In the same way, the gospel is being fruitful and multiplying throughout the whole world, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf. He told us of your love in the Spirit. On account of this, since the day we heard it, we have not stopped praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will with complete spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, pleasing him in every way, in every good work being fruitful, and multiplying in the knowledge of God.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done (Genesis 2:2-3 NIV).
The Preliminary Seventh Day Of the Old Covenant
The Sabbath was inaugurated for the people of Israel to be celebrated as a weekly sign of the covenant. As a sign of the covenant, it was to last as long as that covenant. God instituted the Sabbath for his people as a constant, regular source of blessing for both spiritual and physical renewal; it was to express social concern and compassion. The Sabbath was a reminder that God was in control of man’s time. Trained by the regular recurrence of this gracious gift, Israel was able to stand before the Creator in freedom, responsibility, trust, and gratitude; she worshipped Him, the Lord of the Sabbath, and looked forward with joy and anticipation to the coming of the final Rest (Harold H. P. Dressler in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day (Wipf & Stock, 1999) pp. 34-35).
The Final Seventh Day Inaugurated With The Coming of Christ
The True Sabbath, which has come with Christ, is not a literal physical rest, but is the salvation that God has provided. Believers in Christ can now live in God’s Sabbath that has already dawned (A. T. Lincoln, in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day (Wipf & Stock, 1999) p. 215).
Entering God’s rest requires obedience that springs from faith, just as it did for Israel. It does no good to simply hear the gospel message; one must act on it by faithfully following Jesus. If He is the source of rest, indeed the Rest-Giver, that rest only comes through faith in Him (Rich Robinson, Christ in the Sabbath, p. 130).
Question: What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment? Answer: That every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin already in this life the eternal Sabbath (The Heidleberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38, the answer’s second part).
The Final Seventh Day Consummated In The New Heavens and New Earth
Behind the offer made to the wilderness generation of Numbers 14, and the implied offer of Psalm 95, the author of Hebrews recognizes that there is a promise of entry into God’s own resting place that will occur at the end of the ages. Joshua did not lead his generation into this rest, for it would take place only when Jesus returns. When believers from every generation enter God’s resting place and receive the promised eternal inheritance, they will participate in God’s Sabbath celebration around his throne and rest from all their labors as God rested from his works at creation (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, p. 178).
And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness… (Genesis 1:26).
Why doesn’t the text read, “Let me make man in my image….”?
G. J. Wenham lists six possible meanings of the divine plural in Genesis 1:26. According to his preferred view: God is speaking to his angelic court (1 Kings 22:19ff and Job 38:7b are sometimes used as parallels to defend this view). Under this interpretation, however, man would be made in the image of both God and the angels (“in our image” in Gen 1:26) — which does not square with the rest of Scripture.
Wenham also commends the possibility that we are witnessing God’s deliberation or self-exhortation. This fits well with the climactic swell of the chapter toward the sixth day. Immediately prior to creating the apex of his universe, God pauses, reflects, and converses with himself about bringing human beings into existence.
Christians have long held that this passage presents an early expression of the plurality of God, later revealed as the tri-unity of God. This no doubt is correct. But it does not explain why this manner of speaking is used so infrequently. For example, why doesn’t Genesis 1:29 read, “We have given you every plant yielding seed….”?
The key is to recognize the importance this passage places upon humanity in its entirety. The plurality of God will be reflected not only in the human individual, but especially in human community. Hence the move from singular (“…make man”) to plural (“Let them have dominion”). God summons humankind, as an entire race, to subdue the earth. No individual could do that alone. Notice the singular-to-plural move in verse 27 as well: “he created him… male and female, he created them.” The spectrum of what it means to be like God is found not in male or female alone, but in both together.
On the one hand, humankind is a single entity. All human persons stand in solidarity before God. But on the other hand, humankind is a community, male and female. And none is the full image of God alone. (W. Brueggemann).
The divine first person plural is found at only two other points in Genesis — both within accounts of judgment. And both allude to mankind’s intended state as presented in Genesis 1:26-28. After disobediently cutting themselves off from God, mankind has become like God, but not with the sort of likeness described in Genesis 1:26, 27.
Then the Lord God said, Behold, the man has become like one of Us in knowing good and evil… (Genesis 3:22).
Then at the Tower of Babel, mankind refuses to be fully plural; they are unwilling to multiply and spread out across the face of the earth as God had commanded in Genesis 1:28.
And the Lord said…, Come, let Us go down and confuse their language… (Genesis 11:7).
Given both human disobedience and American individualism, all of this is well worth our pondering. And it sheds light, does it not, on what Jesus meant when he said:
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35).
Jesus Christ, in his humanness, hesitated on his way to the cross:
My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow. –Matthew 26:38
Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. –Mark 14:36
Now my soul is troubled. –John 12:27
What overcame this hesitance? The answer is love. Theologian David Wells captures that love so well in his recent book. Here is Wells describing Christ’s love as displayed, not just on the way to the cross, but in the entirety of his incarnation:
Christ had all of the essential characteristics and defining attributes of God. He had the very “godness” of God (Phil. 2:6; cf. John 1:1). He was “the radiance of the glory of God” (Heb 1:3), the total reality of who God is (Col. 1:15; cf. John 10:30). It was he who set aside all of this glory in order to carry out a very costly act of service. That he would strip away his bright glory to become not only incarnate but someone of little account, unrecognized for who he was, disparaged, rejected, and laughed at by those in power, a person of no status though he was the very center of the universe and its Creator, is an expression of humility so deep that words are inadequate to grasp it. Yet this is only a part of the picture.
