfillment of Rachel's Weeping
Rachel mourned for her children. That weeping is fulfilled here and that has occurred right after the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. But that word is also prophetic because we find it in Jeremiah. How does Jeremiah come to this word? In order to understand that, we must return to Genesis.Three times in Scripture, Rachel's tears are mentioned: in Genesis, in Jeremiah and in Matthew. It is not by chance that Rachel is also spoken of in Matthew chapter two. It must have meaning.
Rachel's tears form a section of history. Rachel's tears begin with the Old Testament (Genesis) and they end with the New Testament (Matthew). Rachel's tears first flowed when the promise of the seed of Abraham was given. Rachel's tears are last noted when the promise to Abraham's seed was fulfilled.
First of all, we shall trace the history. Genesis first mentions
Rachel's sorrow. Rachel is the wife of Jacob–the wife of his love. Jacob has gone into exile, served seven years with Laban and has served yet another seven. In point of fact, he did not render service for Leah. Rather it was for Rachel that seven years were duplicated. And when Rachel came into Jacob's tent for the first time, he thought, "Now the sunshine has entered." But in an irony of history, it was just through this that he further felt the visiting hand of God. Rachel's entry is the beginning of Jacob's troubles. Ever since the woman he loved came to live in his house, a continual somber threat–a cloud of misery–hung over his dwelling.Rachel is the weeping wife. She knew this: "I am Jacob's chosen. I am exalted above Leah because he loves me." She has a strong compulsion to grin and gloat over her sister. She shall avenge the deceit. However God acted differently. He withheld the child-blessing from her. Rachel remained childless.
It remained so for a time. Leah became a fortunate mother. Rachel did not. Her daily life passes in adversity. Presently the fire of jealousy is kindled. Then an unholy competition commenced between the two sisters. Rachel wrings her hands in despair. She comes storming into Jacob's tent with unreasonable demands. She takes recourse to a deed of desperation and gives her slave Bilhah to Jacob. All these wrestlings characterize Rachel's sorrow: Leah the mother with the proud smile; Rachel the wife with tears. The youngest, the prettiest and his well-beloved, that appeared to be a beautiful adventure–a victory over the sister. But the beautiful dream was cruelly disturbed. Rachel proposes; God disposes.
Once Rachel is humbled long enough, God gives her a son also–Joseph. In a moment, Rachel's stream of tears appears to dry up. She now has a child herself. In a moment, the still laughter is allowed to come upon her for the son is herson. But the joy does not last long. Joseph is born at the end of Jacob's sojourn in Paddan-aram. Jacob breaks camp. He journeys to Canaan. Already Rachel dreams of a beautiful life. She shall see her child–and others as they are born–in the land of promise. But no! Before the end of the trip, Rachel shall die! As the caravan of Jacob comes between Bethel and Ephrata, she dies.Again, a child is born to her. A second son! How she has longed for this greeting and expectation. Her opprobrium is removed. She dreams, "More sons shall follow." Rachel proposes; God disposes.
Rachel must die! And as her soul departs, she beholds the little child. Her weak mouth lisps something. Someone asks her what she wants to say. Listen! She stammers out the name of the child: "Ben-Oni!" Son of my sorrow.
That word is the summary of Rachel's death statement. Her sorrow completely fills her in her death. She has desired children in order to glory in them. And now–now she may scarcely present her sons next to Leah's, and she has to leave. "Thus I have suffered in vain! Ben-Oni. I have yet to see the land of promise–yet to see the growth of my sons. Now I have children, but what have I next? I have joy, but must now relinquish it. Ben-Oni. My sorrow embodies itself in this son!
"Thus Rachel dies—not with the smile of faith, but with the tears of a disillusioned life. This is the last word that we know of her. Rachel's tears! How great they are! What a tragedy. Who understands them? Not her children–they are too young; not Leah; not Jacob apparently. After all, he even alters her last will. He changes the name to Benjamin. Jacob will not crystallize the tears of Rachel.
Then do her tears go with her to the grave? The tears of Rachel make an impression on us who read about the situation. Ben-Oni–that is not a confession of faith, but a confession of pain. For those who read it, the power of the tragedy goes away.
Rachel is the first mother in Scripture who dies giving birth to her child. Her deathbed is soaked in tears. She remains standing in Israel as a salt pillar of the spirit. One who considers Rachel's grave considers Rachel's tears. Is this why Israel is so carefully concerned
with Rachel's grave?
The weeping Rachel must needs address weeping people. Hence, the prophet Jeremiah will not let the story of Rachel escape the mind. Jeremiah and Rachel–the prophet of tears and the mother of tears. Not unjustly have people named Jeremiah the prophet of tears in the dominion of tears. For example, we read, "I am broken with the breaking of the daughter of my people" (Jer. 8:21). "Oh that my head was water; my eye a fountain of tears; thus I might weep day and night for those of my people who are slain" (Jer. 9:1). We read again (9:l7bff.): "Call the women mourners; they must commence wailing . . . that our eyes may run down with tears and our eyelids may spout water." And in Jeremiah 13:17, it states: "If you do not hearken, then my soul shall weep in hidden places; my eye shall weep bitter tears; yea, tears shall run down." To conclude with one more, we read in Jeremiah 14:17: "My eyes shall run down with tears day and night, and not cease." Jeremiah has written the songs of Lamentations–one song of tears in which he curses his birthday. Is it any wonder then that Jeremiah thinks about Rachel?
Laughter forgets laughter, but tears do not forget tears. So it is that Jeremiah speaks about Rachel's tears. The words of Jeremiah are now quoted by Matthew. One finds in Jeremiah 31:15: "There is a voice in Ramah; a lamentation; a very bitter cry; Rachel is weeping over her children; she refuses to be comforted about her children because they are not."
What will Jeremiah say here? It is a high literary image. He pictures the misery. The ten tribes–the dominion of Ephraim–have been transported. Ephraim is the foremost tribe. All ten tribes are named after him and Ephraim is a son of Joseph. Furthermore, Joseph is a son of Rachel. Consequently, Rachel's children are those being transported.
The writer puts matters as if Rachel rose again from the grave. She cries on high, with louder voice. She sees her children gone into exile–her children. Even now, she has no portion in Israel. So she
has borne children in vain. In her life, she has wept over Benjamin, Ben-Oni. Presently Benjamin is bound with Judah and still not exiled. But that shall very quickly come to pass also.
Yet presently, Joseph's offspring are transplanted–Joseph of whom she was so proud. Her deathbed pain lives again. Not once, but twice it is true: "Ben-Oni"–"son of my sorrow." Everything is now sorrow. She has suffered, fought and borne children in vain. For the second time Rachel's tears are mentioned. Yet it does not end.
Rachel's tears are named a third time–in Matthew. Rachel's affliction is then fulfilled: "Then is fulfilled, that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 'Rachel mourns her children and would not be comforted.'" Her pain is made full. Her despair has risen to the top.
The occasion is famous! It is a gruesome story–the murder of children in Bethlehem.
Weeping mothers in Bethlehem! "Well now," says Matthew, "Don't you see it? If Rachel saw it, she would cry again. Just as the pain of Rachel lived again in Jeremiah's days and inflicted itself newly on the prophet, so it does at present."
The disappointment of Rachel with her death is also present. The same pain which Rachel lived through is present. By her death, she has borne children in vain. In Jeremiah's day, she bore children in vain. In Bethlehem's fields, she has borne children in vain.
The Origin of Rachel's Weeping
But there is a peculiar difficulty. Is it actually Rachel that must weep? What about Leah? In fact, the children of Bethlehem are children of Leah. Judah is a son of Leah.
Thus we allow that Rachel is not concerned here as the mother of these mothers who cry with her. That is impossible. We must seek another explanation. The question is only resolved in the judgment that Matthew himself gives. Matthew actually refers us back to Jeremiah. Jeremiah points out the symbolism that he is in the patriarchal tent. Everything has a typical character! Thus Paul places over against each other Sarah and Hagar as types of the Jerusalem above and the Jerusalem below.
What is Rachel's weeping, properly speaking? It is a weeping from self-interest. She weeps concerning children. She wants children for children's sake; not to establish God's will. Rachel has committed a great sin. She has resisted the advent-notion in the patriarchal tent. She is the spiritual seed; the spiritual blessing is past.
So we come to our second thought–the origin of the weeping. She weeps about children. She mourns children. Children! that is everything to her. In this way Rachel is a type. That is apparent already in Genesis.
Was it wrong, that longing for children? Surely it is exactly in the children-blessing that the power of the promise is found. Children were promised by God. But why? For Christ's desire. "In you shall all the families of the earth be blessed," God told Abraham. God spoke about the spiritual seed. Hence the children were God's honor. All those born in Jacob's tent must serve God. As his promise is fulfilled, all proceeds well.
But Rachel does not know this. She has no eye for Christ in the tent. Unworthily, she serves her own self, as in the game with the household images. The children are for Rachel's sake and her own
honor is at the center. "Wrestlings of God," she says in the naming of Naphtali. But it is wrestling with the Devil.
Every mother with awareness knows: "In eternity I cannot love my children as such. Children are thus not the ultimate end. Hence, I must love eternity through the children."
There was even greater rationale in Jacob's tent. It serves to be a blessing for all people–so sounds the promise. The child here is more than the mother. It serves for a spiritual childhood. In reality, Rachel has only a view to the fleshly childhood. Rachel has a temporal love in her children. In them, she has a self-love. She buries the advent-notion under feminine greed and envy. She weeps as the temporal perishes. She has no eye for the eternal.
It is true with her deathbed. It is true in Jeremiah's days. It is true here. The child-slaughter in Bethlehem is a portent of the falling of fleshly Israel and the rising of spiritual Israel.
The children themselves surely stand outside the center. But God sees that Israel as a fleshly people exists for Christ's sake; that those in Jacob's tent bear children, not for Jacob, not for Rachel, but only for Christ. And that is the notion that Rachel does not accept. Rachel is a symbol–a symbol of Israel who will not spare her own glory. One cannot find that in their purpose as a people. It is forgotten that the purpose only exists in servitude to Christ.
See, Rachel must needs have been able to die joyfully. She was allowed to have served God's counsel. She was allowed to have borne children. God's purpose was disposed. She could then depart.
So it was that Israel must needs be able to die. She had the possibility of serving God's counsel. She had the possibility of serving the Son. God's purpose was disposed. But neither Rachel nor Israel understood that.
The Passion of Rachel's Weeping
We finally see the passion of her tears: "She will not be comforted." The weeping mothers in Bethlehem–the passionate wailing: it is prophecy and immediate fulfillment. Fulfilling Rachel's passion, they are also incapable of comfort. The prophecy of Judaism weeping; Judaism shall repeat the angel's song. Peace on earth: that is their grief. Peace in Palestine: that had been better; under the people of well-being; under the Jews of well-being. Thus they had wished.
Therefore the honor of their God is not sounded this day; rather a bitter lamentation. That is portrayed in the weeping of the mothers.
Leah's tears can be dried. She also did not weep in Jeremiah's days, for with the temporal perishing, the spiritual comfort abides. But who shall comfort Rachel? Further than the flesh she said nothing. Thus her purpose is given with the purpose of the temporal blessings. The heart of the matter is the sin of appropriating to ourselves the fruits of religious life instead of appropriating them for God; ourselves the purpose instead of God.
Rachel's trail of tears is not ended. It is frequently retraced. We naturally think about mothers who have lost a child. How do you assess this? It is still not the main thought of the text. On the contrary, it is only a slight application. The chief matter is the sin of preserving and cherishing our flesh when God comes to crucify it.
Rachel's pain is yet in the world. It lives in Judaism. It cannot forgive Jesus that the children are dead for the sake of his will. Many also outside of Judaism cry Rachel's tears. If Jesus takes something
away, they cry and stamp their feet. Rachel's pain is a crisis for many because we all suffer with Rachel's illness. But a crisis yields to either good or evil.
As it goes for evil, men will refuse to be comforted. Note well–we do not refuse to comfort ourselves; rather we refuse to be comforted. We are thankful to be angry.
As it goes for good, we shall indeed be comforted. We cry to God. We can be far from Christ and yet suffer on account of him–in our self–in our families. It is Rachel's pain. Are you not acquainted with it? Do not deceive yourself. Jesus Christ comes to tear up your fleshly well-being, and that requires sacrifice. That costs pain and pain is not that of arguing away a text. Christ asks the sacrifice. If you push yourself to the forefront, he puts you to the side. He does that when you hold to the flesh rather than the Spirit.
Rachel had an obligation to serve God in child-bearing. But she made her calling a right for Rachel herself. Religion, that is, God-service, must serve her. So it is with many people. They will gladly serve God, but only for their own sake. Such religion overtakes us as well.
Do you know Rachel's sorrow? Because you recognize Rachel's sin as your own? How is the crisis in your life? Has it humbled you or hardened you? Do you remain in Rachel's sorrow? Rachel will not be comforted. She will not relinquish her own honor. At this point, punishment is sealed and it gets worse.
In Genesis, we see Rachel die and her children live. Our joy makes the sting possible. In Jeremiah we read that Rachel's children go into exile. Our joy departs from us. In Matthew, it happens that our joy dies.
God shall wipe all tears from the eyes–except Rachel's tears. She does not want that. She dies in sin. Do you conquer Rachel's sorrow? Do you allow yourself comforting? If you see God's counsel in Christ, put the spiritual over the material, serving God and not your own honor.
In Jeremiah it states: "Control your tears." Jeremiah says, "The sadness is great, yet gladness shall come out of it." There is an expectation for descendants. It is present here as well. Even as Rachel is incapable of comforting, still it is said, "Control your tears." There is expectation. It is the spiritual Israel.
A dread travels through history. Often we come upon the same performance. We find the tears of Rachel through the ages. We also find the tears of Rachel in our days–the loss of the material for the gain of spiritual salvation in Christ. The tears of Rachel become crucifixion tears. Rachel is crucified on Christ [i.e., in stumbling over the cross of Christ]–Jesus Christ is not crucified for her. Rachel is presently regarded as a symbol, not an individual.
There is still something else in the history: the laughter of Sarah. Not the unbelieving laughter, but the believing laughter. The Lord has made me laugh. There was melancholy and laughter; a quiet tear and a happy laugh. From this, Christ is born! The two intersect in Mary.
Mary! She is the anti-image of the non-comforted Rachel. Rachel weeps and weeps and weeps. She cannot stand comfort-preaching because she does not want to receive comfort. But Mary is able to elicit the word of comfort for us because she desires to be comforted. And those who are able to understand Mary's tears are able because they have understood the tears of her great Son. The ministry of comfort is heard from her mouth. The same ministry she heard from her Son; the same which she directs on behalf of this Son to the later family–also of weeping mothers: Sorrowing mothers, mark this truly:
Preached December 29, 1918 at Vlaardingen, The Netherlands
Translated from Preken I, K. Schilder Verzamelde Werken (1957) and printed here with the kind permission of the publisher Oosterbaan & Le Cointre B.V., Goes, The Netherlands
Stuart Jones is Pastor of First Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, Maryland
The translation of the poems has been revised and improved by Nicolaas Van Dam of Fallbrook, California
Christ, Our High Priest in Heaven
RICHARD B. GAFFIN, JR.
then we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus
the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession
This is a valuable text to consider. Its value is that it summarizes much of the teaching of the book of Hebrews. It enables us, in other words, to get a handle on the whole of Hebrews. Further, it provides us with this summary, not in a remote, academic way, but in a way that bears very directly on our lives. In particular, we will see, it has a crucial bearing on the matter of prayer as that is so essential to being a Christian.
Our text naturally divides into two parts. It ends with an exhortation, while the beginning provides the basis for that exhortation. That suggests that we consider this text by looking more closely, in turn, at each of these two parts.
We begin with the end, with the command that we are to "hold fast our confession." We must appreciate at the outset that this is a command directed to believers in Jesus Christ. It is given to those who have already made a Christian confession. Further, we must appreciate how this command pinpoints the situation of those who are believers in Jesus Christ.
We can see right away that this situation is not one in which we can take it easy. It is not a situation where we can lay back and relax, as it were. In other words, we can't take our faith or our confession of it for granted. For, the writer tells us, our confession is something that we must "hold fast." That suggests a situation of difficulty, one in which we must be alert and diligent. Just this way of putting it–that we must hold fast our confession–implies a situation where we are under pressure, where there are hostile forces at work on us, pressures that come into our lives and tend to break the hold of our confession. Because of these pressures, the writer must express himself as he does: we have to hold fast, to hold on.
It is important to see that this is not an isolated command for the writer. It has its background in what he has already said. Notice the word "therefore" at the very beginning of verse 14. That word ties what he is going to say to what has just preceded, particularly to what he has had to say in the passage that begins at 3:7.In that long section (3:7-4:13), the writer makes a comparison. He compares believers in Jesus Christ, the church, to Israel. He draws that comparison by referring to a particular point in Israel's history–that time when Israel was in the wilderness, traveling through the Sinai Desert.
The point of this comparison is twofold. On the one hand, the writer wants us to see that the church has been delivered from the bondage of sin, pictured by Israel's Exodus from bondage in Egypt. He wants us to understand that as believers in Jesus, we have had a real experience of release from the guilt and power of sin. We have received the salvation that has been promised in the gospel. That is one point of comparison.
But that is not the whole picture; the writer also wants us to understand this: just as Israel, although delivered from slavery in Egypt, was not yet in the promised land but still in the wilderness, so the church has not yet entered into God's rest, as he calls it. Believers still do not possess the final rest of God in its full and perfect form. To put it another way, the writer wants us to understand that, as the church of Jesus Christ, we have not yet attained to that experience of salvation that is unthreatened and unchallenged. Note carefully that I did not say "uncertain." Our salvation is certain. But, while certain, our salvation is always on the line. It is constantly being challenged, as we will be seeing more clearly.
The basic point of the comparison is that now, as well as then, the people of God are a pilgrim people. In New Testament times, as well as in the Old Testament, God's people are wayfarers. That is our basic identity as Christians; we are a people "on the way." That means, further, that those on this pilgrimage are exposed to all kinds of difficulties and hardship, and all of that hardship tends toward an ultimate temptation, the temptation to give up, to abandon our confession, not to "hold fast." That, then, is why it is so necessary for the writer to admonish the church as he does.
Briefly, we should notice several other places where the writer admonishes his readers, so that we can appreciate something of the full force of his concern. Elsewhere he says, "Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter [God's] rest, so that no one will fall by their example of disobedience" (4:11). Remember, by the way, he is talking here to Christians, not just to hypocrites but to the entire congregation. Again, "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful,
unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God" (3:12). And he tells us that we are to ''encourage one another daily.'' Why? ''So that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness" (3:13). Later on he says, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God" (12:15).
Certainly, there is no difficulty in seeing the seriousness, the urgency in what the writer is saying. That is why it is so important that there be no doubt that these exhortations apply to us. They are addressed to us today just as much as when they were first written 2,000 years ago. Twentieth century America, just as much as the first century Mediterranean world when this letter was first written, is like the Sinai Desert. It is a wilderness, a wasteland.
Most of us have never had the experience of being in a desert for any length of time. If we have, we have probably driven through in an air-conditioned car! But those in former times, who have traveled across desolate areas and deserts, like the Sahara, on foot or by some primitive means of transport for long periods of time, tell us of a great danger involved. As you plod on for endless hours, as the vast horizon constantly recedes before you, as the blazing sun beats down on you incessantly–one of the great fears is the mirage. The traveler begins to imagine things, to see things that are not there. He becomes confused and so risks getting lost.
The desert that the writer is describing, the desert where the church is, also has its mirages; mirages that would mislead us and take us off the path that we have set out upon in our Lord Jesus Christ. Briefly, what are some of those mirages, particularly those projected by our culture, those that continually confront us today through our mass media? There is, for one, the deception that what the Bible teaches is not necessarily the truth. We are thoroughly committed to the notion that man is the measure of truth. And that means that the truth is here today and gone tomorrow. The truth is what I for the moment consider it to be.
Along with that deception is the illusion that what humanity can do, what men and women can accomplish, is going to solve the world's
problems. Our confidence and hope in our technology persists, despite the resulting threat of nuclear destruction and the ecological nightmares that we have to live with.
And then there is the delusion that men and women are essentially good, that human beings are basically loving people. Sin, like the truth, is only a relative thing. Sin is really no more than the mistakes that basically good people happen to make along the way. We live in a time when more and more God's clear guideposts, his commandments, have been replaced by a so-called new morality, a morality of mankind's making, based on our supposedly natural impulse to love.
The results of mankind chasing after these mirages are all too evident. Who can miss seeing what life has become, the desolate thing that it is, for many? Marriages that are parched for love, homelife that is filled with tension, jobs that are meaningless and unrewarding.
To highlight this bleak and barren picture is not to deny that "this is my Father's world." Creation as it has come from the hand of God is good, and our God intends that we should enjoy its many rich blessings. That, of course, is something very true that we should always keep in view. But at the same time, we must not close our eyes to the sinful confusion, the desolate desert, that man has made of God's good creation. And what is so alarming and disconcerting is that too often God's people fail to see the situation for what it is. We forget what the writer wants us to lay hold of in this text. We tend to forget that, even though this is God's world, in a very real sense we are aliens here for the present. And when we forget that, then we often find ourselves trying to make this life an end in itself. We can even find ourselves using our Christianity to make our lives comfortable. We too easily lose sight of the fact that every gift from God has two sides and you can't separate them. Every gift involves a duty, a responsibility. But we are too often guilty of playing at Christianity. And we lose sight of the fact that genuine growth as a believer in Jesus Christ is something that only comes by struggle. It only comes as we open ourselves up to and acknowledge the reality of the desert that the writer reminds us of in our text.
Hold Fast to Christ
There is a problem that has been building up all along in what has been said so far. Perhaps you have already felt it. We have been focusing on what the writer has to say about holding fast in the midst of the desert. But, you will recognize, holding fast is something that requires strength. And so this question presses in on us: where, in the midst of all we have been considering, are we going to get the necessary strength to hold fast our confession? When we feel something of the force of that question, something of the dilemma in which we find ourselves as believers in Jesus Christ, then it is time for us to stop talking about the command in our text and turn instead to the first part of our text, to the basis of that command–that "we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God."
The writer says several things here, things that take us into matters that he himself later calls "hard to explain," that are not "milk" but "solid food for the mature" (5:11-14). But before we try to appreciate something of that richness, it is very important to see how everything here in fact comes to a very clear and single focus. That focus is Jesus Christ.
When we ask about the basis for our holding fast, notice that the writer doesn't point us to ourselves. Nor does he point us to the Christian community and all the resources that are undoubtedly there to support us in our Christian confession. Notice that he doesn't even point us to something God has given to us or done in us as believers. Instead he points us to Christ. He points us to the Son of God. And that, you see, more than anything else is what we need to take hold of in our text. The secret, if you will, of holding fast our confession is to hold fast to Jesus Christ. The secret of holding fast our confession is not something finally that we do, but what Christ has done and continues to do. By now it should be clear, then, that when the writer commands us to hold fast our confession, he is not talking about some document, some written confession, as important as that may be in its place. But he is talking about Jesus Christ. To hold fast your
confession is to hold fast to Jesus Christ.
What exactly does the writer say about the Lord Jesus Christ as the basis for our confession, our holding fast? He states that Jesus is "a great high priest." A great high priest–in fact that understates it for the writer. Elsewhere he makes clear that Jesus is so great that he is in a class all by himself; he is a priest "according to the order of Melchizedek." And in that set there is only one–Jesus Christ. As a priest, he has no peers.
