Friday, April 20, 2018

The Vision (4.20.18): A "Shadow Box" to Display Christ's Glory

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 9:1-7.

Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him (John 9:3).

It has been noted by interpreters of John that the evangelist records seven miracles or “signs” in the first half of this Gospel:

            Water into wine (ch. 2);
            The healing of the nobleman’s son (ch. 4);
            The healing of the lame man (ch. 5);
            The feeding of the 5,000 (ch. 6);
            The walking on water (ch. 6);
            The healing of the blind man (ch. 9);
            The raising of Lazarus (ch. 11).

Some have even called the first half of John “The book of signs.”

We can look back at John 2:11 as the key to understanding these events: “This beginning of miracles (signs) did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”

The goal of a miracle: manifestation of Christ’s glory (which leads men to worship and honor him) and belief (fundamental trust in him above all else).

Christ here unveils the mystery of the man born blind’s condition. He exercises sovereign knowledge over all things. This man was born blind so that Christ might heal him and manifest his glory. This man’s condition becomes a theater for the display of Christ’s glory.

Have you seen those “shadow boxes” that you can buy to display fine jewelry, precious coins, or medals? This man’s condition is a shadow box to highlight and call attention to Christ’s glory through his healing.

To this we might add that unregenerate men might be able to see with the physical eye, but they are spiritually blind, and they have been so from birth. Salvation is like the opening of blinded eyes, so that the lives of the redeemed might also manifest Christ’s glory. We become shadow boxes to display his glory.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Cyril of Alexandria on the burning bush as a type of the Incarnation

Those who rejected the orthodox view of Christ as one person with two natures, argued that it would not be possible for any man to take on the glorious divine nature. In defending his view that in Christ God did not merely assume the form of a man but became a man, Cyril of Alexander points to the theophany of the burning bush in Exodus 3 as a type of the incarnation:

It was not impossible to God, in his living kindness, to make himself capable of bearing the limitations of manhood. And he foretold this to us in enigmas when he initiated Moses, depicting the manner of the incarnation in types. For he came down in the form of fire onto the bush in the desert, and the fire played upon the shrub but did not consume it. When he saw this Moses was amazed. Why was there no compatibility here between the wood and the fire? How did this inflammable substance endure the assaults of the flame? Well, as I have already said, this event was a type of a mystery, of how the divine Word supported the limitations of the manhood; because he chose to. Absolutely nothing is impossible to him (Mk 10:27) (On the Unity of Christ, p. 79).


Monday, April 16, 2018

Christology, Cyril of Alexandria, and "catholic orthodoxy" in the Protestant Confessions

Image: Wall painting of Basil, Gregory the Theologian, and Cyril of Alexandria (left to right). fourteenth century, Istanbul, Turkey

I am continuing to teach through chapter 8 “Of Christ the Mediator” in the Second London Baptist Confession (1689).

Sunday before last I noted how the confession is grounded in three contexts (from latest to earliest): Baptist (believer’s baptism, independence/communion church government), Reformed (doctrines of grace, RP of worship, moral law of God, etc.), and catholic (little “c”—universal) orthodoxy (little “o”—right believing) (listen to the sermon here).

The latter of these is seen in the classical view of the triune God’s immutability and simplicity (“without body, parts, or passions”) (see chapter 2 “Of God and of the Holy Trinity”).

It also evident in chapter 8 in the Nicene and Chalcedonian Christology. Christ is “the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God” (8:2). And in the one person of Christ there are “two whole, perfect, and distinct natures [which] were inseparably joined together in one person without conversion, composition, or confusion; which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man” (8:2).

I took paragraph 3 of chapter 8 as having to do with the special furnishing the human nature of Christ (see this sermon). I noted the listing of special furnishings based on a Scriptural prooftexts and drawn from the scriptural phrasing, so Christ was:

Sanctified and anointed with the Holy Spirit above measure (Psalm 45:7);
Holding in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3);
Having all fulness dwelling in him (Col 1:19);
Holy, harmless, and undefiled (Heb 7:26);
Full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

This section (8:3) of the 2LBCF is nearly identical to the WCF (with the exception of the addition of the phrase “in the person of the Son”), so the roots of this theologizing rests primarily with the Westminster divines.

