Thursday, February 22, 2018

Eating from the altar

The Pharisees were offended that Christ would eat with sinners (Luke 15:1). They didn't know the half of it: He came not merely to eat with sinners, but to give His flesh to be their food and His blood to be their drink (John 6:48–58).

It can be amusing to hear people speak about the latter part of John 6. I agree that sacramentalism has done its best to ruin this amazing chapter, but we oughtn't let fear of sacramentalism keep us from entering into what the Holy Spirit teaches here. It's obvious that Christ isn't literally speaking about eating His flesh, for the simple fact that He also taught His own resurrection. You have a bookkeeping problem if you try to believe in both Resurrection and literal eating of the flesh of Christ.

That being said, the Lord chose deliberately provocative language to describe His giving us life. We've noticed before that the Son of God can give life merely by calling the dead from the tomb (John 5:25). But when the Son of Man gives life, it costs His flesh and His blood. But I don't think that's all there is to John 6. There is not only His giving, but our eating and drinking. It's not just that we believe on Him (we do), but we must feed on Him as well.

1 Corinthians 10:15–23 brings this into the context of the Lord's table. 1 Corinthians 10:15–18 makes the association between our eating the loaf and drinking the cup and the altar. It takes us back to the Numbers 18:8–19, there the priests were to eat all the heave-offerings the people presented. 1 Corinthians 10:16 tells us this means they had communion with the altar.

There is an association between the Lord's table and the altar. We are making a statement about that association every time we break the one loaf and drink from the cup. We are claiming our communion with the death of Christ. By eating the one loaf and drinking from the cup, we are saying we are in fellowship with the sacrifice.

I don't question that we are to feed on Christ individually, but the feeding in 1 Corinthians 10 is corporate: we being many, are one Body (1 Corinthians 10:17).

The Old Testament sacrifices were all assumed to be more than enough: with a couple exceptions (Leviticus 6:23; Leviticus 6:30), there was something for the priest in every sacrifice. Even the burnt offering, which was wholly consumed, had a part for the priest – the priest gets the skin (Leviticus 7:8).

Of course they weren't really more than enough, but the principle was established. Really, the blood of bulls and of goats is incapable of taking away sins (Hebrews 10:4). But the sacrifice they pointed to – Christ offering Himself for us by the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14) – that sacrifice was far more than enough.

Christ was both our sacrifice and priest. We, as family of the priest (Numbers 18:19), are to eat of the sacrifice. By feeding on the sacrifice, we express communion with the altar (1 Corinthians 10:16). What does it mean to have communion with the altar? At the very least, it means we recognize and agree with the need for the sacrifice. At the very least, when we contemplate feeding on Christ, we contemplate our deep need of Him.

I don't doubt there is the feeding on Christ in Resurrection as well as feeding on Him in humility. It seems to me John 6 is talking about the former: it is the One who has come down from Heaven.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

No man has seen God at any time

Someone in the assembly here sent out an email asking for answers to several questions his son had asked during family Bible readings. I thought I'd post my response here. I don't know what other responses he received.

We understand that Christ is God over all, blessed forever (Romans 9:5). John’s Gospel tells us that the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). So Christ is God, but He’s also a distinct Person, distinguishable from God. We can say that Christ is God, but we cannot say that God is Christ. The Athanasian Creed says the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, but the Father is God, the Son is God. And they’re one God, not two gods. Of course the same is true of the Holy Spirit. From the Athansian Creed:

[W]e worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

When we look into the Old Testament, we can find people who saw God:

  • Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel (Exodus 24:9–11)
  • Moses (Exodus 33:17–23)
  • Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (Numbers 9:5–8) – this one is a bit questionable
  • Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1)
  • Daniel (Daniel 7:9–10)
  • Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1)
That’s not a complete list.

When we look in the New Testament, we see the statement that “no one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). So how do we understand those together? I think there are at least two correct answers: two principles that are true at the same time.

The first is emphasized in Exodus 33:17–23. Moses asks God to show him His glory, and God responds that He can show him His goodness, and He will proclaim His name, but man can’t see His face and live (vv. 18–20). We understand God to be saying, “you can’t see all there is to see of Me”. That is, God was willing to show Moses some of Himself, but Moses couldn’t see all.

I think this is really the point of John the Baptist’s words in John 1:18; it’s not that no one has ever gotten a look at God, but the only complete view of God is in the Son.

