KERUX: A JOURNAL
BIBLICAL THEOLOGICAL PREACHING
Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr.
Assistant Editors: Steven M. Baugh and Richard A. Riesen
INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................ 2
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. 2, No. 3
Our final issue for 1987 provides an opportunity for us to express our appreciation to our readers and our contributors. We thank God for all who have read KERUX this year. By your subscription, you have encouraged us to continue our efforts to present the word of God in redemptive-historical perspective. Through your letters and comments, you have assured us that KERUX is one of the means by which you delight even more in our Redeemer.
We welcome our first contribution from Canada and trust his message will encourage others to realize that biblical-theology is not solely an American enterprise.
We conclude our second year of publication with special gratitude for the incarnation of him whose name means "Savior of sinners" (Mt. 1:21). Apart from him, we could do nothing. Soli Deo gloria!
Pax Romana, Pax Christi
JAMES T. DENNISON, JR.
The day of his birth was celebrated in messianic strains. His career was recalled with rapt devotion. He was hailed 'prince of peace'–bringer of tranquility–the deliverer–the deliverer from war and bloodshed. Truly with his advent, men could put up their swords. A golden glow spread its fingers over the world. Light–aureate sunlight–was the image of his reign. A golden age had dawned and mankind basked in the luster of his kingdom: happy, contented, at peace. For their cosmic benefactor–their savior (soter) bestowed upon them mercy, justice and freedom (caritas, justitia, libertas). With
the advent of this glorious one, no less than a new age arrived. A new age and a new order–the transformation of the world; the end of the old–the inauguration of the new. In conquest, he was revered as victor–the vanquisher of all his foes. Yes, he could even say he had a god as his father; he was a son of the divine. Good news arrived with his appearance–the good news that the world had a new beginning.
He crossed the Campus Martius as Caesar crossed the Rubicon. With his entrance into the Roman Senate, Octavian began the campaign which has earned him the name, Augustus–'revered one.' Pax–Pax Augusta; Pax et Princeps–Peace, Augustan Peace . . . and Dictatorship! Civil war ended–soldiers disappeared from plebeian homes; fields and barns were no longer summarily requisitioned; the devastation of 100 years of bloodshed began ever so slowly to be repaired. Yes, Rome was weary–weary of death, weary of bloodshed, weary of destruction, weary of corruption. And Octavian–Octavian was the man for all causes; a century of anarchy ended with his reign. On the surface, all was well in the city of the seven hills. Rome was rebuilt–more glorious than before: temples, arenas, public baths and forums abounded. No trace of the ruble of combat remained. Augustus found Rome brick and left it marble. If dozens of temples were opened, the doors of the Temple of Janus were closed. Pax Romana!
But those in authority are seldom what they seem. Beneath the veneer, underneath the projected public image, lies the intrigue, the manipulation, the cruel, insensitive use of people. Octavian ushered in the Pax Romana, but the cost of this peace was the surrender of the human liberties of the republic. Roman citizenship became little more than political and social slavery. For Caesar–Caesar Augustus–was supreme despot, chief dictator, totalitarian lord of all he surveyed.
The Age of Gold
The Age of Augustus was celebrated by the poets (especially
Virgil) as a new era–the dawn of the age of gold. The empire was expanding in every area: law, culture, arts, humanities, military might, religious revival. The economy boomed, the temples were full–any and every new cult had opportunity to erect a temple in Rome. Reform was in the air–reform of manners–reform of religion–reform of the republic.
But what appeared externally polished and full of glitter–outwardly successful and popular–seeming to meet the needs of the masses with program after program, activity after activity, ritual after ritual: what appeared on the outside to be so satisfying–so pacifying, so fulfilling–was vacuous. The soul of the empire was tyranny–the autocratic dominance of the many by the few. Cicero was executed by Marc Anthony. Cato committed suicide in the face of Julius Caesar's imperial policies. Catullus bemoaned the loneliness of man. And Augustus? Augustus was a butcher–brutally, systematically eliminating every hand which had been raised against Caesar. People's attention was successfully taken off the emperor and his reign of terror by the busyness–the building program, the revival of a plethora of pagan gods, goddesses and temples, the games and holidays. Every manipulator has his or her agenda–for those with eyes to look beneath the veneer, to peer behind the facade–the reality remains what it was for Augustus–brutal and tyrannical.
The empire began to die. Intellectually, Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Ovid: these could not hold back the flood of superficiality, the deluge of the trivial. Intellectual vitality died; the pursuit of luxury became the primary aristocratic pastime. Rhetoric and oratory became the tool of flattery, i.e., saying what was expected to the rich and powerful. And the grandeur of the state–enshrined in its man-become-god (the Emperor); the grandeur of the state escalated to crush the human spirit and initiative. Gregory the Great looked back at Rome and said she died from material prosperity and the withering of the heart. Withered hearts–from Rome to Carthage–from Athens to Alexandria–withered hearts embraced astrology, magic, the occult. There were gods for everything–even a god to teach a baby to suck its
thumb–superstition run amuck. No values, no standards, no meaning. The glory of Rome hid the malaise of soul, the angst which could not be quelled. No, the bloody gore of the gladiatorial arena could not quell it; the baptism in the blood of Mithras could not drown it; the deference to the cult of Caesar could not bring peace.
Pessimism, fear, helplessness, fatalism: these were the demons of the empire. And no one–neither emperor, nor senator, nor philosopher, nor diviner, nor poet–could exorcise them.
Now in the days of Caesar Augustus . . . . a young carpenter and his pregnant fiancee slowly wend their way to the south. From Nazareth, unremarkable village of Galilee, they journeyed to Bethlehem, hilltop city of David south of Jerusalem. No brick highway traced out the route through the hills and valleys of Judea. No legionnaire escort safeguarded the solitary couple. The benediction of the empire rested upon them! Did I say benediction?–yet two more faceless names on a census roll. The entrance of Mary and Joseph into Bethlehem was unheralded, unannounced, unnoticed. No marble palace awaited the son and daughter of David; no processional galas filled the streets in celebration of their arrival; no banquet feasts toasted their safe passage.
There was no room–no room but a stable. And in that dimly lit stable, Mary delivered her firstborn. She cut the cord; she washed and daubed him; she nursed him; she swaddled him; she laid him in a feeding trough. No herald dashed through the streets proclaiming the birth of a king. No jubilant crowds thronged in temple and synagogue to give thanks for the advent of the Son of God. No solemn edict from council, cabinet or senate declaring his birthday a new holiday festival.
Not the eyes of the world, only the solitary eyes of mother and
father beheld him. The lowly handmaiden of the Lord; the humbly obedient carpenter. Shepherds from the nearby hills visited them at the manger. Pastors from the slopes of David's sheepfolds come to behold a different lamb. Shepherds in a "rustic row"–outcast from polite society–banded with brigands and outlaws–the refuse of the world. Still they come; at God's own invitation they come and at a manger, the gloria rings in their ears–rings in their ears and begins to rise in their hearts. The exaltation of those of low degree is begun–on their way rejoicing, uttering glorias and doxologies. Shepherds–lowly, unpretentious shepherds–have found the chief shepherd–the shepherd who seeks lost sheep until he finds them.
