Friday, January 22, 2021

Waiting

1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 might suggest to us that a Christian is one who has turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead. It's striking that the Thessalonian description of Christianity puts waiting for the Son of God from Heaven on par with serving God. I don't mean that those two things are equivalent, but that they are of equal importance.

Philippians 3:17–21 says something similar: we are to model ourselves after those who walk like the Apostles, who are waiting for the Son of God to come from Heaven, to change our bodies to be like His. I'm not sure I've ever really obeyed that exhortation: I'm not sure I've chosen role models based on whether they're waiting for the Son of God from Heaven. But that seems to be what the passage is telling us to do.

 I'm old enough to remember a time when the imminent return of Christ was a common belief among evangelicals. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, it wasn't a very controversial idea. Somewhere along the way, that seems to have fallen out of favor. 

There are many godly believers who hold different views to mine about the Lord's return. I'm not very dogmatic about eschatology, because I've lived long enough to have been proven wrong about a great many things. But I do insist that the epistles present the Lord's return as something that can happen at any moment, and that the Apostles expected Him to return in their own time. 1 Thessalonians 4:15–18 make it very clear: Paul includes himself in "we who are alive and remain."  1 Corinthians 15:51–52 make it clear that Paul didn't consider himself one who must necessarily die.

I recall reading J. N. Darby, where he pointed out that it's when the servant says "my lord delays" (Luke 12:45–46) that he begins to abuse his position. The servant doesn't say the lord isn't returning at all, merely that he's not returning soon.

I confess that I have fallen into that trap. I haven't ever denied that the Lord is returning, but I have certainly acted like He isn't returning soon. And I am more and more realizing that with this subtle shift in thinking, I have fallen into all sorts of traps.

So I've been reminding myself that the Apostles expected the Lord to return in their own lifetimes, and I am by no means wiser than they. I've been reminding myself that this life is real and significant and what I do here matters, but I have been called to wait for the Son of God from Heaven. 

Those two principles are in a bit of opposition to one another, and we've seen what happens when either one is ignored. On the one hand, those who forget this life is real and significant have a tendency to Gnosticism. On the other hand, those who forget that we're called to wait like the Son of God is just around the corner have a tendency to live like they don't think He's ever coming. 

So let's don't fall into either error. Let's not live like this life doesn't matter, but let's not live like it'll matter tomorrow. It might not.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Remembered

 Psalm 45 ends with a promise to the Son "I will make thy name to be remembered throughout all generations" (Psalm 45:17). I take this promise very seriously, because it ties in very closely with our role as Asenath.

Here we are, where the Man of God has been rejected, and we're waiting for Him to come for us (Philippians 3:20–21, 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10).  The Lord has told us we are to remember Him "until He come" (1 Corinthians 11:23–26). So here we are, waiting for Him to come back for us. And while we wait, we're to be remembering Him.

And we might not think that's very important: we might find any number of things that seem to be more important. But the Lord has asked us to remember Him until He comes.

When I think about the woman at Sychar, I remember the Lord told her that the Father is seeking worshipers (John 4:23). I find that striking: how many times do we read that the Father is seeking for something? As far as I can tell, this is the only time. And I notice the Father isn't seeking for servants, or champions, or talented people to advance the kingdom. He's seeking worshipers. And apparently He's content if they're just like the woman at the well, who've thrown away their lives already, and are wondering what they've gotten for it.

The Father is seeking worshipers, and the Son has told us to remember Him until He comes for us: those two things should align our hearts and – more importantly – our eyes while we're here. But if we go back to Psalm 45, we'll see there's one more thing. The Father has promised the Son that He'd be remembered throughout all generations. The Father has made a promise to the Son, and He's invited us to be part of its fulfillment.

Think about that for a while!

How many times do we get to be involved in the relationship between the Father and the Son? But that's exactly what remembering Him is.

So as hard as it is for me to do – much harder than it is for me to say – I need to get it into my head, and into my heart, that I am in this wicked world for a purpose. It's not to make a fortune here, it's not to enjoy what this world has to offer, it's not even to make this world a better place. The point of my being here is so that His name will be remembered until He comes back. And while I believe we are to make every part of our lives an act of worship – doing all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father by Him (Colossians 3:17) – at the same time I realize that the most important thing is to be waiting for the Son of God from Heaven, remembering Him until we actually see His face.


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Asenath

The story of Joseph introduces a new theme in Scripture: God's man rejected by God's people. That theme will repeat many times in many familiar stories: Joseph in Egypt, Moses in Midian, David in Hebron, virtually all the prophets, and of course Christ Himself. We might even see that theme carried into Paul's life (2 Timothy 1:15).

Very closely related to God's man rejected by God's people is the gentile bride. Asenath is the first of the gentile brides, but hardly the last. She's only mentioned three times in Scripture that I can find: Genesis 41:45, Genesis 41:50, and Genesis 46:20. She's a remarkable character. We don't have any record of a word she says, and we only know two things she does: she marries Joseph, and she has two children (ok, maybe that's three things). The rest of Asenath's life is none of our business: she has a life with Joseph that no one else gets to see.

Christ, of course, has a gentile bride (Ephesians 5:28–32). Many of the Christians I know have a view of the future glory of the bride of Christ that's quite public; but I think it'll be more like Asenath's.  Right now, God's Man is rejected, and we get to be a blessing to Him in the world that rejected Him. We're here for Him. When He is accepted by God's people, the story will go on with them from there, and we might fade out of it. Not because we aren't important to Him, but because we've been called to a relationship of such intimacy with Him, that it's no one else's business. I think we'll be like Asenath and Zipporah, disappearing from the story, but not from His life.

We might notice that Asenath is never mentioned without a reminder that her father was an Egyptian priest. All three times Scripture mentions her, it adds on the note about her father. We're reminded every single time that she had been an idolater. Asenath didn't come from some godly family: she had no spiritual heritage. 

What a reminder that God loves idolaters!

And doesn't that bring to mind the Lord's encounter with the woman at Sychar? Here's a woman who's spiritually and morally bankrupt, and the Son of God meets her at the well, and gives her the most detailed discourse on worship in Scripture. I was in a Bible reading on John 4, and someone said, "God looks for worshipers in Satan's trash heap."  That's a clumsy but profound description of John 4. A woman who is  enough of a pariah to have to go to the well when no one else does, is met by the Son of God and told how to be a worshiper of the Father (John 4:21–24). Notice the Lord talks about "the Father". That's not a title He throws around lightly. And He uses it when He talks to this woman at the well.

I think it's natural for us to want to be a sort of a Miriam: very vocal, taking a clear role in leadership. But I am sure our calling is to be more like Zipporah, more like Asenath. We've been called out of idolatry to an intimate relationship with the Man of God. We've been called to turn to God from idols, to wait for His Son from Heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10). We've been called to be His.

 



 



Friday, January 1, 2021

Kelly on Romans 6

A friend of mine gave me several books recently, one was William Kelly's Notes on the Epistle of Paul, the Apostle, to the Romans. I've been excited to read this one for a while, and it has not disappointed.

I thought some of his comments on Romans 6 worth sharing at length:

Evangelicalism (whether in national or dissenting bodies) takes its stand (at least it used to do so) on the truth of Christ dying for our sins. This is most true, and a capital truth; without which there is no bringing of the soul to God, no divine judgment of our iniquities, no possible sense of pardon. But it is very far from being the truth even of the Saviour's death, to speak of no more now. Hence evangelicalism, as such, having no real apprehension of our death in Christ, never understands the force and place of baptism, is habitually infirm as to christian walk, and is apt to take the comfort of forgiveness by the blood of Christ so as to mix with the world and enjoy the life that now is, often helping on the delusion of ameliorating man and improving Christendom.

Mysticism on the other hand, whether Catholic or Protestant, dissatisfied with the worldly case and self-complacency of the evangelicals, is ever pining after a deeper reality, but seeks it within. Hence the continual effort of the pietist school is to die to self and so to enjoy God, unless perhaps with the few who flatter themselves that they have arrived at such a state of perfection as they can rest in. But for the mass, and I suppose indeed all whose conscience retains its activity, they never go beyond godly desires and inward strainings after holiness. They cannot dwell consciously in God's love to them as a settled fact known in Christ, producing self-forgetfulness in presence of His own perfect grace which made Christ to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. The system tends even in its fairest samples to turn the eye inwardly in a search after a love which may aspire to resemble as closely as possible the love of God, and so satisfy itself with the hope of a life ever higher and higher. Hence pious sentimentalism, which is little more than imagination at work in religion, reigns in the heart, not grace through righteousness.

Thus the ground the apostle here insists on is ignored by evangelicals and mystics; and indeed in Christendom at large it is excluded by its legalism and ordinances as decidedly as by rationalism. They are all, in every part, judged by the simple elementary truth couched under and expressed in baptism, that the Christian is dead to sin. To teach that we ought to die to sin is well meant, but it is not the truth, and therefore can but deeply injure the soul in its real wants. The true view is, no doubt, the reverse of death in sin; it is death to sin. Grace gives us this blessed portion — gives it now in this world from the commencement of our career — gives it once for all as the one baptism recognizes. Hence the Christian is false to the primary truth he confesses who should live still in sin. In his baptism he owns he died in Christ. He is bound to walk accordingly — as one already and always dead to sin.

