The Significance of Singleness

A BOOK REPORT

on

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SINGLENESS

(Baker Academic, 2018)

by

CHRISTINA S. HITCHCOCK

marriage mandate

A review by Brett Best

January, 2019

THE BOTTOM LINE

            According to the subtitle, Hitchcock’s book promises to be “A Theological Vision for the Future of the Church.”  It does not deliver on that promise.  Instead, it is an overreaction to the “marriage mandate movement” in evangelical Christianity.  The author is not content to set singleness and marriage on a level playing field but seeks to tip the balance to the assumption that singleness is an inherently more spiritual situation.  (Full disclosure: she is married with children.)

IN THE AUTHOR’S OWN WORDS – STATEMENTS OF THESIS

            Characterizing the usual evangelical position she wrote, “Thus marriage presents both an appealing lifestyle and a powerful picture of who God is and what he is doing while singleness does neither.” (p. 7)

“Singleness is a sign not of loneliness but of perfected community.” (p. 33)

“Although Protestants do not consider marriage to be a sacrament, many still treat it as if it were one.” (p. 78)

“The true ground of authority in the church is always God and the gifting of the Holy Spirit.  This direct link to Christ through the Holy Spirit is made clearer in single people than in married people because single people have fewer natural relations to whom we might attribute their authority.  The church needs single people to remind us that our own commissioner is God.” (p. 124)

BY THE BOOK – MY REACTIONS TO CHAPTERS

“INTRODUCTION”

            The introduction oversells the purpose of the book, devoting too much attention to the author’s personal life.  It’s better skipped, unless the reader has an interest in the author’s situation or curiosity about why the author feels this book “had to be written.”  As will be characteristic throughout the book, the author resorts to assertions of opinion as fact, stereotyping Evangelicalism, and unsubstantiated assertions of how the Church has “punted” on the subject of singleness.

1 = “WHY SINGLENESS?”

            Attempting to cure what the author identifies as a widespread, deep and long-standing bias against singleness, Hitchcock wields an uncritically assumed generalization as fact: that the Church (especially the Evangelical branch) has adopted the culture’s view of sexuality as a means of achieving maturity, even personhood.  This charge will be levied often in the book.  It’s ironic that liberal Christians consume and even champion our culture’s permissive view of sexuality but in these pages conservative Christians are accused of doing the same thing.

Hitchcock asserts that an exaltation of singleness as inherently more spiritual will open all kinds of doors, helping the Church better deal with all sexuality issues.  To Hitchcock this is apparently self-evident as nothing resembling proof or explaining the points of such a process is offered.

What she calls the Marriage Mandate is the bogeyman.  It serves the author as a handy straw dog that she knocks over repeatedly instead of substantiating exactly how sanctifying singleness is going put the Church in a better state.

I wonder if the author is not guilty of over-correcting.  If she sought balance instead of making the same error on the side of singleness as she alleges the Church has made on the side of marriage, the whole would be more palatable.  As it is, the author offers hand-wringing and complaint in excess and little vision or practicable action.

2 = “MACRINA (SINGLENESS AND COMMUNITY)”

            The life of St. Macrina serves the author as an excellent example of the principles she wants to will in to existence, but I wonder at the historicity of the accounts she cites.  Macrina’s story may be exemplary, but are the sources reliable enough to cite as proofs?

Hitchcock’s thinking is binary; either singleness or marriage must be exalted as “the” spiritual condition?  The more logical assumption would be that neither state is inherently more spiritual, they are simply different.  Each status carries advantages and disadvantages.  Why rely on  “either…or” thinking to prop up pedagogy exalting singleness?

The idea of “updating” the Creation Mandate to reflect all of biblical revelation is good, but it is only explored as it supports Hitchcock’s thesis.  That notion should be treated with the same skepticism that is needed when the Left talks about the US Constitution as a “living document,” which serves as an excuse for putting modern words in the mouths of the Founders.

3 = “PERPETUA (SINGLENESS AND IDENTITY)”

            This chapter starts with the bare facts of Perpetua as a first century martyr who had an infant child at the time of her death.  To that the author adds speculation that suits her thesis.  It becomes a tangential discourse on the practice of baptism in the early church.  The relevance of the baptism study is Hitchcock’s assertion that baptism establishes a new Christian identity.  Because the father of Perpetua’s child is unnamed, Perpetua’s assumed baptism cements her identity as a single person.  This is an example of the forced, tortured “logic” that pervades the book.  Repeatedly asserting things as true does not make them true.

The chapter has so little to do with the topic of singleness I wonder why the author worked so hard to shoehorn it in.  It is the most obvious example of bending evidence and rhetoric to prop up her thesis.  In each of the three “historical” chapters I see the usual postmodern assumption that narrative trumps rhetoric.   In this case, the narrative has been tweaked to make it better suit the thesis.

4 = “LOTTIE MOON (SINGLENESS AND AUTHORITY)”

            Hitchcock offers Lottie Moon and the success of her Chinese mission as proof that singleness is the preferred qualification for ministry.  Had Hitchcock ever offered her assertions with some qualification such as “in some situations,” one might find more agreement.  As it is, anecdotes are not evidence, narrative does not trump rhetoric (it merely illustrates it), and one does not achieve correction by offering the opposite in exactly the same position/proportion as the problem.

In this chapter, the author’s point about Miss Moon’s career is held until the last page.  This is a suspect practice, deferring scrutiny.

Lottie Moon is the most verifiable of the three narratives and Hitchcock does a good job of demonstrating that she was an exceptional person.  However, that cuts both ways; her exceptionality logically argues against making her experience the basis of the generalities Hitchcock endorses in this book.  Clearly, not every single person is going to duplicate Lottie Moon’s influence and success.

5 = “HOW SINGLENESS CAN SHAPE US INTO BETTER THEOLOGIANS”

            The final chapter is the weakest.  Hitchcock’s hand-wringing over Evangelical “idolizing” of marriage is offered as reason enough to swap the two-person idol for the single person idol the author proposes.  The empty promise that singleness is inherently more spiritual is not logical or biblical.  Hitchcock has not provided us with a vision – theological or otherwise.

CONCLUSION:  AVOIDABLE

            Apart from the shoehorned section on first century baptism practices, there is little of value here.  The book is a journal article that has been inflated to fill 100+ pages.  While there is much to criticize about the American Church’s treatment of the subject of marriage, there is nothing practical and little theological value in Hitchcock’s treatment of the subject.  A more nuanced view seeing marriage and singleness as both having potential and pitfalls would be more logical and more biblical, and therefore, more helpful.  We ought to seek ways to honor and support persons who seek God within their marital status, whatever it may be.  For what it’s worth, my advice is to avoid spending any time on The Significance of Singleness.

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He’s Something Else

liverbirds

Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) as my resource for this article.  This is the second of three articles in a series.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase “he’s something else” (the title of today’s message) can mean, “unusual; extremely good or extremely bad.”  (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/something-else) As I’m pointing to Jesus and saying “He’s something else,” I feel it’s necessary to make it perfectly plain that Jesus is SO unusual He’s one of a kind, and so extremely good He’s God.  So – make no mistake about that.

I also want to make certain that no one thinks I’m applying to Jesus the hit song “He’s Something Else,” made famous by the all-girl band, the Liverbirds.  Like some other rock group I won’t mention, the Liverbirds were from Liverpool, England, performing from 1963-1968.  They took their name from a mythical bird, a symbol of Liverpool.  In 2009 Irene Cara covered the song, changing the title to “My Baby.”  That song has nothing to do with Jesus either.

Now that we’ve got all that settled, let me tell you what I DO mean when I say “He’s something else.”  We will continue our look at Jesus in Revelation one to see Him in a different light, to emphasize the divine side of His absolutely unique existence as both God and man.  We will also, along the way, be reminded that when He comes the second time, it will not be as a helpless peasant child, but as the All-conquering Hero, the One who restores creation to its perfection, according to the plan of God the Father.  This is the second in a series of three messages to view Jesus in this way.  Yes, I think it’s that important.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

  1. The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a powerful being.

REVIEW

Vs.  4 + 8 = HIM WHO IS, WHO WAS, WHO IS TO COME.

  1. 4 = He is enthroned = He exercises His authority.
  2. 5 = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS = He is trustworthy and truthful.
  3. 5 = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD = He leads us to life.
  4. 5 = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH = He triumphs.
  5. 6 = He MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER = He delegates power for service.
  6. 6 = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER!
  7. 7 = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS = Just as He ascended.

NEW

Verse seven = ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH WILL MOURN BECAUSE OF HIM.  This sounds very negative but consider this: in Revelation, a SIMILAR phrase – INHABITANTS OF THE EARTH – is a euphemism for wicked, self-condemned, unbelieving folk (Revelation 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8).  They are OF THE EARTH, not of heaven in their spirituality and moral life.

They will MOURN because only at the end they will see they’ve rejected Jesus at their peril.  They may cry out, but it will be too late.  Zechariah 12:10-14 speaks of mourning, but there it is a cry of repentance provoked by the Holy Spirit, not at all what John records.

Verse eight = Jesus is the ALPHA & OMEGA, FIRST & LAST (v. 17). The words “I AM” remind us of God’s declaration to Moses, naming Himself as the “I AM,” or Yahweh.  ALPHA/FIRST refers to Jesus activity in the creation of the world (see Colossians 1:16).  He is the source, the beginning of all that exists.  OMEGA/LAST = His Second Coming is the event signaling the end of the universe, Jesus is also the end of all that exists.  This proclamation is repeated twice at the end of John’s vision; Revelation 21:6 & 22:13.

Verse Eight = Jesus is THE ALMIGHTY.  This is how the Hebrew words Yahweh Sebaoth are translated; “Lord of Hosts.”  The Leader of the Angels is one aspect of God’s complete power over His creation.  God is all powerful but He chooses to not use His power to negate the free will of the people He’s created.  Instead, He relies on the guiding power of love.  We do well to follow His example, using love to influence others.

Verse thirteen = “LIKE A SON OF MAN.”  According to the Gospels, Jesus used the title “Son of Man” more than any other to refer to Himself.  It is important we understand this choice.  It may sound less powerful than “Son of God,” but it is a title no less divine.  The title SON OF MAN originates in Ezekiel 2:1, where an angel addressed the prophet in this way and repeated it dozens of times in the book.  In Daniel 7:13, a figure endowed with divine power is said to be LIKE A SON OF MAN.  In Daniel 8:17, Daniel himself is called a SON OF MAN.  This phrase is repeated in Revelation 1:13 in a description of Jesus and in 14:14 as a description of an angel.

This title is used for prophets, angels and Jesus Christ.  It refers to someone endowed with a message from God and the divine power to make it known to all people in miraculous ways.  I assume Jesus saw this as His ministry and that is why He referred to Himself in this way.

Verse thirteen = He was DRESSED IN A ROBE REACHING DOWN TO HIS FEET.  Wearing a full-length robe was a sign of wealth and/or authority.  Persons so dressed did not do menial work for a living; they would be the ancient equivalent of what we call a “white collar” laborer.  This is yet another symbol of Jesus’ personal authority.

Verse thirteen = WITH A GOLD SASH AROUND HIS CHEST.  In Old Testament times, the high priest wore a gold breastplate adorned with twelve semi-precious stones.  Perhaps this SASH is meant to remind us that Jesus is our High Priest.

In Revelation 15:6 the seven angels who carried the plagues wore gold sashes.  The image of a gold sash is an ancient equivalent of having a badge or ID.  It verified the person wearing it had authority.  Whether high priest or angel, they represented God and enacted His will.

Verse fourteen = HIS HEAD AND HAIR WERE WHITE LIKE WOOL, AS WHITE AS SNOW.  White is a biblical symbol of purity.  The fact that His head is white indicates a purity of Jesus’ inner man.  This also directly associates Jesus with the Ancient of Days described in Daniel 7:9, whose head of hair is also WHITE LIKE WOOL and whose clothing was as WHITE AS SNOW.

Verse fourteen = HIS EYES WERE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE.  Fire is, among other things, a biblical symbol of judgment.  That His eyes are ablaze indicates that Jesus sees accurately and judges fairly.  This description is repeated in Revelation 2:18 & 19:12, marking it as important.

The phrase EYES OF THE LORD is repeated over 100 times in Scripture, it refers to God’s omniscience, His attention to His people, and whether or not they obey His moral law.  For example, in 2 Chronicles 16:9 it is written, FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD RANGE ALL OVER THE EARTH TO STRENGTHEN THOSE WHOSE HEARTS ARE FULLY COMMITTED TO HIM.  This is also seen in Hebrews 4:13; NOTHING IN ALL CREATION IS HIDDEN FROM GOD’S SIGHT.  EVERYTHING IS UNCOVERED AND LAID BARE BEFORE THE EYES OF HIM TO WHOM WE MUST GIVE AN ACCOUNT.

Verse fifteen = HIS FEET WERE LIKE BRONZE GLOWING IN A FURNACE.  FEET were considered the lowliest part of the human body; washing the feet of others was done by the lowest slave.  To sit at someone’s feet was a place for a learner, showing their humility before their teacher (Deuteronomy 33:3; Luke 10:39).  To be under someone’s feet was to be utterly defeated (Joshua 10:24; Psalm 8:6).  Given this cultural understanding, how extreme is this statement? HOW BEAUTIFUL ON THE MOUNTAINS ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD TIDINGS, WHO PROCLAIM SALVATION, WHO SAY TO THOSE IN ZION, “YOUR GOD REIGNS!” (Isaiah 52:7).  I mean, beautiful FEET?  Really?

The prophet Ezekiel described FOUR LIVING CREATURES he saw in a vision.  One detail is that they had feet that BEAMED LIKE BURNISHED BRONZE (1:7), but theirs were calf-like (hooved?).

In the Bible, BRONZE is a sacred metal.  Many of the furnishings of the tabernacle were to be made of bronze.  When a plague of snakes killed many of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, God commanded Moses to raise up a bronze snake and all who beheld it were saved (Numbers 21).

GLOWING IN A FURNACE = a FURNANCE is a biblical symbol of judgment, a place where fire melted metals to refine them.

Put all these elements together and in this one detail you get a picture of God defeating the enemies of His people, one of the things that will happen in connection with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote of this in 1 Corinthians 15:25 = FOR HE MUST REIGN UNTIL HE HAS PUT ALL ENEMIES UNDER HIS FEET.

Verse fifteen = HIS VOICE WAS LIKE THE SOUND OF RUSHING WATERS.  In Ezekiel 43, the prophet was given a vision of the glory of God returning to His temple.  He wrote that the VOICE of the glory WAS LIKE THE ROAR OF RUSHING WATERS; a sound that commanded attention.  Like a mighty waterfall, no one should miss the message of God or His commands.  This image requires us to sit up and take notice!

Verse sixteen = IN HIS RIGHT HAND HE HELD SEVEN STARS.  The RIGHT HAND is a symbol of authority; a king’s scepter was held in his right hand.  Verse twenty explains the SEVEN STARS as being the ANGELS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES to whom the letters of chapters 2+3 are addressed.  In some way, the angels represent these churches and are responsible for their condition.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

          “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” is the witness of the writer of Proverbs (9:10).  “Fear” in this sense is the realization that God is all-powerful.  He can do as He wills and it is only because He wills good for us that we are able to stand.

My prayer is that this study of John’s vision will reintroduce some awe and wonder, some reverence and holy fear back into our conception of Jesus.  While He is the Gentle Shepherd and the Great Physician, He is also the Conquering King of Kings and Divine Judge.  Both sides of Jesus are necessary, not just for biblical accuracy, but for a balanced view that promotes salvation.

 

RESOURCES:

Harper’s New Testament Commentaries, G.B. Caird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) as my resource for this article.  This is the second of three articles in a series.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase “he’s something else” (the title of today’s message) can mean, “unusual; extremely good or extremely bad.”  (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/something-else) As I’m pointing to Jesus and saying “He’s something else,” I feel it’s necessary to make it perfectly plain that Jesus is SO unusual He’s one of a kind, and so extremely good He’s God.  So – make no mistake about that.

I also want to make certain that no one thinks I’m applying to Jesus the hit song “He’s Something Else,” made famous by the all-girl band, the Liverbirds.  Like some other rock group I won’t mention, the Liverbirds were from Liverpool, England, performing from 1963-1968.  They took their name from a mythical bird, a symbol of Liverpool.  In 2009 Irene Cara covered the song, changing the title to “My Baby.”  That song has nothing to do with Jesus either.

Now that we’ve got all that settled, let me tell you what I DO mean when I say “He’s something else.”  We will continue our look at Jesus in Revelation one to see Him in a different light, to emphasize the divine side of His absolutely unique existence as both God and man.  We will also, along the way, be reminded that when He comes the second time, it will not be as a helpless peasant child, but as the All-conquering Hero, the One who restores creation to its perfection, according to the plan of God the Father.  This is the second in a series of three messages to view Jesus in this way.  Yes, I think it’s that important.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

  1. The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a powerful being.

REVIEW

Vs.  4 + 8 = HIM WHO IS, WHO WAS, WHO IS TO COME.

  1. 4 = He is enthroned = He exercises His authority.
  2. 5 = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS = He is trustworthy and truthful.
  3. 5 = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD = He leads us to life.
  4. 5 = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH = He triumphs.
  5. 6 = He MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER = He delegates power for service.
  6. 6 = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER!
  7. 7 = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS = Just as He ascended.

NEW

Verse seven = ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH WILL MOURN BECAUSE OF HIM.  This sounds very negative but consider this: in Revelation, a SIMILAR phrase – INHABITANTS OF THE EARTH – is a euphemism for wicked, self-condemned, unbelieving folk (Revelation 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8).  They are OF THE EARTH, not of heaven in their spirituality and moral life.

They will MOURN because only at the end they will see they’ve rejected Jesus at their peril.  They may cry out, but it will be too late.  Zechariah 12:10-14 speaks of mourning, but there it is a cry of repentance provoked by the Holy Spirit, not at all what John records.

Verse eight = Jesus is the ALPHA & OMEGA, FIRST & LAST (v. 17). The words “I AM” remind us of God’s declaration to Moses, naming Himself as the “I AM,” or Yahweh.  ALPHA/FIRST refers to Jesus activity in the creation of the world (see Colossians 1:16).  He is the source, the beginning of all that exists.  OMEGA/LAST = His Second Coming is the event signaling the end of the universe, Jesus is also the end of all that exists.  This proclamation is repeated twice at the end of John’s vision; Revelation 21:6 & 22:13.

Verse Eight = Jesus is THE ALMIGHTY.  This is how the Hebrew words Yahweh Sebaoth are translated; “Lord of Hosts.”  The Leader of the Angels is one aspect of God’s complete power over His creation.  God is all powerful but He chooses to not use His power to negate the free will of the people He’s created.  Instead, He relies on the guiding power of love.  We do well to follow His example, using love to influence others.

Verse thirteen = “LIKE A SON OF MAN.”  According to the Gospels, Jesus used the title “Son of Man” more than any other to refer to Himself.  It is important we understand this choice.  It may sound less powerful than “Son of God,” but it is a title no less divine.  The title SON OF MAN originates in Ezekiel 2:1, where an angel addressed the prophet in this way and repeated it dozens of times in the book.  In Daniel 7:13, a figure endowed with divine power is said to be LIKE A SON OF MAN.  In Daniel 8:17, Daniel himself is called a SON OF MAN.  This phrase is repeated in Revelation 1:13 in a description of Jesus and in 14:14 as a description of an angel.

This title is used for prophets, angels and Jesus Christ.  It refers to someone endowed with a message from God and the divine power to make it known to all people in miraculous ways.  I assume Jesus saw this as His ministry and that is why He referred to Himself in this way.

Verse thirteen = He was DRESSED IN A ROBE REACHING DOWN TO HIS FEET.  Wearing a full-length robe was a sign of wealth and/or authority.  Persons so dressed did not do menial work for a living; they would be the ancient equivalent of what we call a “white collar” laborer.  This is yet another symbol of Jesus’ personal authority.

Verse thirteen = WITH A GOLD SASH AROUND HIS CHEST.  In Old Testament times, the high priest wore a gold breastplate adorned with twelve semi-precious stones.  Perhaps this SASH is meant to remind us that Jesus is our High Priest.

In Revelation 15:6 the seven angels who carried the plagues wore gold sashes.  The image of a gold sash is an ancient equivalent of having a badge or ID.  It verified the person wearing it had authority.  Whether high priest or angel, they represented God and enacted His will.

Verse fourteen = HIS HEAD AND HAIR WERE WHITE LIKE WOOL, AS WHITE AS SNOW.  White is a biblical symbol of purity.  The fact that His head is white indicates a purity of Jesus’ inner man.  This also directly associates Jesus with the Ancient of Days described in Daniel 7:9, whose head of hair is also WHITE LIKE WOOL and whose clothing was as WHITE AS SNOW.

Verse fourteen = HIS EYES WERE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE.  Fire is, among other things, a biblical symbol of judgment.  That His eyes are ablaze indicates that Jesus sees accurately and judges fairly.  This description is repeated in Revelation 2:18 & 19:12, marking it as important.

The phrase EYES OF THE LORD is repeated over 100 times in Scripture, it refers to God’s omniscience, His attention to His people, and whether or not they obey His moral law.  For example, in 2 Chronicles 16:9 it is written, FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD RANGE ALL OVER THE EARTH TO STRENGTHEN THOSE WHOSE HEARTS ARE FULLY COMMITTED TO HIM.  This is also seen in Hebrews 4:13; NOTHING IN ALL CREATION IS HIDDEN FROM GOD’S SIGHT.  EVERYTHING IS UNCOVERED AND LAID BARE BEFORE THE EYES OF HIM TO WHOM WE MUST GIVE AN ACCOUNT.

Verse fifteen = HIS FEET WERE LIKE BRONZE GLOWING IN A FURNACE.  FEET were considered the lowliest part of the human body; washing the feet of others was done by the lowest slave.  To sit at someone’s feet was a place for a learner, showing their humility before their teacher (Deuteronomy 33:3; Luke 10:39).  To be under someone’s feet was to be utterly defeated (Joshua 10:24; Psalm 8:6).  Given this cultural understanding, how extreme is this statement? HOW BEAUTIFUL ON THE MOUNTAINS ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD TIDINGS, WHO PROCLAIM SALVATION, WHO SAY TO THOSE IN ZION, “YOUR GOD REIGNS!” (Isaiah 52:7).  I mean, beautiful FEET?  Really?

The prophet Ezekiel described FOUR LIVING CREATURES he saw in a vision.  One detail is that they had feet that BEAMED LIKE BURNISHED BRONZE (1:7), but theirs were calf-like (hooved?).

In the Bible, BRONZE is a sacred metal.  Many of the furnishings of the tabernacle were to be made of bronze.  When a plague of snakes killed many of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, God commanded Moses to raise up a bronze snake and all who beheld it were saved (Numbers 21).

GLOWING IN A FURNACE = a FURNANCE is a biblical symbol of judgment, a place where fire melted metals to refine them.

Put all these elements together and in this one detail you get a picture of God defeating the enemies of His people, one of the things that will happen in connection with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote of this in 1 Corinthians 15:25 = FOR HE MUST REIGN UNTIL HE HAS PUT ALL ENEMIES UNDER HIS FEET.

Verse fifteen = HIS VOICE WAS LIKE THE SOUND OF RUSHING WATERS.  In Ezekiel 43, the prophet was given a vision of the glory of God returning to His temple.  He wrote that the VOICE of the glory WAS LIKE THE ROAR OF RUSHING WATERS; a sound that commanded attention.  Like a mighty waterfall, no one should miss the message of God or His commands.  This image requires us to sit up and take notice!

Verse sixteen = IN HIS RIGHT HAND HE HELD SEVEN STARS.  The RIGHT HAND is a symbol of authority; a king’s scepter was held in his right hand.  Verse twenty explains the SEVEN STARS as being the ANGELS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES to whom the letters of chapters 2+3 are addressed.  In some way, the angels represent these churches and are responsible for their condition.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” is the witness of the writer of Proverbs (9:10).  “Fear” in this sense is the realization that God is all-powerful.  He can do as He wills and it is only because He wills good for us that we are able to stand.

My prayer is that this study of John’s vision will reintroduce some awe and wonder, some reverence and holy fear back into our conception of Jesus.  While He is the Gentle Shepherd and the Great Physician, He is also the Conquering King of Kings and Divine Judge.  Both sides of Jesus are necessary, not just for biblical accuracy, but for a balanced view that promotes salvation.

 

RESOURCES:

Harper’s New Testament Commentaries, G.B. Caird

a

 

Superman or Son of Man?

superjc

Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

The comic book character Superman turned 80 on April 18th last year.  Did anybody celebrate?  Imagine the effect if he used his “super breath” to blow out the candles!

Twelve years ago the movie “Superman Returns” had a line in it that got me thinking about the subject of Superman and Jesus.  From the first time I heard it, it sounded like a paraphrase from the Bible and it offended me to hear it used that way.

The line is spoken by Sir Anthony Hopkins, voicing Superman’s father, Jor-El.  As Superman orbited the earth, we hear Jor-El say, “They are a good people, Kal-el, or they want to be.  But they need someone to lead them, to show them the way.  That is why I have sent you to them, my only son.”

The director of this picture, Bryan Singer, is quoted as saying, “Superman is the Jesus Christ of superheroes.”  This is evidence of many intentional parallels between Superman and Jesus as a means of making the comic character more popular.

Ironically, the character of Superman was created by two Jewish boys, Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster.  A compelling argument can be made that Superman was created as a counter-point to the growing threat of Nazi Germany in 1938.  I’ve read that Superman was modeled after Moses and seems designed to counter the Nazi ideal of an ubermensch, a member of the Master Race.

Superman may have started out being modeled on Moses, but there’s no doubt his handlers have turned a New Testament corner since then.  I have compiled a list of parallels between Jesus and Superman.  There’s too much evidence there to explain it in any way other than a deliberate attempt by those who’ve handled the character for EIGHTY YEARS to wrap Jesus in blue tights and a red cape.  It may be shrewd marketing, but I don’t like it and between the two – Superman and the Savior – there’s no question who’s real and who’s more powerful.

In order to deepen our understanding of Jesus, we’re going to use this occasion to take a look at Him in a slightly different light – the supernatural portrayal of Jesus in Revelation.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

  1. The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a powerful being.

Verses four and eight = HIM WHO IS, AND WHO WAS, AND WHO IS TO COME.  This expression of praise is offered by the FOUR LIVING CREATURES to God the Father, seated on His throne in Revelation 4:8.  It refers to the present, past, and future – all three tenses of time – as a way of saying God is eternal.  As God, the Son of God existed before His birth in this world, He lived in a particular era of human history, and He will come again to this world to complete His victory.

Verse four = He is enthroned.  He is KING OF KINGS in 1 Timothy 6:15.  That same title is used in Revelation 17:14 and 19:16.  This title is a way of saying Jesus has the right to rule over all creation and that His authority and power have no limits.

Verse five = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS.  Palm 89:37 refers to the moon as a FAITHFUL WITNESS God set in the sky.  It is a dependable predictor of tides and is regular in its phases.  Revelation 2:13 refers to Antipas as a FAITHFUL WITNESS.  In John 14:6, Jesus referred to Himself as THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.

Taken together, this is a way of saying as the moon is dependable and predictable in its appearance and effects, Jesus can be trusted to tell the truth about God the Father.  In fact, theologians refer to Jesus as the “Personal Revelation” of God.  In His words and deeds Jesus taught and demonstrated God’s begin and His character.

