Friday, April 29, 2016

The Vision (5.29.16): A Body Hast Thou Prepared Me

Image:  Page from Hebrews in Codex Vaticanus

Note:  Devotion taken from last Sunday morning’s sermon on Hebrews 10:1-10:

Hebrews 10:5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:  6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.  7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

What is the spiritual application to be made from this passage?

John Owen said it teaches that if God calls someone to some task he will also provide the means for the accomplishment of that task.  The Father decreed that the Son would redeem sinful humanity by a better sacrifice.  To that end, he prepared him a body.  Owen:  “Whatever God designs, appoints, and calls any unto, he will provide for them all that is needful unto the special duties of obedience whereunto they are so appointed and called (Hebrews, Vol. 6, p. 461).”

But that just does not seem enough.

We could say the point is to stress the necessity of the incarnation.  He had to be a man to identify with us (Heb 4:15).

In the end, however, I think the greatest spiritual benefit of this passage is that it evokes awe and worship at the knowledge revealed of the eternal counsels of God.  We get to overhear a conversation in the Godhead from eternity past.

The spiritual benefit is to contemplate:  If we are saved it is only because we were made the beneficiaries of the gracious plan of God. It was a plan conceived in mercy in the mysterious counsels of God in which the Father decreed that the Son would enter into the world as a real flesh and blood man.  John Owen reminds us of the fully Trinitarian comprehension of the description:  “The Father prepared it in the authoritative disposition of all things; the Holy Ghost actually wrought it; and he himself [the Son] assumed it.” (Hebrews, Vol. 6, p. 464).

Indeed, he would take on a body which was prepared for him.  And the Son declared to the Father, Let it be written in the divine record book.  “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.”

And he really came and he really perfected God’s plan.  And he really laid down his life.  And he really bled and died.  And three days later, he really raised it up again.  And he really ascended to the right hand of the Father. And he is really coming again to judge the living and the dead.  And his sacrifice really did away with the old covenant sacrificial system.   And he has really cleansed our conscience of sin.  And this really is the only way a man might be made perfect or definitively sanctified by God.

The practical result is worship:  Praise be to God!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Simple Outline of Revelation

Reaching the end of the semester in a survey of the NT class means getting to give a lecture on the book of Revelation, which almost always draws the interest of the students.  The book’s apocalyptic style (revelatory visions in a narrative framework) is mystifying enough to many to draw the conclusion that it is indecipherable.  The more I do this lecture, however, the more convinced I am that the narrative structure is simpler and more straightforward than typically assumed.

Here is the “simple outline” of Revelation I share with students:

I.  Introduction and Letters to Seven Churches:  chapter 2-3

II.  Throne Vision:  chapters 4-5

III.  Seven Seals—Seven Trumpets—Seven Vials:  chapters 6-16

IV.  The Fall of Babylon:  chapters 17-19

V.  The Defeat of Satan and Final Judgment:  chapter 20

VI.  A New Heaven and a New Earth:  chapters 21-22


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Bible League Quarterly: "This flower is too pretty to be planted in such dirt!"

Someone recently gave me an anonymous gift subscription to Bible League Quarterly, the magazine of the Bible League Trust, and I got the first two issues of 2016 in the mail from the UK this week.  I had subscribed a few years ago but had let it lapse.  The BLQ is a gem, and I am thankful to my benefactor for the opportunity to read it again.

The opening article in the January-March 2016 issue from editor John Thackway is a reflection on 1 Samuel 27:1 titled “David’s Fainting Fit.”  The title reminded me of the recent post here from Bunyan.  Thackway makes skilful application of David’s spiritual state to that of his readers:

Gospel ministers can suffer this “fainting fit,” and sink into deep dejection.  Some can hardly continue, and some even leave the pastorate.  Many Christians have sunk terribly low or turned aside from the right way.  It may be, dear reader, that you find yourself on the brink of this.  Or maybe you have already come to where David was and are now ensnared in the consequences.

David’s “fainting fit” is on record here for our admonition and comfort.  Let us follow the account of what happened and seek to apply it to ourselves (p. 324).

I was also struck by this vivid illustration on how the Lord sovereignly uses our circumstances, even troubled ones, to grow us in godliness:

The story is told of a little girl walking in a garden who noticed a particularly beautiful flower.  She admired its fragrance.  “It is so pretty!” she exclaimed.  Then her eyes followed the stem down to the soil in which it grew.  “This flower is too pretty to be planted in such dirt!” she cried.  So she pulled it up by its roots and ran to the tap to wash away the soil.  It wasn’t long until the flower wilted and died.  When the gardener saw what the little girl had done, he exclaimed, “You have destroyed my finest plant!”  “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I didn’t like it in that dirt.”  The gardener replied, “I chose that spot and mixed the soil because I knew that only there could it grow to be a beautiful flower.”  And so it is in our God-appointed circumstances that, by God’s grace, we produce the beauty of Christian character and the fragrance of Christ (pp. 322-323).


Friday, April 22, 2016

The Vision (4.22.16): Appointed unto men once to die

Image:  Ancient Roman funerary inscription for eight year old boy, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York

Image:  Grave site of Benjamin Franklin, Christ Church burial yard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27)

We are left in the end to ponder this verse.  It is appointed unto men once to die.  Some obsess over and distort the Lord’s appointment of the time of our deaths.  Have you heard someone say things like, “Well, I guess his number was up”?  God is sovereign over all and he knows the time of our death, but that misses the point here.  He knows the end from the beginning.

We have a simple and solemn reminder that we will die.  It is a universal reality for all men and has been since the fall.

My family took a trip to New York City last week and we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I had the opportunity to walk through part of the Greek and Roman exhibition.  Some of the pieces I saw were ancient funerary art.  One that stood out was a marble grave marker for a young boy placed there by his father in the 1-2 century A. D.  It reads:

To the spirits of the dead. For C. Porcius Dionysius, who lived 8 years, 10 months, and 13 days. C. Porcius Dionysius [the father for whom the son was named] made this for the sweetest of sons.

As we drove home we also stopped off in Philadelphia and visited Christ Church and its burial ground where Benjamin Franklin was laid to rest in 1790 after 84 years of earthly life having gained great fame among men.  Washington said of him that he was “venerated for benevolence, admired for talents, esteemed for patriotism, beloved for philanthropy.”

All men die.  From little boys to old men.  From obscure men to famous men.

It is appointed unto men once to die.  Paul said:

1 Timothy 6:7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

But what happens afterward?

Scripture says that after death there is a krisis, a judgment.

What are the standards for this judgment?  Jesus teaches us those standards:

Matthew 10:32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. 33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

So, the question is:  Have you confessed Christ or have you denied Christ?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bunyan: The broken-hearted man is a fainting man

From John Bunyan,The Acceptable Sacrifice (original 1688; Banner of Truth edition, 2004):

The broken-hearted man is a fainting man; he has his qualms, his sinking fits; he oft-times dies away with pain and fear; he must be stayed with flagons, and comforted with apples, or else he cannot tell what to do:  he pines, he pines away in his iniquity; nor can any thing keep him alive and make him well but the comforts and cordials of Almighty God.  Wherefore with such an one God will dwell, to revive the heart, to revive the spirit.  ‘To revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones' (p. 10).


Monday, April 18, 2016

New Book: The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research

The book produced from the 2014 conference at SEBTS on the Pericope Adulterae (see my report here) is available for pre-order from Bloomsbury/ T & T Clark.  Unfortunately the price is high (Amazon lists the kindle price at $67.19 and the hardback at $104.46)!  The 2008 book edition of the SEBTS conference on the ending of Mark was printed by B & H Academic in paperback at a much more reasonable price.  I guess there’s always inter-library loan.

Larry Hurtado, the only contributor to the book who was not part of the SEBTS symposium, describes this book as now being the “go-to” resource for text-critical study of the PA (see his blog post on the book here).  Hurtado, of course, sides with Knust/Wasserman/Keith in rejecting the originality of the PA, but I find his “heretical” statements against text-critical orthodoxy in this post to be interesting.  He sees the PA as an inexplicable late addition.  What about the possibility it was early [original, in fact, to John], went through a period of suppression from some corners, but tenaciously persisted and prevailed?


Friday, April 15, 2016

The Vision (4.15.16): The offense of the blood of Christ

Image:  Spring scene, Charlottesville, Virginia. April 2016

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission (Hebrews 9:22).

We are left to ponder the scandal of a crucified Christ, who not only died on the cross but whose blood was also poured out there for the remission of our sins.

This has long been an offense.

In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul could speak about the preaching of the cross as foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews.

It was an offense to the early Gnostic heretic Marcion, who wanted a more sophisticated, non-Jewish religion.  David L. Dungan notes that Marcion claimed Jesus “had not been crucified. The mob of Jews mistakenly crucified someone else (possibly Simon of Cyrene) and ignorant Christian writers got the truth completely garbled…..” (History of the Synoptic Problem, p. 48).

This denial was taken up by Moahmmed in the Koran (Surah IV):

And for their saying, “Verily we have slain the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, an apostle of God.”  Yet they slew him not, and they crucified him not, but they had only his likeness.

And it has been denied in modern liberal theology which preaches the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man but is embarrassed by the cross.  The liberal twentieth century minister Harry Emerson Fosdick called the preaching of the cross a “slaughterhouse religion.”  The contemporary British so-called “evangelical” Steven Chalke has called the preaching of the cross a form of “cosmic child abuse.”

But the Scriptures still stand bearing witness that without the shedding of blood there is no remission.  It is not an accident of history that Christ was crucified and that his blood was shed.  It is not an embarrassment.  It was the perfecting of the new covenant.  It could not have happened any other way.  This was the signature work as the Mediator of the New Testament.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Celsus Insults Christianity

Image:  Spring Scene, Charlottesville, Virginia, April 2016

I have recently been reading David Laird Dungan’s A History of the Synoptic Problem (Anchor Bible Reference Library, Doubleday, 1999).  In chapter six of that work Dungan offers a summary of the pagan philosopher Celsus’ critique of Christianity in True Doctrine, a work which is no longer extant but can be partially reconstructed from quotations in the writings of Origen (c. 185-253).  Dungan writes:

We will conclude with one final insult:  “Let no one educated, on one wise, no one sensible draw near” to the abominable Christians.  Their raving make sense “only to the foolish, dishonorable and stupid (among men), (and to) slaves, women, and little children” (p. 63).

In my NT class yesterday I was teaching on the book of Philemon and we had a discussion on the early Christian attitudes toward and responses to slavery in the Greco-Roman world.  Last week in a session on the Pastoral Epistles we had also discussed the role of women in early Christianity.  I read my students this quotation from Celsus and pointed out that the Celsus’ disdain for Christianity reflected the very thing that attracted all kinds of people, including women and slaves, to it—the belief that every person, no matter their external circumstances and status, bore the image of God, had value in his sight, might be numbered among the elect, and enjoy spiritual liberty and equality in Christ.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Opening Day at Cove Creek (4.9.16)

Image:  Clear but chilly Opening Day at Cove Creek (4.9.16)

An unseasonable cold streak made for the chilliest Opening Day ceremonies on Saturday (4.9.16) I can recall in the twelve years my family has been playing ball at Cove Creek. Despite the un-baseball-like weather, it's baseball season again.  I am coaching the Major League Pirates (my son Isaiah's 11-12 year old team) again this year, as we attempt to defend our 2015 tournament championship. The Pirates had a bye on Saturday but get down to business with two games this week. Joseph is playing on the Cove Creek Minor League Rangers, who got off to a strong start with a 16-1 Saturday win over the Mets.  My son Sam, meanwhile, was playing for his high school team on Saturday in a tournament at the Bing Crosby field in Front Royal, Virginia, where they lost their first game by a run and then won the next game by a run.  Sam pitched a complete game in the win and was named to the all-tournament team. OK, I'm a proud Dad.

Here are a few pics from CC:

Image:  Cove Creek League Commissioner John Grisham leads the opening ceremonies.

Image:  Pirates goofing off.

Image; Isaiah poses for a batting photo.

Image:  Joseph hurled two relief innings in the Rangers' opening win.

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Vision (4.8.16): Having obtained eternal redemption

Image:  Spring scene, North Garden, Virginia

Note:  Devotion taken from last Sunday morning’s sermon on Hebrews 9:1-12.

“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12).

Meditate on that final statement in v. 12:  “having obtained eternal redemption for us.”

The verb here for “to obtain” is from heurisko, to discover or to find.  It is the root also for the term Eureka!  I have discovered or found it.

The Lord Jesus is a satisfied and a successful Savior. He has done all he needs to do to save sinners.  Nothing can frustrate his accomplished work, not even the sin of men.  For by his irresistible grace he will overwhelm the resistance of those for whom he died.

He has won for them “redemption [lytrosis].” This is ransom language.  It is also the language of the slave marketplace.  A prisoner could be ransomed and set free.  A slave might be bought or redeemed on the auction block.

I read recently a book on slavery in the ancient world and the writer stressed the importance of having a good and kind master.  The first Christians used this kind of language to described coming to Christ.  It is about coming under the lordship of a good and kind master.  You’ve known cruel and abusive masters, now come under the yoke of Christ.

I’m also struck by the adjective “eternal” here.  What does that mean?  When was I redeemed?  In eternity past (cf. Eph 1:4:  “as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world”).  At the moment Christ gave up himself for me at Calvary.  At the moment I heard the effectual call, was supernaturally regenerated, repented, and believed.  At the moment I will be glorified in heaven.  He discovered eternal redemption for us.  A redemption, in some sense, without beginning and without end.

It is as though the writer tells us, If you want to go anywhere spiritually speaking you have to go to through the metropolis of Christ, for all roads lead to him.  And if you want to understand Christ you have to understand the cross.  You have to make a bee-line for the cross.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Word Magazine # 52: Review: James White on Text on Apologia.Part 4

Yesterday, I recorded and posted Word Magazine 52 (listen here).  This is the fourth and final episode in a series of reviews of RB apologist James White’s text presentation on Apologia radio/tv (listen here).

I also refer to my online debate with apologist Jamin Hubner and my response to his use of the “puzzle pieces” illustration for modern text criticism (see this post).  JW uses the same illustration and cites the source as Rob Bowman (as cited by Dan Wallace).  I believe this illustration shows the problem with the modern restorationist approach, rather than inspiring confidence in it.

In this episode we do get to the heart of the matter.  Is the modern critical approach to text and preservation espoused by JW and others consistent with the perspective in chapter one of the WCF or the 2LBCF 1689?

The modern view suggests the Word of God is preserved in the mass of corrupted copies and that only in the modern age have scholars been able to approximate the elusive original autographa.

The confessional view suggests that the divine originals of the immediately inspired Word of God have been preserved in the apographa (copies) which accurately reflects the autographa.  It stresses preservation not restoration.

Here are excerpts from the quotes I shared on this point:

Richard A. Muller on the orthodox Protestant view of text and preservation:  “The case for the Scripture as an infallible rule of faith and practice and the separate arguments for a received text free from the major (i.e., non-scribal) errors rests on an examination of the apographa and does not seek infinite regress of the lost autographa as a prop for textual infallibility” (Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, p. 433).

John Owen on text and preservation:  “… We add, that the whole Scripture, entire as given out by God, without any loss, is preserved in the copies of the originals yet remaining….  Indeed, in them all, we say, is every letter and tittle of the word.  These copies, we say, are the rule, standard, and touchstone of all translations, ancient or modern, by which they are in all things to be examined, tried, corrected, amended; and themselves only by themselves” (Collected Works, Vol. 16, p. 357).


Friday, April 01, 2016

The Vision (4.1.16): Led by his hand

Note:  Devotion taken from last Sunday morning's sermon on Hebrews 8:7-13.

Hebrews 8:8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

In v. 9 the inspired author declares that the new covenant in Christ will not be like the old covenant (see v. 9a).  I love the striking image here, drawn from the account of the great exodus from bondage in Egypt.  God had been like a father to Israel, leading the nation as a father does a small child “by the hand.”

Every parent here has had the experience of leading or attempting to lead a child by the hand.  Maybe you are taking a child across a busy road or over a narrow bridge and you firmly grasp the child’s hand lest he come into danger and be harmed, struck by a car, or fall from the bridge.  Does the child typically turn to the father and say, “Oh, thank you for taking my hand and guiding me safely.  Thank you for your paternal care and love and provision for me.”?   No.  What does the child often do?  He tries to twist and pull his hand out of your hand, so that he can walk on his own. He wants freedom.  He wants liberty.  He wants autonomy.  He does not want your oppressive hand holding him back from his full self-expression.  And Israel of old had been like that willful and disobedient child (see v. 9b).  This is also where the analogy breaks down, because a human parent can also sometimes be wrongly willful and overbearing. But here the fault is all, totally, on one side.

Notice also the emphasis here on God’s response to willful Israel:  “and I regarded them not.”  The verb here is ameleo:  to disregard, to neglect, to reject.  The NIV renders it as “I turned away from them.”

Matthew Poole explains the verb’s meaning:  “I took no care of them.  I did neither esteem or regard them, but cast them off from being my people for their lewd, treacherous covenant breaking with me; they would not return unto me, and I rejected them from being my people, or a people as they were before.”

Well has it been said that the worst thing that can happen is not necessarily for God actively to chasten a person, but sometimes the greater judgment is when he allows a person to go his own way, when he gives him over to his own sinful and rebellious inclinations.

Later, in v. 10a, we read:  “And I will be to them a God and they shall be to me a people.”  This speaks to the fulfillment of a quest we might trace back to the very beginning of God’s covenant relationship to Israel.  Of course, God would still be God even if no human being ever acknowledged his Godhood but what is envisioned here is the ideal of a people who acknowledge God to be who God is.  A people who acknowledge themselves to be his own, as expressed in Psalm 95:7:  “For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”

It envisions a people who are not twisting their hand and trying to break away from the Father’s protective guidance, but who turn to him in ready and humble submission. They do not shake their puny fists and him and say, “You can’t tell me what to do” but they turn in humble submission and say, “Lord, please tell us what to do and how to be.”

May we have this new covenant spirit toward our God through Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeffrey T. Riddle