Our text tells us further that Jesus is our great high priest because he has "gone through the heavens." This phrase captures a very important concern for the writer, and that concern stands, not in opposition but certainly in contrast to the way in which we often look at things.
When we think of Jesus Christ as our priest, we tend to think primarily of his death as an atonement for our sins, and that, of course, is a very important aspect of his high priestly work, an aspect we must never lose sight of. But at the same time, it is fair to say that in Hebrews the emphasis of the writer lies elsewhere. He teaches very plainly that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is a perfect sacrifice, that his death is a death, once for all, to pay for our sins and doesn't need to be repeated (see, e.g., 9:25-26). Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a clearer emphasis on the finality of the sacrificial death of Christ than we do in Hebrews.
But still, with all that emphasis, for the writer of Hebrews the death of Jesus Christ has something preliminary about it. Christ's death with all that it accomplishes is still preparatory for what he is doing presently as our high priest in heaven. As the writer says in 8:1: "The (main) point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven." And a little later (verse 4) he can even put it this way: if Christ were still on earth he would not be a priest. Think about that. If Jesus Christ were still here on earth he would not be our high priest.
23What the writer is pressing us to consider is the activity of Jesus Christ that continues on now at present. We must be careful what we do with Jesus' statement on the cross, "It is finished." That is a glorious statement. But it doesn't mean that subsequent to the cross Christ has somehow been consigned to frozen inactivity, as if he no longer does anything. "It is finished" pronounces the perfect completion of what Jesus Christ has done to make sacrifice for our sins. But that sacrifice provides a basis for him to enter the heavenly sanctuary and there to do something, to be active–active not just for himself but on our behalf.Jesus Christ is alive. That is the heart of the gospel. That is not just something we celebrate on Easter and then forget about. Jesus Christ is alive today, in the sanctuary of heaven for the church, and that is the thoroughly exciting truth that the writer of Hebrews wants us to get hold of.For the writer, there are two things primarily that the heavenly high priestly ministry of Christ involves. For one thing Jesus Christ is high priest in heaven as he continues to present himself before our heavenly Father. And how does he present himself there? He presents himself as our righteousness. Jesus Christ is the seal, the living exhibition of that perfect righteousness which God the Father declares to be ours. The righteousness that we need is a righteousness that continues to exist, a righteousness that is established where it really counts–in heaven. And that is why we can be so confident today, if our faith is in Jesus Christ, that our sins are forgiven. Because Jesus Christ, the righteous one, is there in heaven, in the sanctuary, on our behalf.Secondly, the writer of Hebrews stresses that the ongoing activity of the exalted Christ is an activity of prayer. Jesus, he says, "always lives to intercede for those who come to God through him" (7:25). The heavenly high priestly ministry of Christ, it would seem, is especially a ministry of intercessory prayer.
Why does Jesus Christ have to pray for us? Have you ever thought about that? Why does he need to? Why is it necessary for Christ to pray? Think about all that he has done. Why, after all that he has accomplished in suffering and dying for us, can't he just sit back, so to speak? Why can't he relax and enjoy the results of his death?
The answer to these questions lies in seeing the connection between what the writer tells us about the high priestly ministry of Christ and his exhortation that we were considering earlier. The reason that Christ is so active on our behalf is because he knows the desperateness of our situation. He knows the desert that we were talking about earlier. He knows all about that desert because he has been through it himself. He has gone that way before us; he has been tempted, the writer tells us, in every way just as we are (4:15).
Jesus Holds Us Fast
We must believe that. We tend to think of Christ as a divine being who is far removed from us. But he has become one with us, and he has been tempted, really and truly, just like you and I in every respect, but with one important difference—he did not yield to temptation. He overcame temptation. And so "he is able to help those who are being tempted" (2:18).
Jesus knows the desert, with the stresses and temptations that you and I are exposed to. He knows it by his own intimate experience. And so Jesus also knows something that some who call themselves Calvinists overlook. He knows that the certainty of our salvation does not cancel out the seriousness of our present situation. He knows that only those who endure to the end are going to be saved (Mt. 24:13). And he knows that enduring to the end is not something that happens automatically. He knows that for us to endure to the end will not happen without prayer. In particular, it will not happen without his prayer.
The writer would have us remember this precious truth: our Lord did not die for us and then abandon us. He knows that we need him,
and he knows that we need him now. He knows, for instance, that today that great roaring adversary of the church, Satan, is prowling around like a roaring lion and he wants to devour every one of us (I Pet. 5:8). There is not one of us that Satan would not like to do that to. So Jesus is interceding for us. He is praying for us that in the midst of the struggle in which we find ourselves Satan will not be able to do what he wants to do. And as he prays our heavenly Father delights in that prayer, and protects us.
Jesus knows, as he did in the case of Peter, that Satan is demanding to have at us. Satan would like to get hold of us; as Jesus puts it, he would like to sift us like wheat (Lk. 22:31). But as Jesus did for Peter, he does for every one of us who is trusting him: he is praying that our faith will not fail (verse 32). He is praying that we will "hold fast our confession," and that prayer of Jesus is efficacious.
It doesn't matter how complicated, how desperate, perhaps even hopeless your life has become. No matter how overwhelmed you may feel by your problems, if your trust is in Jesus Christ, you can be sure that he is praying for you now and through that prayer he will provide for you the resources to bring you relief or enable you to carry on.
The most important thing that you and I need to learn about prayer is this: first of all and ultimately, prayer is not something we do but what Jesus does for us.
The incident recorded at the end of Acts 7, in verses 54-56, is a dramatic and powerfully evocative example of this reality—Jesus Christ praying for believers. The situation is one in which Stephen is before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish officials of his day. He has been summoned before them because of the tensions that have been created by his preaching of the gospel, because of the anger and alarm that has resulted among the existing religious and civil authorities. In other words, the situation is one in which Stephen is holding fast his confession.
