Holy Thursday

Gethsemane, O Gethsemane!

Then [Jesus] said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt 26:38-39)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “when Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” This is most certainly true. Yet, the death to which Christ calls all men is not the same as that to which God called His only begotten Son and to which the Son, in total obedience submitted Himself.

Christ calls us to the death of the Old Adam in us that we may rise in His newness. Therefore, the death to which He calls us is thus a death to sin, and so is a death that brings us life.

However, God called the only other good enough to pay the price of sin–the Second Person of the Trinity–to take on Himself the sin of all men, to be sin in the flesh, and so be totally rejected by the Father. In His obedience, Christ Jesus, who knew no sin of His own, makes Himself dead to God. God called His Son to be as man without faith is.

Obedient unto death, the weight and blackness of the sin of all men–past, present, and to come–rested upon Him; and God turned His face away so that the Son could die. So through that obedience leading to death, the requirements of the Law were fulfilled by the only one who could: God Himself.

Father, let the cup pass…. How could the Son bear the weight and filth of our sin that forced His separation from the Father? He could because that is the blood price to be paid; He is the ‘hilasterion’, the blood covering for all of us. In His death, we have life.

It is because God so loved us that Jesus drank of the cup unto death.

Let us glorify God and be glad for it.

Holy Week

It is Holy Week, and Friday’s coming.

Even as Mary rocked the manger in Bethlehem, Friday’s knife-wound blackness and hope hovered over the Baby, biding its time, awaiting the day of fulfillment of the promise.

In that birth is death; in that first Christmas Day is Friday, the purpose of the Incarnation, for which the whole creation has long been groaning. In that death is liberation, reconciliation, new life, peace with God. Eden.

Friday’s coming, with the bitterness of the scourging, the blood, the vicious crown of thorns, the buffeting hands, the mockery, the scorn, the lies and heated cries of blasphemy followed by the rent garments. The crucifixion.

Indeed, Friday’s coming, and the rejoicing in Hell, less than a second in duration, will give way to roars of bitterly anguished defeat.

Friday’s coming. We need it.

Friday’s coming. We long for it.

Friday’s coming. We want Him to die.

Friday’s coming. We need him to die.

Friday’s coming. He must die! That’s the only way we can live.

Friday’s coming.

Let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad for the narrow way to Eden passes only through Good Friday and the Sacrificed Lamb of God.

Aronofsky’s Noah as Gnostic Duping of the Gullible

Dr. Brian Mattson does an excellent deconstruction of the Gnostic and Kabbalistic ideologies underpinning Aronofsky’s Noah, and then offers a spot on rationale for Aronofsky’s making the film.

Mattson’s conclusion:

I believe Aronofsky did it as an experiment to make fools of us: “You are so ignorant that I can put Noah (granted, it’s Russell Crowe!) up on the big screen and portray him literally as the ‘seed of the Serpent’ and you all will watch my studio’s screening and endorse it.”

He’s having quite the laugh. And shame on everyone who bought it.

And what a Gnostic experiment! In Gnosticism, only the “elite” are “in the know” and have the secret knowledge. Everybody else are dupes and ignorant fools. The “event” of this movie is intended to illustrate the Gnostic premise. We are dupes and fools. Would Christendom awake, please?

In response, I have one simple suggestion:

Henceforth, not a single seminary degree is granted unless the student demonstrates that he has read, digested, and understood Irenaeus of Lyon’s Against Heresies.

Because it’s the 2nd century all over again.

Mattson is right. Irenaeus’s Against Heresies is a vital tool in the culture wars. Yet, some of the men who go to seminary go through the motions in classes because that is what they must do to get to the pulpit. They want to preach the ideas they had before they went to seminary–it is amazing how many are untouched by what they learn there. That mindset makes it easy for them to be duped. For, what they miss is that preaching in the Church stands within a a history and tradition that cannot and should not be disregarded.

Preaching must offer Law and Gospel for the Now and the Not Yet; in this way, the Word is strongly connected to our present times and the problems and conflicts we face. Part of the problem is the ongoing assault on the Church, and those in the pews must be armed with the knowledge to confront it. This means that pastors and teachers of the Church must remain cognizant of the ancient heresies/battles the Church has fought; for, as Mattson said, “it’s the 2nd century all over again.”

The men who are anxious to run to the pulpit to preach the pablum which they may have brought to seminary, and never let go of during their preparation for the ministry, can be checked if seminaries follow Mattson’s good advice:

Henceforth, not a single seminary degree is granted unless the student demonstrates that he has read, digested, and understood Irenaeus of Lyon’s Against Heresies.

Jesus on Marriage and Homosexuality

In light of the Brendan Eich firing, I’ve decided to edit and bump this post, originally published in 2009.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about Jesus on marriage and homosexuality. I think that critics have all been wrong that Jesus is silent on homosexuality and marriage. We Christians have all been wrong when we have argued—if we have—that Jesus is silent on it because the issue was settled law and He only raised points that had become twisted by Pharisaical logic. I have made this argument in the past. He is not. He is quite vocal. Let me explain. The Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5:27-5:32. The discussion here embraces adultery and divorce. In getting into the thickets to restore God’s true teaching on marriage, adultery, and divorce, Jesus simultaneously condemns homosexuality and rules out marriage between people of the same sex.

Matthew says, you’ve heard it said adultery’s forbidden. I myself tell you that all who look on a woman to lust after her has already had illicit sex with her in his heart. (5.29 and 5.30 are expressions of the strictness of Jesus’ position on adultery. You’d have to go back to Leviticus to delve, dive, and wallow into the the holiness of God who hates all forms of sin and uncleanliness. That’s how serious this is. Lose a body part rather than lose yourself.) It’s been said that whoever divorces his wife will give her a divorce notice. I myself tell you that the man who divorces his wife, except for utterance (act) of sexual infidelity, makes her to be adulterous, and if she having been divorced ever marries she is committing adultery.

That’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it. The same one who said He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets is setting us straight on the marriage issue, and He delineates that with “I myself tell you.”

I’m looking at the Greek text, quite purposefully, because the articles, participles and pronouns there are totally unambiguous. No hedging or whingeing. No room for twisting like some would try. Jesus addresses marriage as between HIM/MAN and HER/WOMAN. Greek is not Chinese in which the spoken word for her/him is the same, ta. (In speaking English, the Chinese have a hard time with he/she, him/her and often confuse the two.) Greek is pretty unambiguous.

Ho blepwn, the man seeing the woman to desire authn, her, has already screwed** authn, her, in his heart. (**I’m using this word to retain the direct object accusative usage of ‘her’.) Next, whoever divorces the wife/woman autou, of his, will give auth, to her, divorce notice. Then, Ho apoluwn, the man divorcing the woman autou, of his, except for utterance (act) of sexual infidelity makes authn, her, to be adulterous, and if apolelumenhn, she having been divorced ever marries moixatai, she is committing adultery.

It’s pretty hard to dodge those pronouns, articles, and such. When it comes to people, there is no ambiguity with the Greek pronouns. So, what does this prove about homosexuality and marriage? How does Jesus condemn homosexuality? How does He reject marriage between the people of the same sex? How can I say Jesus is very vocal about it?

In the first case, Jesus answers what is marriage and what is its nature. Jesus asserts God’s definition of marriage from Genesis 2:24: marriage is the union in God of a man and a woman. The Ho Blepwn and the autou limit one of the parties to a male; gynaika and authn limit the other to a female.

Furthermore, marriage is a spiritual and not a civil matter: it is ordained by God; the one flesh from two is not a physical but a spiritual union. Jesus says the violation of the marriage union is not merely one of deed but also of intent of the heart even if there is no physical deed. That places marriage firmly in the spiritual realm where only God sees the heart; no other judge can.

In divorce, as a civil matter, the state is concerned merely about the acts done and not the thoughts or intended acts of the parties involved. In fact, the state can do nothing unless action has occurred; this is the norm with regard to law. God, on the other hand, will condemn you to hell for the thoughts of the heart.