Verse five = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD.  Throughout the Bible, the FIRSTBORN always gets special treatment and the “first fruits” are the most special part of the harvest, offered to God in gratitude.  Paul applied this to Jesus’ resurrection in Colossians 1:18; AND HE IS THE HEAD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH; HE IS THE BEGINNING AND THE FIRSTBORN FROM AMONG THE DEAD, SO THAT IN EVERYTHING HE MIGHT HAVE THE SUPREMACY.  In 1 Corinthians 15:20 Paul similarly described Jesus as the FIRSTFRUITS of the dead.  All this reminds us that Jesus has led the way into eternal life.  Our resurrection will be like His; if we want to know more about our life after death, we need to study His.

Verse five = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH.   THE KINGS OF THE EARTH is an expression is found four more times in the Revelation (6:15; 17:2; 17:18; 18:3), each time denoting the rulers of worldly kingdoms that have allied themselves to resist God.  The fact that Jesus is RULER over them is not meant to imply that He is responsible for their bad behavior, only that His rule is complete.  Though THE KINGS OF THE EARTH oppose Jesus, it is a futile gesture; His power is irresistible.

To His disciples enduring persecution, this is welcome news.  Though the KINGS of this world seem to hold power, God is in charge; He will sustain His people.

Verse six = He has MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER.  KINGDOM = Because Jesus Christ is RULER over all, He is able to make us part of His KINGDOM.  We are called out of earthly “kingdoms” to be obedient to Jesus’ will first and foremost.

PRIESTS = Way back in Exodus 19:6, Moses told the people that God’s will was to make them a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS.   This promise is mentioned again in Revelation 5:10, virtually word-for-word. This promise is unusual because only rarely in the history of God’s people have priests also been kings.  But that’s part of the point – when Jesus comes again, the world will be set back in the order God intended.  The New Testament makes it plain that all believers are PRIESTS and no longer need another human being to intercede between us and God

The purpose of all this is plainly spelled out: TO SERVE our GOD AND FATHER.  We do not rule on our own authority or serve as priests on our own will.  Instead, God delegates this power to us so that we can serve Him.

Verse six = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER! This verse reads like a hymn of praise.  It is repeated as such in Revelation 19:1.  It is here to remind us that the focus of true service is never on self, but is always, only on God.  He deserves the GLORY and alone possesses the POWER.

Verse seven = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS.  In Mark 13:26 and Luke 21:27 Jesus predicted that at the end of this age, the world would see Him appear in the CLOUDS with great glory and power.  Psalm 68:4 locates God in the clouds, a symbol of His rule over the Earth; SING TO GOD, SING IN PRAISE OF HIS NAME, EXTOL HIM WHO RIDES ON THE CLOUDS; REJOICE BEFORE HIM – HIS NAME IS THE LORD.  (see also Psalm 104:3).  In Ezekiel 30:3, the prophet linked the appearance of CLOUDS with THE DAY OF THE LORD, which is the Old Testament’s way of referring to the events related to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  In the book of Exodus, God directed His people on their travels with a PILLAR OF CLOUD during the daylight hours and by means of a pillar of fire at night (13:21-22).  In the DNL 7 vision the Son of Man came from the CLOUDS and is clearly God; this also predicts how Jesus will appear to us. At the end of the Gospel of Luke and the beginning of the book of Acts, we are told that Jesus left His disciples and returned to heaven, disappearing among the clouds.  Angels standing nearby promised that He would return the way He’s left: among the CLOUDS (Acts 1:9-11).

This expression looks ahead to the day when this promise is kept: Jesus’ Second Coming.  It is reassuring to know this will happen; it can happen any time.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

We’re so entrenched in the “Gentle Shepherd” version of Jesus that we’re troubled by John’s depiction of Jesus.  It’s as if we expect the Second Coming to arrive as a gentle tap on the shoulder, followed by an apology for disturbing us.  It’s ludicrous that we should expect the sudden appearance of Jesus as conquering king to be meek and mild, accompanied by a gentle swell of violin music.

The end of the universe as we know it will be with a bang, not a whimper.  John’s vision of the ultimate triumph of Christ should mobilize us to action, not bore us into a little nap!

This is important because Jesus’ Second Advent will occur without any warning other than what we’ve been given, so preparedness is the issue here.  Are you ready?  Are you helping others become ready?

Readiness comes after accepting God’s gracious offer of salvation.  It is doing the daily work of prayer, study of Scripture, and loving one another.  We demonstrate our eagerness for heaven by making earth as much like heaven as we can.

Resources:

Message #1172

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce

The Studious Type

Please read John 5:36-40 & 2 Timothy 2:14-19 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare this article.

In a Dec. 16, 2018 article in The Jerusalem Post, Yafit Ovadia reported that a digitized time capsule will be on board an unmanned spacecraft when it is launched to the Moon this spring.  The time capsule will contain Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a traveler’s prayer “Tefilat Haderech,” the Bible, the Israeli flag, maps of the State of Israel, the national anthem, a photograph of Ilan Ramon (Israel’s pioneer astronaut who died on the Space Shuttle Columbia), and pictures drawn by Israeli children. The spacecraft will be carried by into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, making Israel the fourth country after the US, the USSR and China to attempt a lunar landing mission.

Israel will spend $95 million to put the unmanned lander on the moon, which is a bargain compared to NASA’s Apollo 11, which cost the US close to $9.9 billion in 1969.  80% of the funding was raised from private donors.

<https://www.jpost.com/Jpost-Tech/Business-and-Innovation/Space-IL-to-launch-first-spacecraft-to-the-moon-574579?utm_source=bg&utm_campaign=weeklybrief&gt;

I hope and pray the project is successful so afterwards I can say, “They can put a Bible on the moon; you can open one and read it!” There’s a great potential for sermons and exhortations to get people into t word of God!

Before we get started, let me clarify one thing.  We refer to Jesus as the Word of God (capital “W”) because He is the personal revelation of God to us.  In Jesus’ words & deeds we learn all we need to know to b saved.

We refer to the Bible as the word of God (small case “w”) to distinguish the specific revelation of God, the words on the page.   It may be a little confusing otherwise.  So I hope you can follow this: we must have the Word of God in our heart before we can truly understand and use the word of God.  A life-changing study of the Bible begins with a life that has already been changed by Jesus.

BIBLE or “BALONEY?”

(Which of the statements below are actually found in the Bible and which originate elsewhere?)

  1. “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
  2. “To the woman he said, ‘Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
  3. “I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by.”
  4. “The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.”
  5. “Do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you.”
  6. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.”
  7. “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”
  8. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.”
  9. “A wise king winnows out the wicked; he drives the threshing wheel over them.”

Jesus Christ is the Word of God we must know first.

  1. We don’t study the Bible to earn salvation (John 5:36-40).

CONTEXT: These verses are part of Jesus’ rebuke of JEWS who faulted Him for working a miracle on the Sabbath, as is spelled out in verse sixteen; SO, BECAUSE JESUS WAS DOING THESE THINGS ON THE SABBATH, THE JEWS PERSECUTED HIM.  In this portion of His reply Jesus revealed who He really was, attempting to persuade them that He had the authority to act in ways their version of the Law prohibited.  (Maybe you could say He pulled rank on them!)  He attempted to show them that He was their Messiah, the one whose coming had been foretold in the Scriptures they studied.  Toward the end he concluded, “YOU DON’T BELIEVE T ONE HE SENT” (v. 38).

COMMENT: Studying the Scriptures will not, by itself, make anyone right with God.

In verses 36-40 Jesus appealed to the witness of Scripture because they held the Scripture in high regard.  However, the problem was they had misused the Scriptures to justify their prejudice and excuse their sin.  They were good students in the sense that they DILIGENTLY studied God’s word.  Jesus gave them that compliment.           Unfortunately, they approached the Scriptures with a closed mind and a bad motive: “YOU THINK THAT BY THEM YOU POSSESS ETERNAL LIFE.”  In other words, they sought to master the word of God intellectually and morally and thereby earn or deserve eternal life.  They sought to provide for themselves a place in heaven.

This thinking is identified in one of their own authoritative writings, “The Sayings of the Fathers.”  Here are two examples:

“He who has acquired the words of the Law has acquired for himself life in the world to come.” (2:8)

“Great is the law for it gives to those who practice it life in this world and in the world to come.” (6:7)

The end result was self-condemnation.  Jesus said, “THESE ARE THE SCRIPTURES THAT TESTIFY ABOUT ME, YET YOU REFUSE TO COME TO ME TO HAVE LIFE” (vs. 39-40).  We’d like to think this sort of thing never happens in the Church, but it does.  People can study the Book without ever knowing the Author.  Of course, they will never get it right and will not enter heaven, but they may gain enough proficiency to fool themselves and/or fool others.  People search the bible for evidence supporting their theology, when the process is supposed to work the opposite way.

William Barclay warned, “[The Jewish religious leaders] did not humbly learn a theology from scripture; they used scripture to defend a theology which they themselves had produced.  There is still a danger we should use the Bible to prove our beliefs and not to test them.”

  1. We study the Bible to show we’ve received salvation (2 Timothy 2:14-19).

CONTEXT: Because he was a pastor, Paul challenged Timothy to hold himself to a higher standard, including biblical literacy.  Timothy’s best defense against false teachers, busybodies and other trouble-makers in the church is to know God’s word and hold fast to it.

COMMENT: Every follower of Jesus needs to increase their understanding and use of the Bible.  There is no other way except to study it.

Paul wrote that Timothy was to PRESENT himself to the church as a leader who met three important qualifications.

APPROVED.  The word literally meant “has passed the test.” It was used to refer to building materials that were inspected and worthy: it was a metal object refined by fire, a stone cut to the mason’s specifications.

WHO DOES NOT NEED TO BE ASHAMED.  Like the materials he uses, the builder’s craftsmanship is also evaluated and deemed worthy.

WHO CORRECTLY HANDLES THE WORD OF TRUTH.  The phrase CORRECTLY HANDLES pictures a farmer handling a plow, making a straight furrow or a builder whose wall is plumb or road straight.  This is a WORKMAN who faithfully studies the word of God in order to understand it truthfully, apply it rightly, and teach it in a way that makes genuine disciples of Jesus.

What is the difference between Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s?  Only a difference of focus; both talk about diligent study of the word.  Jesus approved only one use of the Bible; to receive salvation, not to create it.  He condemned self-righteousness.  Paul called Pastor Timothy to handle Scripture with extra care.  Timothy would not earn salvation by taking this care, but he would show others how to be saved by teaching Scripture in this way.  Taken together, these teachings commend the diligent study of God’s word, but only if you first know who Jesus Christ are and have accepted His gracious salvation by faith.

Jesus Christ is the Word of God we must know first.

          Though many of the Jewish religious leaders were excellent students of the Bible (most of them had memorized the Old Testament in its entirety!), Jesus condemned their failure to see the truth.  In order to know the truth, we must become more familiar with what God has revealed through daily study and practice.  To illustrate that fact, I now offer you the answers to the “Bible vs. Baloney” quiz.  Number one is a quote from Benjamin Franklin and number five is a quote attributed to Buddha.  If anyone says they can be found in the Bible, they’re feeding you baloney.  How did you do?

Doubt is not the great enemy of faith; self-sufficiency or self-righteousness is.  People who have doubts are testing their faith.  They possess at least the humility to confess they don’t have all the answers and are working to try to better understand.

People who think they have it figured out are self-deceived.  They know the words and actions that give an appearance of godliness, but because they have sought to achieve it on their own, they do not have life in Christ.

Because salvation is by grace, no self-reliant person will ever have it.  Being proud of one’s big brain or big heart prohibits a person from putting their trust in Christ.  William Barclay commented on this passage, “The function of the Bible is not to give life, but to point us to the One who can.”

Our attitude needs to be the same as the Apostle Peter.  On an occasion when many of His followers left Him, Jesus asked the twelve if they’d be leaving too.  Peter’s reply is instructive; he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life?”

Peter’s reply shows us two things we need to practice:

One; refuse to compromise on the word of God.  One of the core doctrines of our faith is that the Bible is the revelation of God.  We don’t have to argue with people who think they know better, but we must stubbornly insist on the Bible as the authoritative rule of faith and practice.

Two; refuse to quit on the Word of God capital “W,” Jesus Christ.  He is the single source of eternal life.  That is an unpopular notion among people who have self-made religion but not Christianity.  Again, we don’t have to argue with anybody but we must not surrender this truth.

I realize not everyone is “bookish,” but there is no substitute for studying and applying God’s word to realize spiritual maturity.

 

RESOURCES:

Sermon #1302

The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay

The Zondervan Bible Commentary

Advent Attitudes: Reverence

Advent 4

When we worship God we make Him known.

(Please read Matthew 2:1-12 & Luke 2:8-20 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) for my research.)

Every year about this time we lament the “commercialization of Christmas” and silently pledge not to go to such extremes next year.  Somehow eleven months go by and here we are again.  it seems the only solution is to laugh at ourselves and stay out of the stores until February!  In that vein, I offer a couple of Christmas stories involving kids and gift-giving.

“Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents’ house the week before Christmas. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers. The younger one began at the top of his lungs:

‘I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE…’
‘I PRAY FOR A NEW NINTENDO…’”

“His older brother leaned over, nudged him and said, ‘Why are you shouting? God isn’t deaf,’ to which the little brother replied, ‘No, but Grandma is!’”

One father thought he’d found a new angle and told his daughters that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday and he only received three things.  So they were not be upset with what they found under the tree.

As it happened on Christmas morning, one little gal expressed her disappointment with her gifts, very nearly in tears.  When the father reminded her about Jesus only getting three things, she responded “How do you think Jesus felt when he got three things and none of them were toys?!”

(http://desperatepreacher.com/christmas/xmashumor.htm)

Now, at the end of Advent, we add the fourth and arguably the most necessary Advent Attitude: Reverence.  We must seek to regain a sense of the awe of the shepherds, the wonder of Mary, and reenact the worship of the Magi before we throw ourselves into gifting and feasting.  We must pray for God to recreate some of dazzling light of the star that will lead us to Jesus.