As he finishes what he has to say, the anger within the Sanhedrin turns into a murderous fury. But as their blood lust begins to unleash itself on him, we are given the full picture of what took place there: "But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' " The Son of Man is standing at the right hand of God. Everywhere else in Scripture, when mention is made of the Son of Man in heaven, he is always pictured as sitting at the right hand of God. But here the Son of Man in heaven at the right hand of God is not sitting, but standing.
What can this mean? It means that there are really two courtrooms involved here. One of them is on earth. And there justice is going to grind on to its sickening miscarriage. In that situation, that courtroom on earth, Stephen stands up for Jesus. But because of that, in the courtroom in heaven, the place where that justice is being rendered that really counts, Jesus stands up for Stephen. The judge becomes the advocate. The king becomes the intercessor. And, really, we shouldn't be surprised at this because Jesus is simply making good on that promise he made already during his earthly ministry, not just Stephen, but to all his disciples, to the whole church. "Whoever confesses me before men," Jesus has promised, "I will also confess him before my Father in heaven" (Mt. 10:32). There can be no greater source of confidence for the church today than this.
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession." Amen.
Firstborn Over All
COLOSSIANS 1: 15 -20
STEVEN M. BAUGH
If you read any standard commentary on this passage you will no doubt be told that it is a New Testament hymn. This is fine so far, but if you keep reading on the subject you will discover that the authorities come to many different conclusions based on this observation. On the conservative side, some say that Paul has quoted a hymn written and sung by the early Christian community. On the radical side, some say Paul appropriated and modified a pagan hymn.
Despite the ingenuity and imagination of the arguments, the whole discussion is valuable only to the limited extent that it helps us to understand and apply the Word of God. That is, investigations about the origin of the passage must help us understand the passage as we have it, not a theoretical original that may exist only in the minds of the critics.
As it happens, the passage as we have it does exhibit some special formal characteristics. In my opinion, further study will show that Colossians 1:15-20 is Paul's own poetry modeled after the poetry found in the Old Testament. This is certainly possible as Paul's other writings attest. You never know when Paul, taken up by the glory of his subject, will launch into exalted, poetic utterance: "Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and unfathomable his ways" (Rom. 11:33)!
We will spend a moment on the form of this poem, but only as an aid to understanding its meaning.
The Poetic Structure
The poetic devices of Colossians 1:15-20 are camouflaged in our English translations. However the original reveals verbal repetitions characteristic of Old Testament poetry. For instance, the introductory phrases ["he who is . . . because in him . . . " (vv.15-16)] are repeated in verses 18-19. These words mark out two stanzas (vv. 15-17a and 18-20) which are further aligned by the phrase: "in the heavens and on the earth" (v.16). This phrase has been turned inside out in verse 20: "on the earth or in the heavens." The effect is a well-rounded contrast and comparison: heavens . . . earth/earth . . . heavens.
Between the two main stanzas we have two smaller segments both introduced by "and he is" (vv.17a and 18a). These act as summaries of the main themes. Between these two segments, in the exact center of the poem lies its summation: "And in him exists all things" (v.17b). The effect resembles an hourglass with its focus on the narrow part in the middle; or a butterfly turned on its side with its two wings colored by the same markings of spots and lines and joined in the center by its body.
Now we can see how the form of the poem bears on its meaning. The two main stanzas present two distinct yet interwoven themes: the Lord of the old creation (vv.15-17a) and the Lord of the new creation
(vv.18-20). And as the central, summary statement of verse 17b states, these two creations are held together because their Lord is one Lord, Jesus Christ. He it is who holds all history together. He it is who reigns over all and "upholds all things by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3). Paul's poem is like a medieval tapestry with two panels telling one story. The two panels contain related threads: "Firstborn over all creation" (v.15) and "Firstborn from the dead" (v.18). The two themes are summarized and united by the Firstborn. Today we will spend our time unraveling these threads.
Firstborn Over All Creation
The title "firstborn" has a rich significance in this passage especially when we look first at its Old Testament backdrop. The firstborn son of the patriarchal age was the heir to the majority or all of his father's property, a practice continued in the Mosaic period (cf. Deut. 21:17).
Equally important though, the firstborn inherited the patriarchal rule over the family. For example, when Jacob usurped Esau's blessing as firstborn, he inherited not only the rights to Isaac's property, but the birthright to become patriarch of God's covenant people of that time. Isaac blessed Jacob, who was disguised as Esau, and said, "May peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers and may your mother's sons bow down to you" (Gen. 27:29). Jacob thereby inherited the rulership of the family which normally fell to the firstborn.
Even during the monarchical period, the firstborn privilege of rule was active. David, although lastborn of Jesse, received a birthright as a gift from God who says in Psalm 89:27, "I also shall make him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth." The firstborn signified a ruler as well as heir and in this case David's inheritance prefigured the greater inheritance of Jesus, son of David.
Thus by calling the Son of God the "Firstborn over all creation," Paul is acknowledging him as heir and ruler of the world from the beginning. And look at the lavish extent of his reign: all things, not all Eden, nor all Israel, nor even all the world, but ALL things— "because in him all things were created, in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him" (v.16).
The Ground and Cost of Inheritance
This last phrase of verse 16 shows us the ground of this Firstborn's rights: he is the agent of creation; all things were made through and in him. And what is more, all things were made "for him." He can be no mere man nor angel. Even the pagans never dared say that the world was made "for" their gods. But Paul says it here for the Firstborn Lord over all creation.
All creation was made for God's own Son. Think of what that means. The stars and their systems, the sun, this sphere with its continents, the mountains and their woods down to the last tree were all created through him and for him. Even—and this is the amazing thing—that one fatal tree was created for him in the beginning. From all eternity the cross was known to the Firstborn. Even the deadly cross was part of his inheritance.
As Firstborn, the Lord knew and accepted the cost of his inheritance—but compare him with others. Would Adam, whom the rabbis called "firstborn of the world," obey the single precept of God, rebuke Satan, and lead our race into the inheritance of eternal life? How willing was Esau to hold onto his birthright? Hungry, he sold it for a bowl of stew.
