Derek Kidner, in his commentary on the Psalms, commenting on Psalm 73:9-10:
“God, infinitely wronged, not only tempers wrath but tempers justice–though at what cost to Himself, only the New Testament would reveal.”
Derek Kidner, in his commentary on the Psalms, commenting on Psalm 73:9-10:
“God, infinitely wronged, not only tempers wrath but tempers justice–though at what cost to Himself, only the New Testament would reveal.”
If you’ve read the Gospels, you’ve run in to the story of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ feet several times (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:2-8). It’s an arresting story. There’s several layers of significance to it–here’s one that worked me over the other morning as I sat with Mark’s account:
What set Mary apart? Unlike the others in that room (disciples included), she had actually listened to Jesus. (He had been saying that He was going to die soon!) She allowed the words He said to penetrate—to “sink down into her ears” (Luke 9:44)—and so she was aware of what was really going on, and what the moment called for from disciples. Her love to Him, then, was not misguided or filled with false ideas and hopes. It was love for the real Jesus—the one who was about to die. So she loved Him in His impending death. She loved Him—who raised her brother but wouldn’t save Himself, and she thought that someone needed to acknowledge what was going on (!). And she must have realized that she—with her spikenard there in her room—she was able to do it.
And so she did—“she did what she could.”
Maybe it seemed small to her as she came. The disciples gave audible voice to what may have already been in her head—but she had heard His word! He was going to die—and soon!
Shouldn’t someone honor this Jesus?
So she seized her moment, received her commendation, and wove herself inextricably with the Gospel itself—she became woven into His story, and therefore received true, and everlasting, significance.
How will you be woven into His story?
I saw this on the Wired Science blogfeed the other day. Sometimes people say that the size of the universe is evidence against the existence of God. The Bible seems to privilege planet earth so much. It seems to only care about our existence, and yet, here is this massive universe, in which we are only one small ball of dirt orbiting an unremarkable star. We’re so small. Surely, the Bible can’t really take all that into account. Surely, if the ancient authors of the Bible knew what we know now, and could see with our telescopes, and could know the probability of there being other inhabited planets with other races of life, they would not have written a book which seems to know only earth, at the center of a Creator’s plans. But just say (we might counter to our unbelieving friend), for a minute, that the Bible is totally true. Say an infinite, intelligent, creative being made the universe. And say that He decided that the skies above the earth would proclaim a certain message. That message, the Bible says, is nothing less than His own glory. That’s what Psalm 19 says. In other words, what kind of universe would we expect to see if an infinite, creative, Artisan wanted to show us how glorious He was? First things first, it would look awesome from earth. Check. But just as important (maybe more important), He would make sure that, when the time came and our technology gave us the ability to see far beyond what our natural eyesight affords, we’d see even more awesome things. Rings. Comets. Galaxies. Nebula. Black Holes. Check. But wait, suppose we could see way, way out there. Wouldn’t an infinite Artisan, wanting to show us how infinite His glory is, need to create something that looks, well, infinite? If we could see the end of the universe, wouldn’t that communicate that His glory was exhaustible? Finite? Even…not that great? So then, of course the universe we see in 2012 through our amazing telescopes looks huge, beautiful, and infinite. Of course we feel small when we peer out into it and contemplate its size. In the face of the glory of the One who dreamed it up and made it, we are small. It would do us good, as a culture, to contemplate our smallness next the the glory of God. Many things would come into focus. For today though, ponder this:
Millions of young stars shine brightly in this enormous stellar nursery at the heart of the Tarantula Nebula.
The Hubble space telescope captured this amazing panorama, which reveals intricate details about the expanse known as 30 Doradus. Located about 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud — a small galaxy orbiting our Milky Way — 30 Doradus is one of the largest and most prolific star-forming regions in our galactic neck of the woods.
The region is so huge that, if it were as close to us as the Orion Nebula (the nearest stellar nursery to Earth, about 1,300 light-years away), it would be the size of 60 full moons in the sky and glow so brightly that it could cast shadows on the ground.
Though 30 Doradus isn’t quite that close, Hubble can still resolve the individual stars inside the region, allowing astronomers to study the lives of stars in detail…
The white region in the left side of the picture contains some of the most massive stars in the universe, weighing in at hundreds of times the sun’s mass…
The new image was released Apr. 17 in honor of Hubble’s 22nd year in orbit. You can download the image at 4,000 x 3,200 pixels, but if you want to really zoom in on the picture, download the insanely large 20,323 x 16,259-pixel version. (Warning: It’s 643 MB.)
Image: NASA, ESA, ESO, D. Lennon and E. Sabbi (ESA/STScI), J. Anderson, S. E. de Mink, R. van der Marel, T. Sohn, and N. Walborn (STScI), N. Bastian (Excellence Cluster, Munich), L. Bedin (INAF, Padua), E. Bressert (ESO), P. Crowther (Sheffield), A. de Koter (Amsterdam), C. Evans (UKATC/STFC, Edinburgh), A. Herrero (IAC, Tenerife), N. Langer (AifA, Bonn), I. Platais (JHU) and H. Sana (Amsterdam)
Great time with everyone last night. I’m working on getting materials from the night up for you to grab if you want them. For now, here’s an email Elza Koshy sent me relating to some of the things we were discussing at the Forum:
…In regards to both last week’s study and tonight’s forum, I was thinking of the following passage in a book by Ravi Zacharias…
“In the beginning God…” must be the generating dictum of all our choices and commitments. From the beginning God positioned this relationship of man and woman in a unique context. Having created Adam, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), so He created a partner for him. Man’s aloneness was an impediment to his complete fulfillment. I find it thought provoking, because in a very real sense man was not alone. God was with him. Adam experienced companionship in his relationship with God. God walked and talked with him. Their communion was nestled in the beauty of the garden. Yet God said that man was “alone.” Interestingly, He made this pronouncement before Adam’s disobedience ruptured his relationship with God. So when God says “It is not good for the man to be alone,” He must have had in mind a kind of companionship uniquely human to help meet Adam’s human finitude in a way that God designed and orchestrated. In other words, God has made each of us with certain needs that are an intrinsic part of being human—needs that only a fellow human being can meet. We must step back and take note of that. Once we understand this, we realize that though God uses marriage to represent His relationship with us, the Church, that relationship with God is not identical to marriage. God has designed marriage to be a distinctly human relationship, different from all others. That is the first reminder in the creation of humanity.
There is another reality that is often forgotten. When God said that it was not good for the man to be alone, even though he was in a close relationship with God, He created a woman. The fact that God did not create another man ought not to escape our attention. The companionship and the complementariness in that created pattern is defining for all the rest of procreation. The woman met the desire, the need, and the insufficiency of the man in a way that God precluded Himself from and that another man was not intended to meet. Neither the gender of maleness nor the man’s spiritual relationship with his heavenly Father was to provide this particular relationship.
Let me describe this in another way, in order to reinforce it. In Himself, God is all in all. There is nothing He lacks in His perfection. He is wholly sufficient for all our needs, yet He chose to craft a relationship designed so specifically that only a woman could complete the incompleteness of the man. It is the distinctive role of a woman, fashioned and splendidly made, to meet a need that could not be fulfilled by another man. This is an extraordinary order in creation made by God to “perfect” the entity He called Adam.
Pastor Joe has played the audio from this several times at church. It doesn’t get old:
“At the cross Jesus dies utterly alone, condemned by Rome and abandoned by the nation, his people, his followers, and even the Father.”
(James Edwards, in The Gospel According to Mark, on Mark 14.)
Pastor Joe taught today at the Penn State Abington Christian fellowship (typically Josh Focht teaches). During the study he offered this thought:
In heaven, the only things that are man-made are the wounds in Jesus’ hands and feet.
Amy Fischer sent this to me last night in response to the study, and agreed to let me post it. Enjoy:
During discussion time I was formulating something I wanted to say but never really got it fully together until you started to move on. I was mulling over relationships and the passage and couldn’t get the image of the cross out of my head. I was listening to what everyone had to say and how fundamentally our main purpose as humans is to be relational. There are two main relationships as humans that we have; one being the relationship with God (pointing upwards,) and one being the relationship with others (pointing outwards.) This physical image of ‘up and out’ reflects the cross structurally. The two beams of wood, one being vertical and one being horizontal. (which you started to mention during the lesson) The cross ends up being our perfect example of how we should lead our relationships as Christians. A relationship facing up towards God and relationships stretched out to others. When in this position naturally our arms are open and our heart is exposed, therefore our relationship with others and relationship with God start to interweave and become strong. I just thought that the cross was a perfect example of how our Christian relationships ought to look in a physical, visual manner. After all, it all comes back to the main reason, the Gospel, the cross.
Have you ever been hung up by the apparent contradiction between Romans 3:28 and James 2:24?
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” That’s Paul in Romans.
“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” That’s James.
Josh Lomas recently reminded me of this little story/example I did for a study back in the high school youth group. I’m interested to know if it resonates with any of you as a way to see these verses complimenting each other instead of contradicting. (As usual, it has to do with context, good close reading, and letting the authors speak for themselves.) After the story I included my notes from the study which spell out some details explicitly. Let me know what you think.
How works and faith figure into our salvation: A Picture of Romans 3:28 and James 2:24 working together.
A man stands before God to face his final judgment. He is told that he faces God’s wrath for being sinful and being a sinner. He is asked if he has evidence to show that the verdict is wrong. Can he show that he is righteous and not wicked? Can he prove he should be saved from God’s wrath? The man says, “I have good works to show that I am righteous, and should not face God’s wrath.” The books are searched. The man is not found in the Lamb’s book of life. The record of his life shows only many works that fall short of God’s glory. The verdict from the throne is: “That is not enough. You have a sin debt too great to pay with good works. And even those things you did were not good, because they were all tainted by sin (Is 64:6). So by displaying works tainted by sin, you have only added to your guilt. You will be judged according to your works. The verdict is: Guilty. You will not be saved from the wrath of God.” And Paul would stand up and say, “Yes! No one will be justified in His sight by the works of the law. A man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:20 & 28).
A second man stands before God to face his final judgment. He is told that he faces God’s wrath for being sinful and being a sinner. He is asked if he has evidence to show that the verdict is wrong. Can he show that he is righteous and not wicked? Can he prove he should be saved from God’s wrath? The man says, “I have faith.” He is asked to demonstrate that this faith is true. Can he show that he trusts Jesus Christ for salvation? The books are searched. The man is not found in the Lamb’s book of life. The record of his life shows that the man had no change of life, no repentance and no fruit to show true faith. Instead of any good works, the man only has tainted, evil works, just like the first man. The verdict from the throne is: “It is not enough to say you have faith. If you had believed in Christ, you would have experienced a new life within which would have caused you to do good works. Your faith would have come out in obvious ways. You would be able to show that you had truly trusted Christ as your only hope to escape God’s wrath. The verdict is: Guilty. You will not be saved from God’s wrath.” And James would stand up and say, “Yes! If a man says he has faith, but does not have works, can that kind of faith save him? No! This faith is dead and useless. If this man had works to show, it would have proved his faith was not alone, but was alive and real. He would have been justified and saved” (James 2:14, 17 & 24)
A third man stands before God to face his final judgment. He is told that he faces God’s wrath for being sinful and being a sinner. He is asked if he has evidence to show that the verdict is wrong. Can he show that he is righteous and not wicked? Can he prove he should be saved from God’s wrath? The man says, “I have faith.” He is asked to demonstrate that this faith is true. Can he show that he trusts Jesus Christ for salvation? The man says, “I am only a sinner and deserve judgment, but I trusted what Jesus did on my behalf. My only hope is that He is righteous, and that I belong to Him. But if my life must be examined, it will be found that I was a changed person after I was born again. The Spirit of Christ energized me so that, with the time I had left, He used me to do things that glorified God.” The books are searched. It is found that there are no evil works recorded for this man. They have all been wiped off the records. The only place the man is found recorded is in the Lamb’s book of life, where it is written that the man’s life began with the birth he experienced the day he believed in Jesus. From then on, only good works, done in faith, planned for him by God, are recorded. In his short life, he bore fruit that obviously came from a new life within. The verdict from the throne is: “Well done, good and faithful servant. The verdict is: Righteous. Because you are in Christ by faith, and He is righteous, you are saved from the wrath of God. And as you have served Me faithfully, receive rewards and enter into the eternal joy of My kingdom.”
And James and Paul would stand up together and say, “Amen!”
And here’s some further notes, from a study on James 2:14-26…
Question: Does James (2:24) disagree with Paul? See Romans 3:20-28.
Reason 1: James and Paul are writing about different subjects.
Paul was writing about the fact that all people are condemned, and they can’t work their way back to God.
James was writing about people who already claimed to be saved and right with God.
Paul says that you get right with God by faith, and not by doing things.
James says, if you’re right with God, it will show now because your life will change.
Reason 2: Therefore, James and Paul are using two words differently in these two verses.
Reason 3: The rest of their writings show that James and Paul believe in the same kind of faith: One that works. or… A faith that powerfully changes your life and makes you live in new, God-pleasing ways.
Both James and Paul believe in an active, living faith that transforms a life and produces good works. Both James and Paul believe this faith will produce evidence that will show that it is real when you stand before Christ’s judgment seat.
See these verses for Paul’s thinking on how works come from faith: Gal 5:6, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 2:11-3:2 & 3:8, Philippians 2:12-13
See these verses for in James for James saying that faith is central: 1:3 (assumed), 1:6 (needed), 2:1 (assumed), 2:5 (chosen have it), 2:17 (present, but not alone), 2:22 (senior partner), 2:23 (what needed to be fulfilled)
One problem all believers encounter in our walk of faith is facing issues in our thinking we can’t seem to work through. Maybe it’s a “theological” problem we can’t figure out. Maybe it’s some verse we can’t understand. Maybe it has to do with our Christianity, or even our own brains. We’ve all been there.
More and more though, I’ve been thinking about how often these problems in our thinking come from getting caught in one small perspective, one that doesn’t help us solve the problem, and then, just getting stuck there working away at a knot we can’t untie. (Or worse yet, we may just give up.)
This is especially true when it comes to problems in our understanding of God and the Bible. For instance, a couple months ago I was in a conversation with a friend about the Bible’s teaching on God’s wrath against those who die without repenting of their sin and trusting Christ. Hell. In the course of the conversation we hit a point where this idea came up: If we are God’s children, and God is our father, how could the traditional understanding of hell be correct? Some people might say, “Take even someone like Hitler–if I’m his father, I might want him to be punished, but to suffer for eternity? I couldn’t wish that on my son?”
Right here is the crux of the issue. When we frame the question this way (“Would a Father want his son to suffer for all eternity?”), it’s hard to find a way back to what the Bible clearly teaches. It can seem like the Bible is contradicting itself. Or maybe we just got it all wrong?
But no, here is one of those times when perspective is crucial. Specifically, we’ll help ourselves in our reading and thinking if we realize that–God being who He is and we being who we are–it is often impossible for us to see all there is to see from a single perspective or metaphor (such as “God=Father, Humans = Children”). This is why, for many truths, God uses several pictures to describe what we need to know. These pictures are not identical, but they are complementary. They inform each other. And the more of them we can try to hold in our mind at the same time, the closer we’ll be to the actual nature of things.
Take, for instance, the Bible’s teaching on Hell. In scripture, God is not only seen as a Father to children. There are other images used as well–Judge, King, Bridegroom, and Shepherd immediately come to mind.
So let’s look at the question of eternal punishment from each of these scriptural perspectives (and I encourage you to search the scriptures yourself to see if I’ve misrepesented anything here):
Imagine a Judge presiding over the case of a proven, guilty, criminal. This man has been caught offending in the worst ways, against both the helpless and the highest authorities, and has proven to be incurably, consistently evil in what he does. What’s more, he shows no remorse and gives every indication he’ll continue this life of crime if he is free. What will the Judge do?
Imagine a King who has brought before him a traitor and rebel against his rule. This man has not only publicly refused to acknowledge the King’s authority, he has continually gathered others to stage insurrections and challenges to the King’s administration. If left free, he will certainly continue his campaign to subvert and overthrow the rule of the King. What will the king do?
Imagine a Bridegroom who encounters a man who has been trying to seduce his bride-to-be. This man constantly discourages her from believing in the Groom’s love, or even that he’ll ever come marry her. What will the Groom do?
Imagine a Shepherd, who catches a wolf who has been ravaging his flock. The wolf has stolen and eaten many sheep. What will the Shepherd do?
And while we’re at it, take the biblical image of God as Father. When it comes to final judgement, the picture would not be something like a father casting his children into suffering, but more like: a Father encounters, at his door, someone who wants to force entry into his house and trouble his family. If this man gets in, he’ll bring destruction to the house and the children. What will the Father do?
Do you see how these images are helpful in understanding the depth of Scriputre’s teaching on God and Humanity? Now, for even more of the picture, add the attributes of God to each of these images, and imagine that we’re talking about a perfect, totally righteous, all-knowing Judge, King, Shepherd, Groom, Father.
The more biblical data we bring to bear on any question, the more we can start to see our way out of some of these hard questions.