Friday, May 17, 2019

The Vision (5.17.19): Confessing Thomas



Image Roses, North Garden, Virginia, May 2019.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 20:24-31.

The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print [typos] of the nails, and put my finger into the into the print [typos] of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

And Thomas answered and said unto him, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

We know the disciple Thomas as “Doubting Thomas” because of the skepticism he expressed when his fellow disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20:25).

Thomas had not been present on that first Lord’s Day evening when Christ “stood in the midst” as they assembled behind closed doors (v. 19). He was incredulous. Sometimes modern people suggest that the whole reason Christianity took root in the first century is because the people of that age were simply religiously naïve, superstitious, and unsophisticated. They didn’t have our modern refinement and rationalism. But people are people, in the first century as now. They have reason and common sense, drawn from ordinary experience. They knew then as we know now that dead men stay dead. It is unsurprising then that Thomas did not immediately believe the report of his fellows.

We have the expression, seeing is believing. In Thomas’s case seeing and touching is believing. He said he wanted verifiable, empirical evidence of the reality of the resurrection, or he would remain in unbelief about it.

Then, on the second Lord’s Day evening, Christ again “stood in the midst” of the disciples and invited Thomas to place his finger in his nail pierced hands, and his hand in his riven side (vv. 26-27). He gave Thomas the exhortation: “and be not faithless, but believing [kai mē ginou apistos, allas pistos]” (v. 27).

Thomas then answered, “My Lord [kurios] and my God [theos]” (v. 28). This is a truly amazing statement. It anticipates the classic confessions: Jesus is Lord (cf. Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; Phil 2:11), and: Jesus is God (cf. John 10:30; Rom 9:5; Titus 2:13; 1 Tim 3:16).

We live in an age in which doubt is promoted as a virtue. Some might see Thomas as exhibiting this “noble” quality. Indeed there are no questions that are too big for us to bring to our God.

The narrative, however, does not end with Thomas’s doubt but with his confession: My Lord and my God. Thus, in the end, he should not be known as “Doubting Thomas” but as “Confessing Thomas.”

Christ now exhorts us, as he did Thomas: “Be not faithless, but believing.”

Let us not be doubters but confessors, to the glory of Christ!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Eusebius, EH.2.18: Philo of Alexandria



A new installment is posted to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 2, chapter 18 (listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

Eusebius here surveys the various writings of the respected Jewish philosopher, stateman, and author Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BC-AD 50), a rough contemporary of both Jesus and Paul.

He notes that Philo wrote on various spiritual and mundane topics, including allegorical expositions of the Hebrew Bible.

He again notes Philo’s famed trip to Rome during the reign of Caius Caesar (Caligula) and also notes that during the reign of Caius’s successor, Claudius, Philo described Caligula's impiety in an ironically titled work “Concerning Virtues”, which he read before the Senate.

He also notes Claudius’s expulsion of Jews from Rome, a detail noted in Acts 18:2 that led to Aquila and Priscilla being in Corinth, where they became hosts to Paul.

Eusebius has a high view of the book of Acts, referring to it as “sacred Scripture.”

JTR

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Vision (5.10.19): Christ Stood in the Midst


Image: Rhododendron, North Garden, Virginia, May 2019
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 20:19-23.
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you (John 20:19).
In Christ’s appearance to his disciples on the first resurrection Sunday evening, we have a pattern for what still happens in the assemblies of God’s people.
Admittedly, Christ is not present physically now as he was in that forty-day period after his resurrection and before his ascension, but he is nonetheless present by means of the Spirit.
When we gather as God’s people, Christ stands in our midst. We cannot see him, hear him, touch him, but he is not less present. Our winsomeness as an assembly comes not through who we are but through the one who stands in our midst.
There is something more powerful that happens when we come together than when any of us is alone in private devotion.
Christ offers peace to us, as he promised his original disciples in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.’
He also gives us proofs and evidences of the truth and reality of who he is and what he has done. On that first Lord’s Day evening “he shewed unto them his hands and his side” (John 20:20) Now, he gives us proofs by the reading and preaching of his Word.
On that first Lord’s Day evening he commissioned his disciples, “as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21). He still sends us out into the world to be his witnesses. He also gives us, as he did the first disciples, the Holy Spirit to empower our ministry (John 20:22).
Finally, he reminds us of the authority granted to us as the church founded by the apostles on Christ the chief cornerstone: to announce forgiveness of sin and to evaluate and condemn sin that is retained (cf. John 20:23).
We are still assembling on the first day of the week, and Christ is still coming to stand in our midst.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Book Review posted: Modern English Version (MEV)


My review of the Modern English Version (MEV) appears in the latest issue of the Midwestern Journal of Theology, Vol. 18 No. 1 (Spring 2019): 129-135.

I have posted a pdf of the review to my academia.edu page (read it here).

I also posted a spoken word version of the review to sermonaudio.com (listen here).

I had also discussed the MEV in WM 108.