The child is brought to the Temple at purification. The yearners, the seekers, the waiters and watchers: they receive him. Not the priests; not the scribes and Pharisees; not the rulers; not the rich and famous. But Simeon and Anna. "He hath exalted those of low degree; He hath filled the hungry with good things." Those who sit in the shadow of death–they take him up in their arms.
Aged Simeon–lowly, insignificant Simeon–aged Simeon takes him in his arms and prophesies. Aged Simeon content now with death–for his eyes have seen the glory!
And Anna–solitary, insignificant Anna–widowed, aged, devout Anna. Anna sees and prophesies–the Redeemer has appeared!
The child become a man will enter his hometown synagogue and he will read:
The Age of Glory
The angels sang at that nativity. Sang gloria–gloria in excelsis. Gloria! for the Soter is born! Gloria! for the euangelion (evangel). Gloria et in terra pax–on earth peace. Pax! pax Christi–not pax Augusta.
Angels sing–out of the darkness–angels sing. From out of the light of glory, angels sing. Angels sing and light shines in the darkness. Yes the angels sing once more–even as they did at first. When they sang in the beginning–out of the darkness–sang the Creator's glory, the glory of the Creator who said, "Let there be light!" As it was in the beginning when the sons of God sang and all the morning stars sang together. First creation–new creation! Out of darkness, light–the dawning of the sun of righteousness–the outburst of the bright and morning star. Here is the advent of a new era–the inauguration of a new order–the in-breaking of a new age for the sons and daughters of God.
The day of new beginnings arrives in Bethlehem, not Rome. The light of a new age breaks forth in the skies above a stable, not above the marbled halls of the Roman forum. The procession of adoration begins with a lowly virgin, an obscure carpenter, a ragtag band of shepherds, a lonely visionary and an aging widow. The Messianic age is inaugurated in Judea; the birthday of Jesus is truly the beginning of the novus ordo seculorum–the new order of the ages. He is the Prince of Peace for he brings a peace which no sword knows. He is the Son of God–God indeed is his Father. And the good news of his reign is the abundance of mercy for the miserable, grace for the undeserving, justice for the unrighteous and liberty for the captives (caritas, justitia, libertas).
The days of Caesar Augustus have faded–the glory of Rome
has passed away. Her temples lie in dust. Her arenas are shells–honeycombed skeletons. The Circus Maximus is silent. The doors of the Temple of Janus are shut forever. No son of the Caesars sits atop a marble throne as divi filius (son of a god). The golden age never arrived–the aureate glow has vanished into darkness. History's verdict–Luke's verdict–Augustus was not Soter, not benefactor, not divi filius (son of a god)–not center of euangelion (gospel good news).
But Jesus is! And to a world still dominated by pagan veneer and glitter–to a world still manipulated by little caesars–to a world whose glory is wealth, prestige, success, growth, power. The answer still lies at a manger in Bethlehem. And to Bethlehem's manger, the poor, the lowly, the humble, the outcast–still repair. For they have heard the gloria; the glory has surrounded them. They are the heirs of a new age–the blessed possessors of the world to come–the firstborn of the new creation.
Dedicated to the memory of Dr. Cornelius Van Til. A sermon preached in the chapel of Westminster Theological Seminary in California, April 23, 1987.
The Bronze Serpent History
Numbers 21:1-9; II Kings 18:1-8; John 3:14,15
On the salvation way from the Old into the New Testament, God raised a mighty sign with a dual function–to seal the mouths of all malcontents against his plan of redemption and to articulate the source of eternal life. Therefore as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness, also the Son of man must be elevated, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (cf. Jn. 3:14,15). According to the apostle, this composes the sign of life in the history of the bronze serpent. Concomitantly, this stops the mouths of all who propose alternatives to God's revelation of eternal life.
Grumblers against God's salvation plan find their prototype in old Egypt. After even the ten plagues, the then Pharaoh regnant remained acidulous in temperament concerning God's exodus for Israel. And Israel? In the historical passages of the covenant people from Egypt to the Promised Land, from slavery to freedom, from death to life, we find they repeatedly offered dissatisfaction to the Lord God for the manner in which he chose to reveal the Savior and eternal life in him. They had shaken off the contamination of discontent by their baptism in the Red Sea.
Still for the sake of the promise of eternal life for his people, God lifted up a serpent.
A Serpent Raised
With an outstretched arm and a mighty hand the Lord God released his people from the house of bondage, but apparently they had not left the old Egyptian habit behind. Israel as a nation cankered at every opportunity.
The Pharaoh's discontent with God drowned in the Red Sea crossing, but Israel's continual grumbling received a more hopeful outcome. When this people again complained about the way of salvation from Egypt to Canaan, at a stage in which food and water gave out and the manna became (seemingly) unpalatable, and recriminated loudly against the Lord God and against Moses, in favor of the fleshpots and onion soup in Egypt (cf. Ex. 16:3; Num. 11:4-6), God responded with a plague of fiery serpents.
Had Israel overruled God, the human will victorious over the divine plan of salvation, the Messiah could not have been elevated on the cross in the Promised Land and eternal life would thus have been effectively stymied.
With a wrathful answer to Israel's vexatious carping, God then
released the fiery serpents, symbols of the old Serpent, so that many in Israel died (cf. I Cor. 10:9-10) to suspend the malcontents. Surely "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (cf. Heb. 10:31; 12:29; Ex. 24:l6ff.).
Only when Israel turned to the Lord in repentance, ready to accept his way, how quickly he replied. His anger melted and he removed the snake infestation. If the people would only look at a bronze serpent Moses had hoisted on a pole, they would be healed of the venom in their veins and the grumblings of their hearts. This bronze serpent did not serve as an antidote to the venom; rather, the 'snake' symbolized God's grace, to avoid every pretense of magic. All who perceived this bronze serpent in obedience of faith received healing. Thus they proved, by looking; they believed God at his word ready to proceed according to the plan of salvation.
Israel never forgot this serpent episode because the account is written in Scripture. Apparently, according to the next account, they preserved the serpent for those who disgrace the way of salvation with grumbling.
A Serpent Deified
Yet Israel ignored the serpent's purpose, seeking to preempt God's salvation plan; the covenant people deified the bronze snake as the carrier of life. In Palestine decades after the reign of David and Solomon, further dissatisfaction erupted against God. Israel then turned to their Nehushtan, to break the second commandment. As a disobedient nation they had come under the cloud of the approaching exile. Though they kept the form of the true religion, only to deny its power, thus to forestall the coming Messiah.
Never content with God's leading from grace to grace, they worshipped the bronze serpent even as their forefathers had attempted with the golden calf, faithlessly. With guile and according to his
inimical style the Serpent had twisted Israel away from the way of salvation, filled the people with venom, so that they could complain and grumble against God with the implication that their own way of salvation, the worship of Nehushtan, served better, quite independently from the Lord God. Through the bronze snake they worshipped the Serpent, instead of the Creator, with consequences (cf. Jer. 8:17).