But thanks be to God! His Firstborn Son would not disobey nor would he sell his birthright! Indeed, he would buy his inheritance and at what great cost. Verse 13 alludes to the attempt to disinherit
the Son. The terrorists of the "domain of darkness" had attempted a coup and though the rebellion reached its apex when through wicked human agents the Son was put to death, the overwhelming, creative power of God stunned the world. The Son had risen "Let there be light"; "And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not overpower it" (John 1:5).
The Firstborn did inherit the cross, but in his resurrection the Lord Jesus showed that he is the ruler over all his inheritance—even over the cross, even over death.
Firstborn from the Dead
Now we are in a position to appreciate the second theme in the Colossians poem. He who is Firstborn over all things has become at his resurrection "Firstborn from the dead" (v.18). This heir and ruler over all creation had inherited the cross and through it brought about a new creation, the church.
Far too often we fail to apprehend the radical, cosmic significance of the resurrection of our Lord. By raising his Son, God not only broke the chains of death around him, but he was also, at that time in history, creating everlasting life for his people. The resurrection is a cosmic event. It is nothing less than the creation of a new race of people: "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17). Read also in Ephesians how the astounding power of God is directed toward believers: "in accordance with the working of the strength of his might which he brought about in Christ, when he raised him from the dead . . . " (Eph. 1:19-20). The life-giving power of God was unleashed in the resurrection of Christ and flows forth from there giving life to you and me.
We live in an age when that creational power is already active in the world, but like a raging ocean held by a sea wall is merely waiting for that one command to break loose in the consummation.
Now we taste only the spray of the breakers, then will the flood of God's grace and wrath pour out upon the world. Then will the Firstborn enter into his majority as it were and make his rule visible, executing the fierce anger of God upon his enemies, and sweeping his people up in a tide of grace and mercy. Then will the sea give up its dead.
We know all this now because the eternal Firstborn of God took up our humanity and thereby created for himself a new inheritance, the church. We are a new creation, a new race with a new covenant Head, a new Beginning (v. 18), a New Adam. The first Adam was made according to the divine image, but the second Adam is himself the very image of God (v.15): "the radiance of his glory and the exact representation of his nature" (Heb. 1:3).
This association of the image with the firstborn is further developed in Romans 8:29 where Paul says: "For whom he foreknow, he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborniamong many brethren." The new creation of the Firstborn is being remade according to his image (1 Cor. 15:49; Col. 3:10). However in this passage Christ's office as Firstborn places him not only as the Head of a new race, but also as the elder brother of his people. We have become brothers and sisters with the all-ruling Firstborn. We have inherited eternal life because the Firstborn has graciously shared his inheritance with us.
Paul's poem has shown us how awesome and exalted Jesus Christ is. Time and again we are reminded how the divine Firstborn is "before all things" both in time and in dignity. The second stanza shows that the same Firstborn is also preeminent over his new creation, the church. How often men try to run the church and conform it to their own image. The church is the inheritance of Jesus Christ. He is her Lord. He will not give her up! He will not sell his birthright to any angel nor dictator nor man nor devil. For the church, for you and me, this is both a severe warning and a profound comfort.
Suggestion for further reading:
S.M. Baugh, "The Poetic Form of Colossians 1:15-20," Westminster Theological Journal 47 (1985): 227-244.
An Unsuspected and Hidden Glory
MATTHEW 2: 1-12
CHARLES G. DENNISON
The eye deceived betrays the heart. The heart, wrapped with the world, treasures satisfaction in the obvious. An unsuspected glory moves God's elect and, when Jesus comes, rivets their gaze on heaven. On earth, such glory hides in humility, in weakness and in that which, because of proximity to the God the world rejects, generates hostility.
An Unsuspected and Hidden Glory and Matthew
Matthew masters this theme in his gospel. He trains our vision. Writing to the persecuted church, he presents Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of God—but, above all, as Immanuel, "God with us," the one whose glory was hidden and whose glory is presently hidden in us.
Therefore we are not surprised to hear Jesus declare to God's hungering and thirsting, his humiliated and mourning poor an overlay of blessing concealed in suffering (Mt. 5:3-6). Glory appears in obscurity, persecution, even death as the church's life matches that of her Lord (Mt. 5:10-12). Immanuel reveals his glory to us and in us and, because of his presence, we perceive the substance of the transcendent kingdom superimposed upon our temporary distress.
Needless to say, when it is not ignored by the world, this glory confounds because it persists in an uncommon display of grace. Toward opposition for Christ's sake, it responds in mercy; it maintains purity of heart and pursues peace (Mt. 5:7-9). No other exposition of the "salt of the earth," the "light of the world," the "city set on a hill" will do (Mt. 5:13ff.). Immanuel grounds his own in himself. His response to rejection and suffering determines theirs. "Letting your light shine" does not contradict the hidden glory; it enhances it since the kingdom appears where the world neither looks for it nor expects it (Mt. 5:16). "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you," Jesus says (Mt. 5:44).
Our Lord's imperatives here cannot be understood solely as bare command. How laced they are with comfort! The Savior consoles us with his presence in all our striving, not just in our manner of life, but also in our mission. Truly, the abused, frightened, straining church to which Matthew wrote does not easily discern heaven's glory in her fragile, unspectacular mission enterprise. Yet, Immanuel disciplines her eye to see the remarkable splendor with which he dresses her efforts in his concluding words: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (28:20).
An unsuspected and hidden glory, then, as much for the "God" of "God with us" as for the "us" the former defining the latter. Matthew preaches exaltation in humiliation, not just after humiliation, because the pattern of the heavenly kingdom has been traced out in the rejected Jesus and is presently disclosed in his suffering people. Even the early stories from Matthew prepare us for such a conclusion.
An Unsuspected and Hidden Glory and the Magi
Matthew 2 presents the account of the magi's visit to Judea (vv. 1-12). When they arrive in Jerusalem, Herod is king. Matthew's description of Herod is quite deliberate; he portrays him as the vilest of men. You can be sure, however, that Herod never saw himself this way. After all, he was civilized, welcomed in Roman and Jewish society, adept at making the best of apparently impossible situations. Otherwise, how could this Idumean, this Edomite, maintain his grip on a Jewish nation in a Roman world?