Reverence is quiet.  It is understated.  It requires a little solitude and some time for undistracted attention to the Spirit of God in us.  Hands need to be folded and kept still.  Hurried thoughts need to be gently brought back to an inner vision of the radiant baby, the Son of God.

  1. The Magi worshiped God with their giving (Matthew 2:1-12).

Their first gift was to seek Him because their journey was long in both mileage and time.  We have so little information on these visitors, all we can say with certainty is that there more than one (“magi” is the plural form of “magus”) and that they came FROM THE EAST.  Not knowing an exact point of origin it’s impossible to say when they started, but we have four clues about the timing of their arrival.

In v. 1, it plainly says AFTER JESUS WAS BORN. Matthew doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus’ birthday; all that comes from Luke.

In v. 7, King Herod directly asked the Magi THE EXACT TIME the star appeared to them.

Add to that v. 16 where King Herod had all the boys in Bethlehem TWO YEARS OLD AND UNDER killed.  This was an attempt to slay the newborn king whom he thought must be no older than two years, based on the TIME the Magi told them.

In v. 11 the text says they came to a HOUSE, not a stable.  For whatever set of reasons, the family did not immediately return to Nazareth, but remained in Bethlehem for some time.

Their journey started with one fact (a new Jewish king was born) and an idea where he might be found (in Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews).  That’s going to a lot of trouble on the basis of very little information.

Their journey had some danger.  In addition to the usual hazards of travel, there was the danger indicated in Herod’s lethal reaction to the Magi not reporting in to him as he’d commanded.

From the Magi we learn that worship is more about the giving than the gifts.  Their gifts have been thoroughly analyzed by Bible scholars, without much insight added.  People have tried to say that the various gifts are various symbols.  What makes the most sense to me is that they were the kind of expensive gifts one would present to a king to curry favor.  What’s more important is following their example by making sacrificial gifts, whatever we might see as “valuable.”

God’s purpose in these gifts is that they funded the family’s escape to Egypt.  They were small but sold for a hefty price.

  1. The angels worshiped God with their singing (Luke 2:8-20).

The song was the culmination of their message.  The message was: “The most wonderful thing has just happened.”

“I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY THAT WILL BE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE. This is a major theme of Luke’s Gospel.

“TODAY IN THE TOWN OF DAVID A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU; HE IS CHRIST THE LORD.

“THIS WILL BE A SIGN TO YOU: YOU WILL FIND A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER.”

The song is an example of heaven-sanctioned worship.

“GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST.”  In other words, “May God be praised in heaven” and/or “to the highest degree.”  Pointing to God is one job humans and angels share; we give Him the glory. For example, in Luke 19:38, the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem shout, “PEACE IN HEAVEN AND GLORY IN THE HIGHEST.”

“ON EARTH PEACE TO MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS.”  What we generally hear at Christmas is “on earth, peace, good will toward men.”  That line is based on a mistranslation in the KJV.  It should actually read as the NIV translates it.  The point: God bestows PEACE on whomever He chooses and He chooses His people.  Paul confirmed this teaching in RMS 5:1; THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, WE HAVE PEACE WITH GOD THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

Worship is more about the singing than the song.  Of course I am NOT referring to any quality of musicianship.  Seven times the Psalms urge us to MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE UNTO THE LORD.  Those verses put the focus on the worshiper’s heart, not his or her vocal chords.  I am referring to the attitude of the worshiper.  As usual, the inner parts are more important that the outer ones.

Because we are committed to your having a MERRY Christmas, I want to conclude with a couple humorous versions of the account of the visit of the Magi.

Three wise men walk into a barn…yes I said BARN…and see Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Joseph asks why they are disturbing them as his wife had just given birth and needed rest. The first wise man said “I have brought gold for the child.”
Joseph thanked him but asked them to leave. Then the second wise man said “I have brought frankincense for the child.”
Again Joseph thanked him but was getting annoyed as they were interrupting a special moment between him and his wife. He then, forcefully, asked them to leave.

The third wise man said “But wait there’s myrrh!”

It is true that most of what we think we know about the magi has come from tradition or legend, not from the Bible.  As we’ve seen, the Bible does not give us a number of Magi, but legend says there were three, named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.  They are so named in the book Ben Hur.

I recently came across a legend of a fourth Magi named Jacques.  Jacques did not make the trip to Bethlehem but stayed behind in Persia.  He refused to go because he was caring for a baby dolphin.

When the other three came back, they were full of wondrous tales of the journey and praise for the newborn king of the Jews.  When they had at last told all, Balthasar sighed and leaned back and said, “Poor Jacques, you missed all these things to stay home and feed that baby dolphin.”

Jacques merely waved him off.  He said, “I like to think I have served a youthful porpoise.”

<https://upjoke.com/three-wise-men-jokes&gt;

Throughout this Advent season we have observed the attitudes of joy, expectation, obedience, and reverence.  May the days ahead bring all these experiences to you.  May they transcend all the distractions the world offers so you will know the fullness of joy and satisfaction that only God can provide.

When we worship God we make Him known.

With this in mind, let us make worship the central part of Christmas.  Let us make Jesus known in our homes, our community, and our world.

Advent Attitude:Obedience

Advent 3

Please read Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

            If you haven’t discovered it yet, please take a look at the website Bible Gateway.  It is a handy way to do research on the Bible and you can read from many different Bible translations without requiring loads of Bibles in book cases.

Bible Gateway reported last week the most often-searched Bible verse of 2018: “Out of more than 2 billion page views conducted by visitors to Bible Gateway during 2018, the most popular verse for the year was Jeremiah 29:11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2018/12/this-is-the-most-popular-verse-in-2-billion-pageviews-during-2018-on-bible-gateway/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklybrief&spMailingID=58037004&spUserID=MTI3ODAxOTkxODkwS0&spJobID=1541969998&spReportId=MTU0MTk2OTk5OAS2

You would not want to read too much into this one factoid, but 2 billion is a big number, except in comparison to the federal debt.  So it may be safe to infer from this choice of Jeremiah 29:11 that people are looking for some reassurance.  We who believe need to be reminded from time to time that the trust we put in God is well-placed.  We need to be encouraged to continue to be faithful that our obedience to God is making a difference.  We need to hold fast when trials discourage us.

Obey God especially when it costs you.

  1. Joseph obeyed God (Matthew 1:18-25).

He was the type of man who you’d expect to obey God.  Matthew lists five obedient qualities Joseph evidenced.

He was a RIGHTEOUS MAN (v. 19).  Normally, we think of RIGHTEOUS as obeying God’s law.  However, in this situation the “righteous” thing for Joseph to do was to divorce Mary.  Jewish custom required divorce to break an engagement where adultery had been committed.  The little word AND figures large in this verse.  Joseph was RIGHTEOUS and yet, he did not want to make a public issue of Mary’s pregnancy which was assumed to be the result of adultery.  So there’s something deeper at work in Joseph’s heart than legalism.  Love is there, too, and it tempered the legal response.

