Friday, April 19, 2019

The Vision (4.19.19): Joseph of Arimathea: A Secret Disciple

Image; Joseph of Arimathea Among the Rocks of Albion, engraving, 1773, reworked c. 1810, by William Blake (1757-1827). Medieval legends suggested Joseph brought the "Holy Grail" to Britain.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 19:36-42.

And after this Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore and took the body of Jesus (John 19:38).

John agrees with the other three Gospels (cf. Matt 27:57-58; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51-52) in saying that a man named Joseph of Arimathea took the lifeless body of the Lord Jesus from the cross. Who was Joseph?

Each of the Gospels give us bits of information about him:

In Matthew 27:57 he is described as “a rich man” and as “Jesus’s disciple.”

In Mark 15:43 he is described as “an honorable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God.”

In Luke 23:50 he is also described as “a counsellor” but also as “a good man, and a just” man.

And in John 19:38, John says he was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews.”

Why was Joseph a secret disciple? Perhaps because of his wealth, or because of his position as a counsellor among his fellow Jews, or because as a good and just man he feared having cast upon him the scorn and opprobrium that was cast upon Christ.

Joseph indeed stands forever immortalized in Scripture as one who tried to keep quiet his commitment to Christ due to fear of man.

We need to remember, however, that though Joseph had been a secret disciple, at this moment of crisis, at the very time after Christ had been crucified, his fear was taken away and he stepped forward to honor Christ by giving his body a proper and respectful burial.

Think of the courage it took for him to approach Pilate to beseech him “that he might take away the body of Jesus.”

Calvin notes that here we have “a striking proof that [Christ’s] death was more quickening than his life.” Christ now extinguished the passions belonging to the flesh of Joseph. So long as ambition and love of money reigned in Joseph the grace of Christ had no charm for him, but now he began to disrelish the whole world.

Ryle said: “But his case teaches us that there is sometimes more spiritual work going on in men’s minds than appears. We must not set down every one as utterly graceless and godless, who is not bold and outspoken at present. We must charitably hope that there are some secret disciples, who at present hold their tongues and say nothing, and yet, like Joseph, will one day come forward, and be a courageous witness for Christ.”

Joseph had indeed been changed by the passion and death of Christ on the cross, and he is, therefore, a harbinger of myriads of timid and fearful men who are made bold when they are gripped by this great reality (cf. John 12:24-26).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Eusebius, EH.2.4-6: Caius Caesar and Philo of Alexandria

Image: Marble bust of Caius [Gaius] Caesar (AD 12-41), Roman Emperor (AD 37-41). Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum, Copenhagen.

A new installment has been posted to Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 2, chapter 4-6 (listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

Eusebius here traces early Christianity against the backdrop of the reign of Caius [Gaius] Caesar, also known as Caligula.

He notes the emperor’s appointment of Herodian rulers in Palestine.

He also discusses the influence of Philo, the great Jewish philosopher of Alexandria.

He notes the mental instability of Caius and his announcement of himself as a god, and how Philo represented the Jews in Rome before the unstable emperor.

He claims to draw his accounts both from the writings of Josephus and Philo.

Eusebius discusses Caius’s bitter hatred of the Jews and how he set up his image in synagogues and even tried to make the Jewish temple in Jerusalem a shrine to “Caius the new Zeus manifest.”

He also describes an incident of Pilate’s violence against the Jews—clubbing to death those who opposed his use of religious funds to build an aqueduct.

Eusebius sees the suffering of the Jews and the ultimate fall of Jerusalem as a divine penalty “for their crimes against Christ.”


Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Vision (4.13.19): Blood and Water

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 19:31-37.

But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water (John 19:34).

The soldier likely thrust the spear into Christ’s side to verify his death. So Calvin observes: “he did so for the purpose of ascertaining if he were dead.”

There have been many explanations, physical and metaphorical, for the “blood and water” that flowed from Christ’s lifeless body.

Physically, it suggests that the spear pierced the pericardium, from which flowed both the watery fluid and blood.

Metaphorically, many interpretations have been suggested, including:

The water represents his divinity and the blood his humanity.
The water represents his baptism and the blood his crucifixion.
The water represents the Holy Spirit and the blood the Incarnation of the Son of God.
The water represents sanctification and the blood justification (Matthew Henry).

One of the most popular interpretations has been sacramental. The water represents baptism and the blood the Lord’s Supper. John Chrysostom said that when believers took the cup, they were “drinking from His very side.” J. C. Ryle, however, warned that to draw such a conclusion here may tend to “vulgarize” the sacraments and “bring them into contempt.”

Some have drawn parallels to 1 John 5:6-8 which begins: “This is he that came by water and blood” (v. 6) and continues by speaking of the three that bear witness in heaven: The Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost (v. 7), and of the three that bear witness on earth: “the Spirit, and the water, and the blood” (v. 8).

John offers us no inspired interpretation of any symbolic meaning related to the blood and water. At the least, we can affirm this as a historical reality. It really happened. And I think we can say that the primary purpose of this description is to affirm the real and actual death of Christ on our behalf. Christ tasted death for us. The older we get the more the realization comes to us that we too will one day pass over that river of death. And the closer we come to that reality, the more we appreciate the one who died and bled for us.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Eusebius, EH.2.3: Flooding the whole world with light: Summary of Acts 10-11

Image: St. Peter's Cave Church near the site of ancient Antioch. It was built by Crusaders c. 1100, on a mountainside cave site where early Christian supposedly met, and restored in the nineteenth century.

A new episode is posted to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 2, chapter 3 (listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

This is another very brief chapter. It focuses on the spread of the Christian movement and how it “began to flood the whole world with light like the rays of the sun.”

Eusebius indeed sees the triumph of Christianity reaching to the planting of churches in every city and village and with these churches “crowded with thousands of men.” One wonders, however, at this very positive assessment in the early fourth century when Christians were still in the minority in the empire, when many areas were not evangelized, and when paganism still had life and strength.

He sees Christianity as moving men from idolatry and polytheism to monotheism, and from irrational to rational worship. The emphasis is on the reasonableness of the faith and the inevitability of its spread.

He draws on Acts 10-11 to note the conversion of Cornelius under Peter and the rise of the church at Antioch under the teaching of Barnabas and Paul, as well as the prophesying of Agabus from Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-28). He notes that the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26).

Eusebius expresses what could be called a confident and triumphalistic view of Christianity.


Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Eusebius, EH.2.2: Pilate's report to Tiberius

Image: Marble bust of Tiberius Caesar, British Museum

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

Notes and Commentary:

Eusebius conveys here a legend that apparently circulated in early Christianity (and which he seems to accept at face value), which says that Pilate, the Roman governor under whom Jesus was crucified, sent a report of his death and resurrection, as well as his deity, to the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Tiberius then referred this report to the senate, but they rejected it.

He cites a written portion of this report which he claims appeared in the writings of Tertullian. Lake, however, notes that this citation is unknown in the extant Latin writings of Tertullian.

Eusebius stresses that Tiberius approved of the report, even if it was rejected by the senate, and that he did not persecute or impede the early Christian movement. Eusebius is thus likely providing a precedent for imperial favor for Christianity, relevant to his own setting and the rule of Constantine.

He also points to the providential work of God in allowing the early Christian movement to spread unimpeded by the empire.


Sunday, April 07, 2019

Opening Ceremonies: Cove Creek 2019

Image: Teams gathering on the field for opening ceremonies at CC (4.6.19)

Baseball season has arrived. Opening Ceremonies were held yesterday (4.6.19) at Cove Creek park, where my family has been playing ball for over fifteen years. This is my fifth consecutive year as head coach of the Cove Creek Major League Pirates. (11-12 year olds). There is something special about this last step before moving on to the "big field."

Cove Creek benefactor and commissioner John Grisham missed opening ceremonies this year to be in Minneapolis for UVA’s final four appearance.

The Pirates lost our morning opener 4-0 to the A’s, but the team looked good.

Opening ceremonies always begin with an opening prayer (great thing about a private park is that you can still have public prayer) and the national anthem. I’ve given the opening prayer several times over the past years and was honored to be asked to do so again this year. Here was the prayer I offered yesterday:

Gracious and loving God,

Today we can say with the Psalmist, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof: the world, and they that dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).

We give you thanks for your creation, for giving to us healthy minds and healthy bodies, and for giving us wholesome recreations to enjoy like baseball.

We ask your blessings, in particular, upon this upcoming season at Cove Creek.

We give you thanks for all the benefactors, staff, officials, and volunteers who will serve here this season.

We thank you for the coaches and parents for their instruction and support.  Help us to encourage excellence in competition without being overbearing or unkind.  Make us to be circumspect in our criticism and liberal in our praise.

We ask that you would watch over and keep the physical safety of the young men and women who will take the field here. Help them to honor their parents and all those in positions of rightful authority.   Help them to strive for excellence in proportion to their abilities, to be fair in competition, encouraging to their teammates, and generous in both victory and defeat.

Help us to remember the command of Christ, first, that we would love you with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and, second, that we would love our neighbor as ourselves.

We ask this in Christ’s name, Amen

Now, play ball!


Friday, April 05, 2019

The Vision (4.5.19): It is finished.

Image: Forsythia, North Garden, Virginia, April 5, 2019

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 19:30.

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost (John 19:30).

John records the final words of the Lord Jesus on the cross: “It is finished.” In Greek this is a single word: Tetelestai. The verb here means to bring to an end or goal, to finish, to complete. In this verb is the related noun root telos, which means end or goal. Compare Romans 10:4: “For Christ is the end [telos] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”

We get the English word “teleology” from this same root. In philosophy, this refers to the attempt to explain something not based on what caused it, but on its purpose, end, or goal. Why does it exist? What purpose or function does it serve?

The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas suggested five proofs for the existence of God, and the fifth of those was called the teleological argument. Today many refer to it as the argument of intelligent design. Aquinas said: As an arrow reaches its target, because it is directed by an archer, what lacks intelligence achieves goals by being directed by one who is intelligent (God).

When Christ said, “It is finished” he was saying that he had completed the task that God the Father had given to him.

Notice also that the verb here is in what is called the perfect tense. It is finished, or It has been finished. The perfect tense refers to action that has been completed or perfected in the past. In this way it differs from the simple past: It finished. And the progressive past: It was finishing. By this word Christ was saying that he had perfectly completed the end or goal of his life.

Believers often speak about the “finished” work of Christ. What do we mean by that?

J. C. Ryle observed: “The precise meaning of this wondrous expression, ‘It is finished,’ is a point which the Holy Ghost has not thought to reveal to us. There is a depth about it, we must all instinctively feel, which man has probably no line to fathom.”

Calvin, however, suggested this statement means “that the whole accomplishment of our salvation, and all the parts of it, are contained in his death.”

We are indeed thankful for the finished work of Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Eusebius, EH.2.1: After the Ascension: Summary of Acts 1-9

Image: Depiction of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, from the Menologion of Basil II, an illuminated service-book (menologion) manuscript, c. AD 1000.

A new installment has been posted in the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: book 2, chapter 1 (listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

This chapter begins by describing events after the ascension. It largely follows the outline of Acts with additional material from Clement (of Alexandria) and possibly others.

He describes how Mattias was chosen to replace Judas and how Stephen, from among the seven, “was the first to carry off the crown” of martyrdom.

Next he describes how James “the brother of the Lord” or James the Just (in distinction from James of Zebedee) was the first bishop of Jerusalem.

He also recaps Thaddaeus’s mission to Edessa (from EH, 1.13).

Returning to Acts, he notes that after Stephen’s death there arose “the first and greatest persecution of the Church in Jerusalem by the Jews” which led to all but the twelve being scattered.

He describes the ministry of Philip, who, he says, had with Stephen “been already ordained to the diaconate [diakonia].”

When describing Simon Magus, Eusebius draws parallels to contemporary heretics: “It is worthy of wonder that this is still done by those who continue his most unclean heresy to the present day, for following the method of their progenitor they attach themselves to the Church like a pestilential and scurfy disease, and ravage to the utmost all whom they are able to inoculate with the deadly and terrible poison in them.”

The Ethiopian Eunuch he describes as “the first of the Gentiles” to receive the divine word and suggests that the returned “to his native land” to “preach the Gospel,” fulfilling Psalm 67:32 [LXX; cf. Psalm 68:31].

Lastly, he mentions the call of Paul as a “chosen vessel.”