Thus, the marriage is, in a sense, protected by God in that He watches over and punishes thoughts which would violate it. Why? The marriage of a man and a woman is a type of the marriage between Christ and the Church, His Bride. He loves her and has no other lover but her. He died for her. Infidelity says not only can we no longer trust the marriage partner, but we also cannot trust that God will keep His word to us.

Marriage, therefore, is a sacred and spiritual thing that should not be entered into lightly, and the partners in it are not of the same sex but of different sexes: one man, one woman. Note from the singular number of the pronouns that polygamy is not an arrangement ordained by God.

In the second case, Jesus excludes from His definition of marriage any bond except that between a man and a woman. How do I figure that? Again, I construe it from the language of the text. The verb gamhsh, marries, lacks an accusative/object in 5.32. Yet, the context is clear that Jesus is speaking of men and women marrying each other and not of two women or of two men. However, the sex of the second marriage partner, some might argue if they ever chose to try to defend their position from Scripture, is up for grabs. The door to same-sex marriage is open right here in the grammar of the absent accusative of gamhsh, they might argue, because Jesus does not specify the sex of the marriage partner as being male or female.

The Gospels are called Synoptic for a reason: the same incident is seen through different eyes. In Mark 10.11, Jesus, in the Sermon, in speaking of adultery from the man’s perspective uses allhn, female other, as the accusative of gamhsh; in Mark 10.12, from the woman’s perspective, He says allon, male other, as the accusative.

Why is this acceptable? Mark 10.11 and 10.12 explain Matthew 5.32. The hermeneutical standard is that Scripture interprets Scripture, and the intended sense is one.

Therefore, the idea that marriage is/should be an open field that would include two women/men united in God does not stand up to Scripture’s scrutiny. There is no marriage but that between a man and a woman. Moreover, since marriage is a spiritual and not a civil matter, the state lacks the power to alter its definition and nature. That does not mean that the state will not over-extend its reach and try to change the definition of marriage.

In the third case, Jesus excludes any other kind of sexual relationship except that which occurs in a marriage between a man and a woman. The key words are thn gynaika autou, his wife, and authi, to her. Again, the grammar limits the Scripture’s sense to one man and one woman.

A right sexual relationship, Jesus states, is a marital one between a man and a woman. Outside of marriage, sexual desiring will lead you to damnation, and you’d be better off losing the eye than being damned for following where it leads. From the heart flows an astonishing number of bad deeds, all of which will condemn you and set you at enmity with God.

If marriage is limited to man and woman, and the intent and expression of sexual desire is limited to within the marriage, then homosexual desire and sexual relations are also condemned for that is definitely outside of God’s order for human sexual relationships. (Contrary to the popular cotton candy view of God, He’s not a Santa Claus, and He’s terrifyingly strict.)

In the fourth case, having defined marriage and its nature, Jesus has also spoken on what it is not. That is the nature of definitions. They are both positive and negative. When we assert what a thing is, by extension we utterly and vocally claim that everything else is not it. Jesus’ positive definition of marriage and human sexual relations asserts its obverse: marriage is not for two men/women.

Absent His definition, we would have been free to mount the argument that Jesus’ silence betokens consent, but consent of what? Unambiguously, consent to the Old Testament dictum on marriage: one man, one woman***, and on the homosexual sex act that it is sin meriting death, like all sin. (Romans 6:23)

It is noteworthy that that is the position of the New Testament’s Book of Revelation in which the Lamb speaks as frowning Judge, and in which the sexually immoral of every stripe are excluded from God’s presence (Rev 22.10). Homosexuality is included in that ‘sexually immoral’ descriptor because in action it is neither celibate (the requirement for singles) nor is it a faithful man-woman relationship. (That doesn’t mean that we are to be in the business of killing homosexuals; judgment is of God, and until a man dies, God gives him every chance to repent of his sin.)

So that leaves us where we began with some angry at the Church and demanding but unable to obtain support from orthodox Christians. The anger with the Church and Christians is misplaced; not us, but Christ. Look past us to Christ. Cry out to Him and ask Him why. We cannot change what He has said or written because the vessel cannot tell the potter what to do. Moreover, we will not let the world influence our belief in the timeless truths of Scripture.

What is written concerning marriage and homosexuality is true for all time. It was true in the days of Moses; it was true in the time of Christ; it is true in our time; and, it will still be true when He comes again. That the state bends to the outrageous demands of homosexuals does not mean that Christians must do likewise. Indeed not. We must stand firm knowing full well that persecution will come. Let us suffer it to be so and hold fast because we know how things end.

Marriage is what it is; God’s Word is what it is. He is not Santa Claus and His Word is not cotton candy. Many of us say “I can’t live with that standard” and try to invent a God we can live with. Repentance is better than idolatry, obedience than sacrifice. God offers forgiveness; He extends His hands to us all day long and the conversation we have with Him is between us and Him. For His lovingkindness and tender mercies towards us and our failings, let us repent of our sin, turn to Him, and give thanks.

***For those who wish to assert, contrary to fact, that the OT condones polygamy, that is not the case. In Genesis, God clearly established marriage as between A man and A woman. In fact, the divine view of polygamy is that it is the source of much trouble. Polygamy is a human invention, one that God worked on our hearts to eradicate.)

Merry Christmas!

Grace to you and peace, from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As the Advent days flow into Christmas, we see signs of celebration everywhere. Some secular, some religious. The crowds, the traffic, the frenzy of shopping, the Christmas trees, the carols, the ubiquitous Santa Claus jollying ho-ho-ho’s, the gift buying, the gift giving, the decorated churches, the Christmas plays, the sermons. This Advent has boundaries; it begins December 1st and does not exceed December 24th.

Yet, beloved in Christ, for all the millennia plus of its existence, the Church, unbound, has lived and continues to live in the Advent.

What?! How could that be? What nonsense! The Church exists year round! There must be another Advent!

Indeed, it does, and there is.

There are two Advents.

One Advent is that which the Church celebrates in December, and it points towards Christmas Day. In this Advent is the recounting of the narrative of the swaddled Baby (born to die) laid in the manger, the night-watching shepherds; the long-journeying Magi; the wondering parents; and a king who slaughtered innocents so that God’s will would not be done and His kingdom not come to His oppressed people.

The other Advent, uncelebrated by the Church, is the one in which she lives, and its terminal event is the eschaton or the Second Coming. That is the Christmas towards which all those who died in faith, that great crowd of witnesses have looked and yearned towards. This Advent, so full of dangers and threats on every side, in it we live the Church Militant: prayerful, a remnant, under siege, watching for the dearly longed-for Christmas Day.

The Church Militant is not the Church waging war with secular weapons of warfare. Instead, it is the Church on its knees; weak, yet strongest in weakness “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Cor 4:7b) The Church is not ours though we are the Church. It is Christ’s. She is His bride. He died for her. He is her head and she the Body. The Bride is strongest when she knows that she needs her Lord; therefore, the Church is strongest when persecuted for then, unable to save herself, she is confronted with her weakness and crying out to her Lord for for deliverance.

The Church Militant is not about great numbers, for where the two and the three are gathered in the name of Christ, there is the Church, and she will endure to the end. Instead, it is about the remnant, which the number 144,000 may signify, who are faithful to Christ to the end, regardless.

The Church Militant is the Church under siege, the blood of the martyrs mingled with the blood of Christ on the blood-stained banner ever rampant on the field. “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed”. (2 Cor 4:8-9) We are reviled and hated by the world for the sake of the Word of God. Still, we continue teaching and preaching the forgiveness of sin and salvation by baptism, through grace, through the hearing of the Word, and through faith in Christ alone.