There is something else going on here, which is brought out in John 12:37–41. John quotes Isaiah 53:1 (v. 38) and Isaiah 6:9–10 (v. 40). John specifically says Isaiah “saw his glory and spoke of him” (v. 41). Whose glory did Isaiah see? In Isaiah 6 we read that he saw “the King, Jehovah of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). But if we look at John 6:41 in context, the “him” there is Christ. So Isaiah sees Jehovah, and John quotes the passage to say that he had seen Christ.

When John says “no one has seen God at any time”, he is speaking the absolute truth: none of us have seen God completely. Some, like Moses, have seen as much of God as He can show a fallen man, but none have ever gotten the complete view of God.

At the same time, we know at least one of those “God sightings” was God showing Isaiah Christ. In fact, I believe that all of the Old Testament sightings of God were actually Christ appearing to them before His incarnation. This is what theologians call Christophany (sometimes Theophany). What gets really interesting is the end of Hebrews 1, where Psalm 102:24–28 are quoted. Hebrews says those are the words of God to the Son, and God tells the Son that He (the Son) is eternal, the creator of all things. That essentially makes the entire creation story of Genesis 1 & 2 into one long Christophany. It was the Son who created all things (cf. John 1:3).

Christ is eternally God (although technically, “Christ” is a title that really only applies in incarnation, but that’s another topic…). God is spirit (John 4:24). When we consider Him before incarnation, we think of eternal Sonship (that is, the Father - Son relationship in the Godhead is eternal), and we think of Him as the Creator of all things. I don’t know that there’s much more we can say about that…

Incarnation is something none of us can understand. The Son, who is eternal God, became Man. Of course He is not Man from eternity: He took on a body (Hebrews 10:5). At the same time, we realize He is not merely a human body possessed by the spirit of Christ: that’s the heresy of Apollonarism. We understand the He is a real Man, and apparently this is a permanent change: He ascended back into Heaven as a Man with a physical body, and we look to see Him return the same way (Acts 1:11). He is so completely Man, that 1 Corinthians 15:1–5 tells us, “He was buried” (v. 4). It’s not that they buried His body, but they buried Him.

Paul’s epistles refer to Christ as a real Man, even now that He’s ascended into Heaven. Take, for example, 1 Timothy 2:5 – ”the Man, Christ Jesus.”

1 Timothy 6:13–16 are probably worth mentioning here. In context, I take “the blessed and only Ruler” (v. 15) to be Christ. We’re told He lives in unapproachable light, which no man has seen, nor can see. There is apparently a place which not even those in Heaven can see, where only God can be. And Christ is there. Even in eternity, we won’t see in there. This is really what John 1:18 is talking about, the only way for any creature to know about God in that complete way is for God Himself to come out of that unapproachable light and tell us what goes on in there. This is what Christ has done.

Finally, we should probably mention Colossians 2:9. We’re told that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I’m certain it means that in Incarnation, Christ was never less than God. Our Protestant blood boils a bit when we hear Mary called “Mother of God”, but it is true in a very limited sense: when she gave birth to Christ, she gave birth to the fullness of the Godhead. No, that doesn’t mean that there is a Mother-Son relationship between Mary and God. No, I wouldn’t call Mary the Mother of God. But I fear our zeal to combat Mariolatry has led us to downplay the fullness of Christ’s nature as God. The fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in the Lord Jesus, even at His birth.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Remembrance

"Brethren" frequently talk about "remembering the Lord in His death". Scripture does not. Scripture says we remember the Lord, and in so doing, we announce His death (1 Corinthians 11:23–26).

The Lord Jesus asks us to remember Him (1 Corinthians 11:24–25). That certainly includes remembering His death – the bread reminds us of His body given for us (Luke 22:19), the wine reminds us of His blood poured out for us (Luke 22:20) – but we don't remember an event, we remember a Person.

Psalm 102 is a remarkable passage, "the prayer of the afflicted". Hebrews 1:10–12 tells us that Psalm 102:24–28 (starting in the second part of v. 24) is God addressing the Son. He reminds the Son that He is eternal, He is the creator, and He won't end.

Similarly, Hebrews 1:8–9 quote Psalm 45:6–7 as addressed to the Son. So we understand that Psalm 45 is Messianic. Psalm 45 ends with the promise, "I will make thy name to be remembered throughout all generations" (Psalm 45:17).

And that brings us back to 1 Corinthians 11:23–26. As we remember the Lord, we are really fulfilling Psalm 45:17. In this generation, His name is being remembered. Think of that! God is using us to fulfill a promise He made to the Son: we are part of the remembrance of His name in all generations.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Preparation

The preachings in the Acts were under such circumstances as to preclude any studied preparation. The preachers were prepared rather than the sermons. An old and honoured servant of the Lord, in answer to the question, What shall I study? said, Study well these four words, "The flesh profiteth nothing"! The preachings in the Acts were "water of the rain of heaven"; the streams flowed down in copious blessing. How definitely the Apostles presented Christ as crucified, risen, and exalted at God's right hand! How wonderfully they quoted and applied the Scriptures! How pointed and powerful was their dealing with men! There was a spiritual naturalness, if we may so say, a simplicity, freshness, sobriety and order in all that they said which made manifest that they preached the glad tidings "by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven". All true ministry is in the power of the Holy Spirit, and it tends to promote fruitfulness in the land. (C. A. Coates, An Outline of Deuteronomy, pp. 123–124, emphasis added)

"The preachers were prepared rather than the sermons" – a good friend shared this quote with me many years ago, I mentioned it in passing to Rodger, who did the spade work to dig up the source. (Thanks, Rodger!)

That quote has haunted me for at least a dozen years. I find myself asking, "am I prepared?"

I've had the privilege of fellowship in a couple assemblies where unplanned and unscripted meetings were the rule, rather than the exception. The assembly would have the Lord's Supper Sunday mornings, followed by a Bible Reading. In the evening, there was an "open meeting," where one or more brothers were expected to stand up and give a word. The rule was "two or at the most three" (1 Corinthians 14:26–35). They were never picked beforehand, and it was assumed they didn't have notes. We would gather to hear from the Lord, and whoever felt led to stand up and speak was expected to do so. Unless someone came through town specifically to minister the word, there were no prepared messages.

I've been to at least one Bible conference where there were no planned speakers, but whoever felt led would stand and speak. There was powerful ministry. A whole weekend of unplanned meetings. If I might say so, those meetings were short on planning, but long on preparation.

These days I remember the Lord in an assembly where the speakers are asked beforehand to speak. I really miss those unplanned, unscripted meetings.

It's difficult for me to stand up and speak in the assembly, because I have no fear of public speaking. I was a classroom teacher for several years, and it's all too easy for me to slip back into that mode. The problem is, people don't need to hear me, they need to be drawn to Christ. When we speak in the assembly, it should be as an oracle of God (1 Peter 4:11). That's easier said than done.

I've heard some amazing sermons that clearly took a whole lot of work. But the ministry that has seemed to me to be the most powerful has consistently been "extemporaneous". There is something qualitatively different about ministry that's given with a great deal of thought, but not a great deal of planning.

H. E. Hayhoe gave a talk on Isaiah 5 in 1969 ("Outline of Scripture"). It's worth a listen (or five). He makes a statement to the effect that, "we learn Scripture by meditation, not by study." That statement has affected me deeply.

Notice how it parallels CAC's claim that we want prepared preachers, rather than prepared sermons. It's not that we need to learn, it's that we need to be transformed. Scripture working in my mind and my heart is very, very different from Scripture analyzed and pushed into sermon notes.

It's possible people groan when they realize I'm standing up to speak in the assembly. It's possible they all wish I'd spend more time writing notes and referring to them. But I've made a point of preparing to speak with prayer, rather than with study. (I suppose, in a way, this blog is a sort of a scratch-pad where I can work things out in writing. It's possible I'm being a little less than honest with myself about that.)

Of course I'm not advocating speaking in the assembly without preparation, but I am absolutely advocating being prepared by spending time in the Lord's presence, rather than having good notes. That puts a much sterner responsibility on us: the responsibility of constant prayer and meditation, so that we can honestly say we're always prepared.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Seeing and Eating

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up; and they saw the God of Israel... they saw God, and ate and drank. (Exodus 24:9–11)

The elders of Israel saw God on Sinai. The story doesn't tell us what He looked like, which seems to be the common theme. As far as I can tell, only Daniel (Daniel 7:9) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:26–28) describe what God looks like. Isaiah saw God in the temple (Isaiah 6:1–13), but he only describes the angels. Even the description in Revelation 4:1–7 only describes the One on the throne in vague terms, while it describes the creatures around the throne in detail.

But scripture tells us twice that the elders of Israel saw God on Sinai. I tell my Sunday school class, when Scripture repeats something, it's for a reason. The Spirit of God doesn't ramble on like I do, every word has a purpose. So Exodus 24 is emphasizing the point, that they saw God.

John 1:18 tells us, no one has seen God at any time. I take that to mean, not that no one has actually seen God, but no one has seen God completely. The story in Exodus 33:18–23, corroborates this: when Moses asks to see God's glory, he is denied. But he is allowed to see God's goodness.

(John 1:18 goes on to tell us that Christ has declared God. Perhaps that's why the two prophets called "son of man" (Ezekiel 2:1, Daniel 8:17) are allowed to describe God, while the rest are not. Certainly the Son of Man has declared Him (John 3:13).)

I think about Exodus 24 frequently when we're gathered to remember the Lord. We see that the elders of Israel are called to go apart from the camp (v. 1). They saw God (v. 9), they ate and drank (v. 11). We, too, are called to leave, to come into the Lord's presence, to see God, and to eat and drink (1 Corinthians 11:20–34). Of course it's our place to gaze on the glory of the Lord all through the week (2 Corinthians 3:18). We're not called to contemplate Him only once a week... but we are definitely called to gather together to eat and drink and remember Him.

I ask myself, do I really do that? When I gather in the little meeting hall here, I definitely eat and drink... but do I see God? Do I get a really good look at Christ?

Rodger reminded me that our eating and drinking is an announcement of the death of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:26), and that the death of the Lord is connected in Scripture with the end of everything here (Galatians 6:14). Do I allow myself to casually announce that, week after week, without really entering into what it means?

1 Corinthians 11:29 warns about eating and drinking without discerning. I'm not sure that's entirely the same thing, but it is all to easy to eat and drink without seeing first.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Worship and Remembrance

Worship and remembrance are closely connected in my mind. It might be worthwhile to spend a few moments thinking about them.

1 Corinthians 11:23–24 come to mind when we talk about remembrance. The Lord's supper was a matter of special revelation to Paul (v. 23), suggesting some importance in the mind of God. He quotes the Lord as saying, "this do in remembrance of me" (v. 24).

The sign on the outside of the meeting hall advertises that "The Remembrance" is at 11:00 AM Sundays. That's an appropriate name.

We sometimes talk about worship in connection with the Lord's supper, but I don't think Scripture does.

We worship the Lord Jesus because He is eternal God, "God over all, blessed forever" (Romans 9:5). We worship Him because all things were made by Him (John 1:3). It was the Son who laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of His hands (Psalm 102:25).

But when He calls us to remember, we see what might be a deeper truth. The Son who created us, came here to die for us. It's not simply the Creator-creature relationship, it's the Redeemer-redeemed relationship.

We remember that He poured out His soul unto death for us (Isaiah 53:12). We remember that He bore our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). We remember that He was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), that His soul was made an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10).

These things ought to touch our hearts.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Son of Man lifted up

John 3:12–15

Some people throw around the word "type" pretty carelessly. If scripture doesn't actually say something is a type, I prefer not to call it one. Here in John 3 we have a case where scripture specifically calls something a type: just like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so also must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14).

We tend to worship what has been lifted up. The children of Israe eventually began to worship that serpent, until Hezekiah destroyed it (2 Kings 18:4). Hezekiah understood that the serpent was only brass, it wasn't actually what had delivered Israel.

Well, we're in a slightly different position. The Father wants us to honor the Son exactly the same way we honor the Father (John 5:23). So where Israel was wrong the worship the serpent, we are right to worship the One who was lifted up for us.

We understand that the Son of God became the Son of Man, at least in part so the He could be lifted up for us.

We worship Him because He is God (John 1:1). Hebrews 1:10–12 tells us (quoting Psalm 102) that He laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of His hands. We worship Christ Jesus because He is the creator of all things: not one thing came into being without Him (John 1:3).

We remember Him because He gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20). Of course we don't minimize who He is as God from eternity, but we understand that it was in a sense a much greater thing for Him to give Himself for us than it was to create us. Being made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) cost Him much more than creating the heavens and the earth.

We remember that the Son became the Son of Man so that He could be lifted up for us. He gave His flesh to be food and His blood to be drink (John 6:53) so that lost sinners could have eternal life. He poured out His soul into death, and was made an offering for sin for us (Isaiah 53:10–12).