Monthly Archives: May 2018

THE HOLY SPIRIT, OLD TESTAMENT & NEW TESTAMENT

Psalm 139:7 ”Where could I go from thy Spirit, where could I flee from thy face?”

Most of this is obvious. I’m just collecting all the texts , wishing to leave an impression. The Holy Spirit is in the Bible from start to finish and He now indwells the Body of Christ as the Spirit of God’s Son and by this He constitutes the Church as indeed the extension of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Some of it I’m still wrestling with and would be happy for for response at holywoodjk@aol.com. I mean to return to it. God enabling.

1. The Holy Spirit has always been around, working to create, bless and redeem. His presence and work is not unique to the New Covenant church or scriptures. He indwelt, guided and blessed the Old Covenant church also.
2. Who brooded over the formless earth like a hen over her chickens, bringing order and harmony out of the chaotic and uninhabitable and continues to make the earth fruitful? The Holy Spirit! (1) Who strove with rebellious humans for years to turn them back to God and life? (2) The Holy Spirit did!
3. When Abraham trusted God to make his own over-the-hill body and his wife’s dead womb fruitful and bear a child they couldn’t have hoped for, who was involved in the whole process right from the start? (3) The Holy Spirit!
4. Biblical writers sometimes think of “the Exodus” as the actual departure of Israel from Egypt but often they see it as the whole movement of God bringing Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness and settling them in the land of promise.
5. Who was there delivering Israel from Egyptian captivity and bringing them through the Red sea? The Holy Spirit! Who was there in the midst of them, providing, as they wandered through the wilderness in need of food and rest? And who put up with their rebellion and murmuring, continuing to guide them though they grieved him with their wickedness? The Holy Spirit! (4)
6. Having freed them from the external conditions of slavery, who was it that dwelled in and worked with them, shaping them with life-transforming truths that redeemed them from internal slavery to all forms of corruption, enabling them to walk with their heads held high? The Holy Spirit! 5 Who built the Tabernacle through those people he chose and gifted? The Holy Spirit. 6 And when God’s supreme prophet needed help to spiritually guide the nation of Israel, it was the Spirit of God–the same Spirit that worked with Moses–that began to work in a more marked way with the seventy men chosen as colleagues to Moses, providing national guidance. 7
7. When Joshua and his peers died, Israel forgot what God had done for them the result was anarchy, civil war, renewed slavery and abuse from other nations. It was the Holy Spirit who came upon certain deliverers, galvanizing the tribes into unity that resulted in freedom and rest. 8
8. The Holy Spirit was there when the monarchy arrived, working through Saul until he showed himself an enemy of God’s purposes. So the Spirit of God departed from him and came mightily upon David who called the nation to be one people under one God. When he sinned grievously against God, he pleaded that God not take his holy Spirit from him. 9
9. It was during the period of the monarchy that the prophets made their appearance in earnest. Prophets who, like Micah were filled “with the Spirit of the Lord” 10 and Azariah who proclaimed assurance to Judah and her king. 11  Both Nehemiah and Zechariah speak of the entire period before the exile as a time when God dealt with Israel through the Holy Spirit 12 and Peter speaks of “the Spirit of Christ” being “in” them when they foretold of the coming suffering and glorification of the Master. 13
10. Prophets saw a coming day of calamity because of Israel’s covenant-breaking behavior but they assured Israel that a time was coming when God would signal the renewal of covenant relationship with Israel by lavishly pouring out the Spirit on men, women, girls and boys, male and female servants, virgins and old men. It would be a day of new beginnings, a day marked out by renewed Spirit activity.14
11. It’s important that we remember that the work of the Spirit of God wasn’t confined to acts of dramatic redemption or merely “religious” activities. Psalm 104 combines the extraordinary with the steady, everyday blessing of the entire creation. This includes his providing the gift of “wisdom” which means “thinking like God” and learning to live in and enjoy the world under him. The whole of life is permeated with the activity of the Holy Spirit.15
12. Then came the deportation the prophets had foretold and Israel marched into the dark, but even in captivity the Holy Spirit was dwelling, speaking, enabling and promising. Ezekiel was among the captives when the heavens opened and the Spirit of God entered him.16  Again and again he speaks conviction and consolation which comes to its peak in 37:1-14 where a nation dead in sin and exile is assured that the Spirit of God would raise them from their graves and give them life.17
13. When many returned to the land, chastened but not completely cured, they found life hard, their enemies eager, their situation precarious and unimpressive. But Haggai18  gave them the assurance that the covenant promise God gave to Abraham was still intact so they were not to fear, for not only was God faithful to his past promises, the Spirit of the Lord was “standing” in their midst. Zechariah encouraged Zerubbabel, the governor, to believe that the daunting task of establishing Israel again would be accomplished by the Spirit of the Lord.19
14. The literature of the Intertestamental period is littered with references to the Holy Spirit and his work in the lives of believers and elsewhere.20  Before the birth of John the Baptist and the Lord Christ himself, an angel assured the aged Zechariah that he would have a son who would be filled with the Spirit of God even from the womb.21  Luke 22 says the angel told Mary that in conceiving the Lord the Holy Spirit would come on her, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (an allusion to the Old Covenant Shekinah–the “glory” that stood over the Tabernacle). And there was the aged Simeon who was told by the Spirit that he would live to see the Lord’s Messiah and being “in the Spirit” he came into the temple, saw the Christ child and praised God for his faithfulness.
23
15. If all this is true–that the Holy Spirit was always and everywhere present, what are we to make of John’s statement that even in the closing days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, “the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified”? (24)
16. The “giving” 25  and “receiving” of the Spirit in this passage hinges on the glorification of Christ and it has specific reference to believers in the Christ. It isn’t necessary to set it against all we’ve just surveyed. John knew very well that the Spirit had always been at work in the people of God and beyond, and that he had been with them throughout the public ministry of Christ, because he expressly said this.26  He had never been absent so the “giving” of the Spirit speaks of some specialized sense of his presence.
17. The glorification of Christ involved his atoning death, his resurrection and his glorious ascension to God’s right hand.27  Peter said “Exalted to the right hand of God he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” 28  This is precisely what Jesus was talking about when he said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever”– 29
18. The significance of the giving and receiving of the Spirit in the John 7 passage is generated because it relates to the return of the exalted Christ who had ended the earthly phase of his ministry and had become life-giving Spirit. 30
19. In Acts 2, what Peter told his listeners was this: they were witnessing a new beginning, a new and special presence of the Holy Spirit who was now—what he could never have been before—the presence and representative of the glorified Christ who with his Father had taken up residence in the Messianic believers who constituted the new temple.
20. The Spirit could not function in this role earlier, precisely because the Christ in his earthly ministry was operating in the realm of the flesh (that is, under ordinary human limitations) and was not a glorified, ascended and universal Christ. For the Spirit to operate in this new way it was necessary for Christ to return to the Father. 31
21. In the unfolding purpose of God, the Christ could not stay with them unless he first went away from them (through the process of dying, rising, ascension and glorification) and returned to them in the person of the abiding Spirit.32  So one of the differences between what went before God’s glorifying Christ and what happened after it, is more about the “new identity” of the Spirit than about degrees of intimacy or the kinds of things the Spirit did. The Spirit had become the presence of the glorified Christ who was no longer to be seen in “fleshly” terms (within mere human or even merely Jewish categories).33
22. In the Messianic age the Spirit “of God” while he continues to be the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, he is now identified as the Spirit “of Jesus” or the Spirit “of Christ” or the Spirit “of his Son”. 34  Once more, this he could not be prior to the exaltation of the Christ, but now the Spirit comes in his name. 35  So the John 7 passage really says more about Christology than about the Spirit.
23. Additionally, with the arrival of the Christ a new world order has appeared. 36  The Christ is no longer a merely earthly figure but a “life giving Spirit” 37  and his people are citizens of heaven, in the world but not of it. 38  This means not only do they not view Christ in merely human terms, they don’t view themselves or anyone else after the flesh.39 Their perspective is now “spiritual,” “heavenly,” that is, arising from the Spirit. 40
24. In Acts 2, the wind and fire, the gift of languages not known to the speakers, the prophetic proclamation and the profusion of miracles connected with Pentecost, is a moment of crisis and new beginning, tangible proofs that these were the days of the Spirit of which the prophets had spoken. 41
25. So it was not the presence and work of the Spirit that was new that was known throughout Israel’s history and mankind’s experience as part of the created order. But this was profoundly more than “business as usual.” Some of what was new was the setting in which the Spirit was now at work, the relationship He now sustained to the glorified Christ as the new and renewed manifestation of the Living Lord Jesus and His presence now in the newly created People of God. The Spirit is forever doing this kind of work, God breathes into Adam [humanity] the “breath” of life and man becomes a living being, God sends the wind [breath, spirit] into dead Israel in the valley of dry bones and a nation is resurrected. What happens in and through Jesus Christ echoes and brings to fullness all that has gone before and is reflected in the texts alluded to.
26. Close to the end of his earthly ministry, Christ told his people that he would send them another Counselor —one they know—who was already “with” them but would be “in” them.42  While it’s true that he later speaks of their whole new experience in terms of being “with” them 43  it’s still true that he makes a distinction between “with” and “in”.44
27.  Jesus was speaking here of the time when the believers would become the new covenanted People and so would become the new temple in which the Christ and his Father would dwell through the Spirit.45 The Spirit was with and in Israel prior to the covenant at Sinai, but with the Sinai events, Israel became something they had not been before. They became a covenant People or nation unto God who now dwelled in and among them as their (senior) covenant partner.
28. This work of Christ, in sending the Spirit [and coming in and as the Spirit] to anoint and indwell the Church, his Body, is what is meant by the phrase “baptized in the Spirit”. The phrase is from the Baptist 46 who wants the baptized penitents to know that their Christ is greater than he is. At the appropriate time, the Christ would give them the Spirit or, in the words of John, “he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”
29. Israel of old and many individuals within it had been anointed before the Christ arrived, but with his coming the purposes and results of the anointings were new, that is, peculiarly focused. They would all come under the heading of glorifying Christ and making him Lord of all and Lord in peoples’ lives. The reign of God would rise to its final manifestation in relation to humankind.
30. The anointing of Israel of old with the Spirit, is replaced by the new anointing of a new Israel, who, with Gentiles become the new temple in which God dwells through the Spirit.47 Those who share the faith of Abraham (rather than a place within the Sinaitic covenant), having been baptized into Christ become Abraham’s heirs.48
31. This move replaces the Mosaic covenant (which created two families–Jew and Gentile) with a “new” covenant which, in the Christ, makes of the two, “one new man, so making peace”.49 Israel is not “dumped” but her covenantal relationship with God is restructured and all people of faith become one with them.
32. By sending the Spirit in Jesus’ name and making him available to all who in trusting repentance take on them the name of Christ in baptism, 50  God shows the restructuring work is his. This he does in fulfillment of the words of the prophets, the Baptist and Jesus himself.
33. The Spirit’s anointing of Christ’s people was all they needed for a complete life with God in the Christ. He provided all things necessary for life and godliness and they needed nothing more! This anointing included gifted men and women who functioned within the Body in various ways.51