He did not want to EXPOSE Mary to PUBLIC DISGRACE (v. 19).  The Greek word for PUBLIC DISGRACE is fourteen characters long.  It meant to punish someone by exposing them to the contempt of the community.  The punishment was shunning; making the person an object of scorn and ridicule.

Adultery was supposed to be punished with death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 and John 8:3-5), so there’s a greater danger to Mary than that of a broken heart.  The point is that Joseph was looking for a way to obey God, keep his honor, and not punish Mary.  He was merciful instead of being vengeful.

In the original language, the phrase AFTER HE HAD CONSIDERED THIS (v. 20) means that Joseph came to this decision after a lot of thinking about it.  He did not act rashly.

But when it came to being obedient, Joseph did not take his time; he obeyed immediately (v. 24).  The text plainly points out that when Joseph awoke from the dream, he brought Mary into his home as his wife.  He brought her under his protection.  He accepted her shame as his own and defied the customary response to cases of adultery.

Joseph obeyed the angel’s instructions and, on his own initiative, went beyond them (v. 25).  Matthew points out that Joseph gave up his  conjugal relations with Mary.  He was not instructed to do this, so it may have been something he felt honor-bound to do.  He may have had the foresight to know that any relations between them might cause some to say Jesus was his son.  This way, it is historically clear Joseph was not the birth-father of Jesus.

Obedience in this matter would cost him.  Matthew identified two costs Joseph paid for His faithfulness to the angel’s message.

To accept PUBLIC DISGRACE with Mary.  As far as anyone else knew, Joseph was the injured party here.  Mary had wronged him; she had been unfaithful to him.  As a man and as the innocent party, Joseph held all the cards and Mary’s life in his hands.  He chose mercy before God explained the real reason for Mary’s pregnancy.  After that, Joseph changed his mind about the marriage and proceeded with it.

It cost him what most people would consider a “normal” marital relationship, the customary way to consecrate a marriage.  The Bible confirms the marital rights of husband and wife.  It is an important aspect of the relationship.  Their marital relationship began under a cloud of suspicion.  Instead of the week-long celebration most Jewish couples enjoyed, Joseph simply set aside custom and took Mary into his home immediately.  And, as Luke tells us, one of the first things they did as a couple was to pack up and make the long journey to Bethlehem.

  1. Mary obeyed God (Luke 1:26-38).

She was the type of person you’d expect to be obedient to God.  Luke details five virtuous aspects of Mary’s character.

As the text tells us several times, Mary was A VIRGIN.  Mary had been moral and observed God’s command to have sex only in the marriage relationship.

She was HIGHLY FAVORED by the LORD (v. 28).  This Greek word (charitoo) literally means “full of grace.”  It is used of all believers in Ephesians 1:6 and indicates we are recipients of God’s grace, not dispensers of it.  The use of this word shows that Mary is on the same gracious status as the rest of us; she should not be made semi-divine.

THE LORD was WITH her (v. 28).  This explains the grace we just mentioned.  God is gracious by being present with us and by working His will in us.

She identified herself as THE LORD’S SERVANT (v. 29).  Mary’s faith was mature enough to make her humble.  She knew her place in relationship to her Creator.

Though the angel’s message GREATLY TROUBLED Mary (29), she was obedient.  The appearance of the angel and the greeting alone prompted this reaction and caused her to WONDER what this was all about.  Gabriel’s response was to answer her questions and try to calm her fear.  (In the previous section, Zechariah questioned the angel that appeared to him and was disciplined by being rendered mute.  Mary does the same thing and is not disciplined.  There is no obvious difference between the questions, so the difference my lay in the people.  Zechariah must have disbelieved the angel but Mary believed him.  She asked a question out of curiosity, not out of disbelief.)

Her obedience in this matter would cost Mary.  Luke’s Gospel and a little reasoning reveal four ways in which agreeing to carry God’s Son would require sacrifice on Mary’s part.

We go back to the PUBLIC DISGRACE we mentioned in regard to Joseph.  As the apparently offending party, and as the woman, Mary would have suffered a greater share of the DISGRACE.  Contrast the DISGRACE the people of Nazareth threatened with the grace God offered Mary in v. 28.  Remember our comment on the phrase HIGHLY FAVORED?

As we noted with Joseph, there is the problem of starting a marriage under these adverse conditions.  This initial awkwardness was expertly portrayed in the film “The Nativity Story.”  I recommend it.  (Incidentally, the two leads would also appear in Star Wars films.  From the Star of Bethlehem to Star Wars – it’s a fun bit of trivia – look it up!)

Mary would have to face the physical and emotional conditions associated with pregnancy and childbirth.  We can’t assume that just because she was carrying the Savior that she was spared morning sickness, getting kicked, labor pains, etc.  The conception was supernatural, but we can assume the rest of it was natural and typical.

This is not affirmed in Scripture, but I think we can assume that both Joseph and Mary were concerned how Jesus might be treated by their family and the people in Nazareth.  In that culture, an illegitimate child would probably have to bear that stigma and be treated cruelly.

This happened once when Jesus returned to Nazareth after beginning His public ministry.  In Mark 6:3 someone referred to Him as “Mary’s son.”  This might be taken as an insult, that Jesus was no son of Joseph.  While we know that was biologically true, it’s unlikely this remark referred to His divine father.

Thankfully, this was not always the case.  Luke 2:52 reports, the boy JESUS GREW IN WISDOM AND STATURE, AND IN FAVOR WITH GOD AND MEN.

Obey God especially when it costs you.

Obedience that costs us nothing is not going to be worth much.  Being faithful while trying to take control isn’t a great act of faith at all.  Obedience to God is risky, difficult, and in some places in the world, downright dangerous.

Mary and Joseph are examples of obedience that was costly.  Mary’s obedience took her all the way to the cross.  That was a sword that cleaved her heart in half.

In a December, 2012 article for Relevant magazine, Nick Price wrote, “As we approach Christmas, let us not forget the faithfulness of Mary and what she was willing to risk. In her story, we are reminded that following Christ often leads to persecution and rejection by the world. Sometimes the price we pay for obedience is rejection. We must ask ourselves, What are we willing to surrender to God? Are we willing to be used for His purposes in the world? Are we willing to trust Him to provide for us when the rest of the world may turn its back? Mary models for us what obedience in the face of rejection looks like.”

There is a place where you have not really said “yes” to God.  There is something He’s called you to do and you haven’t yet obeyed.  Advent is an especially good time to begin a life-long habit of obedience.

 

RESOURCES:

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, Darrell L. Bock

Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich Greek Lexicon

Blue Christmas

blu xmas

If you are having trouble being “merry” this Christmas, come to Emmanuel Baptist Church on Friday, December 21, at 7:00 pm.  You are invited to a “Blue Christmas” service of worship.  This service recognizes the painful reality of loss and invites a faithful dialogue with our Creator about the sadness that becomes keenly felt during times when others want to celebrate.  If you’ve lost a loved one, bring along a small picture or any article of remembrance.  Call 336-6780 for more information.