In many countries today, we are imprisoned for righteousness sake. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “when Christ calls a man He bids him come and die.” Holding fast under persecution, “we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter”. (Ro 8:36c-d) Yet, we refuse to renounce our Savior deeming death preferable to denial of Him, knowing that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us”, (Ro 8:37) and “[a]lways bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” (2 Cor 4:10) Furthermore, we have the assurance of our reward for enduring through the tribulations of this world. (Rev 7:13-17) Though under siege, some will fall by the way, those who endure to the end will be saved.

It is brutal, this Advent. It is filled with wars, rumors of war, earthquakes in divers places, famine, distress, persecution, and prosecution. Perhaps the membership is falling because the cultural mavens mock at faith and the flesh of some is weak and so they fall away, preferring to be pleasers of men. Or, perhaps the shepherds think they can grow the church if only it would bend to the world and declare that some things in the Bible are outmoded. Why preach against sin? Why preach repentance for sin to make people feel uncomfortable? Perhaps, buildings are being destroyed by the heathen, or converted to heathen or other secular use; after all, who will object when the membership have fled? Though we may lose all, let us count it for naught.

There are those who would mock, deride, scorn, revile, rape, burn, persecute, prosecute, imprison, behead, and kill us. Nevertheless, they are not the enemy. Indeed, our enemy is well known and has been from before the Fall. Moreover, we know that he has already lost the battle. Jesus lives; the victory’s won, and that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ro 8:38-39)

In this brutal and trial-filled Advent in which the Church lives, bloodied but unbowed, we are sustained and consoled by these words of life: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Rev 2:10) Planting the cross firmly before us, we can look past our present troubles to the joy of a New Christmas Day.

This, the longest and unkindest Advent of all, wherein we live crying out “how long, Lord?” takes us to the Christmas of God’s rest. On that Day, like John, we will hear: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4) “

That is a Christmas Day devoutly to be beheld and celebrated. Until then, beloved, watch and pray.

Merry Christmas.

Going up the Mountain

We’ve been reading the Book of Exodus for the longest while, a few verses per day, in Hebrew to keep our hard won skills sharp. At present, we are arrived at the intended destination: Exodus 19. This is where God calls Moses up the mount of Sinai. The end result of this call is the abiding Presence of God in the midst of His people.

No longer is He the pillar of fire and smoke that stands between His people and their enemies. After Exodus 19, and even to this day, God comes down amongst us, to dwell with us.

In Exodus, He is eminently untouchable though in the people’s midst. This descent of God to live with His people is repeated in the incarnation of Christ Jesus, who is eminently touchable. Still, even in Christ, as in Exodus, we encounter the back side of God because this is all we can experience in the now. In the not yet, in the eschaton, we will experience God face to face, and we shall see Him as He is.

Let There Be Light!

That is the latest tapestry. Here is what it looks like.
Am I happy with it? Perhaps.

BTW, you’re seeing Let There Be Light! still on the tapestry frame, hanging from LeClerc warping hooks on a door in the studio.

The origin of the design is a Voyager image of something out there in space. I looked at it and the name popped in to my head.

The big question: what was it like when God said “let there be light!” Well, we know there was light. He spoke it, and it was. The thing is, when you toss John into the mix, you’re looking at the darkness’s response to the light.

Therefore, Let There Be Light! is a combination of Genesis 1 and John 1. It’s intended to be profoundly Judaeo-Christian.

A stumbling stone?

 A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.

The tablet, probably found near the Dead Sea in Jordan according to some scholars who have studied it, is a rare example of a stone with ink writings from that era — in essence, a Dead Sea Scroll on stone.

It is written, not engraved, across two neat columns, similar to columns in a Torah. But the stone is broken, and some of the text is faded, meaning that much of what it says is open to debate.

Amos 9, with particular attention to v. 11, is part of the “recognized Jewish tradition” which points to the resurrection of the Messiah. Who is the “tabernacle of David” but Christ Himself? How is he “fallen” but on the Cross for our salvation?

Then, there’s this:

Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the stone was part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day.

“Some Christians will find it shocking — a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology — while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism,” Boyarin said.

And park rangers are shocked to know that bears poop in the woods.