34. This is what John had in mind when he spoke of the anointing of the Church with the Holy Spirit who guides the church into all truth. 52 No pretended knowledge (via Gnostics or other radicals) is needed to complete them, there are no essentials missing that only the elite have access to. John is not suggesting that each individual has an anointing from the Spirit that makes him/her both infallible and exhaustively taught.
35. It is the New Community that’s baptized in the Spirit rather than each independent individual. By virtue of being part of the Community we are indwelled by the Spirit. Salvation and the reception of the Spirit is always personal but they’re not available in isolation–only within the covenanted community.
36. Suppose each human has what survives biological death, something we call “spirit” and which is said to dwell in us–we wouldn’t dream of saying, “Our spirit dwells only in our brain, our liver or heart” as distinct from, say, our foot or hand. No, our spirit dwells in “us,” no particular part of us. Nor would we dream of saying, “Our spirit doesn’t dwell in our toes or ears.” In saying the spirit dwells in “us” we mean “us” as a corporate whole and not independently in each organ as though we were a collections of independent pieces.
37. There is no “individual” indwelling of the Spirit. There are no “individual” Christians, independent units. It’s all right to speak of individual Christians as long as we know they only exist as various parts of a Body. A finger is not the whole body, it is an “individual” part of the body 53 but is an individual “part of the body”. We can only speak of a finger or foot or eye in the context of a corporate body.
38. And the indwelling is not any literal tabernacling of the Holy Spirit in us. The “indwelling” is another way of expressing his willingness to identify with and have holy communion with the covenanted Community, the Church. The indwelling is his gracious willingness to be and move among the people as their God in a peculiar covenantal way. “Indwelling” is not to be construed in a spatial sense but in a relatonal sense. We are said to dwell in God as surely as God is said to dwell in us.54
39. Whether the indwelling is “literal” or “figurative” the scriptures teach he indwells us. The good news is he continues to dwell in us and bless us despite our ignorance about the details.
40. Let me summarize:
The Holy Spirit has always been at work, creating, blessing, redeeming, nurturing, guiding, supplying and enlightening.
41. The prophets told of a day when the reign of God would become manifest in the Messiah and that that day would be made clear by the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. That time would be the period of covenant renewal.
42. God’s wondrous purposes became fully into view and imminent with the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth in whose life, death, resurrection and glorification the reign of God took on a greater glory than before.
43. The presence and work of the Spirit continued in some ways to be what it had always been, but it now took on a new significance. He became a witness to the glorification of Christ and to the identity of his covenanted people (the Church–made up of all nations). This meant he was working with a new phase of God’s purpose and it’s that new role that explains much of what is new in the New.
44. The Spirit, who is always the Spirit “of God” is made known as the Spirit “of Christ,” “of Jesus” and “of his Son”. This was not possible before the glorification of Jesus Christ.
45. The Spirit who had dwelt in the Old Covenant people—and visibly signaled that by the presence of the tabernacle and temple—now dwells in the New Covenant people which is made up of Jews and Gentiles who have received the Messiah. But the Son of God is not “one third” of God for GOD in one, indivisible GOD who is “tri-personal”. In the incarnation of the Word the fullness of GOD becomes incarnate. The differentiation is between “persons” in the One GOD. The Holy Spirit and Jesus are one (2 Corinthians 3) since they are GOD. (More later on this, perhaps. God enabling).
46. The Christ is said to “baptize in the Holy Spirit” when he sent the Spirit to the new covenanted people in whom he and his Father dwell through the Holy Spirit.
47. This new role of the Spirit might help explain the “sin against the Holy Spirit” of which Christ spoke.55 For the Jews to reject the earthly Christ was sin but it could later be rectified. To reject the exalted Christ, who is now only experienced through the Holy Spirit, is to sin a sin against the Holy Spirit for which there can be no cure. There was/is no other Christ and there is no other way in which Christ as Lord is brought to the world. To despise the Spirit witness is to close the door to possible salvation..
48. I know of no reason to say, with the majority of writers, that the difference between the Old Covenant and the New is that Old Covenant saints couldn’t keep the covenant because they didn’t have the Spirit to enable them. The Spirit, then, is supposed to have been sent to enable new covenant saints to keep the new covenant. I think this is a misunderstanding of the nature of both covenants.
49. The notion that the Old Covenant was “Spiritless” is a blunder and the view that ancient saints lagged behind New Covenant saints in faithfulness, that their love for and devotion to God was inferior and shallow is another blunder. Just by itself, the Hebrew writer’s “hall of fame” should put that claim permanently to rest.
50. It’s true that new truths were revealed and a new phase of God’s purposes arrived with the arrival of the New Covenant manifestation of the kingdom (reign) of God. The work and presence of the Spirit took on a special significance but all his enabling of people in Old Covenant times was just as real as any New Covenant enabling. With the arrival of the “fullness of time” that enabling work had a new thrust and development. It was “eschatological” and related to God’s new “end time” people and purposes which were centered in “the last Adam,” Jesus Christ.(56) All that is true, I think, but it has nothing to do with the depth and genuineness of the faith and devotion of ancient saints created and nurtured by the Spirit. At the ethical level, the glory of their lives was as rich as any in the present. Choose out examples from the New and they can be matched, at least, in the Old.
51. It’s not difficult to show formalism, apostasy and immorality in the ancients, but no one in the New Covenant writings condemns these as savagely as prophets in the old. Mere externalism was trashed by the prophets who called on people to have hearts that were circumcised and to give God themselves. Christ himself told us that the whole Old covenant canon could be summed up in the love commands. Paul followed his lead in that.57
52. I’m saying that much of the ignorance we attribute to Israelites under the Mosaic covenant is not theirs–it’s ours. I’m saying the Spirit made their lives lovely and sacrificial and God-fearing. I’m saying what is “new” about the work of the Spirit in the new covenantal arrangement has nothing to do with these matters.

 1. Genesis 1:2; Psalm 104:29-30
2. Genesis 6:3-5
3. Genesis 17:17; 18:11; Romans 4:19 & Galatians 4:29
4. Isaiah 63:10-14
5. See Nehemiah 9:20; Leviticus 26:12-13; Exodus 29:43-46
6. See Exodus 35:10-11, 30-31
7. Numbers 11:10-30
8. See Judges 3:10; 6:34 and other places
9. 1 Samuel 16:13-14; Psalm 51:11
10. Micah 3:8
11. 2 Chronicles 15:1-8
12. Nehemiah 9:30; Zechariah 7:12
13. 1 Peter 1:11
14. See Joel 2:28-29; Jeremiah 31:31-34; 33:19-26; Ezekiel 36:26-28; 37:1-14,24,26-27
15. See Psalm 104, especially verse 30
16. Ezekiel 2:2; 3:4
17. See the piece, Wind of the Spirit
18. Haggai 2:5
19. Zechariah 4:6-10
20. See the works of Max Turner, Millar Burrows and others.
21. Luke 1:13-15
22. Luke 2:25-27
23. Luke 1:35
24. John 7:38-39
25. There is no “given” in the Greek text though the translations are no doubt correct in supplying it. See Acts 19:2 for something similar.
26. John 14:17
27. The cross is seen as an aspect of Christ’s glorification. See, for example, John 12:27-28 but Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Timothy 3:16 would show more can be involved than the atoning death.
28. Acts 2:33
29. John 14:16,26
30. John 14:18,23; 16:7; 1 Corinthians 15:45. Christ retains his humanity, of course–1Timothy 2:5–but it’s a glorified humanity. See 1 Corinthians 15:42-50.
31. John 16:5-7; 17:4-5
32. John 14:16, 18,23,26; 16:5-7,16
33. 2 Corinthians 5:16
34. 1 Peter 1:11; Romans 8:9; Acts 16:7; Galatians 4:6
35. John 14:26
36. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15
37. 1 Corinthians 15:45
38. John 17:14, 16; Philippians 3:30 and Revelation 12:12; 13:6 contrasting “earth dwellers” and “heaven dwellers”
39. 2 Corinthians 5:16
40. This is not to suggest that there was no “spirituality” before the Messianic age, far from it. I’m only saying that within the stages of development of God’s purposes, the Mosaic age, was categorised as the time “of the flesh” where the Messianic age is “of the Spirit”. Prior to the Christian era both Isaac and Ishmael were born in the usual way but it’s said that, “the son born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit”. See Galatians 4:28-29. The terms “flesh” and “spirit” are used in numerous different ways depending on the writer’s intention. And sometimes they are contrasting “realms”. Jesus says God “is spirit” (John 4). He isn’t saying God is “made of” “spirit” (as we are made of “flesh”. He appears to be saying God exists in a “mode of being” that is not earthly, physical but rather (perhaps) “heavenly”. He isn’t “locating” God or defining His essence (what He’s “made of”). 
41. Acts 2:16-18; Joel 2:28-29; Isaiah 44:3; 1 Peter 1:11
42. John 14:17
43. John 14:23
44. While I believe the distinction is intentional here, the point isn’t made just by comparing the prepositions. The Spirit was already “in” them as he was “in” Old Covenant prophets–see 1 Peter 1:11 but I think the passage here speaks of them as the new and indwelt temple soon to be constructed. We don’t learn all this simply by comparing the prepositions.
45. Ephesians 2:21-22
46. Mark 1:7-8
47. Ephesians 2:11-20
48. Galatians 3:26-29
49. Ephesians 2:15-16
50. Acts 2:16-39; John 14:26; Galatians 3:9,14
51. 2 Peter 1:3; Ephesians 4:8,11-16; 1 Corinthians 12
52. 1 John 2:20,27; John 16:13
53. See 1 Corinthians 12:17; Romans 12:4
54. John 14:20
55. Matthew 12:31-32 and parallels
56. This simply means that the Messianic age is the “final” age, the “end time,” the period to which all earlier dispensations led. When scholars speak of the “eschatological” Spirit they don’t mean, of course, it’s a different Spirit, only that the renewed and special sense of his presence now relates to the dispensation known as “the end time”.
57. Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14

 

AFTER THE ANOINTING THE GLOOM

1 Samuel 27:1 (with 1 Samuel 16:1-13):
And David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines; and Saul will despair of me, to seek me anymore in any part of Israel. So shall I escape out of his hand.”

So that’s how life ends, eh? My enemy gets the last word! What I fear most conqueror me, destroys me, I’m destined to perish at it or his hand? I was given assurances, promises, and they came from someone I have good reason to trust. He delivered me from the lion and the bear and a giant who could have measured me from head to toe between his finger and thumb, But none of that counts. I’ll “perish” by the hand of my enemy “Saul”.

I’m not saying that promises and assurances mean nothing. That’s not it. I just hate the pain, the fear, the running, the isolation, the lack of happiness, the self-pity I fear that I’m full of. The truth is, I’d rather have exemption from anything like this. That way I wouldn’t need promises and assurances.

Looks like I’ll have to settle for assurances and my quota of the fine things, the enjoyable and pleasant experiences, of my life will have to do. I suppose I’ll just have to do what countless people have to do every day—gut it out and believe Him. I wince when I hear someone whose not in anguish mouthing this glib advice, “Count your blessings.” But maybe it isn’t shallow and glib. Sigh. Let’s see what truly rich blessings would be on my list.
Maybe, just maybe, reflecting back on bears and lions and giants and Psalm 124 would be a good and strengthening thing. Maybe the GOD who is faithful to His promises…maybe the GOD who won’t exempt me from prolonged anguish…maybe the GOD that I’m currently unable to find strength in will bring me through it all and Psalm 22:22-31 will be as truly my experience as 22:1-2.

IT’S SIMPLY TOO LATE NOW TO…

Christ comes from afar, comes to redeem and deliver us from Death and all that that means (John 3:17). He spends His entire life doing that in a life of teaching, giving, forgiving, helping and healing and then consummating it by sharing death with us—He hangs there streaked with sweat, spit and blood and speaks to us from there:
“I know you hear otherwise, but do I LOOK like I want you to grovel and crawl for forgiveness of sins? Have I EVER said a word that suggests that? Trust me, I don’t want that at all. You don’t feel that way toward those you love dearly. Neither do I. Rejoice in Me and that will make it easier to speak of Me when the opportunity is there. Lovers seek to please each other and to be good for each other. I believe in you as I believed in Isaiah and Peter and Paul and Moses and David—sinners every one. I DO believe in you! I DO. Believe in Me.”

When we reflect on His life, death, resurrection and His continued faithfulness now, it’s simply too late to doubt Him. It’s just too late now to do that.

“OUT WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD! THAT’S WHERE IT’S AT!”

It was some years back (maybe ten, something like that) but without effort I can see him as though it was yesterday (“were yesterday” if you prefer). There we were, a people in dire need of being gospeled and there he was with the tone and air of someone very wise and experienced. What he had to say was so well known to him that it wasn’t exactly boring to him but it was too bad that he had to say it one…more…time. Had we gained his eminence and knowledge we should have known what he was informing us about but obviously………
There he stood very casually dressed telling us in that understanding tone that it was all right for us to want to get things “right” when we assemble (you know, our singing and reading and prayers and engaging in the Lord’s Supper—“that kind of thing”) but it’s outside the building that “the rubber meets the road.” He had his soft-covered translation opened at some text and frequently gestured with it as he held it in his fist, rolled up, the way we often hold a rolled up magazine. What we carry to the assembly is only paper and ink. (A devout Hindu Christian in India some years ago gently instructed me on some things I was not to do with my Bible and some places where I should not set it down.) It was well known to our speaker anyway, it’s not having a paper and ink copy of the Holy Scriptures, it’s living them—out where the “rubber meets the road.”
It would be tragic—beyond tragic—if we thought that the sum total of our life with and for God is what happens during our gatherings and our getting all our religious convictions correctly in line. But, dear God, demeaning what happens, what hungry and reverent hearts purpose to happen, what they seek to experience in His nearer presence when they come to Supper with the Lord Jesus and in fellowship with one another in the Lord Jesus in heartfelt obedience—to speak dismissively of all that and more, is crass ignorance of who we are and what our gatherings are about.

Our speaker with his fistful of rolled up NT, his very casual dress and his (not quite) bored tone plainly told us that he knew so well what we obviously didn’t, went on to tell us that we needed to be kind and compassionate, honest, and in general we needed to be virtuous. Even that was spoken to us in a calm lecturing fashion. Having by this time exorcised all the wonder from the rolled up NT he waved from time to time, from the hymns we sang, the prayers the Suppering with and on the living Lord Jesus and the collection that was Jesus-imaging (2 Corinthians 8:9), he patiently moralized until closing when he offered an invitation to respond to “the gospel.”
There was no revealed mystery here, there was no declaration of war in the name of God and His Holy Son against all the rulers of the darkness of this world and their influence in us or around us and on behalf of a suffering and kept-ignorant world; there was no muted astonishment about sins forgiven, no presence of burdened people who needed their hearts lifted or cleansed or assured; there must have been no happy Christians made glad and further inspired.
He needed to put all that and so much more to the side, less important than our moral response away from this sacred (yes!) gathering, and take us out there “where the rubber meets the road.” What ignorance! What injury! When the moral becomes all and the religious becomes nothing. When the moral is spoken of in patient (or earnest) tones and the lovely mystery of the religious is (virtually) dismissed in very casual dress and with the waving and pointing of a fistful of rolled up Scriptures. (See the contrast in John 2:13-17 and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 and Malachi 3:16.)

They had been looking for Him for some days, asking friends and neighbors, (“Have you seen our son Jesus?”) and when they finally found Him in the temple they told Him, using an active imperfect verb, of their unceasing effort and concern). Bless me; he was a twelve year-old boy, the visit from up north to Jerusalem, the trip with all the excitement, his peers, the laughter, the games on the way, the running, chasing, the stories, the chores, the social joys and the anticipation of seeing the big city and the vast crowds. Wonderful! Life “out where the rubber meets the road” with its pleasures and responsibilities.
All that, without apology, and then He turned in loving religious reverence to the Temple. Just a building, and yet, not “just” a building, but a place dedicated to the telling of “the ancient story of miracle and the mystery of prophecy explained.” A place where the morally fine (and now gathered) people were reminded of their calling, of their peculiar existence as the People of God, and of their service to their God and the human family He loved so much.
“Oh,” He said, when they found Him in the Temple, listening to the teachers and asking them questions, and in response to HIS PARENTS’ distress He said, “I thought you would have known I must be about My Father’s business.” Luke 2:41-49
Poor boy Jesus. No matter, He would understand better when He was older and wiser, that being in the place of worship while it was…“yes, all right,” what really mattered only happened out “where the rubber meets the road.” Sigh.

(Holy Father, help us please. Give us servant ministers who drink deeply from your Holy Scriptures and learn of you and your Holy Son so that we will be enlightened and empowered to be about your business. This prayer in the Lord Jesus.)

 

BEHOLD “THE MAN!”

It makes no sense to me to confine our faith in the Lord Jesus to the materials of the Gospels. The Epistles and Acts are part of the divine revelation and open our eyes to His Person and work. But there is tremendous power in the surface reading of the Gospels, though they are far from “biographical sketches.” If our studies of the epistles obscure or hide or deflect us from Jesus the Person then our studies have become our enemy. The Holy Scriptures, particularly the NT, weren’t written to distance us from HIM and hide HIM behind theological pursuits. (Note His sad but trenchant warning in John 5:39-40 with Luke 19:41-44.)

The strength of the Church of God (1 Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15.9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 3:5, 15), in spite of its faults, errors, and omissions (and they have been, and are, real and many), is not in its sometimes disputable creed as it has drawn it up on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, but in the power of the indisputable person, purpose, truthfulness and character of its Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
In spite of all the critics, the Gospels have conveyed to the minds and hearts of millions of men and women a living image of Christ. They see Him there; they hear His voice; they listen, and they believe Him and they believe in Him. It is not so much that they accept certain doctrines said to be taught by Him, though it is true that they do, it’s that they accept Him, Himself, as their Lord and their God.

The sacred fire of trust in Him descended upon the Apostles, and has from them been handed on from generation to generation. It is with that living Person that any form of unbelief has to deal and as long as the Gospels practically produce the effect of making that personal figure a reality to human hearts, (and they do) so long will the Christian Faith, and the Church of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1), in that central unchanging commitment be a vital and permanent force in the world.
A prominent and influential skeptic insisted that he cannot define the grand figure of Jesus so he can’t really make a commitment. But who would dare to define Him? They can’t define Him but a countless host down the generations have sung, written, prayed and lived righteously, joyously and at ultimate cost to themselves and their loved ones in a pursuit of a deeper image of Him.
Men and women can feel and know what they cannot define. The skeptic, it would seem, would have us to wait coolly until we can answer all the difficult questions about Him and our faith in Him before we act on that faith or speak confidently about Him.
The skeptic said we are often obliged, by the pressure of events, to act without full proof and sometimes on what turns out to be bad evidence. He thought that very reasonable indeed and his view and practice is followed to this day and it will continue to be the case. But it doesn’t follow, the critic said, that Christians should do that when there is no pressure to act.
But isn’t a strange ignorance of human nature to imagine that there is no pressure on humans in this matter. No one looks at the injustice, brutality, cruelty, and moral insanity seen everywhere in this life and wonders? No one experiences this and does not want there to be something better? This isn’t pressure?
Jesus, who understood and felt the human heart and mind better than all the skeptics looked at over-burdened animals as they passed by, urged to greater effort by their insensitive owners, someone who watched oxen, fitted with roughly-made yokes that tore their flesh, drag ploughs daily from one end of a field and back—He looked at them and thought of people and He was heard to say, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me…for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) The attraction of Jesus more than outweighs many a critical difficulty under the pressure of the burdens and the sins of life.
That same unbeliever admitted the force of this influence on individuals. “If (he said) a man can find a friend, the embodiment of all his hopes, the mirror of his ethical ideal, in the pages of any, or of all, of the Gospels, let him live by faith in that ideal. Who will, or can, forbid him? But let him not delude himself that the notion that his faith is evidence of the objective reality of that in which he trusts. Such evidence is to be obtained only by the use of the methods of science, as applied to history and to literature, and it amounts at present to very little.”
Well, a single man’s belief in an ideal may be very little evidence of its objective reality. But the conviction of millions of men and women, generation after generation, right from the beginning, of the truth of the four Gospel witnesses, and of the human and divine reality of Jesus Christ they describe, has at least something of the weight of the verdict of a jury. In daily life, thought and practice the figure of Christ lives! The Gospels have created it; and He makes Himself present as a personal fact in life, alike among believers and, yes, unbelievers too.
This unbeliever himself, in spite of all his skepticism, appears to have his own type of this character. “The narrative of the woman taken in adultery, (he says), if internal evidence were an infallible guide, might well be affirmed to be a typical example of the teachings of Jesus.” Internal evidence may not be an infallible guide; but it certainly carries great weight.
                                                 BEHOLD “THE MAN”

This piece leans heavily on an essay written by Henry Wace in 1889 in a devastating response to T.H. Huxley, the noted “agnostic”. I’m not a specialist in Huxley (or anyone else for that matter) but what I know of him from his published letters and biographies has led me to think he had doubts about his doubts. Sigh.

AUTHENTIC GODHOOD, ANOTHER LOOK

In Euripides’s Alcestis the Spartan king, Admetos, is to die unless he gets a substitute. His wife Alcestis offers herself as his substitute but the thought of losing her is driving Admetos crazy. Hercules (Heracles), son of the gods and a regular guest at Admetos’s house comes to visit, notes the gloom and misery everywhere, learns of the situation and goes out and rescues her from Death.
The poet Robert Browning zeroes in on the reputation of Hercules as a helper of humankind against the forces that are too strong for it. He makes the point that this going to humanity’s defense is one of the authenticating marks of genuine godhood and has the chorus singing this:
Gladness be with thee, Helper of our world! 
I think this is the authentic sign and seal 
Of Godship, that it ever waxes glad, 
And more glad, until gladness blossoms, bursts 
Into a rage to suffer for mankind, 
And recommence at sorrow: drops like seed 
After the blossom, ultimate of all. 
Say, does the seed scorn the earth and seek the sun? 
Surely it has no other end and aim 
Than to drop, once more die into the ground, 
Taste cold and darkness and oblivion there: 
And thence rise, tree-like to grow through pain to joy, 
More joy and most joy,—do man good again.

Browning stresses not only the theme of suffering to help humanity, he stresses the gladness of heart in which the enterprise is undertaken. It isn’t a grim, reluctant, foot-dragging approach to the matter (Heracles “strode” off to effect the rescue). And it was “for the joy set before him” our Savior despised the pain and loss barring His way. Only a blind theology gives the impression that God has a hard time loving sinners! Only a blind Ecclesiology and Pneumatology teaches the blessed Church of the Lord Jesus Christ that it is to be the enemy of sinners. What nonsense! What a blatant denial of the Incarnation, Cross & Resurrection!
P.T. Forsyth insisted that the coming of God as the weak and wounded Jesus Christ is not only not surprising, it would be astonishing if He had not come in Jesus Christ, in a rage to suffer on humanity’s behalf. In this, Forsyth doesn’t have in mind only the tender side of God, His gentle love and compassion though he does have that in mind; he’s thinking of God’s infinitely holy character that hates all that stands between Him and the human family He has Fathered (Acts 17:29). If God was moved in love, it was a holy love. Christ doesn’t come simply blessing, being sweet, talking kindly and taking us in His loving arms—He comes sharing the suffering of the judgment that holiness must bring upon Sin in order to deal with it!
The forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation of the world is achieved through love’s judgment on Sin—the word of the cross says that! And it’s love judgment on Sin on behalf of sinners! Romans 11:32.
And it had to be God’s Incarnation, God’s cross or it wouldn’t be the love of God that worked the rescue. And it had to be a representative human in and through whom reconciliation was accomplished because a repentance worthy of the nature of Sin must come from humankind if we wish to live in immortal glory. In the cross Jesus repents for us. I don’t mean he repents so that we don’t have to—I mean what R.W. Moberly and McCleod Campbell have taught us, that He alone could give humanity a repentance which gives complete homage to the righteousness of God and to which we can (by faith in Him) add our “amen”. Our repentance is His for His mind alone knows the nature of Sin and denounces its very existence, denounces its usurping His life-bringing place in human hearts (see Romans 8:3 where He condemns Sin that made its home in humankind).
Those who are His do not see what He and He alone has done and draw the conclusion that they don’t need to repent since He has done it or equally bad, nod some tame approval of it and stroll our way home, hands in pockets. There is nothing “legal” about this! It’s “relational”. Those who are His  are part of Him (1 Corinthians 6:15; 12:12)!!! Part of Him, telling again through suffering and joy and speech the Story of His own once-and-for-all doing for humanity and for them, them who are sinners like everyone else!
“Nothing in my hand I bring/Simply to Thy cross I cling/Naked come to Thee for dress/Helpless turn to Thee for grace…” is true in every syllable but we still “cling, come, turn” to such a Lord Jesus. By faith we offer Him as our representative; Him, who did for us what we could not for ourselves. And in offering Him we offer back nothing other than God’s being and doing, Himself as the Lover of humanity and of each of us in particular. but we offer! We offer in repentance and faith that which the gracious God works in us (Romans 2:4; Philippians 1:29; Acts 18:27). It’s that that we freely offer in and through Jesus Christ but we do offer it! The Christ into whom we are baptized is not “any old Christ”—we become part of a Sin-killing, Life-bringing, Righteousness-embodying Lord Jesus. We don’t just smile approvingly and wish Him well—we become one with Him, for Him, for ourselves and for the world!
It was God and it was God in Christ who came to our rescue. The motivation for this coming/sending of God is that God “so loved the world” (John 3:16-17). We can’t take it all in. We can’t take it all in because we have neither the intellect nor the purity of heart. We’d have to be God to take it all in—it’s a God thing!

Not to be able to see that in the cross blinds us to the possibility of seeing it anywhere else in the world.
There is no authentic God but that God; the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ!

 

APPROVED OR TOLERATED?

The Bible doesn’t supply and doesn’t pretend that it supplies every answer to every moral question we can raise. But it reveals God and comes to its greatest height when it reveals God in and as Jesus Christ. It does this in numerous rich ways and having done it the Bible urges us to work on that basis in answer to the question, “How then shall we live?” It provides the groundwork by which we can learn to “think theologically”.

Leviticus 19 tells Israel to leave the edges of their fields for the poor but doesn’t define an “edge”. Nor does it define “the poor” How are they to obey the call if they don’t know what an “edge” is or who “the poor” are? God concludes numerous verses with the motivational phrase, “I am the Lord your God!” But that’s more than motivation. It teaches them how to think of an “edge” or how to think of “the poor.” Not with a measuring line or a dictionary. They will know what an “edge” or “the poor” means when they know who their Lord is and wish to please Him; when they wish to act like Him. He’s the one that “brought you out of the land of Egypt.” Bearing that in mind, when they come to harvesting they’ll not quibble and get as near to the edge of their property as possible and they won’t debate the identity of “the poor” every generation. The issue isn’t settled by lexicons and logic, it’s by one’s experience with God and how that shapes his or her response to the neighbor.

It’s clear that the Bible tolerates things and we are seduced into thinking that that means those things are approved. To think this might not be sheer hardness of heart but it’s certainly ignorance. Pharisees saw “divorce for any cause” as approved by God and Jesus showed it was only tolerated and regulated. He makes it clear in Matthew 19 that they judged it approved because they were hard-hearted and often heartless.

The notion that polygamy was approved in the OT is false—it was tolerated and it was regulated. And slavery is tolerated in both the OT and NT but it’s never approved. (More needs to be said about “slavery” and what the word means in numerous OT texts because it is only a shallow reading of the OT that equates all OT “slavery” with what it has come to mean to us.) Concubinage is tolerated in the OT but never approved.

But since we in the West are not troubled with polygamy and concubinage we can shrug at all that. Now “slavery”—that’s another matter. It wasn’t very long ago that Western nations were using the OT to approve of slavery. (Let me repeat: in the OT, all “slavery” is not slavery.) Not long ago I heard a Bible teacher whose views I judge, borrowing a phrase, are like the older photographs we used to have—they are “underdeveloped and over-exposed”—I heard him tell a crowd that “Paul was wrong about slavery.” Poor soul, he thought Paul approved of it and then said Paul couldn’t conceive of a world without slavery. Someone who could conceive of a creation transformed (Romans 8:18-23) couldn’t think of a world without slavery? (That’s what this professor said and he went on to say worse.)

I want to make it clear that it simply isn’t enough to quote verses in support of our claims and conclude we have a right to practice the same or something similar.

The Pharisees as a group could quote Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and look back on many centuries of history and practice to support their divorcing their wives for what so often were trivial reasons. Jesus condemned their hearts and their behavior as “adulterous”. In essence He told them that that text wouldn’t have been in the Bible if they hadn’t been heartless fools.

They said, “See? We have lined our lives up with Deuteronomy 24:1-4,” and were proud of it; they had some verses to support them. He said, “If you hadn’t been doing wrong that text would never have been needed.” I once had a 20th century Western man argue with me his right to have more than one wife because the OT regulated (rather than outlawed) polygamy. It must have been okay because it was “regulated,” he insisted.

The same thing is done to defend and support “our friend” the booze industry. Because people in the Bible daily drank intoxicating wine and because God is said to give “wine” as a gift to humans it’s immediately assumed that that means He would be pleased with our supporting the booze industry. (I won’t enter the discussion here about the generic nature of the biblical words rendered “wine” and “strong drink” or “beer”. Another time perhaps, though it’s hardly worth the time—so I now judge, though I didn’t always take that view.) But the very idea that naturally fermented wine or beer or “strong drink” (as the Hebrew term is translated in English and you know what “strong drink” means to us) is anything like the wines and beers or spirits the modern booze industry sells—that’s nonsense! And I would suppose if you can drink it, you can share it, if you can share it you can make it and if you can make it you can sell it.

It doesn’t matter to me that tens of thousands of people can support the booze industry and not get overwhelmed. Good for them! If they were all that mattered I suppose the matter wouldn’t ever be worth discussing. But hundreds of millions of people—drinkers and those they affect—are put through torment by what the booze industry sells. There isn’t another “respectable” business under heaven that does the damage to a countless host of our struggling fellow-humans that comes anywhere near the ruin the booze industry generates.

We boycott all kinds of companies (from fur companies to soap to sauce) if we think they’re hurting animals or poor people in “sweat shops” and then we do what? We support and defend the worst plague on earth. And all because they drank intoxicating wine in the Bible and because Jesus made gallons and gallons of it (so we’re told though oinos doesn’t mean intoxicating wine). Well, there’s more to it than that, isn’t there! We prize our “freedom”.

One of these days if we’re “lucky” we’ll come to see that the booze industry is against all we’re for and for all we’re against!

To interpret the Bible in the spirit of the Story as a whole requires more than lexicons, grammars and other exegetical tools. I understand for personal reasons that we don’t always live up to what we know—my life has been littered with failures—and that’s tragic. But our failure to live up to the best we know mustn’t be used to lower the loving response to God that we see and hear in scripture.

God’s heart, His purpose and His love for the human family seen climactically in the Lord Jesus is the best hermeneutical tool available to us (see Ephesians 5:1-2; Romans 15:1-3 and chapter 14 as context). Each Christian will have to work this out within his/her own heart. But surely: “I have the right…” (real or imagined) is not to be and will not be the last word about a host of things to those who live before us reflecting the heart and mind of God better than the rest of us.