Monthly Archives: December 2012

Advent – Biblical Imagery: Angels

Angels are significant and show up all over the Old Testament and the New Testament. However, when they show up in the Gospel narratives, during the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ, their presence is especially significant. When Angels show up in the Drama of Redemptive History, it is a cue to the rest of us that what is about to happen is very important. “Seriously dude, pay attention.”

To begin, lets hold two ideas in our mind:

  1. During the birth of Christ we see that Angels show up a whole lot.
  2. The author of Hebrews tells us that the word spoken by Angels was steadfast (Hebrews 2:2). That is, in the Drama of Redemptive History, God oftentimes used Angels as a trusty means by which to communicate revelation.

Now lets put those two ideas together: Angels who are trusty show up a whole lot in the beginning of the Gospel narratives. The effect is rather superlative — you can really, really, really trust that Jesus Christ “for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.” The birth of Christ isn’t just additional divine revelation, it is Divine Revelation. Indeed, it is the Gospel!

Angels Show Up A Whole Lot

  1. In the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, an Angel instructs Joseph (who had legitimate concerns about Mary’s having become pregnant) to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife.
  2. In the second chapter, an Angel instructs Joseph to flee blood-thirsty Herod and take Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt.
  3. After Herod is dead an Angel instructs Joseph that it is safe to return.
  4. In the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, an Angel appears at the right side of the altar of incense before Zacharias; the Angel tells him that he and his wife are going to have a son (John the Baptist), and that this son will “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
  5. Also, later on the angel Gabriel greets Mary and tells her that God’s favor is with her and that she will become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit and that she will bring forth a son, and that his name will be Jesus, which means “Jehovah [in the Old Testament this is the proper name of God] is Salvation”.
  6. In the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, after the birth of Jesus the Angels appear before the shepherds in the fields and tell them the good news that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Trusty Angels Declare Deliverance 

In the Old Testament there are many narratives where Angels show up to declare God’s deliverance. In Exodus 3, an angel of the Lord shows up and tells Moses that the Lord is going to use him to deliver Israel from bondage in Egypt. In Judges 6, an angel of the Lord meets with Gideon and tells him the Lord is going to use him to deliver Israel from the Midianites. And later on in Judges, an angel of the Lord tells Samson’s parents that their son will deliver Israel from the Philistines.

Since angels were used to reveal, call, and commission deliverers in Israel’s history, it should come as no surprise that God uses them again to declare the Chief-Deliverer of the mother promise (see Genesis 3:15).

This Chief-Deliverer is Jesus — “Jehovah is Salvation” — Christ the Son of God.

Storytelling: Salvation

There are several ways to tell the story of Salvation. An “act” is a division of drama. It is a way to “unitize” the various elements of story. You can tell the story of Salvation with more than one narrative structure.

The Story of Salvation in a Single-Act

Title: The Glory of God
     All is unitized by the structure of the theme “Glory of God”.

The Story of Salvation in Two-Acts

Title: Of God’s Covenant with Man *
     Act 1 – Covenant of Works (made with Adam)
     Act 2 – Covenant of Grace (made with Jesus Christ, the Second Adam)
The Story of Salvation in Three-Acts

Title: A Trinitarian Story in Three Harmonious Acts
     Act 1 – God the Father Chose Us in Christ Before the Foundation of the World **
     Act 2 – Jesus Christ the Son of God is Sent:
          Serves the Father
          Creates a Place (Chosen Humanity) for Spirit to Indwell
          Accomplishes Redemption and Ministers to the Chosen
     Act 3 – Holy Spirit of God is Sent:
          Serves the Father
          Indwells the Place (Chosen Humanity) that Jesus Christ Prepared for Him
          Applies Benefits of Redemption and Ministers to the Chosen

The Story of Salvation in Four-Acts

Title: Sitting Down (Feasting) in the Kingdom of God in Four Scene Changes ***
     Act 1 – People Come From the East
     Act 2 – People Come From the West
     Act 3 – People Come From the North
     Act 4 – People Come From the South
* See Ephesians 1:4.
** See Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter VII.
*** See structure in Luke 13:29.

Updated – Law, Politics and the State

Excerpts from the Introduction and Chapter I of E. L. Hebden Taylor’s The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics and the State: A Study of the Political and Legal Thought of Herman Dooyeweerd of the Free University of Amsterdam, Holland as the Basis for Christian Action in the English-Speaking World (The Craig Press, 1966) [Originally posted 12/5/12]:

One of the great tragedies of the Protestant Reformation was the failure of the great Reformers John Calvin and Martin Luther to develop a doctrine of law, politics and the state upon truly reformed and biblical lines (1).

Lacking a carefully worked-out Reformed doctrine of law, politics and the state, it is hardly surprising that Protestant Christians have been powerless to meet the needs and challenges of modern society and to provide it with Christian answers to all its pressing problems (5).

Real religion pervades the whole of life: our social, political and industrial and educational no less than our personal and private lives. In fact, it is precisely in his political and business life that a true Christian will seek with God’s help and guidance to live up to his Christian convictions, for it is precisely in political and business life today that the power of Satan, sin and selfishness is so great (17).

What then does the Calvinist mean by his faith in the ordinances of God? Every aspect of life, Kuyper answers, has a law for its existence, instituted by God himself. These laws or ordinances we may call laws of nature, provided that by this term we mean, not laws originating within nature, but laws imposed upon nature. From this doctrine of God’s sovereignty over all aspects of creation, Kuyper developed his conception of sovereignty in each orbit, applying it especially in his political and social philosophy. Ultimate sovereignty belongs to God, while derivative sovereignties belong to the various spheres of human society, so that these spheres are coordinately, rather than subordinately, related (50).

 By means of his doctrine of sphere sovereignty [sphere sovereignty maintains that Jesus Christ is the covenant head of creation, and possesses absolute power and authority, however, he delegates “partial sovereignties to men” in the family, church and state]  Abraham Kuyper has provided Christians with a weapon against both the rugged, selfish individualism of the nineteenth-century laissez-faire variety and the suffocating collectivism of the totalitarian Communists variety (55-56).

According to Kuyper it is God’s common grace which makes human culture possible. Human society would have been utterly destroyed if the common grace of God had not intervened. As such, common grace is the foundation of cultures, since God’s great plan for creation is achieved through common grace. it is not spiritual and regenerative but temporal and material. It is based upon and flows forth from the confession of the absolute sovereignty of God, for, says Kuyper, not only the church but the whole world must give God the honor due to him; hence the world received common grace in order to honor him through it. Thus Kuyper upholds the catholic claims of Christianity and urges its validity for all men (60-61).

Additional excerpts from Chapter II [Added on 12/16/12]:

For Dooyeweerd all philosophic and theoretical or scientific thought proceeds from presuppositions of a religious nature. The starting pint, not only of all practical but also of all theoretical activity, proceeds from man’s religious depths. Such a starting point can be found only in man’s heart or transcendental self. All the issues of life arise out of the human heart which is the concentration point of our entire human existence. Out of it arise all our deeds, thoughts, feelings, and desires. In our hearts we give answer to the most profound and ultimate questions of life, and in our hearts our relationship to God is determined. The heart or transcendental self of man may never be identified with any of our vital functions such as feeling or even faith. it is deeper than any vital function and it transcends the temporal world altogether. It is as far from the body as it is from the mind. The heart is the point where man decides his relationship with Almighty God. It can never be neutral. It loves God or it is hostile to him. It is being renewed by the Spirit of Jesus Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit, or it still lives in apostasy. As a consequence, theoretical and scientific thought can never be a neutral and autonomous activity (66).

Dooyeweerd maintains that only the Word of God can provide us with a true point of departure and thus enable us to “see” the facts studied in the various sciences in their proper order and relationships. The facts do not “speak” to us unless we see them in their order. If the scientist or philosopher refuses to be taught by the Word of God what this order of the creation is, then he will be forced to substitute some principle of total structuration of his own devising. Such an apostate thinker will then be forced to seek his ultimate principles of explanation and point of departure in one aspect of the created universe rather than in the Creator of the Universe. For this reason Dooyeweerd speaks of all non-Christian systems of thought as being immanentistic  in character, because they refuse to recognize the ultimate dependence of human thought and science upon God’s revelation (72).

The self or heart of man exists in three fundamental relations: in relation to cosmic time, in relation to other selves, and in relation to God. apart from these relations, the selfhood is an empty abstraction which dissolves itself into nothingness. But as we have already seen, the selfhood cannot receive its positive content form its relation to cosmic time alone, because in its radical unity it transcends time. The temporal order of becoming with its diversity of aspects, can only turn away our view form the real center of human existence, so long as we seek to know ourselves from it. Neither can the selfhood receives its positive content from other selves, because when viewed in themselves alone, all selves are equally without content. They all refer beyond themselves for their fulfillment. As Dooyeweerd points out, ‘The ego of our fellow-man confronts us with the same riddle as our own selfhood does.” For Dooyeweerd, as for Calvin, the self’s relation towards God is the determining one. . . . Self-knowledge is thus in the last analysis dependent on our knowledge of God (75-76).

Advent – Biblical Imagery: Firstborn

Luke 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

The firstborn son was significant to Israel. The Lord told Israel to sanctify and set apart the firstborn (Exodus 13). Yahweh instructed Israel the firstborn sons of animals/livestock and the firstborn sons of Israel were to be set apart. Yahweh is the Creator and Master of the Universe, he declared Israel as his own special people, this meant Yahweh claimed every firstborn son that passed through the matrix of any womb. Period.

Jesus was the firstborn son of Mary. According to Exodus 13, Yahweh already had dibs on Jesus. Jesus, however, was a firstborn in more than once sense–Jesus was unique and set apart trifecta.

1) Jesus — Firstborn and set apart because he is the firstborn son of Joseph and Mary

First, Jesus was set apart because he was the firstborn son of Mary, a faithful and holy daughter of Israel. The angel came to Mary and told her that the Spirit of the Lord would be upon her and that she would bear a child, the Christ, the hope and Salvation of Israel. This child was her firstborn, Jesus the Christ.

2) Jesus — Firstborn and set apart because he is the only begotten Son of God

Second, Jesus was set apart because he was the only begotten Son of the Father (Psalm 2:7; Hebrews 1:5; 1 John 4:9). As the Creed says, Jesus the Son of God is “God of God – Light of Light – very God of very God – begotten, not made – being of one substance with the Father – by whom all things were made.” The author of Hebrews emphasizes the uniqueness of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, the Incarnate God-man, whom the Father set apart, when he rhetorically asks,

For unto which of the angels said he [God the Father] at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?

3) Jesus — Firstborn and is set apart because he is the Lord’s “Christ” (the promised Messiah)

And third, Jesus was set apart because he was the Christ, the foretold Messiah and Anointed One. After his birth, Joseph and Mary took the infant Jesus to the Temple to present him before the Lord. At the Temple they were greeted by a man who had the Holy Ghost upon him. That man was Simeon, to whom God had revealed:

That he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26).

Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary, was the Promised Christ, the Messiah. Simeon glorified God that he saw the Christ before his death. This child was the promised hope and salvation of Israel. The Angel of the Lord told Mary that her child was going to be the Son of the Highest, and that the Lord would place him as firstborn upon the Throne of David.

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:31-33).

The Lord placed the shepherd boy David on the Throne of Israel. He was not a firstborn, nor was he even one of Saul’s sons. However, the Lord appointed him to the position of firstborn and ruler of Israel. The Lord rejected wicked Saul (1 Samuel 16) and appointed David to be King.

Jesus Christ was not the firstborn. Adam was the first man. But God appointed Christ to be the Firstborn, the Second Adam and King. The Lord rejected wicked Adam because he rebelled against Yahweh. When Adam fell and was cursed with death, all of mankind died in Adam. We are, however, made alive in Jesus, who is appointed firstborn and set apart as our Christ, our salvation (1 Corinthians 15:22).

It pleased God the Father to ransom sinners by the life, death, and resurrection of His only begotten Son, the incarnate Jesus Christ, who was the firstborn of Mary. Christ was set apart and sanctified. If you are in Christ, then you are empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit and are also set apart and sanctified. Not because of anything we have done, but solely because Jesus Christ is the sanctified firstborn.

Evangelical Urgency: For Now Wicked Men Capable Subjects of Mercy . . . But Not Later

From Section III of Jonathan Edwards’ “The End of the Wicked Contemplated by the Righteous” (Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2., Banner of Truth Trust, 1995 reprint):

We ought now to seek and be concerned for the salvation of wicked men, because now they are capable subjects of it. Wicked men, though they may be very wicked, yet are capable subjects of mercy [CCS, emphasis]. It is yet a day of grace with them, and they have the offers of salvation. Christ is as yet seeking their salvation; he is calling upon them, inviting and wooing them; he stands at the door and knocks. He is using many means with them, is calling them, saying, Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die? The day of his patience is yet continued to them; and if Christ is seeking their salvation, surely we ought to seek it.

God is wont now to make men the means of one another’s salvation; yea, it is his ordinary way so to do. He makes the concern and endeavours of his people the means of bringing home many to Christ. Therefore they ought to be concerned for and endeavour it. But it will not be so in another world: there wicked men will be no longer capable subjects of mercy [CCS, emphasis]. The saints will know, that it is the will of God the wicked should he miserable to all eternity. It will therefore cease to be their duty any more to seek their salvation, or to be concerned about their misery. On the other hand, it will be their duty to rejoice in the will and glory of God. It is not our duty to be sorry that God hath executed just vengeance on the devils, concerning whom the will of God in their eternal state is already known to us.