Kelly, of course, says it much better than I could. But the two errors we see most often when it comes to our identification with Christ are: on the one hand, not recognizing the need for death of the old man; and on the other, the idea that it's something the believer has to do, rather than something God has already done. The one error seems to characterize evangelicalism, the other seems to characterize asceticism. But neither one is the truth of Scripture. We do not need to die: we have already died (Romans 6:11). But the old man and his world are not capable of entering the kingdom of God: there needs to be an entire transformation (1 Corinthians 15:50).


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Types and shadows (again)

One of the more interesting characters in the Old Testament is Joseph. There are some very clear parallels between Joseph and the Lord, but the New Testament doesn't seem to notice them. So is Joseph a type of Christ?

As far as I can tell, Joseph is mentioned only a handful of times in the New Testament:

  • John 4:5
  • Acts 7:9–14, 7:18
  • Hebrews 11:21–22

(There is a mention in Revelation 7:8, but it's a reference to the tribe of Joseph, not to him as an individual.)

So there are three places Joseph is mentioned in the New Testament,  and in none of those is the he brought up as prefiguring the Lord. 

But if we read the story of the woman at the well in Sychar (John 4:5–42) a little more closely, there is a hint lurking a little deeper... The story of the the woman at the well begins with the first mention of Joseph in the New Testament (not that there are many of those), and as far as I can tell, it's a reference to Genesis 48:21–22. We're told that Sychar is "near to the land which Jacob gave to his son Joseph". 

While I don't claim to be very wise, I have learned to pay attention to these passing references when I read Scripture. There are a whole lot of "Wait... what?" moments, and I've learned to slow down and let them sink in. It's not for nothing that Scripture throws these mentions into a story.

So there is a very slight connection between Joseph and the story of the woman at the well. But there are two more very slender threads connecting her story to Joseph. Both come from Genesis 41:45. There, Pharaoh calls Joseph  Zaphnath-paaneah. If we look in the margin, we find that  Zaphnath-paaneah means "Savior of the world" in Egyptian, and "Revealer of Secrets" in Hebrew. Notice that both of these play into the story of the woman at the well.  First, the woman describes Christ as "a man who told me all things I had ever done" (John 4:29) – the Revealer of secrets. Then the Samaritans call the Lord "the Savior of the world" (John 4:42).

So is Joseph a type of Christ? I honestly don't know.  Those connections are real, but they're awfully slender. It seems to me there are a lot of those in Scripture, where "type" seems like it might be too strong a word, but there's more there than just coincidence.

There are some striking features to the story of the woman at the well. It's very rare that we see anyone invite the Lord to stay in their home. The Samaritans asked the Lord to stay, and He stayed with them two days (John 4:40). I'm sure there were others who hosted the Lord, we know about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 12:2) and Simon the leper (Mark 14:3) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10). But it's certainly not a common thing in Scripture for someone to invite the Lord into their home. What's even less common is the Lord refusing an invitation; off the top of my head, I can't recall the Lord ever doing so.

And then we have the title "Savior of the world," which I can only find twice in the New Testament (John 4:42, 1 John 4:14). It seems like the Samaritans in Sychar had seen a truth much more clearly even than the disciples did at the time. And that's not because the Samaritans were smarter than the disciples. It's because God was revealing His Son to them.

The Lord's promise of "living water" to the woman is a striking feature of the story as well. I used to think the Lord was speaking to her about eternal life, but that's not what "living water" is. Yes, living water results in eternal life (John 4:14), but "living water" refers to the Holy Spirit (John 7:38–39). So here the Lord is, talking to a woman who is apparently lost, and He jumps to the indwelling Spirit of God. Doesn't that seem strange? It's like He's skipping a step. I would expect the Lord to hit her with "you must be born again" (John 3:3–7). But that's not what He does.

At Sychar, the Lord reveals Himself as the Man who can give the Spirit of God. Let that sink in: He is a Man and He can give God as a gift! 

I've written too long about this already, and this post is long overdue, so we'll just wrap this up here. The connections between Joseph and John 4 aren't accidental. I'm not willing to commit to saying that Joseph is a type of Christ (well... not yet), but there is certainly a "Joseph character" to John 4. And the more I look at that chapter, the more surprising it is, especially as early as it appears in the Gospel. Here we have idolaters who recognize Christ for who He is, take Him at His word, and acknowledge Him. Almost sounds like Asenath, doesn't it?




Friday, December 18, 2020

Types and shadows

I've been thinking about Isaac. Genesis doesn't spend a lot of time discussing Isaac, compared to Abraham, Jacob, and even Joseph. But when we turn to the New Testament, Isaac shows up in some interesting ways.

