Thursday, May 17, 2018

Bread of God

Leviticus 21 gives several laws for the priests, and we're told why: because "they present Jehovah's offerings by fire, the bread of their God" (Leviticus 21:6, 8, 17). That's an interesting phrase, "the bread of their God." It really means to food that God eats.

(We might find that strange. We eat because we need food to survive. If we don't eat, we die. God is eternal; He is self-sufficient – He doesn't need to eat. But Scripture says the offerings made by fire are God's food.)

The Lord Jesus takes up the idea of "the bread of God" in John 6:32. He talks about the bread of God being the One who came down from Heaven. And here it's not God who eats, but men and women who have no life in themselves (John 6:53).

There are two different ideas here: in Leviticus 21 we have "bread of God" meaning the food for God. In John 6 we have "bread of God" meaning the food from God. It shouldn't surprise us that those two ideas converge in Christ Jesus.

Christ offered Himself up to God (Hebrews 9:14). He says that God didn't really want sacrifices and offerings, He wanted to be glorified in the obedience – and eventual offering of the body – of Christ (Hebrews 10:5–10, quoting Psalm 40:6–8). Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament commands concerning offerings: it is Christ who is the true sweet savor (Ephesians 5:2).

At the same time, it was the Lord Jesus who came from Heaven to give His own body to be our food and His own blood to be our drink (John 6:49–57). He is the bread of God that came down to give life to the world (John 6:33). In fact, we find His body is the only food that can sustain eternal life, and His blood is the only drink for it (John 6:53). We not only get eternal life by eating His flesh, we sustain it the same way.

One thing John 6 brings to the forefront is the need for feeding as opposed merely to eating. There is certainly a one-time eating that gives us eternal life (John 6:53), but we find as well that there is a need to continue to feed on Him (John 6:56). It's easy to miss that.

I don't mean to be flippant, but it seems to me one of the lessons we can learn from Levitical law is that God doesn't like to eat alone. Numbers 18:8–14 tells us the priests were to eat from the sacrifices brought to God. There are some exceptions, but in general, the sacrifices included a portion for the priests.

Notice there are two categories in Numbers 18:8–13: vv. 8–10 detail the sacrifices that were to be eaten by the priests themselves, while vv. 11–13 tell us about the things that were to be eaten by the whole household of the priests. The sin offerings and the trespass offerings are limited to the priests, while the rest of the sacrifices were to be eaten by "every one that is clean in thy house."

We might think of those two categories applying to our feeding on Christ. There is an individual feeding [for just the priests], but there is a corporate feeding too [for everyone clean in the house]. We ought to be feeding on Christ in the assembly, and we ought to be feeding on Him in our individual lives as well.

I've heard many admonitions in various assemblies about not missing out on the meetings. We hear Hebrews 10:23–25 referenced a lot, but I'm not sure I've heard John 6 referenced in the same way. One of the reasons we gather is to feed on Christ as the assembly. This is the second eating in Numbers 18: it's the eating by everyone clean in the house.

But don't let's get into the idea that our only feeding is in the assembly. There is the need for the individual to feed as well. We do feed as the assembly, but we also feed as individuals. Notice John 6:53–58 doesn't reference a corporate setting, but a purely individual one.

Both the feedings is marked by the presence of God. Christ is the Bread of God. Do we think God isn't joining with us in feeding on Christ?

I was at a Bible Conference in Texas a few years ago, and in one of the Reading meetings, an older brother spoke up and said something like, "this is worship: sitting down at table with the Father, eating the food He eats." The more I examine passages like Numbers 18 and John 6, the more convinced I become that he put his finger exactly on what the Scripture teaches. God shares His Bread with us, and desires us to come and feed on it with Him.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

No Plan B

Scripture teaches that worshipers, once purged, have no more conscience of sins (Hebrews 10:2). Of course, that's not something we see a lot in our experience.

One problem (perhaps even the main problem), is that we treat Christ as a sort of a safety net. As long as we're doing well – as long as we're walking more or less uprightly – we think that we're accepted in God's sight by virtue of our own uprightness. We only really think of ourselves as accepted in Christ when we realize we've failed to walk uprightly.

Of course we'd never say that, but our actions and our prayers reveal what's really going on in our hearts.

But God doesn't ever have a "Plan B." God has given Christ to us to be our righteousness, our holiness, and our redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30–31). It has never been a part of God's plan for us to be acceptable before Him other than in Christ. We are accepted in Christ (Ephesians 1:6) and only in Christ.

It's hard to remember that I am no more accepted before God when I'm walking well than when I'm walking badly: regardless of how I am actually doing, I am accepted in Christ. That's a comfort when I see myself fail, but it's humbling when I think I'm doing all right.

that I may be found in him, not having my righteousness, which [would be] on the principle of law, but that which is by faith of Christ, the righteousness which [is] of God through faith (Philippians 3:8–10)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

We don't have to die

We are to reckon ourselves dead, instead of having to die. You may ask the flesh to die, but it never will. We talk of having to die to the flesh, because we have not got the consciousness of the positive distinctness of the two natures. The old man will take good care not to die. But being alive in Christ, I have the privilege and title to treat the other nature, the old one, as dead, because He died. It is never said that we have to die, but that as Christians we are entitled to, and do, hold ourselves for dead; because we have this new life. The person who talks of dying to sin, actually holds himself to be alive to sin.
J. N. Darby, "Dead and Risen with Christ" (emphasis added)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

And now for something completely different...

Over the last few months, we've become convinced of the need for focused teaching in the assembly about some of the foundational truths "we all know." The fact is, there are a lot of things we all assume everyone knows. We don't always recognize that not everyone in the room recognizes the allusions we're making.

In the midst of this, a younger woman in the assembly sent an email to a few of the older brothers (not me) asking about Romans 6–8, Colossians 3, and Galatians 5. It seemed like a good place to start...

Our first response was to fill a Saturday with meetings. I mentioned it to my wife, who pointed out several issues with having a day of meetings. We went back to the drawing board, so to speak, and came up with a different plan.

So here's our current plan:

First, we're going to meet this Friday night. Most folks don't have to work or go to school Saturday morning, so Friday night relieves some of that pressure. A lot of families have commitments on weekends, so if we avoid Saturdays, we can get more attendance.

Second, we're having one meeting per night, rather than filling a day with meetings. People my age and older seem to enjoy spending a day or a whole weekend sitting in meetings, especially when there are a lot of interactive meetings (like Bible readings) and opportunities for discussion. Perhaps it's an age thing, perhaps it's just a faster-paced culture, but it seems like most people would prefer to sit for fewer meetings. Interestingly, people seem to prefer to have one meeting a day across several days, than to have several meetings on a single day.

Third, we're going to provide food. We think it will simplify things for everyone if we just order some pizzas and spend the first forty-five minutes eating. We think it'll make it easier for people to come out if they don't have to squeeze a meal in between work and meeting.

Fourth, we've sent out a link to a Google Doc by email that outlines the answers to the original questions. I'll be honest, I wrote the document, and it's pretty much just a digest of AQ posts on the topic. We've invited people to comment on the document to try and encourage as many questions as possible before the meetings.

Fifth, we've invited people to bring electronics to access the Google Doc, take notes, and even make comments during the meeting itself.

Sixth, we're planning to try for one Friday night per month. We figure once a month is a cadence that should allow us to maintain forward momentum while at the same time not making it too difficult for people to make it out.

Seventh, we're budgeting about half the time for socializing. Since we're deliberately attempting to help out younger people, we want to ensure we don't just make them lose out on Friday night.

I have no idea how this will work out. It seems the perpetual challenge is to convey the message in a way people can hear it, without changing the message. That's a whole lot harder than it sounds.

I'll keep you posted.

Know your enemies

Scripture records several enemies encountered by the children of Israel as they traveled from Egypt to Canaan. To name only a few:

  1. Pharaoh and the Egyptian army (Exodus 14:4–9; 14:30–31)
  2. the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8–16)
  3. the Canaanites of Arad (Numbers 21:1–3)
  4. the Amorites (Numbers 21:21–31)

We rightly recognize that these enemies parallel the enemies of the Christian today. Of course we don't fight against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12) – our enemies are no less real, but they aren't visible to the human eye. I'm old enough to remember preachers who used to talk about "the world, the flesh, and the devil": I'm not entirely sure that's a complete list either, it seems to me Ephesians 6:12 goes a little further than that. Nevertheless, we are in conflict just like Israel was in conflict.

We can think of the enemies of Israel as three general groups. The first contains Pharaoh and his army. That was a terrifying enemy, and Israel was explicitly told not to fight them: the command was "Fear not: stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah" (Exodus 14:13). Then there is the second group, enemies like the Amalekites. There was real battle with the Amalekites, but there was no utter destruction: Amalek's power was broken (Exodus 17:13), but there was the promise of perpetual war with them (Exodus 17:16). Finally, we might think of the third group as being like the Canaanites of Arad: the Lord gave Israel victory over them in a single decisive battle, they were utterly destroyed.

In broad terms, we have those same three types of enemy. It's striking that when Scripture talks about sin (as opposed to "sins", the principle, not the specific transgressions), it uses the language of deliverance. I'd guess that every believer has prayed for victory over sin, but I can't find a single place where Scripture uses the language of victory when it talks about sin. Scripture talks about deliverance in relation to sin, not victory. Israel wasn't victorious over Pharaoh, Israel was delivered from Pharaoh (Exodus 14:30).

The New Testament uses similar language when it discusses the flesh to the language used to discuss Amalek. Amalek's power is broken, but the conflict is still perpetual. The flesh is still there in us: it's power is broken, but there is ongoing conflict (Galatians 5:17).

I suspect our "members on the earth" (Colossians 3:5) fall into this second category. I suspect they aren't ever really gone, although their power over us may be broken. And while we are called to put them to death, I'm not sure they ever quite die. I'd be interested to hear people's comments on that...

It seems to me the specific habits of the flesh (Colossians 3:8–9) fall into the third category. There is very real conflict with those things, but we don't see war from generation to generation like with Amalek. The epistles differentiate between the flesh and its habits. We won't be rid of the flesh until the Lord Jesus changes our vile bodies (Philippians 3:21), but that's not to say its habits are here to stay. Indeed, Galatians 5:16 seems to indicate the opposite.

But the real point is, we need to know our enemy. We need to have the spiritual discernment to understand when we're called to "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah", and when we're called to pick up a sword and charge at the foe.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Going through death

I don't think anyone holds any illusions about this... but in the spirit of confessing faults one to another, I should probably confess that I'm sadly content to be like Moses and see the land. It's a great deal harder to be like Joshua and go into it.

The leaven of evangelicalism seems to me to be the notion that man in the flesh can please God. As I listen to preachers and teachers who consider themselves "evangelical", I notice two themes. The first theme is a dangerously compromised Gospel. Scripture teaches that God justifies the one who does not work, but believes (Romans 4:5). I have many times heard a "gospel" message that places some sort of work between the sinner and justification. Scripture doesn't call on the sinner to repeat a prayer, or to "invite Jesus into his heart." Scripture merely calls the sinner to believe. And to be clear: it calls the sinner to believe not something, but Someone.

The second theme is the idea that the justified sinner is now capable of obeying God, as a justified sinner. By contrast, what Scripture teaches is that those who have died with Christ are to yield their members to God as those alive from the dead (Romans 6:13). There is no pleasing God without going through death.

Scripture presents baptism as standing at the gateway to the Christian life. What is the truth of baptism? It is the fact of the believer's identification in the death, burial, resurrection, and public testimony of Christ (Romans 6:3–6; Colossians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3–5). Baptism means my life has ended. And notice, it's really the first step in the Christian life. We don't work our way up to baptism, we start there.

A friend of mine once told me, "everything, even spiritual gift, must go through death for God to use it." I've thought about that long and hard, and I think he was correct. Really, isn't that the message of 2 Corinthians 4:10–12? The end goal of the Christian life is to have the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal bodies (2 Corinthians 4:10–11). The tool that God uses to bring that about is death: death works in us (2 Corinthians 4:12). Sadly, this seems to be the opposite of the evangelical view.

The fact is that Christ Himself taught this to Nicodemus (John 3:3). The problem is, we have done a masterful job of not really hearing what the Lord said. The point is not that we need to have a "born again" experience to get into the Kingdom. The point is that we need an entirely new life. That doesn't leave room for the "old" life. We've managed to convince ourselves that the Lord was describing an addition, not a replacement.

No one gets into the Kingdom of God intact.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The place of death

Numbers 17:12–13

We've been reading through Numbers in our Wednesday night Bible readings. Numbers is a favourite book of mine, and I've read it through many times. But I admit that I am seeing Numbers in an entirely new light now that we're reading through it as a group.

When I've read Numbers previously, I saw it as a sort of a patchwork of stories about the journey from Sinai to Canaan, with commandments and laws interspersed. It wouldn't be fair to say that I never saw any uniting themes, but certainly Numbers has always seemed to me more of a series of anecdotes than a unified message. This time, I'm realizing that the laws given in Numbers are generally responses to the stories that come immediately before.

Numbers 18 is a fascinating chapter, it details the priest's duty (not merely privilege) to eat the offerings brought to the Lord. There are some offerings that only Aaron and his sons are to eat (Numbers 18:9–10), others are for Aaron, his sons, and his daughters (Numbers 18:11–13). There are some offerings that the Levites are to have (Numbers 18:21–24).

What I hadn't ever understood before is, the commands in Numbers 18 are a response to the events in Numbers 16–17. Numbers 17 ends with the people declaring that the Tabernacle was a place of death (Numbers 17:12–13). Numbers 18 is the instructions for the priest, detailing how to live in the place of death. How does the priest live in the place of death? he feeds on the sacrifices.

It's worthy of note that Numbers 17:8–10 introduces resurrection: God confirms Aaron's priesthood by making his [dead] staff bloom, producing blossoms and ripe almonds. God marks His priest by resurrection.

So Numbers 18 builds on these two ideas: first, the priesthood is characterized by resurrection; second, the Tabernacle is the place of death. So the question is, how can Aaron and his sons serve God in the place of death? How does one live in the place of death?

First, the priesthood must be in the power of resurrection. It's no use trying to serve God in the power of natural life. God's presence really is death to fallen men and women (Exodus 33:20). The fact is, the overwhelming majority of "Christian" ministry I have seen ignores this. If we want to serve God, if we want to come into His presence, it can only be in the power of resurrection. It's only as risen with Christ we can yield our members to righteousness (Romans 6:13). It's only as risen with Christ we can seek those things above (Colossians 3:1–3).

Second, the service of God is sustained by feeding on the Sacrifice. There is a great deal more involved in eating the offerings, but we must at least start with this: it is feeding on Christ as dead for us – His flesh our food, His blood our drink (John 6:53–58) – that we have any life in ourselves. God never intended us to be plants, He never designed us to produce our own food. We are designed to feed: the first man fed on plants in the Garden, the new Man feeds on Christ.

This is a challenge to me: it's incredibly difficult for me to admit that I can't produce for God. He hasn't called me to fill a need He has, but to have my needs filled by Him in His Son. God doesn't need us.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Eating from the altar

The Pharisees were offended that Christ would eat with sinners (Luke 15:1). They didn't know the half of it: He came not merely to eat with sinners, but to give His flesh to be their food and His blood to be their drink (John 6:48–58).

It can be amusing to hear people speak about the latter part of John 6. I agree that sacramentalism has done its best to ruin this amazing chapter, but we oughtn't let fear of sacramentalism keep us from entering into what the Holy Spirit teaches here. It's obvious that Christ isn't literally speaking about eating His flesh, for the simple fact that He also taught His own resurrection. You have a bookkeeping problem if you try to believe in both Resurrection and literal eating of the flesh of Christ.

That being said, the Lord chose deliberately provocative language to describe His giving us life. We've noticed before that the Son of God can give life merely by calling the dead from the tomb (John 5:25). But when the Son of Man gives life, it costs His flesh and His blood. But I don't think that's all there is to John 6. There is not only His giving, but our eating and drinking. It's not just that we believe on Him (we do), but we must feed on Him as well.

1 Corinthians 10:15–23 brings this into the context of the Lord's table. 1 Corinthians 10:15–18 makes the association between our eating the loaf and drinking the cup and the altar. It takes us back to the Numbers 18:8–19, there the priests were to eat all the heave-offerings the people presented. 1 Corinthians 10:16 tells us this means they had communion with the altar.

There is an association between the Lord's table and the altar. We are making a statement about that association every time we break the one loaf and drink from the cup. We are claiming our communion with the death of Christ. By eating the one loaf and drinking from the cup, we are saying we are in fellowship with the sacrifice.

I don't question that we are to feed on Christ individually, but the feeding in 1 Corinthians 10 is corporate: we being many, are one Body (1 Corinthians 10:17).

The Old Testament sacrifices were all assumed to be more than enough: with a couple exceptions (Leviticus 6:23; Leviticus 6:30), there was something for the priest in every sacrifice. Even the burnt offering, which was wholly consumed, had a part for the priest – the priest gets the skin (Leviticus 7:8).

Of course they weren't really more than enough, but the principle was established. Really, the blood of bulls and of goats is incapable of taking away sins (Hebrews 10:4). But the sacrifice they pointed to – Christ offering Himself for us by the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14) – that sacrifice was far more than enough.

Christ was both our sacrifice and priest. We, as family of the priest (Numbers 18:19), are to eat of the sacrifice. By feeding on the sacrifice, we express communion with the altar (1 Corinthians 10:16). What does it mean to have communion with the altar? At the very least, it means we recognize and agree with the need for the sacrifice. At the very least, when we contemplate feeding on Christ, we contemplate our deep need of Him.

I don't doubt there is the feeding on Christ in Resurrection as well as feeding on Him in humility. It seems to me John 6 is talking about the former: it is the One who has come down from Heaven.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

No man has seen God at any time

Someone in the assembly here sent out an email asking for answers to several questions his son had asked during family Bible readings. I thought I'd post my response here. I don't know what other responses he received.

We understand that Christ is God over all, blessed forever (Romans 9:5). John’s Gospel tells us that the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). So Christ is God, but He’s also a distinct Person, distinguishable from God. We can say that Christ is God, but we cannot say that God is Christ. The Athanasian Creed says the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, but the Father is God, the Son is God. And they’re one God, not two gods. Of course the same is true of the Holy Spirit. From the Athansian Creed:

[W]e worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

When we look into the Old Testament, we can find people who saw God:

  • Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel (Exodus 24:9–11)
  • Moses (Exodus 33:17–23)
  • Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (Numbers 9:5–8) – this one is a bit questionable
  • Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1)
  • Daniel (Daniel 7:9–10)
  • Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1)
That’s not a complete list.

When we look in the New Testament, we see the statement that “no one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). So how do we understand those together? I think there are at least two correct answers: two principles that are true at the same time.

The first is emphasized in Exodus 33:17–23. Moses asks God to show him His glory, and God responds that He can show him His goodness, and He will proclaim His name, but man can’t see His face and live (vv. 18–20). We understand God to be saying, “you can’t see all there is to see of Me”. That is, God was willing to show Moses some of Himself, but Moses couldn’t see all.

I think this is really the point of John the Baptist’s words in John 1:18; it’s not that no one has ever gotten a look at God, but the only complete view of God is in the Son.

There is something else going on here, which is brought out in John 12:37–41. John quotes Isaiah 53:1 (v. 38) and Isaiah 6:9–10 (v. 40). John specifically says Isaiah “saw his glory and spoke of him” (v. 41). Whose glory did Isaiah see? In Isaiah 6 we read that he saw “the King, Jehovah of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). But if we look at John 6:41 in context, the “him” there is Christ. So Isaiah sees Jehovah, and John quotes the passage to say that he had seen Christ.

When John says “no one has seen God at any time”, he is speaking the absolute truth: none of us have seen God completely. Some, like Moses, have seen as much of God as He can show a fallen man, but none have ever gotten the complete view of God.

At the same time, we know at least one of those “God sightings” was God showing Isaiah Christ. In fact, I believe that all of the Old Testament sightings of God were actually Christ appearing to them before His incarnation. This is what theologians call Christophany (sometimes Theophany). What gets really interesting is the end of Hebrews 1, where Psalm 102:24–28 are quoted. Hebrews says those are the words of God to the Son, and God tells the Son that He (the Son) is eternal, the creator of all things. That essentially makes the entire creation story of Genesis 1 & 2 into one long Christophany. It was the Son who created all things (cf. John 1:3).

Christ is eternally God (although technically, “Christ” is a title that really only applies in incarnation, but that’s another topic…). God is spirit (John 4:24). When we consider Him before incarnation, we think of eternal Sonship (that is, the Father - Son relationship in the Godhead is eternal), and we think of Him as the Creator of all things. I don’t know that there’s much more we can say about that…

Incarnation is something none of us can understand. The Son, who is eternal God, became Man. Of course He is not Man from eternity: He took on a body (Hebrews 10:5). At the same time, we realize He is not merely a human body possessed by the spirit of Christ: that’s the heresy of Apollonarism. We understand the He is a real Man, and apparently this is a permanent change: He ascended back into Heaven as a Man with a physical body, and we look to see Him return the same way (Acts 1:11). He is so completely Man, that 1 Corinthians 15:1–5 tells us, “He was buried” (v. 4). It’s not that they buried His body, but they buried Him.

Paul’s epistles refer to Christ as a real Man, even now that He’s ascended into Heaven. Take, for example, 1 Timothy 2:5 – ”the Man, Christ Jesus.”

1 Timothy 6:13–16 are probably worth mentioning here. In context, I take “the blessed and only Ruler” (v. 15) to be Christ. We’re told He lives in unapproachable light, which no man has seen, nor can see. There is apparently a place which not even those in Heaven can see, where only God can be. And Christ is there. Even in eternity, we won’t see in there. This is really what John 1:18 is talking about, the only way for any creature to know about God in that complete way is for God Himself to come out of that unapproachable light and tell us what goes on in there. This is what Christ has done.

Finally, we should probably mention Colossians 2:9. We’re told that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I’m certain it means that in Incarnation, Christ was never less than God. Our Protestant blood boils a bit when we hear Mary called “Mother of God”, but it is true in a very limited sense: when she gave birth to Christ, she gave birth to the fullness of the Godhead. No, that doesn’t mean that there is a Mother-Son relationship between Mary and God. No, I wouldn’t call Mary the Mother of God. But I fear our zeal to combat Mariolatry has led us to downplay the fullness of Christ’s nature as God. The fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in the Lord Jesus, even at His birth.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Remembrance

"Brethren" frequently talk about "remembering the Lord in His death". Scripture does not. Scripture says we remember the Lord, and in so doing, we announce His death (1 Corinthians 11:23–26).

The Lord Jesus asks us to remember Him (1 Corinthians 11:24–25). That certainly includes remembering His death – the bread reminds us of His body given for us (Luke 22:19), the wine reminds us of His blood poured out for us (Luke 22:20) – but we don't remember an event, we remember a Person.

Psalm 102 is a remarkable passage, "the prayer of the afflicted". Hebrews 1:10–12 tells us that Psalm 102:24–28 (starting in the second part of v. 24) is God addressing the Son. He reminds the Son that He is eternal, He is the creator, and He won't end.

Similarly, Hebrews 1:8–9 quote Psalm 45:6–7 as addressed to the Son. So we understand that Psalm 45 is Messianic. Psalm 45 ends with the promise, "I will make thy name to be remembered throughout all generations" (Psalm 45:17).

And that brings us back to 1 Corinthians 11:23–26. As we remember the Lord, we are really fulfilling Psalm 45:17. In this generation, His name is being remembered. Think of that! God is using us to fulfill a promise He made to the Son: we are part of the remembrance of His name in all generations.