Herod is a king of this world; he reigns over the obvious for the sake of advantages and gains that are obvious. His power and influence span nearly a half century. Hardly an irreligious man, he is busy building the great temple of which the Jews boast. And, despite his pedigree, he keeps amazingly close to the scribes and even the priests. (He is building their temple, isn't he?) In fact, Herod and the Jews are so tightly tied that, from Matthew's telling, we would never guess Herod was not himself a Jew.
But why would the gospel want to leave us with that impression? Because, you see, in a real sense Herod is king of the Jews. He and Israel are to be seen together. At a mundane level, both pursue a common order. Religious and political motives intermingle in an agenda that prizes the obvious. Admired are those who move ably to secure what they want in this life. How amiably all scratch each other's back, revere excellence in liturgical and exegetical arts, bow and scrape before legislative protocol and gush over expansionist fantasies. Despite disinterest in reports of the Messiah's birth, the chief priests and scribes rush to Herod and with condescending, yet flattered, tone revel in the king's need of them. Of course, he knows they need him. Both are blind to the unsuspected and hidden glory of God's heavenly kingdom. Indeed, the magi have left no Babylon; they have arrived there.
Israel, however, is comprised at a yet more sublime level. She believes herself the beginning and the end of the divine purpose, nothing less than that nation to which has been given a piece of real estate from which to rule the world. Her reading of the Old Testament, by and large, reinforces such a notion, justifying her vision of a this-worldly heritage. That even the best within her, in their integrity, have concluded this simply accents an inherent weakness of the older administration.
But now the magi enter Jerusalem as servants of a higher and an eternal order signified in a star. Looking above, these ignorant sons of the east become prophets of the unsuspected and hidden glory and a promise of that glory's constraining power to the ends of the earth. The star is "his star"; that is, it finds its significance in the one to whom it points. The obscure star reflects the obscure child, the true king of the Jews, who appears not in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem; not under the eye of Herod and the Jewish leaders, but beneath the eye of heaven.
How unlike their Old Testament counterparts these magi are. When Hezekiah, king of the Jews, was delivered from a fatal illness, Merodach-baladan of Babylon sent emissaries with gifts. We could safely judge them less than honorable. Didn't they really come for political reasons? for a treaty perhaps designed to harass the Assyrians? Was there an element of intrigue? Did they wish to "spy out the land?" Hezekiah, victim of messianic delusion, parades before them the wealth of his house, just the stuff to attract the Babylonian eye. One hundred years later, according to the Lord's judgment, the Babylonians returned to cart off the treasures of David's house (cf. Isa. 39).
The latter-day, gift-bearing ambassadors, however, do not delay with the obvious. They save their worship for the child hidden by divine plan. In him, there is no temptation for a greedy eye, no promise of an earthly empire waiting to be seized. Indeed, what Babylonian worth his salt long dallies with the dismal insignificance of the child of Bethlehem?
An Unsuspected and Hidden Glory and Christ
Neither do the magi bring word back to the new Babylon and its king. Warned in the shadow of their dreams, they bypass Herod for home. Their journey past Jerusalem previews the gospel's reach to the nations. But the child, in the maturity of his years, cannot bypass the city. It is his destiny. There he concludes what began in Matthew 2. The true but hidden king asserts himself; his title is written above his head (Mt. 27:37), while his unsuspected and hidden glory continues to confound.
His appearance caps the incomprehension of Israel's leaders. Lost to them was the meaning of the Mican prophecy they had quoted to Herod (Mic. 5:2; Mt. 2:5,6). Out of obscurity, namely Bethlehem, David's true and greater son, the king of glory rises. The foundation of the Davidic dynasty had been misunderstood, and thus there developed the misconceptions about the intent of the Davidic line. Glory to these Jews precludes obscurity.
Even more, the leaders were unprepared to grasp the context of Micah's prophecy. Admittedly, Micah 4:9ff. is one of the most difficult of any of the prophetic passages, but the problems remain insoluble when the prophet's deliberate "invitation" to suffering is ignored. In fact, according to Micah, suffering matches obscurity since he says immediately before his comments about Bethlehem, "With the rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek" (5:1).
Jerusalem, however, is blatantly obtuse. She and her leaders live far from such realities. They fail to recognize the glory hidden in the suffering king in their midst and, in the end, mock his claims. The leaders cannot embrace suffering in a properly biblical fashion and are, therefore, incapable of charting a course for the people through humiliation and loss. Truly, the "cross" offends them; it is a perpetual stumbling block. Their vision of glory precludes it.
As a result, the cross is not just that unsuspected focal point of God's service to sinful man by which he forgives iniquities. Without question, on the cross we see "the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28). But we also see the focal point of man's sin against God. Joined, therefore, to Jerusalem's incomprehension is her hostility. In no small way, provocation for this hostility lies in her preference for the obvious, for the rewards of this world.
As the shadow of the humble, stricken king falls over her long history, Jerusalem is indicted:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent her! How open wanted
to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under
her wings, and you were unwilling.
Jerusalem will be devastated, her judgment a warning to all with common pursuits (cf. Mt. 23:38).
Neither should the church think herself immune to such devastation. In fact, one can only wonder how far removed the church is from Jerusalem and Babylon when she, in her life and mission, is preoccupied with saving her life, not losing it; when her vocabulary is filled with the language of profits and power, not that of servanthood in conformity to Christ in his sufferings; when her goals are measured in terms of year-end reports, next year's budget, five-year plans and an agenda for the transformation of society, not in terms of the essential pilgrim character of her existence. How tragic when the church compromises and trivializes herself, when she becomes a servant of the obvious and as much a stranger to the unsuspected, hidden glory of Christ and his kingdom as Jerusalem was before her.
May Matthew's gospel, his story of the magi and the Christ of whom he wrote preserve us (Mt. 10:22; 24:13) until that day when the King will come in the clouds with power and great glory (24:30), and the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (13:43).
Grace Orthodox Presbyterian