God put down the old Egyptian grumbling. Not to be outfaced by the Serpent's mien and corruption to prevent the incarnation of the Messiah, God, through the offices of king Hezekiah, caused the bronze serpent to be destroyed, lost, never to serve as a stumbling block in Israel again, contrary to the history of salvation.
The Son of Man Lifted Up
On the long journey of the Old Testament way of redemption, God preserved Israel. Wise in the way of redemption, he caused in the fullness of time, the Son of man to be born. In the development of the Old Testament, he began to focus attention more and more upon the cross of Christ, as was the purpose already with Moses' bronze serpent upon the pole (cf. Num. 21:8,9). For the Son of man, who was the Word and was with God, and is God from eternity to eternity, in his humiliation was lifted up on the pole of Calvary to become God's ultimate work of redemption.
In John's gospel, the manner in which the Son of man was lifted up is superseded by the function for which he was crucified. As Moses elevated the bronze serpent for the people to see and believe and live, so the Son of man on the cross of Golgotha.
All Jews and Gentiles had to look at the 'serpent' on the cross and believe! And live eternally free from the venom of faithlessness which manifests itself in grumbling and complaining about the way God brought salvation. Discontent with God is the poison of the Serpent. The Christ on the cross brought conversion and healing and life.
Thus the Lord worked the cessation of all Egyptian grumbling among his people, for in the fullness of salvation his people no longer canker about but rejoice in the fact of salvation. Christ heals his people from their dissatisfaction with God's plan of salvation; for he is the new life. Therefore Jesus was lifted up before the entire world (cf. Jn. 8:28; 12:32-33) with universal force.
All who now regard the Son of man on the pole of Golgotha in faith receive the Spirit who works the gift of eternal life (cf. Jn. 3:36; 5:24). And this is the life: "that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (Jn. 17:3 KJV). To believe the plan of salvation, to be saved through God's mighty Son brings the fullness of joy.
When God had completed the purpose of the wooden cross, the wood was lost. It had served its function and never would his people worship that cross, not even splinters and nails. His own should pay attention to the Son of man, for in him is eternal life.
The half-life of the bronze serpent may have been long, as that of bronze, but the life in the Son of man is eternal. And Christ cannot be turned into a Nehushtan. All must look at him with deep, believing concentration on that which occurred on the cross: the disclosure of redemption, the conquest of the old Serpent and the initiation of eternal life.
In this eternal life the Serpent, though bound for a thousand years, may and does seek to withdraw our eyes from the Son of man and doubt the fulfillment of God's plan of salvation. That begins the grumbling about God's way, as if it were insufficient and requires, for instance, free will to accomplish his purpose. The Serpent may and does on occasion bring back the old Egyptian malaise and people begin to imagine again that they know better than God.
The only way to overcome the poison, to get the venom out of the system and out of the heart is to regard the Son of man, crucified,
and rejoice in the completeness of the plan of salvation. God raised his Son so high that all the world may see him, believe him and live. Forever!
First Christian Reformed
Brantford, Ontario, Canada
I Kings 13
STUART R. JONES
In pagan Greek thinking there were three major sins that the avenging Furies were supposed to punish: blasphemy against the gods; shedding kindred blood; and treachery against a host or guest. We are not concerned with ancient Greek culture at this moment. This view of evil, however, seemed to be shared by ancient peoples in general. In particular, we want to think about the sacred character hospitality had in biblical times. The very entry into the world of the Savior was marked by a surprising lack of hospitality. The duty to
demonstrate hospitality toward those who prove friendly was taken for granted by David in his dealings with Nabal. David sees a great offense spoken of in Psalm 41:9.
If there is any doubt as to how strong an obligation existed between the host and guest, read Genesis 19 and Judges 19. It might have been allowable, though rude, to let someone sleep in the street. Once the guest-host relationship has been established, however, the men of Israel would rather have their own women shamefully abused by a mob than have a strange guest assaulted by them. To make such observations about the ethics of hospitality is not to say these old ethics were always correct. But if we do not observe the deep feelings that went with hospitality in biblical times, we will not understand the Scriptures very well in certain places.
In Genesis 19, we have the story of Lot taking in two angels. In light of Hebrews 13:2, it seems Lot was not aware of who his guests were. These two angels are in fact messengers of judgment who are prepared to lodge in the street. A trivial reason for this intended lodging is that angels do not need a place to sleep. The important factor is that these messengers do not want the hospitality of Sodom. They do not want their mission compromised. They do not want any form of a host-guest relationship with this condemned city. Lot must twist their arms, so to speak, in order for them to lodge with him. When the guests consent, it proves that Abraham's intercession has had some effect. Today salvation has come to Lot's house. To be sure, Jesus acts differently than these messengers on one level. He did not need his arm twisted to come to Zacchaeus's house with salvation. Jesus dispenses grace more freely in this new day. Jesus invites himself into our lives and homes.
Still, both Lot and Zacchaeus teach us that hospitality in the Bible serves as a sign. It is a sign of a relationship with obligations. It is a sign of friendship. More than that, it is a sign of God's grace. We can immediately see how the Lord extending hospitality to his disciples (as the Gospel of John alludes to in John 1:39 and John 14:2) would
be a sign of God's favor. The interesting thing, though, is how the Bible turns the Lord's acceptance of hospitality into a sign of his favor. It is a forceful reminder that we are the privileged when Christ chooses to live among us and make claims on our lives.
The particular story in I Kings 13 involves another twist on the biblical sign of hospitality. We can call it the theme of "Samaritan hospitality." "Samaria" is the word used in verse 32 to describe Jeroboam's newly constituted northern kingdom. The author of Kings is using a term that was more common in his own day than the day of Jeroboam. Omri was the first king over any property described as Samaria (cf. I Kgs. 16:24). The events that would unfold in the kingdom to be called Samaria would give the place such a reputation that the term "Samaritan hospitality" would sound like a self-contradiction. Add to this what we know from the New Testament and the "Samaritan hospitality" does not make sense at all.
Jesus' disciples think the place deserves fire from heaven. Samaria refused to receive Jesus and his disciples (cf. Lk. 9:51ff). Hospitality not extended or hospitality refused creates enemies and they already hated Samaria. Perhaps they remember David and Nabal or perhaps they have a clear understanding that to reject God's messengers is to reject God. In any case, Jesus rebukes their wrath despite the greatness of Samaria's offense. In John 4, Jesus also invites himself to the hospitality of Samaria. He must make the first move or grace will never come. He asks for water from a woman. She is no Rebecca or Rachel when it comes to giving water to a stranger. She seems rude. Jesus persists. Jesus ends up staying in the area for two days. Water and food are signs of grace in this place.
Jeroboam did not live long enough to meet these later Samaritans, the Philippian jailor, nor even a widow at Zarephath. Yet he somehow senses that he should persuade God's messenger to take a
cup of cold water, food, anything. If he can get this prophet to accept his hospitality it will go better for him. There are always those who attach great value to the signs of grace yet still miss the point. God's word defines the sign. The sign must fit the word, not the reverse.
God wants to be very clear about his relationship to Jeroboam. He tells the prophet from Judah not to eat or drink anything in Samaria. No doubt this man was tired and hungry, but he would not consider Jeroboam's offer, much less actually seek nourishment from a sinful woman at a well. At this period, Samaria's hospitality is not desired. The prophetic word of judgment has been pronounced on this land and prophetic actions must match. The word and sign must say the same thing.
Yet the prophet allows himself to be deceived. The sign of hospitality has been allowed to contradict the word of prophecy. God cannot allow this state of confusion to continue. Following the split altar, God will give another sign.
The Sign of the Tomb
Jeroboam would not live long enough to see the prophecy fulfilled that is given in verse two. Josiah would come much later. To prove that God's word would really come to pass, God gave a sign for Jeroboam's immediate observation. The altar he made was rent asunder. That bothered Jeroboam. Now that the prophet from Judah compromises his mission by accepting a guest relationship in Samaria there might be some hope. There are many whose only hope resides in confusing issues that God has made plain. God adds another sign to clear up any possible confusion. The prophet will die. This alone is not the full sign. God uses a lion and a tomb to seal his message.
The lion is used as an instrument of God not only to discipline the prophet by killing him, but to make sure his body does not go to its normal family burial plot. The end of verse 22 seems to indi-
cate that this is part of the sign. A beast of prey is made to deny its natural instinct to devour the body and the donkey. The beast merely guards the body to prevent it from returning to the land of Judah and the family burial plot. This prophet accepted Samaritan hospitality and must now depend on it to supply a burial place.
It will turn out that the prophet of Judah and the lying prophet of Samaria will not have their graves desecrated by Josiah (cf. 2 Kgs. 23:17ff). The mere death of the prophet is not a personal rejection by God. He is held out as a sign to a disobedient king and nation. The death of any of God's servants is a sign to those about to be judged. Most Christians' deaths fall between the extremes of discipline for sin and dramatic martyrdom. Yet in every Christian's death, Christ is present and witness to his power should be taking place. Some who die of what we call "natural causes" display a confidence that is only explicable in terms of Jesus' mighty power and comfort. Our God is real. A believer should face death differently than those who have no hope.
Whether in discipline or faithful witness, the church's trials condemn the world. Jeroboam had tried to silence this prophet. That did not work. Now that God silences the prophet, Jeroboam cannot sleep any better at night. A powerful sign has come to pass.
This powerful sign raises a question: are there any secure graves to be found in Bethel? Has the prophet of Judah been so Samaritanized that he might have his bones burnt on the altar at Bethel? Perhaps Josiah will show some respect for a fellow countryman. This prophet was not without worth. He had been sent from Judah to teach Jeroboam that boundaries and walls cannot keep the word of God from entering his kingdom. Religious isolationism will not be tolerated by the Lord even if the people of Samaria cannot easily come to the temple. This man's grave still kept the memory of God's prophetic word alive in an isolated land. There is no reason to disturb it.
The lying prophet of Samaria is not without a kind of faith in
this regard. On the surface, he seems to be doing the man he lied to a favor. "Here is a man without a grave. Poor fellow! I had something to do with his predicament." Still we should note the limits on the generosity. The tomb is not an outright gift. It is a shared tomb. The Samaritan wants to share the burial plot. He has faith to believe that some of Bethel's graves will be emptied in the future and not by a gracious resurrection. Josiah will come and desecrate these tombs in righteousness. Burial with the man of Judah might afford some hope. If sharing food and water does not secure Samaria's life, perhaps a shared grave will secure some respect for one Samaritan's bones.
Concern for a secure grave usually demonstrates a man's desire to exist in some form after death, either as a memory in the minds of later family or as something that is transformed. Whatever this man's faith was concerning the resurrection, he clearly preferred sharing his grave over having it desecrated. Perhaps he could have bought a tomb in Jerusalem away from his present home. Yet if God had intended to desecrate the body of the man from Judah, the lion could have had his meal. Burial with Judah's prophet is sufficient insurance and also meets the dead man's present need.
A Samaritan extends the ultimate hospitality. He shares not only his table but his tomb. In both he thought he had an advantage. He sees there is salvation in Judah when Josiah comes. God again lays hold of ancient custom for a sign–the sanctity of burial and the impulse among men for a family burial plot. The Lord creates a guest-host relationship through a common table and family relationship in a common tomb. "My brother," says the Samaritan.
The Samaritan has an interesting counterpart from Arimathea who would later donate a tomb. Joseph bought a burial plot away from his ancestors in Arimathea. Sometimes family burial plots are less important than other matters and Joseph is waiting for the Kingdom
of God to come (cf. Lk. 23:51). Kingdom considerations dictated the tomb away from home for Joseph. Those same considerations now dictate that he give the tomb to Jesus. Christ's final act in establishing the kingdom is more important than Joseph's burial place. Only when Jesus is raised can he be raised. This tomb in Jerusalem is the great equalizer and family maker. Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles were buried there with Christ . . . . All those who trust in his resurrection . . . . All those who place their confidence in the empty tomb.
The Samaritan and Arimathean extend hospitality which Israel will not even give to its Messiah. They provide what is denied the faithful witnesses of Revelation 11. A beast slays witnesses that are faithful and no one will bury them. They have no lasting city or tombs here because Jesus' tomb is empty. Our great hope is very vexing to this inhospitable world. They scorn, they laugh, they make merry. They cover their anxiety with false hope and celebration. But there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. This is the world's only hope and the world's greatest consternation. This is your only hope; a hope which must affect both your way of life and your way of death.
Bethel: House of God
WILLIAM D. DENNISON
I am sure you are familiar with the fact that Jacob had deceived his brother Esau on two occasions: 1) the stealing of Esau's birthright (Gen. 25:19-34); and 2) the theft of Esau's blessing (Gen. 27:1-40). Esau is absolutely right when he notes that Jacob is a deceiver because that is what Jacob's name means (cf. Gen. 27:36). But in light of his own deceptions Jacob must flee from the presence of Esau because he fears that Esau will kill him. Thus, his mother, Rebekah, devises a plan to preserve the safety of her beloved son, Jacob. She asks Isaac to permit Jacob to go to uncle Laban's house in Haran in
order to find a wife. In this way, Jacob will not have to marry one of the Hittite women who, Rebekah claimed, were disgusting. Isaac consents to Rebekah's request. But even as Isaac consents to Rebekah's plot to preserve Jacob's life, something is happening much deeper in the providence of God with Jacob. In reality, Jacob is being cut off from the covenant circle because of the sinful way he obtained the blessing of Isaac. Jacob is a deceiver; he plotted and connived in order to receive the blessing, the promise, the inheritance of the covenant. But as he leaves for Haran, he is not in the land; he is not in the place where the inheritance of the promise is to be fulfilled. He is being presently withdrawn from the covenant! The question that often comes to the mind of the Christian at this point is: "how could the Lord form a bond of salvation with Jacob who was such a terrible sinner?" The answer is quite simple. God could only form a bond of salvation with Jacob for the sake of the promise of the covenant–Jesus Christ. It is only in Christ that any sinner receives the benediction of God's saving grace. Jacob is no different. Furthermore, God remains faithful to his covenant in spite of Jacob's present unfaithfulness. It is through the covenant that God manifests his commitment to save his people. God's commitment will always remain faithful in spite of his struggles with his people (interestingly, Israel means "he struggles with God").
In light of the deceptive character of Jacob, we must express extreme caution in viewing Esau as an innocent bystander. This seems to be the tendency on the part of many Christians; and yet, the Scripture does not present such a view of Esau. After Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, the Scripture is clear concerning Esau's attitude toward his birthright. The Scripture states that "Esau despised his birthright" (Gen. 25:34c). Esau is not the good guy in this story. In other words, Esau despised the covenant of promise which was tied to his birthright, i.e. he hated God's way of redemption which would have its completion in Christ. This is not something that is pictured as unusual in the covenant community; and yet, it is something that is very sad. It is sad that some people who are raised within the covenant, such as Esau, really hate and despise the religion of their parents. Yet,
during their youth they make it seem like they enjoy the religion of their parents and faithfully embrace the covenant. When they get older and are on their own, they expose what has been in their hearts. They no longer embrace the religious commitment of their parents nor do they confess the God of the Scripture or the true confessions of the church. The day that the child manifests this before his parents and the church is a sad day indeed. It must have been a very sad day for Isaac as well. Esau was a covenant-breaker, not a covenant-keeper.
God Shows Himself to Jacob
How did God show himself to be the God of Jacob? It was in the dream of the ladder. As we have noted, Jacob was to go to uncle Laban's house in Haran to find a wife. On his journey, he stopped in the city called Luz. At Luz he took a stone, put it under his head and fell asleep. While he was sleeping he had a dream. In that dream he had a vision of angels descending and ascending upon a stairway that reached into heaven itself. What was God showing Jacob in this vision? It is important not to read too much into this event. Quite simply, God is showing Jacob that he is going to be in continuous communion and fellowship with him. In other words, God is in covenant union with Jacob. The angels climb up the ladder carrying the life of Jacob into covenant union with God, while at the same time, angels climb down the ladder declaring the covenantal blessings of God to his child. And the God of covenant stood at the top of the ladder and spoke to Jacob. And notice where God begins his conversation. He does not begin by appealing to a crisis experience in Jacob's life–not even to the crisis experience of the vision that he is now having. In God's first appearance to Jacob he does not even begin with the question concerning where Jacob is going to spend eternity. Rather God begins with covenant! He begins by renewing his covenant with Jacob that he made with Abraham and Isaac (cf. Gen. 28:13-15). Indeed, God renews his covenant of promise with this wretched sinner, Jacob. Jacob and his offspring are going to receive the land, the blessing, the inheritance that was given to Isaac. But
it is not going to be received by deception. No, now Jacob is going to have to be totally dependent on God in receiving the inheritance–the land. Why? Because Jacob is now cut off from the land; we see him in the place of the inheritance of the covenantal promise. He is on his way to Haran. Thus the only way that Jacob is going to experience the covenant promised to him is by God's sovereign grace. It is only by God's sovereign grace that the Lord will bring Jacob back into the land.
When Jacob woke up, he was shocked that the Lord had sought him out. God's grace always goes beyond what one expects, especially when the sinner becomes conscious of the presence of God. Thus, for the first time in his life, Jacob fears the Lord. Also, he is in awe of the place where he slept. Why is he in awe of the place where he slept'? Because in that place God directly revealed himself from heaven itself, and thus, the place where Jacob slept becomes for Jacob the house of God, the gate of heaven. Jacob has actually seen the entrance place of heaven; he has seen the God of the covenant of promise standing before him! What does he do? He sets up a pillar. Is it to be an object of worship, an idol? No, it is a memorial to God's revelation of himself to Jacob. Jacob calls the place "Bethel" which means "house of God". At that point he makes a vow of covenant to the Lord: if the Lord will take care of him on his journey, then he will set the pillar up to be God's house and he will give a tenth of all he has (cf. 28:22). As we come to the end of our text, the question is whether Jacob kept his vow.
After living with and serving uncle Laban for fourteen years for the hand of Rachel, Jacob now has Leah and Rachel as wives, two servant-girls, and eleven children as he flees from Laban and makes
his way back to the land. But wait–there still remains an obstacle–Esau! How is he going to get to the land when Esau is still in his path? Just before the confrontation between Jacob and Esau, Jacob sent Esau some gifts hoping to appease him (cf. Gen. 32:13-21). Although it may be said that Jacob's gifts helped soften the heart of Esau, nevertheless, the confrontation of God and Jacob at Peniel played a much more significant role in Jacob's meeting with his brother Esau. The night before Jacob and Esau met, God and Jacob had a wrestling match at Peniel (Gen. 32:22-32). In that wrestling match a very interesting thing occurs. God allows himself to be overpowered by Jacob. See the picture; the sovereign almighty God, the creator of heaven and earth permits himself to be outmaneuvered by a mere man! If you will, Jacob has the almighty God pinned to the ground! Remember, Jacob attempted to obtain and possess the covenant of promise by deception, by his own strength–if you will, by works. Now, in his strength, he has the God of the covenant overpowered. What is Jacob going to do? Is he going to rely on his own strength, and thus will he go out and meet Esau in the might of his own human power? Or will he surrender himself to the power of God? Oh yes, in the moment of Jacob's great exhibition of human strength, he tells the Lord that he will not let him go until he blesses him. Jacob realized, even in his strongest moment, that the inheritance of blessings of the covenant are solely dependent upon the grace and mercy of God. Only through the blessings of God could Jacob meet Esau and enter the land of the promise–the land of salvation. Thus, by the providence and grace of God, peace reigned at the meeting of Jacob and Esau. Jacob and his family entered the land of his father, Isaac.
The Lord kept his promise concerning the return of Jacob to the land. Furthermore, God provided for his necessities while he was away from the land of his father. It is in light of these events that the Lord requests that Jacob take his family to Bethel in order to worship him. In gratitude, Jacob responds to God's grace and care. Indeed, he kept his earlier vow (Gen. 28:22). He takes his household to Bethel; he builds an altar and worships the Lord with his whole family (Gen. 35:1-7).
Oh people of God, Bethel is the treasured revelation of God to Jacob. It is the revelation of heaven itself and its God–the God of the covenant who fulfills his promises to his people. Jacob experienced God's covenantal faithfulness. Jacob is back in the land and the land will be given to his descendants. But just before Jacob dies, he and his sons are taken from the land once again. Because of the famine that struck that part of the country, they had to go and live in Egypt in order to survive. Interestingly, in the providence of God, there is a parallel between the life of Jacob and his descendants at this point. Just as Jacob was taken from the land (to Haran) because of the sinful way he attempted to obtain the blessings of God, likewise his sons are taken from the land in light of their sinful act of selling their brother (Joseph) into slavery. Just as Jacob had to learn that the inheritance of the land (the covenant) is dependent solely on the grace of God, likewise the sons of Jacob will have to learn that their inheritance of the land is dependent solely on the grace of God. Although it takes over four hundred years for God finally to execute his plan, nevertheless, he brought the descendants of Jacob back to the land of Canaan with a mighty and outstretched arm–the powerful arm of his grace. As you can see, the sons of Jacob live the same life-pattern of their father: they engage in sin, and thus, they are taken from the land; their return to the land is secured only by God's grace.
But the question still remains: how could Jacob leave the land in his final years? As he leaves the land and makes his way to Egypt, he is afraid and he offers a sacrifice on the border of Beersheba (Gen. 46:1-3). God reveals himself there and he promises to bring him back to the land. God's revelation puts peace in Jacob's heart; it reminds him of how God has continually guided his life through each revelation of himself. Thus, I would like to suggest that Jacob's mind returns to Bethel as well. Jacob can leave Canaan because God has revealed a better country to him (cf. Heb. 11:15,16). God has built the faith of Jacob upon the foundation of the revelation of his eternal inheritance! That better country is Bethel, the house of God; it is nothing less
than heaven! Yes, Jacob and his sons will dwell in the eternal land of heaven. How? It is through the grace and mercy of God who keeps his covenant by sending his Son from heaven. But his Son does not come as an angel who is ascending and descending on a stairway. No, this time God sends his own Son; Jesus Christ descends to the earth as the holy incarnate Son of God–greater than any angel! He comes descending with the blessings of God's covenantal grace to his people. And he returns to heaven through his death, resurrection and ascension, bringing the lives of his people into continuous and everlasting fellowship and communion with their God. Jesus Christ is the covenant of promise who descends to make the wretched righteous and ascends in order to bring his people into a better country. It is a land that truly flows with milk and honey; it is Bethel–house of God; it is heaven itself!
Furthermore, people of God, do you know what Jesus is presently doing for you in heaven? Jesus tells us that he is building you a mansion, a home (Jn. 14:l-4). Jesus is building you a permanent place of residence so that you will never be separated from him. It is only through God's grace in Christ that Jacob and his sons will have their residence in Bethel; so likewise, church of Jesus Christ, it is only through our beloved Savior that we have our eternal residence in the everlasting glory of the revelation of Bethel.
Now, we understand the longing of the Psalmist, David, when he writes: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (Ps. 23:6). Also, when he writes in Psalm 27:4: "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life." Although it is true that David goes on to write about what he saw in the earthly tabernacle, nevertheless it is evident by the end of the Psalm that David realized that the earthly tabernacle was the image of the eternal tabernacle–heaven! As you can see, it was Bethel, the house of God that David also sought all the days of his life: it had a place of primacy in his life. It is there that he wanted to dwell forever and ever!
Oh people of God, God's revelation to Jacob is God's revelation to you. It is the revelation of the inheritance of the covenant and its God, i.e., it is the revelation of Bethel and the God who sits upon his throne in the sanctuary of his house! And yet, oh people of God who live in the New Testament church, we even have a greater revelation than the one given to Jacob. For we are not witnesses to the angels descending and ascending on a stairway, but we are witnesses of the fact that Jesus Christ descended and ascended to secure the final redemption of his people, who have been bound by his grace to Bethel! And do not forget that Jesus is presently building your permanent home in the heavenly places so that you will have your residence with him in everlasting glory.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Remember the Risen Christ
II Timothy 2:8
ROBERT B. STRIMPLE
Commissioners, wives and other friends–Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I am freshly impressed tonight, and I hope you will be too, with how gracious our loving God is to his servants. You have come to hear reports, to approve budgets, to decide issues, and these are important matters that require all our time and energy and careful attention this week. And yet I believe our merciful God knows what is the primary need of his servants; and I believe he would graciously meet that need tonight, not by the word of man but by his own word.
Hear that word of God from II Timothy 2:8. "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel." This is the word of God addressed to you by the Spirit–and it is not so much an exhortation as it is an encouragement, an encouragement to you, Christ's servant, to serve him with renewed confidence, joy, boldness, faith, hope and love. In the hard times of your ministry, in the toughest times of your ministry, keep on remembering Jesus Christ as risen from the dead, David's greater Son, according to Paul's gospel and following Paul's example.
Encouragement to be Faithful
The New International Version gives as a heading for the entire section from 1:3 through 2:13–"Encouragement to Be Faithful." Actually that could well be considered the theme of the entire letter. And yet, perhaps, that word "encouragement" and our concept of why the minister of the gospel needs encouragement are too weak to convey the apostle's thought here.
The many frustrations, the "can't win" character of the ministry today are well known. The pastor is always a prominent and easy target for petty criticisms and conflicting expectations that can make his life difficult. And the ruling elder faces many of the same kind of unwarranted attacks.
But we would certainly be mistaken if we limited the servant of Christ's need for encouragement to that level. The apostle Paul knew something about real discouragements. He writes this letter to Timothy, his dear son, from a "death row" prison cell in Rome, the capital of paganism. His second imprisonment was evidently far harsher than his first. And this time the apostle knows that he will not leave prison alive. Look at 4:6-8: "the time has come for my departure." And that departure will be by way of an unjust and violent execution.
But this is not the reason for Paul's concern. His burden and his sorrow rather is the fact that that young church for which he has undergone the pains of childbirth to bring forth has fallen upon truly terrible times. Heresy, apostasy and persecution, like the many heads of the hydra, are sucking the very life-blood from the church. And it is against these destructive enemies that Timothy must now do battle.
The false teaching that Paul sees attacking the church at that time is the kind that cuts the heart out of the gospel. It is the kind of false teaching that spreads like gangrene (2:17), bringing death to the body. Some of those who had turned away from the faith were among the apostle's own companions. "You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes" (1:15). And in 4:10 Paul refers to Demas who, because of his love for this world, had also deserted him.
These are the kinds of times when the encouragement of II Timothy 2:8 is so desperately needed. These are the times that try men's souls. These are the times that lay ahead for Timothy. He will see false teachers deceiving, were it possible, the very elect. He may well see some of his closest friends deserting the faith. He will surely suffer persecution, as will everyone who strives to live a godly life (3:12).
And there are the kinds of conditions that many of you face right now. You're hurting. God knows it. Many of you have lost loved ones in your family or in the church family, some so close that you hardly know how to go on without them. And much worse than the loss through death has been the loss of a friend who has departed from the faith. There have been great disappointments in your ministry, failed hopes and dreams that you cherished for the church. The goal of one united, Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Presbyterian church in this country continues unattained–and does it look unattainable?
It's so easy to be discouraged. Every one of you lives to pro-
claim a message so deeply at odds with the accepted wisdom of our day which blasts forth from every television network, every respected newspaper or magazine, every public school, everything that influences the thought-patterns and values of every citizen twenty-four hours a day–whether that supposed wisdom wears the label of secular humanism or democratic liberalism or, more accurately, of atheistic naturalism. And it's easy to grow weary of the constant battle against this false teaching and to get tired of facing the ridicule of a society in which the pastor is no longer the "parson," i.e., the person, the most respected person in the community, but rather is viewed as a fool or a clown to be either laughed at or ignored.
Elder in the church of Jesus Christ, it is to you that the inspired word of II Timothy 2:8 comes. It is spoken directly to you by the Holy Spirit as a word of encouragement, the kind of encouragement you need when you feel you simply can't go on, the kind of encouragement you need in the morning when you wonder if you can get out of bed to face the day because everything you're scheduled to do that day seems pointless, so totally in vain–whether your study, or your counseling, or your preaching, or whatever–when the words "in vain" seem to you to be written over your whole ministry and your whole life! When you know that mere positive thinking, or possibility thinking, isn't going to cut it for you!
And what is that word that comes to you in your deep need? "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David."
The Seed of David
You are to remember (and the present imperative indicates that this is to be the continual focus and orientation of your mind); you are to keep on remembering Jesus Christ–Jesus Christ himself, not simply certain facts or doctrines about him–but Jesus Christ; but Jesus Christ, of course, as he is presented to us in the gospel–Jesus
Christ as risen from the dead, Jesus Christ the seed of David.
Now that reference to Christ's Davidic descent might strike us as rather surprising here. If Paul chooses just two elements of Christ's person and work to sum up his gospel, why should one of them be Christ's Davidic lineage?
It is commonly suggested that the reference to Christ's being "of the seed of David" lays emphasis here on the humanity of Jesus against any Docetic or Gnostic tendency in the false teachers. Now it's always dangerous, I believe, to say that a certain application was not in the apostle's thinking at all, and in Romans 1:3 Christ's being of the seed of David is linked with his coming in the flesh. But here in our text there is just one focal point in the apostle's thought, I believe–just as he asks us to have this one focus in our meditation. And that is "Jesus Christ as risen from the dead." And the seed of David reference comes in, I believe, to remind us who this one is who is risen. He is none other than the Messiah of God, chosen before the foundation of the world, foretold by the prophets of old, revealed in these last times for our sake, suffering vicariously the penalty due our sins and raised from the dead by the Spirit of God.
In other words, his being "the seed of David" is here, I believe, not so much a pointer to the humiliation as to the Messianic dignity of Jesus Christ. In his earlier letter Paul had warned against foolish and endless genealogies. Here he points to the only genealogy worth paying attention to, for it validates Jesus as the Messiah.
Raised from the Dead
And, of course, it is all-important who this person is whom God has raised from the dead and what he has done. The coming into the world of a remarkable person, his death, yes and even his resurrection, would be utterly without saving relevance to my life unless that person was the Messiah appointed by God to save his people
from their sins. Dr. Cornelius Van Til so often described how meaningless such an event would be: "A man has risen from the grave? What a surprising occurrence! Send it in to Ripley! Believe it or not!"
But the one in whom we trust as the risen and living one is Jesus whom God has made both Lord and Christ–the Messianic King who welcomes his people now to share his kingdom–the one exalted as Lord of the universe and the head of the church, who in a real sense has brought in already for his people, by the Spirit, the new age, the coming age. Yes, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ the supernatural world of God and of the new creation has broken into this created world, so marred by sin and sin's consequences and curse.
Yes, the new creation has really broken into this world, make no mistake about it. When the apostle speaks of Jesus as raised, he speaks of his bodily resurrection, the resurrection on the third day of that which was buried. That's the only kind of resurrection of the Savior of which Paul and the rest of the New Testament speaks.
When the apostle Paul tells us to remember Jesus Christ as risen, he is not playing linguistic games with us. He is not affirming the birth of the church as the resurrection body of Jesus. He is not figuratively describing how the disciples "caught" the contagious freedom of Jesus. He is not merely employing a metaphor from his Jewish eschatological expectation to indicate the trans-historical significance of Jesus as the final revelation of God. No, he is affirming the plain literal fact of God's raising him from among the dead, a resurrection that left an empty tomb.
It is because what one scholar has labelled "the evasions of modern theology" have become so depressingly common that I find so striking and so eloquent some lines from a most unlikely source–an Easter poem by the contemporary novelist, John Updike.
Make no mistake: if He
rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if there is an angel
at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
not seek to make it less monstrous
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
("Seven Stanzas at Easter," written for a religious arts festival sponsored by the Clifton Lutheran Church of Marblehead, Massachusetts.)
And yet we must not be so absorbed in defending the concrete, historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus, as the raising of that body that was placed in the tomb, that we fail to appreciate the newness and the glory of that new realm of existence into which Christ entered in his resurrection. As Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 15, the first Adam, and all the children of Adam, have known an existence altogether on the level of psyche–natural, this-age life. But the second Adam has been raised to a new realm, the realm of the pneuma, the life of the spirit, of the Age to Come, a new order of existence the nature of which we can hardly imagine given the severe limitations of our present vision.
Yes, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this world in which we live is not the only world. And this is not the only age. And with the resurrection of Jesus Christ the end of this age has already begun. The future is now!
Truth for Encouragement
And this is the truth that will carry you through the toughest times in your service of the Savior. Why? You know why, but let me simply remind you by way of four points quickly made. (1) The resurrection set a seal upon the truth of all Christ's claims and all Christ's promises. Upon his claim of equality with God the Father, upon his claim to be able to save to the uttermost all who come to him in repentant faith. When asked for a validating sign,
this was the one sign he offered. The one who could claim power to lay down his life and take it again, and then make good that claim, is worthy of your complete trust. You can trust him to be the Way, the Truth and the Life–if "he is risen as he said!"
(2) The resurrection of Jesus Christ was his deliverance from the power and curse of death to which he had become subject as the representative covenant head of his people and the bearer of their sins. As long as our head remained under the power of death, sin and Satan remained triumphant. But now is Christ risen from the dead. The sentence of condemnation has been annulled. God's justification has been pronounced upon the second Adam, and yes–praise God–upon all those united to him by faith.
By raising Jesus from the dead and exalting him to his right hand, God the Father has declared that the penalty due your sins has been fully paid and the power of death forever broken. By the resurrection, God the Father added his "Amen!" to the words of Christ on the cross, "It is finished!" As the apostle Paul rejoiced earlier in our letter (1:10): "our Savior, Christ Jesus, has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."
And this brings us quickly to the next point. (3) The resurrection of Christ is the guarantee–no, more than the guarantee, it is the beginning of the resurrection of those that are Christ's. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." The firstfruits were not merely a pledge but the actual beginning of the harvest–with the certainty of much more to follow. And just like Christ's, yours too will be a resurrection to an utterly new, transformed existence, your lowly body made like his glorious body (Phil. 3:21).
This is what your Lord promised: "Because I live, you also will live." No one can be in any way dead who is united with the risen Christ.
And this brings us to the final point. (4) You who are in Christ Jesus have already been raised with him (Eph. 2:5, 6). While the resurrection of your outer man is yet future, the resurrection of the inner man is a past event and a present reality. Christ has already rescued you from this present evil age and it is in the power of the risen Christ–his life living in you–that you are to live the Christian life right here and now.
The Heart of Our Gospel
Yes, it's true. We do not yet see all things subjected to him. The last enemy has not yet been abolished. We live in that "not yet" in which we must often weep, even as our Lord himself wept, in the face of death and bereavement and the pervasiveness of sin and evil. But in union with the risen Christ–by faith–are all the resources you and I need to live to his glory today.
As Paul reminds us in our text, this was his gospel. And you must make sure, brothers, that it is the heart of the gospel that you preach. Not filed away in your study notes or in the back of your minds, as a foundational truth that you assume and that you assume your hearers assume as you proceed to preach on themes which are supposedly more "practical," such as interpersonal relations and right attitudes and social action. It is the preaching–in the power of the Spirit–of the good news of Jesus Christ risen that will promote the growth of the church.
You must give your hearers something to believe in. Since you call on men, women and children, not to have faith in faith, but rather to have faith in Christ, you must present the Christ in whom they are to trust, the Christ who was delivered over to death for the sins of his people and who was raised to life for their justification. Following Paul's example, you should live to proclaim that gospel, enduring everything–everything (look at v.10) for the sake of the elect,
that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
This is your calling, as a servant of the risen Christ, and could a higher calling be imagined? This past semester a Westminster alumnus serving in Uganda spoke in chapel of his need to remind himself–as he looked at the work of the engineer who lived in the hut on the one side of his, and at the work of the agriculturist who lived on the other side–of the incomparable importance and the eternal significance of the work committed to him as a preacher of the gospel and a trainer of preachers.
And so, dear servant of the Lord, look again at this second chapter of Paul's second letter to Timothy. These are the commands that your God gives to you by the Spirit: v.1, "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus;" v.3, "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus;" and v.8, "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel."
Preached at the opening worship service of the Fifty-fourth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, June 11, 1987, at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Theological Seminary in California
From the Librarians Shelf . . .
Old Testament Abstracts. Published by the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064. Subscription price: $14 per year. ISSN: 0364-8591.
New Testament Abstracts. Published by Weston School of Theology, 3 Phillips Place, Cambridge, MA 02138. Subscription price: $24 per year. ISSN: 0028-6877
These two tools are designed to accomplish the same end–keep the pastor, student, scholar (even the interested layman) abreast of the state of current investigation into the meaning of the Old and New Testament. What busy pastor has not wished for an easy way of reviewing the current discussion of a biblical passage, including exposure to the most recent commentaries on a particular book of the Bible? And who has not experienced the sense of bewilderment in hearing
about new trends in biblical studies? To be sure, many of these new directions are radically unorthodox and hostile to genuinely supernatural Christianity. Still, even these deviant forms of scholarship may prod us to think more biblically. On the other hand, several new directions in contemporary biblical studies hold some promise for those of us with a more orthodox and unified approach to Scripture as God-breathed revelation. For example, what is narrative theology and what insights does it offer–even to us who are committed to inerrancy? Or what about the recent explosion of literary approaches to the Word of God? These approaches are breaking the stranglehold of outmoded higher critical approaches to Scripture. How may we benefit from the insights of this approach? Several of these new methods are a reaction to the sterility of critical biblical scholarship and (I might add) the moribund character of much modern preaching. In truth, there are glimmers of a desire to breathe freshness and vitality into the preaching event. We must not venture into these areas of investigation uncritically or unguardedly. But we need not fear to enter these areas and boldly interact with new approaches.
Yet how do we keep up with what's new? How do we stay abreast of the current trends in biblical scholarship? How do we orient ourselves to what is happening in contemporary Old and New Testament biblical investigation? Old Testament Abstracts (OTA) and New Testament Abstracts (NTA) are two journals (periodicals) which provide brief summaries of new material in the field of biblical studies.
Two sources of material are covered by both: (1) new articles in magazines and journals; (2) new books in the field of Old and New Testament respectively. Each article or book is summarized in a brief abstract (usually about a paragraph in length). The abstract gives the salient points of the article or book in a generally objective fashion. Articles and books from conservative and liberal persuasions alike are abstracted. In the case of journal articles, full publication data is included: title of the article, author, journal in which it appeared, volume number, year and inclusive pages. OTA and NTA abstract articles from more than 300 biblical journals from around the world.
All abstracts are written in English even if the original language of the article is not English. Sufficient description of the contents of each item is provided so that if the reader wishes to pursue the article in full, he may do so. On the other hand, the abstract can save the reader time by summarizing the contents of the item sufficiently so that he knows he does not wish to pursue the item in its entirety.
Both OTA and NTA are published three times per year. Both are organized in the same general fashion: articles in journals are abstracted first, then new books. Within the categories of sources (periodicals and books), the following plan is observed for OTA: general matters of Old Testament Introduction; archeology; history and geography; Old Testament books in canonical order; biblical theology; intertestamental era and apocrypha. For NTA, the following plan is observed: New Testament books in canonical order; biblical theology; New Testament world including history, archeology, philology, etc.
The most useful feature of both OTA and NTA is the annual cumulative index in the third issue of each volume-year. These handy compilations include: author index; index of biblical words (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic) and related Near Eastern languages; index of Scripture passages; index of Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Targums. For example, suppose you are preaching on God's covenant with David (II Samuel 7) and you would like to know what has been written recently on that passage. Using the third issue of OTA and searching the Scripture index at the rear under II Samuel 7, you will find a list of abstracts for all articles in a given year on that text. Turning then to the abstracts, you will read a brief description of the content of each article on II Samuel 7. In the same manner, suppose you were preaching a series on the letter to Philemon and you were interested in current discussion of that epistle. Using the third issue of NTA, you could locate abstracts for articles on Philemon and examine each in order to learn whether you wish to pursue the entire article.
Since each issue of OTA and NTA is organized according to the
canonical order of the books of the Bible, it is not necessary to wait for the cumulative index in the third issue each year. As each issue comes, it is a simple matter to find the appropriate section and skim the entries to learn whether or not your text has been touched on recently.
However, you may by now be anticipating a hurdle beyond the abstract itself. If you find an abstract of an article or book and wish to read the entire article or book, how do you locate the item in question? OTA and NTA provide full publication data for all materials indexed. In the case of books, the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) will be included with date and place of publication. Your local book store will be able to obtain the title for you with this data. If you are near a seminary library or college or university with a religious studies department, you may locate the book in their catalogue. Still, the easiest way to examine the book, short of purchasing it, will be an interlibrary loan request from your local library to a library which holds the book you want. A few minutes with the reference librarian of your local library will enable you to understand how interlibrary loan services can secure virtually any title you wish. There may be a nominal charge for this service, but it will be cheaper than purchasing the book yourself.
Articles in journals may be obtained in the same manner, i.e. through interlibrary loan. In this case, you may be charged the costs of photocopying the article. Increasingly, many libraries have computer searching services for locating books and periodicals not held in their collections. These services are available to the public and thus, if an item exists in print and has been catalogued, it may be located and made available to you. If you have specific questions about interlibrary loan services, I would be happy to answer them. Please write to J.T. Dennison, c/o Westminster Theological Seminary in California, P. O. Box 2215, Escondido, CA 92025.
OTA and NTA are two tools which will further the work of biblical theology in preaching. Even if you only wish to stay abreast of new commentaries on the books of the Bible, these tools are ideal means to that end.