In the midst of this study, I have also been trying to do some reading (primary and secondary) from the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries.

Among these, I have been reading Cyril of Alexandria’s On the Unity of Christ (SVSP, 1995) and was struck by his discussion of the special furnishing of Christ and how the concepts and proof texts parallel those used in WCF/2LBCF 8:3.

Cyril (d. 444) was the patriarch of Alexandria who battled Nestorius in arguing that Christ was one person with two natures. Though Philip Jenkins describes Cyril as “an obnoxious bully” (Jesus Wars, p. 58), he was a dogged defender of the orthodox cause and his tenacity led to triumph over Nestorius’s views at the Council of Ephesus (431).

Here is an excerpt from Cyril’s On the Unity of Christ:

He was sanctified along with us when he became like us. The divine David also testifies that the one who is truly Son was also anointed in accordance with his becoming flesh, which is to say perfect man, when he addresses these words to him: “Your throne O God is from age to age; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness, and so God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above all who participate in you” (Ps 45:6-7 LXX). Take note, then, that while David calls him God and attributes to him an eternal throne, he also says that he had been anointed by God, evidently the Father, with a special anointing above that of his participants, which means us. The Word who is God has become man, therefore, but has retained all the while the virtues of his proper nature. He is perfection itself, and as John says: “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14), and while he himself has everything that is fitting to the deity, we on our part “have all of us received from his fullness” as it is written (Jn 1:16) (p. 67).

So, we see here the concepts of anointing, filling with grace and truth, and fullness, as well as the prooftexts Psalm 45:7 and John 1:14.

The WCF/2LBCF, thus, reflects the ancient reflections of Cyril and others in their recognition, definition, and defense of orthodox Christology.


Friday, April 13, 2018

The Vision (4.13.18): Before Abraham was, I am

Image: Forsythia, North Garden, Virginia, April 2018
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 8:48-59.
Let me draw three statements from John 8:48-59 for reflection:
First, look at v. 51 where Jesus said, “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.”
Think of how people try to escape the first death. Think of the explorers who looked for the fountain of youth or moderns who want to freeze their bodies in hopes they might be preserved till a time when diseases are cured. Consider health foods, diet, exercise, essential oils, yoga, running, meditation, surgery, etc.
Even funeral homes work to make the dead look alive!
But believers know that the wages of sin is death. The mortality rate is 100%!
There is, however, a way not to die, that is, not to experience the second death, eternal death. And that way is by honoring the Son and by believing and keeping his words.
Second, look at v. 53, when the crowd asks Jesus, “Whom makest thou thyself?”
Who did Christ make himself out to be? Did he make himself out to be just another ordinary man? Or did he make himself out to be something more? And what is your verdict? Are you with the unbelieving crowd or with the apostles?
Third, look at v. 58, where Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
Now, what mere man could say such a thing? Imagine you are visiting Monticello in Charlottesville and you meet a man who says, “Jefferson rejoiced to see my day. Before Jefferson was, I am.” Would you not say that such a man was beside himself? But when the earliest followers of Jesus heard Christ say, Before Abraham was, I am” they believed it to be absolutely true. In fact, they were willing to die for him and for this truth.

Now, where do you stand?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, April 06, 2018

The Vision (4.6.18): He that is of God heareth God's words

Image: Ground cover, North Garden, Virginia, April 2018

Note: Devotion taken from last Sundays' sermon on John 8:33-47.

He that is of God heareth God’s words; ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God (John 8:47).

First, Jesus declares a basic principle (v. 47a): Those who are of God hear Christ’s words.

What does it mean to be “of God”? It means to be a spiritual child of God. One who has been claimed by God, adopted by God, one who has God as his spiritual Father. He not only hears Christ’s words externally but, most importantly, he hears them internally.

Second, Jesus declares a devastating verdict (v. 47b): They do not hear, because they are not of God.

This can be said by the Lord Jesus of every man who rejects him.

Paul provides a version of this statement in 1 Corinthians 2:14:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Calvin describes Jesus in this temple dialogue as being “in the position of one who sings to the deaf”!

Here is a dividing line between believers and unbelievers. Those who are of God hear his words, while those who are not of God cannot hear them.

We who are in Christ can give thanks to the Lord that he, by grace, unstopped our deaf ears. We can also pray that he might bless the preaching of Christ, so that others also might be enabled to hear.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle 

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Calvin on John 8:41 and Roman claims to apostolic succession

In preparing to preach last Sunday on John 8:32-47, I read Calvin’s commentary on this passage, and I was struck by his reflections on the crowd’s statement to Jesus in John 8:41: “We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.”

Calvin notes that Jesus’ opponents were claiming not only to be Abraham’s children but also the children of God. He then draws some intriguing applications on ecclesiology, including a critique of Roman claims of “apostolic succession.”

Calvin comments:

“We now see how they thought that they had holiness from the womb, because they were sprung from a holy root. In short, they maintain that they are the family of God, because they are descended from the holy fathers. In like manner, the Papists in the present day are exceedingly vain of an uninterrupted succession from the fathers. By sorceries of this description Satan deceives them, so that they separate God from his word, the Church from faith, and the kingdom of heaven from the Spirit.”

He then adds:

“For let them go about the bush as much as they please, still they will never avoid discovery that the only ground of their arrogant boasting is, ‘We have succeeded the holy fathers; therefore, we are the Church.’ And if the reply of Christ was sufficient for confuting the Jews, it is no less sufficient now for reproving the Papists.”

So, Calvin’s comparison is this:


The Jews of Jesus day claimed to be the children of God by virtue of being the physical descendants of Abraham, even though they were not the spiritual descendants of Abraham. Meanwhile, Christians, including both Jews and Gentiles, are not all physical descendants of Abraham, but they are his rightful  spiritual descendants.


The Papists of Calvins’s day claimed to be the Church of God by virtue of direct succession from the apostles and fathers, even though they were not the spiritual descendants of the apostles and fathers. Meanwhile, the Reformed do not necessarily come in direct succession from the apostles and fathers, but they are their rightful spiritual descendants.

His point: Spiritually speaking, it is not the Papists who can claim true apostolic succession, but the Reformers.


Friday, March 30, 2018

The Vision (3.30.18): And the truth shall make you free

Image: Scene from I-64 West, Central Virginia, March 2018

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 8:21-32.

And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).

What is the truth? Christ is the truth (see John 14:6). And you shall know the Lord Jesus Christ and the Lord Jesus Christ shall make you free.

Christ brings freedom! Here is a great irony: Unbelievers think that becoming a believer brings restrictions, but, in truth, faith brings liberty. One is free from the fear of dying in his sins. One is free to know and obey and serve the Lord.

The language here would have had a very deep impact on the hearers of the first century who lived in a society in which slavery was common.

I recently read a book describing the first century Roman ceremony for freeing a slave, a solemn event that was held before the magistrate (see William Stearns Davis, A Day in Old Rome, p. 140).

An official would come forward and tap the slave on the head lightly with a rod and say, “I declare that this man is free!”

The slave’s master would then turn and say, “I desire that this man should be free!”

Finally, the magistrate would declare: “And I adjudge that this man is free.”

And with that he was manumitted and became a libertinus, a free man.

When I read John 8:32 I thought of that description and of Christ playing all those roles. I hear him saying:

I declare that this man is free!

I desire that this man should be free!

And, I adjudge (declare) that this man is free!

Meditate on the freedom one can have in Christ. Who is your master? Who has the key to your life and your heart? Is it something or someone in this life, or is it Christ?

The Lord Jesus Christ holds out this promise to those who believe in him: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle