Wednesday, April 25, 2018

What is expositional preaching?



Image: Scene from worship at the Lynchburg Reformed Baptist Mission

One of the odd things about being a preacher is that we do not often get the opportunity to listen to “live” preaching ourselves. On Sundays, we are usually in the pulpit or behind the lectern. I can just hear someone now telling me that I could always share the pulpit more often to remedy this. I agree, however, with Pastor Poh’s exhortation in the 2017 Keach Conference when he charged ministers to “labor to the point of exhaustion.” Poh noted that the man who is called to preach will not be content over-frequently to share his pulpit. Those with the call to preach desire to exercise their gifts for the good of the kingdom. Their unwillingness to sit on the sideline need not be ascribed to pride rather than zeal. They want to labor in the word and doctrine. If other men can do what he does, then perhaps those men need to be sent out or he needs to be sent out to establish more churches.

Still, the minister needs the hearing of preaching in order to receive the means of grace as well. He is a Christian man before he is a minister. In the pre-internet days, he could do that by reading the sermons of other men. He can still do this. Now he can also listen online to sermons. Rare indeed is the week that I do not have the opportunity to listen to a number of sermons or teachings. There is usually some variety in what I hear. There are some preachers I come back to hear over and again.

Aside from this discipline for spiritual nourishment, I also listen to learn about preaching. This includes sometimes listening back to my own sermons, often with cringes, and trying to sharpen the saw. I listen to men from the past and present, from various denominations and nations. I even listen at times to some liberal mainline Protestants to get a vibe for what is happening in those fading circles.

Very often I will listen to sermons from evangelical, Calvinistic churches—ones that say they affirm the five points but stop short of full confessionalism. What is called “expositional preaching” is popular in those circles. As I have listened to some of the preaching in these churches, however, I find that this term can mean different things to different people.

The common factor to qualify as expositional preaching seems to be the fact that each week the preacher takes as his text a consecutive set of verses, working through a book from the Bible. What I have sometimes found, however, is that the reading of the passage in consecutive order can serve merely as a jumping off point for what is a topical rather than an expositional sermon. BTW, I am not against all topical preaching. If the message claims to be expositional, however, I expect it to be something different. I want to hear a sustained meditation on one particular passage in God’s word. I expect the passage to dictate the topic, theme, and application. I expect there will be focused reflection on the content of this passage. That there will be line by line exposition of the text. There will be evidence that the minister has read the text in the original language, compared translations, studied commentaries, and labored to rightly divide the true meaning of the text. The view will not come from the air but from the ground. He will deal with the words of the text. He will tell us the meaning of key terms. He will hold every jot and tittle to be indispensible, because he believes in the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture. The expositor mines the truth in God’s Word and brings it to the surface for all to see. He will trust that the reading and hearing of these words will have an effectual impact on both himself and his hearers. This alone is powerful. He does not need jokes, stories, disconnected quotations or illustrations, references to contemporary culture or current events, pithy phrases, sports references, etc., to hold the attention or interest of his hearers. To claim to be doing expositional preaching and then to leave off exposition for topical reflection is false advertising and can confuse hearers as to what exposition of the text really means. Most importantly, it withholds from God’s people that which they most need to receive and which will do them the most good: an encounter with the Lord through his inspired, God-breathed Word.

JTR

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Book Review: James M. Renihan's Edification and Beauty: The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705


I have posted my book review of James M. Renihan's Edification and Beauty: The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705 (London: Paternoster, 2008) to my academia.edu site. You can find it here.

The review appeared in the Reformed Baptist Trumpet, Vol. 1 No. 2 (2010): 12-14.

I have also recorded a spoken word version of the review to sermonaudio.com. You can listen to the review here.

JTR

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).

JTR

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.

JTR

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:

First:

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.

Second:

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.

JTR

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

David Bentley Hart on Peter's Tears and A New Vision of Human Dignity



Image: Guercino, Peter Weeping With Keys, c. 17th century

One of the most poignant moments in the Gospel account of Christ’s passion is Peter’s reaction upon his denial of Jesus:

And Peter went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:62; cf. Matthew 26:75; Mark 14:72).

In The Story of Christianity, David Bentley Hart reflects on the significance of this description:

This may perhaps seem a rather unextraordinary episode, albeit a moving one. But therein lies its peculiar grandeur. To us today it seems only natural that a narrator should pause to record such an incident, and treat it, with certain gravity; but, in the days when the Gospels were written, the tears of a common man were not deemed worthy of serious attention. They would have been treated by most writers as, at most, an occasion for mirth. Only the grief of the noble could be tragic, or sublime or even fully human.

The tears of Peter were therefore indicative of a profound shift in moral imagination and sensibility. Something had become visible that had formerly been hidden from sight. For Christian thought, God had chosen to reveal himself among the least of men and women, and to exalt them to the dignity of his own sons and daughters. And, as a consequence, a new vision of the dignity of every soul had entered the consciousness of the Gentile world (18).

