Month: March 2015

Having Trouble Understanding those Sermons?

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It’s an all-too-often stated phrase after Sunday mornings: “I’m sure the sermon was good, I just didn’t understand it.  It was just too deep for me.”  John MacArthur has some helpful words in response:

“It’s very easy to be hard to understand, very easy.   All you have to do is not know what you’re talking about and nobody else will either.  Sometimes you hear somebody speak and you think “It’s too deep for me.”  Probably not.  Probably you didn’t understand it because they didn’t understand it.  It’s very hard to be crystal clear because you have to have mastered your understanding.  And when you respond to a preacher and you get the message, it’s because they have done the hard work of understanding it in their own mind so that they can convey it clearly to you because they understand it clearly.  That is what has impact on people’s lives.  Just mumbling about the Bible with a lack of clarity doesn’t have a positive effect.  Speaking the word of God (so that it can be) clearly understood is what brings its impact to the heart.  And that takes effort.”

John MacArthur

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Enmity with the World

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Some wise (and relevant) words from Kevin DeYoung on the Christian’s relationship to the world:

Peer Pressure

“Many Christians have the mistaken notion that if only we were better Christians, everyone would appreciate us. They don’t realize that holiness comes with a cost. Sure, you can focus on the virtues the world likes. But if you pursue true religion that cares for orphans and promotes purity (James 1:27), you’ll lose some of the friends you were so desperate to make. Becoming a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, requires you to resist the world which wants to press you into its mold (Rom. 12:1–2). Saving yourself for marriage, staying sober on Friday night, turning down a promotion to stay at your church, refusing to say the f-word, turning off the television—these are the kinds of things the world doesn’t understand. Don’t expect them to. The world provides no cheerleaders on the pathway to godliness.”

In a culture that craves to be liked more than anything else, Christians have to realize that the gospel will cause division.  If we never encounter opposition, then what we are preaching is not the gospel of Christ but the gospel of the world.

Who is This #5: Mark 1:14-15

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I want to draw attention to a clause that is often overlooked when reading Mark:

‘Now after John was arrested.’

While we may argue whether Jesus’ ministry starts at his baptism or with his temptation, the start of his public ministry is clearly described here.  And this start didn’t occur until after John the Baptist had been arrested.

This doesn’t really make sense to us (and, for other reasons, it didn’t make sense to John or the disciples either) : why would Jesus wait until John was arrested before beginning his ministry?  It seems like Jesus and John would make a pretty good team!  Crowds were drawn to John, and we’ll see soon enough that crowds were drawn to Jesus.  They were proclaiming a similar message (compare v. 15 and v. 4).  John had no problem playing second fiddle to Jesus (v. 7-8).  John, while he suffered his own doubts, would have been much more adept at following Jesus than most, if not all, of his disciples were.  So what gives?

The answer is one that we should all take to heart: John had served his role (and faithfully at that) in the grand story of God and his redemption of the world.  John is not the main character–that was never the plan.  He had done his job well, proclaiming baptism and repentance of sins (v. 4), but now Jesus came proclaiming the gospel (v. 14).  John moves into the background so that way there is no division of attention–Jesus demands our full attention, not to be split with John.

John had served his role–the time he spoke about is now fulfilled and the kingdom of God is finally here after breaking into human history at Jesus’ baptism.  In our own lives, too often we are not content to serve in the role that God has given us.  Wherever we are, whatever we do, whether the stage is big or small, we are to point to Jesus.

Is Lying Always Wrong?

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Is lying always wrong?

A brief essay I wrote on Rahab’s “bending the truth” in Joshua 2:

Rahab’s deception of the messengers sent by the king of Jericho in Joshua 2 is another issue that is frequently raised from this text.  Assuming that the command to ‘not bear false witness’ addresses more than legal situations, how does one reconcile this command not to lie in Exodus 20 with Rahab’s actions here?  A surface reading of the text seems to state that God used the deception of Rahab to further his plans in the conquest of the land.  The following paragraphs will address different interpretations of Rahab’s actions, as well as a brief conclusion of what I believe is the best approach.

When Christian ethicists approach this passage, they generally interpret Rahab’s actions in one of three ways.  Howard calls the first approach the ‘lesser of two evils approach.’

Under this interpretation, Rahab, faced with lying or the death of the spies, had to pick which was less wrong.  After the situation has passed, Rahab must repent from her sin of lying.  This approach is problematic in a number of ways, most primarily the doubt that God would hold one accountable for sin in which there was no other choice.

It seems that this is an unlikely interpretation of this passage and other passages in Scripture that are like it.

The second interpretation offered by ethicists is referred to as “graded absolutism” by Howard.

In this interpretation, one should seek the greater good, which in Rahab’s case was the preservation of the lives of the spies.  Howard points out that this view has biblical support with other examples, both from narrative and didactic passages.

Yet this is a dangerous, slippery slope to ‘the ends justify the means.’  Clearly this approach has its problems as well.

Finally, Howard lists the approach that he prefers, that of ‘nonconflicting absolutes.’

This view suggests that the other two interpretations produce a false dichotomy–believers do not need to choose between two sinful acts but rather should trust God to provide an alternative way.  As Howard writes, “To act otherwise shows a lack of faith in God’s ability to protect or provide, even in a desperate situation.”

Because God is truth, deception in any form is wrong.

Yet this approach seems to be overly naïve, and seems to make the other two approaches seem less Christian because they seem to leave God’s sovereignty out of the equation.

It is easy for someone to argue that Rahab made the wrong choice and should have trusted God in this situation, but those who argue for such a position are frequently in seminary classrooms where there is no immediate danger.  Woudstra believes that this debate argues the wrong question.  “In Israel truth […] means ‘loyalty toward the neighbor and the Lord.’  Thus viewed, Rahab’s words need not be called a lie.”

Unfortunately Woudstra’s approach seems slightly deceptive itself, and is not helpful in reaching a conclusion.  In the same way, Halstad argues “not all forms of deception are necessarily immoral,” but this also seems to be skirting the issue.

I believe that a graded absolutist approach is the best approach, but it must be nuanced correctly.  In order to prevent this from becoming an ‘ends justify the means’ approach, one must recognize that this graded absolutism must be case-based, i.e., every situation is different.  The argument that God is truth is somewhat misleading.  Verhey writes, “God is Truth, but when Scripture uses this image it does not refer simply to some correspondence between word and thought.  […] The test for our speech and our lives, then, is not simply whether what we say or do corresponds with what we think, but faithfulness to covenant.”

In protecting the spies, Rahab was remaining faithful to her newfound covenant with the LORD.  Finally, the aspect that is perhaps the largest proponent of this belief is that nowhere in this passage (or a similar passage concerning the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1) is there condemnation of Rahab’s actions.

It seems that there is good reason to believe Rahab did not commit a sin when she deceived the messengers from the king of Jericho.  She remained faithful to the covenant which she had made with the Israelites and with their God.  Yet even if she did sin from this deception, she has been justified through the blood of Christ Jesus.

Who is This #4: Mark 1:12-13

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One of the primary characteristics of the Gospel of Mark is its brief nature.  Mark wastes no words in his gospel, so whenever there seems to be additional detail, we should take notice.  Most of the time however, Mark gives us the bare minimum to describe the event, and many of these events are further expounded in the other Gospels.

An example of Mark’s brevity can be found in his account of the temptation of Jesus.  Whereas Matthew describes the dialogue between Jesus and Satan, Mark simply tells us that it happened.  So what do these two verses have to tell us about who Jesus is?  What is it that Mark wants us to know about Jesus from this passage?

First, it is significant that it is the Spirit who drives Jesus into the wilderness.  Even from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, it is God who is in control, not others.  God is orchestrating the events of Jesus’ life, just as he orchestrates the events of our lives.

Second, notice the connection between Israel in the wilderness and Jesus in the wilderness.  Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness; Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness.  While Matthew makes explicit this connection, Mark is making it quite clear that Jesus is the true Israel.  What does that mean?  In the Old Testament, Israel is described as God’s son (read Exod. 4:22-23; Hos. 11:1).  Israel failed miserably in its calling as God’s child.  Yet Jesus comes and shows that he is the true Son of God–he remains faithful where Israel failed.  Who is this?  This is Jesus, the true Son of God.

Third, Jesus is clearly in God’s protection.  In Scripture, the wilderness was seen as a cursed place (cf. the animals in Isa. 43:20, and how God provides life-giving water in the midst of the wilderness, or ‘desert’).  On what would be considered Satan’s ‘home turf,’ Jesus is protected by angels.  Even when there are dangerous wild animals, Jesus is safe because he is in the will of God.

Mark makes it clear who this Jesus is–the true Israel, God’s son, who is guided by God’s Spirit and is in his protection.