Having spent many years around "brethren", I've heard a lot of talks about types and shadows in the Old Testament, especially in Genesis. I admit that I've become a bit jaded by some of those talks: not everything recorded in the Old Testament has deeper shades of spiritual meaning. But while I say that, I have to admit that the New Testament explicitly describes symbolic meanings in the accounts of Isaac's life.

Galatians 4:21–31 makes the statement that the story of Isaac and Ishmael has "an allegorical sense" (Galatians 4:24).  It then goes on to say that Hagar represents the Law, while Sarah represents "the Jerusalem above" (Galatians 4:26). And then it tells us that "the son of the maid servant shall not inherit with the son of the free woman" (Galatians 4:30). The conclusion being that we can't have both law and grace: we need to take our place as those under grace, and eschew putting ourselves under law.

Hebrews 11:17–19 retell the story of Abraham offering up Isaac (Genesis 22:1–19). It tells us that Abraham expected the Lord to raise Isaac from the dead, "whence also he received him in a figure" (Hebrews 11:19). So when we read through Genesis, we're supposed to understand that Isaac died "in figure" on the mountain, and came back down the mountain resurrected "in figure." J. N. Darby points out that the entire character of the promises to Abraham change at the point Isaac is offered:

The promise of the blessing of the nations was not given to Abraham and his seed. It was made to Abram alone in Genesis 12; and so in Galatians 3 we read in the original, "And to Abram were the promises made, and to his seed." So again, the promise which was confirmed before of God to Christ (not in Christ). Hence it is the apostle insists upon its being one, for the promises to Abraham, as father of the Jews, were made in common to him and to his seed together; and it was promised that his seed should be as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is by the seashore, innumerable. Whereas the promise of the blessing of the nations was given to Abram first, and then confirmed to the one seed, Isaac, figure of Christ sacrificed and risen again, with no mixture of anyone else, nor mention of a numerous posterity.  ("Connection of the cross with the entire development of God's ways with man", Collected Writings, Volume 22, pp. 365–372)

It's in Hebrews 11:17 that we read Isaac is Abraham's "only begotten son."  This is the only place I can find where that expression is used of someone other than Christ. And here's the amazing part: it's not literally true. Isaac had an older half-brother and several younger half-siblings. He might have been Sarah's only son, but he wasn't Abraham's. 

Scripture does this sort of thing sometimes: it makes statements that aren't literally true, and we're expected to understand that they're not literally true. And when that happens, we need to slow down and pay attention. The Scripture is emphasizing a point, and it does so by making us ask, "Wait... what?"

And of course that brings us to Romans 9:6–13 where Isaac's birth, and the birth of his children, are used to demonstrate "Divine, sovereign, individual election". Isaac's place as Abraham's only begotten son is not true in the strictly historical sense, but it's true in God's reckoning. That's really the whole point of the first half of Romans 9.

So I've come full circle, so to speak. When I was much younger, I was eager to see types and shadows in the Old Testament. And then I began to suspect that most or all of that sort of thing was really eisegesis: it's something read into – not out of – Scripture. But now I appreciate that the New Testament does, indeed, support the idea that there are types, shadows, and hidden meanings in the Old Testament.

Now, I don't want to lose sight of an important lesson here. When the New Testament tips us off to some deeper meaning in the Old, we should dive in to see, understand, and appreciate it. But I still view with skepticism some of those interpretations, at least until I can see justification for it in the text. But perhaps that's a rant for another time.

 

 

 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Salvation and baptism – baptism (again)

There is some question about "baptism" in Romans 6:3–6. Does that mean baptism in water? Or does it refer to something else, perhaps baptism of the Holy Spirit? It's not a trivial question, and there are probably problems no matter which view you take.

Clearly 1 Corinthians 12:13 teaches that each individual believer has been baptized spiritually, above and beyond baptism in water. But I don't think that's what Romans 6 is referring to. I think Romans 6 is referring to water baptism.

Now, I'm sure that each believer, baptized or not, is united to Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Galatians 2:20 brings up our union with Christ, with no mention of baptism. So I'm not saying that a believer who isn't baptized in water hasn't died with Christ.

But Romans 6–8 is all about our life down here, in a wicked world, in fallen bodies (Romans 8:10). It's not about our life in the world to come, nor about our place with Him in heaven. It's dealing with our practical walk as those united with Christ in this life, and that's what baptism is all about.

Notice that the issue in Romans 6 isn't what God sees, but what we see. It's about our reckoning, not God's (Romans 6:11). And when we're talking about what we see, we're talking about an outward reality; we're talking about baptism.