JTR

Monday, March 26, 2018

WM 94: Of Effectual Calling




WM 94: Of Effectual Calling is posted. You can listen to it here.

It’s been a while since I posted a WM. This has probably been the result of baseball pre-season practices getting started.

Anyhow, this episode was recorded yesterday following the afternoon Lord’s Day service at CRBC. In it, I have a discussion with Ethan McGonigal and Jason Anderson about a new booklet I have compiled and edited, titled Of Effectual Calling: Keach Conference Papers (Trumpet Books, 2018).

The booklet (less than 60 pages) has four chapters, written by four RB pastors in Virginia, drawn from the messages at the 2016 Keach Conference on chapter ten of the Second London Baptist Confession (1689):

Chapter One: Effectual Calling and Regeneration: Steve Clevenger (Covenant RBC, Warrenton)

Chapter Two: Effectual Calling and Spiritual Ability: Lee McKinnon (Covenant RBC, Bluefield)

Chapter Three: Effectual Calling and Elect Infants: Jeff Riddle (Christ RBC, Louisa)

Chapter Four: Effectual Calling and Reprobation: Any Rice (Providence BC, Harrisonburg)

If you’d like to get a copy or copies of the booklet, here’s the ordering information:

Get a single copy: $7.99 (no shipping cost).

For orders of five or more copies, the cost is $5.00 per copy plus $3.99 shipping (per ten or less items). An invoice will be included in the mailing and you can send a check after receipt to “Christ Reformed Baptist Church.”

Order books by emailing: info.crbc@gmail.com. Make sure to specify the number of books ordered and a provide a valid mailing address.

JTR

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Vision: The creed of unbelief: "Thy record is not true."


Image: Daffodils, North Garden, Virginia, March 2018
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 8:12-20.
Then spake Jesus again unto them saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life (John 8:12).
The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true (John 8:13).
The Pharisees rejected Christ’s claim to be the light of the world by saying, “Thy record is not true.”
Every unbeliever says this in one way or another. We might call this the creed of unbelief, or the manifesto of unbelief: “Thy record is not true.”
The polar opposite of this would be Peter’s confession in John 6:69: “And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”
It can be a pretty dauting things to make that confession. Maybe some of you remember the time when it dawned on you: Hey, you know, I really believe this. I really believe the gospel. I know this is not some fairy tale, but this is true. This is the truth. And I believe in Christ!
But have you ever thought about the obverse side of that? If you do not now identify yourself as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are someone who says to Christ with the Pharisees: “Thy record is not true.”
Is your spirit going to rest easy with being in a state of unbelief or, as Christ called it, “walking in darkness”?
Calvin called Christ’s declaration to be the light of the world “a beautiful commendation of Christ,” for, he adds, “since we are all blind by nature, a remedy is offered, by which we may be freed and rescued from darkness and made partakers of the true light.”
So, we are left to ask: Which sphere are you in? Where are you walking? Are you in the darkness? Or do you have the light of life?
Has Christ done and is he continuing to do a work of spiritual transformation and translation in your life?
Do you respond to Christ’s claims in faith as Peter did in John 6:69?
Or, do you say to Christ as those Pharisees did, “Thy record is not true.”?
And are you willing to live with the consequences of such a stance?
It is costly to follow Christ. But it is costlier still to stay in the darkness and NOT to follow him.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

David Bentley Hart's Survey of the Patristic Age




I’m enjoying reading through David Bentley Hart’s popular level work The Story of the Christianity (Quercus, 2009). It has short chapters, clear overviews, and is filled with interest-grabbing anecdotes.

In the chapter titled “Age of the Fathers” (95-101), Hart provides a succinct overview of the key leaders in the immediate post-apostolic age.

Hart calls this “the golden age of Christian thought” which was “frequently marked by a kind of speculative audacity, that the theologians of later years, under the restrictions of more precisely defined dogmas, found all but impossible” (95).

Here is my summary of his survey:

“Apostolic Fathers”: the earliest successors of the apostles

Clement of Rome
Ignatius of Antioch
Polycarp of Smyrna

Apologists: defenders of Christianity in the pagan world

Quadratus, during the time of the emperor Hadrian
Aristides, during the time of the emperor Antonius Pius
Melito of Sardis, during the time of the emperor Marcus Aurelius
Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165)
Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 130-c. 200)
Tertullian (c. 155-c. 230)

“High Patristic Age”

Clement of Alexandria
Origen
Athanasius, the scourge of Arianism
The Cappadocian Fathers: Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa
Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Note: Hart says, “Western Christianity is Augustinian Christianity.” As an Orthodox theologian, however, Hart unsurprisingly believes that Augustine misunderstood Paul.

Later Masters

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 375-444)
Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662)
“Pseudo-Dionysius” (c. 500)

The End of the Patristic Period

The last father in the West is usually said to be Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636);
The last father in the East, John of Damascus (c. 675-749).


JTR

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Athanasius on how Christ turns men from fighting to farming



Image: Sunset, North Garden, Virginia, March 2018

Athanasius in On the Incarnation describes the power of Christ to change Barbarians:

The barbarians of the present day are naturally savages in their habits, and as long as they sacrifice to their idols they rage furiously against each other and cannot bear to be a single hour without weapons. But when they hear the teaching of Christ, forthwith they turn from fighting to farming, and instead of arming themselves with swords extend their hands in prayer…. These facts are proof of the Godhead of the Saviour, for He has taught men what they could never learn from idols (91).

JTR

Monday, March 19, 2018

Athanasius on Proof that Christ is Alive



Image: Cedar berries, North Garden, Virginia, March 2018

Athanasius in On the Incarnation on proof that Christ is alive:

The Saviour is working mightily among men, every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond the Greek-speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching. Can anyone, in the face of this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life? Does a dead man prick the consciences of men, so that they throw all the traditions of their fathers to the winds and bow down before the teachings of Christ? If He is no longer active in the world, as He must needs be if He is dead, how is it that He makes the living to cease from their activities, the adulterer from his adultery, the murder from his murdering, the unjust from avarice, while the profane and godless man becomes religious? If he did not rise, but is still dead, how is it that he routs and persecutes and overthrows the false gods whom unbelievers think to be alive, and the evil spirits whom they worship? For where Christ is named idolatry is destroyed and the fraud of evil spirits is exposed; indeed, no such spirit can endure that Name, but takes to flight at the sound of it. This is the work of the One Who lives, not of the dead; and more than that, it is the work of God (61).

JTR

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Woman Taken in Adultery Passage: Loved, Controverted, Misinterpreted



Image: Ivory pyxis from Egypt (c. 5-6 century), depicting the woman taken in adultery. National Museum, Paris.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 8:1-11.

And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more (John 8:11b).


The woman taken in adultery passage (John 7:53—8:11) is perhaps the best loved, and the most controversial, and the most misinterpreted account in the Gospel of John.

It is perhaps the best loved, because it is in miniature the story of every believer. Perhaps we have committed outright adultery or we have committed mental or emotional adultery. We have broken God’s laws. We have committed spiritual adultery by having other gods above God. We have been caught in the act, and we have no excuse and can make no plausible defense for ourselves. We deserve everything we ought to get. We are exposed. And there is only one who can judge us, and it is a holy God himself. But then he sends forth his own dear Son to stand in our place and to take upon himself the wrath we deserve. So that, for us, there is now no condemnation. The “hanging” judge then takes us from the criminal court to family court, and he grants us spiritual adoption so that we become co-heirs with his own dear Son.

It is perhaps the most controversial, because some have tried to remove it from the text of Scripture. Witness the many modern Bibles that now place this text within brackets or even relegate it to the footnotes. Still, it has tenaciously held its place in God’s Word. Why has it been attacked? Because some have been offended by such an outlandish display of God’s grace in Christ toward this woman. Augustine of Hippo knew of attempts to suppress this account in his day (c. early fifth century), writing:

Certain persons of little faith, or rather enemies of the true faith, fearing, I suppose, lest their wives should be given impunity in sinning, removed from their manuscripts the Lord’s act of forgiveness toward the adulteress, as if he who said, “sin no more” had given permission to sin.

Christ couldn’t have done this, some think. But he did. And the saints of God will never let this precious account slip from God’s Word.

It is perhaps the most misinterpreted. How many have mis-used, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” to cover, ignore, justify, or obfuscate their own sin? They do the same with Matthew 7:1. Somehow, they conveniently miss consideration of Christ’s final words to this woman: “Go, and sin no more.” Christ not only saves men, but he also changes them. He calls them to live in ways above and beyond which, humanly speaking, they are capable. And this casts them again and again at the feet of Christ, confessing their sin, seeking his forgiveness, and being helped up again to walk in newness of life.

Calvin observes: Here we see “the design of the grace of Christ”: that a sinner reconciled to God “may honor the Author of his salvation by a good and holy life.”

Let us treasure this Word. Let us defend this Word. Let us rightly divide this Word.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Athanasius on the Incarnation as the restoration of a stained portrait



In On the Incarnation, Athanasius suggests the analogy of restored portrait painting to describe how the new Adam, Jesus, restored the stained image of the first Adam:

You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated  through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the like-ness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself…. (42).

He later notes the necessity of the ministry of the perfect model, since:

You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself (42).

JTR

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Athanasius compares the incarnation to a king entering a city




I got started last Sunday preaching through chapter 8 of the confession “Of Christ the Mediator.” To prepare I’m reviewing Athanasius’s On the Incarnation (using the volume in the Popular Patristics Series from SVS Press).

Athanasius compares the incarnation to a king entering a city:

You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honoured, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so it is with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have utterly perished had not the Lord and Saviour of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death (35).

JTR