JTR


Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Eusebius, EH.2.16-17: Mark, Philo, and the Therapeutae



Image: Modern entrance to the Coptic Orthodox Monastery of St. Anthony in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. It is considered by many to be the oldest Christian monastery in the world, founded c. 251.

A new installment is posted to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 2, chapters 16-17 (listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

Eusebius begins by relaying the tradition that Mark was the first to take the gospel to Alexandria, Egypt, before he went to Rome to be with Peter and to compose his Gospel.

Eusebius then draws on Philo of Alexandria’s work On the Contemplative Life and his description of the Therapeutae, an ascetic spiritual group near Alexandria.

Eusebius claims that the Therapeutae were, in fact, a Christian sect. Like the early Christians described in Acts they gave up their possessions and held their goods in common in order to follow their “philosophy.” He describes their practices of fasting and their allegorical interpretations of their Scriptures. He assumes their sacred Scriptures to have included the Gospels, the writings of the Apostles, and expositions of the prophets, like those found in Hebrews (which he assumes was written by Paul). He emphasizes the extremes of their fasting with some not eating for three days or barely eating over six days.

Eusebius acknowledges that some might be skeptical of his claim that the Therapeutae were Christians. Indeed, most would see them as a Jewish sect.

He further notes that men and women lived separately and practiced chastity. They also followed patterns (like fasting and keeping vigils to celebrate “the Passion of the Savior”) and practices, which Eusebius says, were still followed by Christians in his day.

Though his claims that the Therapeutae were Christians seems dubious, the description shows the developing interest in early Christianity in monasticism and ascetical spiritual practices like chastity and fasting.

JTR

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Eusebius, EH.2.13-15: Simon the Sorcerer, Peter, and Mark



A new installment has been posted to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 2, chapters 13-15 (listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

Eusebius here focuses on a tradition of Simon the Samaritan sorcerer, a false convert from Acts 8:9-25 as an arch-heretic who eventually settled in Rome.

He describes Simon as a demon-possessed magician who was fancied a god by his followers. He suggests that a statue to him was raised in Rome. Lake notes that Eusebius is likely in error here, suggesting that the statue, discovered in 1574, was inscribed not “to Simon a holy god” but “to the god Semo Sanctus” [Semo Sanctus being a Sabine deity].

Simon’s companion was a woman named Helena, whom Eusebius suggests was a former prostitute and whom Simon called the “First Idea” from him [a pseudo-Platonic or Gnostic concept].

Eusebius cites Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyons as his sources for these traditions of Simon as “the first author of all heresy.”

He notes that the false practices of Simon and Helena includes being “thrown into marvel” [ecstatic spiritual experiences] and indecent sexual conduct.

If Simon was the arch-villain, the hero was Peter, the leader of the Apostles, who came to Rome “like a noble captain of God” to preach the gospel and refute heresy.

He suggests that the Romans encouraged Mark, “Peter’s follower,” to compose the Gospel of Mark, written in Rome and commended by the Apostle. He also cites Papias for the tradition of Mark being written in Rome and his reference to Mark in 1 Peter 5:13, as well as the reference there to “Babylon” as a code term for Rome.

JTR

Friday, May 03, 2019

The Vision (5.3.19): Mary Magdalene: Apostle to the Apostles


Image: Irises, North Garden, Virginia, May 2019

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 20:9-18.

John 20:17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God and your God. 18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

The first resurrection appearance was to Mary Magdalene (cf. Mark 16:9).

Christ’s word to Mary Magdalene In John 20:17 constitute one of the most intriguing and perhaps difficult to understand statements of the risen Jesus. Ryle says, “No doubt the language is somewhat mysterious and ought to be delicately and reverently handled.”

Why did the risen Christ ask Mary not to touch him?

What is this reference to his ascending to the Father? Was there a preliminary ascension to the Father after his resurrection and a return to appear for forty days before his final ascension?

Was Mary as a woman disciple and non-apostle forbidden to touch him, while only the twelve were given the privilege of handling his body, including touching hid wounds, as Thomas did (see 20:27)?

What is being conveyed here?

It is unlikely that this is a reference to “two ascensions” since such a thing is not mentioned anywhere else in the Scriptures.

Many take the point as being simply to communicate to Mary not that he could not be touched at all but that his body had been changed. This is no longer his earthly body but his heavenly, resurrection body. His physical presence in their midst is only temporary, until such time as he ascends to be seated at the right hand of the Father. It thus points forward to the reality of the age in which we now live as disciples, wherein we cannot physically touch Christ with the hand, hear him with the ear, see him with the eye, and yet we do hear his voice in the Word, and we believe.

Christ then commissions Mary to go to the apostles and to tell them both of his resurrection and his ascension.

Mary obeyed this command (v. 18). This is an evidence of her faithfulness, for which she was remembered by the early Christians and often called by them, “the apostle to the apostles.”

In appearing first to Mary Magdalene Christ, in part, demonstrated the importance and value of women disciples. Women were not called to be apostles. They are not called today to be elders or deacons. But they are called to believe in the resurrection, to obey Christ, and to serve the Lord in their own spheres of influence.

So, let us learn from Mary and grow in our obedience.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle