Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Douglas Wilson on mercy

This sermon shows why I enjoy reading Douglas Wilson's writing. A good mix of sound theology, humour, and wordsmithing.

Consider the contrasts used in the introduction
David seeks to get away from Saul, but he cannot get away from his anointing. He can evade Saul, but he cannot evade the fact that a new Israel is going to start to form around him. David goes into the wilderness and finds a throne. Saul goes to his throne and finds a wilderness.
And his summary of the text,
And so David came to be afraid of Achish (v. 12), and so pretended to be insane (v. 13). And Achish was fooled (v. 14), and delivers one of the great lines of Scripture (v. 15).
Incidentally the verse is
Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?

Here he deals with the dilemma of lying,
If you were standing at a crossroads, and a screaming woman ran by, and then about five minutes later, a lunatic with furious eyes and an axe ran up, demanding to know “which way she went,” I trust that all of you here would lie like a Christian. 
And here, childhood discipline,
Kids, if your mom asks if you made your bed, and you reply that you did (even though you did not), you cannot fix it by appealing to the Hebrew midwives, or to the faithful deception that Rahab used. You should get swats a couple times—once for the lie, and the other time for the faulty hermeneutic.
Finishing with a fine explanation of mercy triumping over justice,
The second is the authority of mercy. Mercy does not negate authority; mercy has authority.

Do not confuse this. Mercy is not what happens when your standards fall apart. Laziness in discipline is not mercy. Mercy is what happens when your standards are outranked. Mercy stands taller than justice.
All in all an enjoyable and educational read.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Monday quote

The error of the necessitarians on this subject is, they put the effect for the cause, and the cause for the effect. They make the foreknowledge the cause of the event, whereas the event is the cause of the foreknowledge.

Thomas Ralston

Monday, 19 September 2011

Monday quote

Christian values praise voluntary self-sacrifice for the benefit of other people, because even if we die in the process, the duration and quality of our eternal reward greatly exceeds the "light and momentary afflictions" of this present life. Pagan ethics praise coerced sacrifice from [other] people.

Tom Pittman

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A rich man in Hades

There is some dispute concerning the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Does it represent a real event, or is it a parable.

After healing a man on the Sabbath day Jesus tells two parables. They are:
  • The Parable of the Wedding Feast; and
  • The Parable of the Great Banquet.
Following this Jesus talks about counting the cost of discipleship illustrating it with an example of kings planning for battle then noting that salt must keep its savour. Then he tells 4 further parables:
  • The Parable of the Lost Sheep;
  • The Parable of the Lost Coin;
  • The Parable of the Prodigal Son;
  • The Parable of the Dishonest Manager.
The Pharisees heard these parables and ridiculed Jesus. Why? Luke states that the Pharisees loved money, and the parables emphasised God's love of people more than money. The parable of the lost son was especially costly for the the father yet he welcomes back the son. And at the end of the parable of the dishonest manager Jesus tells people to use unrighteous wealth to gain friends. Jesus also says that faithfulness in little things like money is rewarded with trust in more important things. Then he adds that one cannot serve God and money.

Jesus then rebukes the Pharisees saying that it is the opinion of God that matters, not the opinion of man, and he tells them that God knows their hearts! He says that the Law and prophets were until the time of John, after which the good news is to be preached; which is what Jesus himself is doing. Yet the Law of the God is not void.

The Pharisees ridicule Jesus for his parables and this is Jesus' response; followed by a discussion about divorce and the story of Lazarus and Dives. As such, these passages may well relate to Jesus' rebuke. The first part suggests that some of the Pharisees were treating divorce lightly when their actions were adulterous—heaven and earth will disappear before God's Law is void. The next story could also be a rebuke.
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:19-31 ESV)
If this is a parable, it is the only one where a person is given a name. If it is a true story, it is possible the rich man and Lazarus were known to the hearers. If it was meant as an allegory or fable then the characters are representative.

Lazarus is poor and unwell.

The rich man is unnamed. He is wealthy. He dresses well; purple clothing may represent royalty/ rulership. He eats well. He has 5 brothers. And there may also be a subtle hint that his brothers deny the resurrection of the body, a position held by Sadducees.

Lazarus may just be a convenient name, though there is another Lazarus, a brother of Mary and Martha, who subsequent to this story dies and is resurrected. We learn that Mary poured perfume on Jesus' feet (John 12:3). This story is also told in Matthew 26 and Mark 14. It is probably the same event but the woman's name is not given. They are in the house of Simon the Leper. So Lazarus may have known Simon, or Simon may be Lazarus' name.

The rich man may well be Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas. Annas was the high priest some years earlier circa 5 AD. He was removed from office by the Romans. It is thought that he retained some power. Luke calls Annas the high priest (Luk 3:2; Act 4:6).

Josephus tells us that Annas had 5 sons who served as high priests.
Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1).
Their names were:
  • Eleazar
  • Jonathan
  • Theophilus
  • Ananus
  • Matthias
Caiaphas had married Annas' daughter and served as high priest between Eleazar and Jonathan, during the time of this parable and Jesus' crucifixion. Josephus also states that Ananus (the younger) belonged to the Sadducee sect (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1).

Caiaphas fits the position of the rich man in this story: he is wealthy, he has 5 brothers-in-law, he is part of the ruling class (dressed in purple), and at least one of his brothers-in-law probably denies the resurrection.

Jesus told parables against the Pharisees elsewhere (Luk 18:10), and the Pharisees were even aware of this (Mat 21:45).

Interestingly, when Jesus had resurrected Lazarus the chief priests and the Pharisees plot to kill Jesus (John 11:47-53) and Lazarus (John 12:10). They did not take to heart Jesus' earlier story. I think the subsequent resurrection of Lazarus adds credence to the idea that the rich man is Caiaphas. It is a warning to him—one he had not taken by that time.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Monday quote

If we become exclusively preoccupied with answering the questions people are asking, we may overlook the fact that they often ask the wrong questions and need to be helped to ask the right ones.

John Stott (1921–2011), Between Two Worlds.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Drawn by the Father

John 6:44 is viewed by many to teach that God elects specific men to salvation. It is favoured by Calvinists as supporting their theology. While a Calvinist interpretation can be maintained, this interpretation does not seem to fit with several other passages where we are commanded to choose service to God. Further the entire pericope offers other challenges in interpretation which may indicate that further considerations need to be given to understanding this passage.

John 6:43–44 in the ESV states
Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
There is discussion on what the word "draws" means. I do not intend to comment on this in depth. From what I currently understand, the view that "drawing" is something that originates in the subject. This seems reasonable for inanimate objects, especially given that they are unable to actively resist such drawing. It may not be that the same meaning is intrinsic to objects of will. In English a magnetic draws iron filings irresistibly, but a person draws another person resistibly. The same word is understood to be deterministic or non-deterministic depending on the ability of the object to resist. Whether ηελκυο can be understood the same way I cannot answer.

But I wish to suggest an alternative possibility in interpretation here.

Starting with the larger context before focusing on the smaller; what is striking in John is how often Jesus refers to God the Father. Much of the book involves Jesus explaining his identity in the Father. The word "father" occurs over 100 times in John, most of which refers to God. At the beginning of John we see Jesus' intimate relationship with the Father (John 1:14,18). Jesus is upset with how his Father's house is treated (John 2:16). Later we learn that the Father has given all things to the Son,
For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:34-36)
Then Jesus informs the Samaritan woman that it is not important where one's fathers worshipped, rather that one worships the Father (John 4:21-24).

Jesus is opposed by the Jewish leaders for calling God his Father thus identifying himself with God (John 5:17-18). Jesus explains that he only does what the Father does, that the Father loves the Son, that the Father reveals to the Son what he himself is doing.

There is a strong emphasis on both the fatherhood of God and the relationship of the Father with the Son. Later the Jews try to stone Jesus associating himself with God the Father (John 10).

After feeding the crowds bread Jesus says that he is the true bread (John 6). Then Jesus gives a long speech about who he is. Jesus says the following. Red represents Jesus, blue the Father.
  • Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.
  • This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." 
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
  • I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 
  • All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 
  • For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
  • For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
  • Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
  • It is written in the Prophets, 'And they will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me
  • not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
  • I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
  • Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.
  • This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."
  • Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
  • But there are some of you who do not believe. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.
Jesus draws parallels between manna and himself. The Father gave manna to sustain the Israelites in the desert, ie. to give them life; but the Father gives eternal life thru Jesus who is the true bread.

Jesus is saying that if you can see the Father in his provision of the bread, you should recognise Jesus because he is the greater bread.

In this context we see that those who recognise who Jesus is do so because they already know the Father. If they do not recognise Jesus, they do not really know the Father. They may know the story about the manna in the desert, but this story points to Jesus; if they really know the Father who sent manna they will see the true manna.

If we grasp this is the focus of Jesus' discourse here, we can see that when Jesus says that the Father draws men to Jesus, the Father is drawing those who already know him (God who provided the manna) to Jesus. It is not so much that the Father is drawing people who don't know God to Jesus; he is drawing those who know him to meet his Son.

People are not outside being drawn irresistibly inside, they are inside and gaining the Son.

This makes sense of the last line (v. 64). They do not believe and therefore God does not draw them to the Son.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Monday quote

The Christian world-view, or, to use the technical term, the truth, does not dispute that empirical facts are empirical facts any more than it disputes that the outside skin of a red apple is red.

What it disputes is that there is no meat and no core to the apple, and no seeds that bring forth more life: Christianity disputes that the shallow surface appearance is all the reality that there is.

John C. Wright

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Seeing our own limitations

Previously I have written that I do not think that we can have a too high a view of Scripture. Emulating Jesus' view of Scripture should be our goal. This does not mean that we worship the Bible—we worship God; yet we should consider that what the Bible says is what God says. For those who do hold the Bible in high regard, the temptation to inappropriate veneration of the Bible is probably not the greatest concern, and it may not even be that common. What is more likely to trouble scriptural infallibilists and inerrantists is their lack of clarity on their own limitations. Limitations in interpreting what the Bible does actually mean; lack of awareness of their cultural biases; failure to grasp context, especially hidden context; and difficulty in applying Scripture to life circumstances.

Related to this last point, we may not just lack insight into general application, but to the specifics of other people's situations. Dale Ralph Davis makes an astute observation,
Those who hold a high view of the Bible's authority sometimes hold a high view of their own ability to assess people's circumstances and to prescribe solutions. (The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts, p. 108)
We can have a high view of Scripture without having a high view of our ability to interpret it, or our ability to find correct application of Scripture. Further, we may not know enough about the situations of others to assess rightly. Davis makes his comments in the context of Elisha not having prophetic knowledge of the Shunummite woman's situation (2 Kings 4). Likewise, Davis suggests, we must be aware of our own limitations,
Like Elisha, where is the shame in admitting the Lord has not given us light on a matter and that we are reduced to begging him in prayer?
This is not to say that everyone can claim to have extenuating circumstances which rendors them immune to scriptural admonition; rather this is addressed to those who would give advice—that they may choose humility.

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