We also see that Christ did not clutch onto his place in heaven (Phil. 2:6) but joined with the Father in the plan to redeem lost sinners. He joyfully set aside his status and “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7). He who had been in the “form of God” took on what might be seen as its antithesis, “the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). This, though, is an optical illusion. God, in his essential nature and as an outcome of his love, was also by nature a servant. So Christ obscured his divine attributes, putting them into abeyance, and took on the life of an inconsequential servant. He entered our life with all of its quarrels and discord, its arrogance and deceit, all of its godlessness, its self-serving spiritualities and misleading religions. He was met, not with the worship which was his due, but by great “hostilities against himself” (Heb. 12:3). He was also met by the full force of the lying, leering, murderous evil in Satan. You know “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul says as he reflects back on all of this, that “though he was rich, . . . he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor: 8:9).
Are we to suppose that in the far mists of eternity, when our calling and redemption were only in the mind of God, Christ was unaware of what this would entail? Was he caught by surprise after he became incarnate? Do we ever hear him reproaching the Father for not having told him what this mission of redemption would cost? Of course not! The point about Christ’s love is that he knew. He knew from the very start. But such is this love, this self-giving, self-sacrificing, self-abasing love that he freely and joyfully gave of himself to do what had to be done, knowing all that was entailed. Indeed, there is no other motive sufficient to account for what he did than this extraordinary love, For only this kind of love would pay the cost which this kind of mission required. He saw that his own self-giving reached a greater end by becoming incarnate than by not doing so. He willingly chose not to enjoy the worship of the angels in a place of utter holiness for an uninterrupted eternity for the gain that redemption would bring.
David Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. Pp. 93-94.
And he went out, bearing his own cross. –John 19:17
Originally posted, April 17, 2014.
Tomorrow is our annual day of prayer and fasting. Here at the beginning of a new year in the history of our congregation, we ask God for the continuing privilege of being a local expression of the body of Christ: “May we, Father, in this new year be guided by you and filled with your Spirit such that we will be fully pleasing to you in our corporate worship, in our love for one another, and in our making Christ known to those around us.”
Here’s Paul A. Miller (A Praying Life, 2009) about how child-like faith (Mark 10:14-15) prays:
Jesus wants us to be without pretense when we come to him in prayer. The only way to come to God is by taking off any spiritual mask. The real you has to meet the real God. He is a person. Instead of being frozen by your self-preoccupation, talk with God about your worries. Tell him where you are weary. If you don’t begin with where you are, then where you are will sneak in the back door. Your mind will wander to where you are weary. We are often so busy and overwhelmed that when we slow down to pray, we don’t know where our hearts are. We don’t know what troubles us. So, oddly enough, we might have to worry before we pray. Then our prayers will make sense. They will be about our real lives. Your heart could be, and often is, askew. That’s okay. You have to begin with what is real. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous. He came for sinners. All of us qualify. The very things we try to get rid of — our weariness, our distractedness, our messiness — are what gets us in the front door! That’s how the gospel works. That’s how prayer works. In bringing your real self to Jesus, you give him the opportunity to work on the real you, and you will slowly change. The kingdom will come. You’ll end up less selfish.
Here’s Donald S. Whitney (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 1991) about how fasting strengthens prayer:
There’s something about fasting that sharpens the edge of our intercessions and gives passion to our supplications. So it has frequently been used by the people of God when there is a special urgency about the concerns they lift before the Father. When Ezra was about to lead a group of exiles back to Jerusalem, he proclaimed a fast in order for the people to seek the Lord earnestly for safe passage (Ezra 8:23). They were to face many dangers without military protection during their nine-hundred mile journey. This was no ordinary matter to be brought to God in prayer. The Bible does not teach that fasting is kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding. If we ask for something outside of God’s will, fasting does not cause him to reconsider. Fasting does not change God’s hearing so much as it changes our praying. God is always pleased to hear the prayers of his people. But he is also pleased when we choose to strengthen our prayers in a way he has ordained.
So tomorrow, with joy, let us thank God for past blessings and seek his initiatives through us for the future.
Originally posted on January 15, 2013.
Most years, on the occasion of our Annual Day of Prayer and Fasting, I find myself thinking about Psalm 127:1: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain; unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”
Apply the verse to our context, and you get something like this: Unless the LORD builds Trinity Fellowship, we serve in our church in vain. But, in fact, will the Lord build up Trinity Fellowship? Yes, he is a God who promises to give good gifts to those who ask. And so we implore the Lord that he would cause growth throughout the congregation, and that he would guide our church in this new year. May he deepen our faith, fill our worship with his Spirit and his truth, energize our mutual love, and make our witness compelling. Then our labors, as acts of cooperation with God, will not prove to be futile. When I speak of our labors, I’m thinking of all the various activities and relationships throughout the congregation, carried out by all of us, in accord with the energies and gifts he gives us.
Read on, and various commentators will aid your contemplation of Psalm 127:1.
Work and family were the two constitutive dimensions of ordinary life in Israel. Life was set in the social unit of the family and supported by work. But both involved a mysterious uncertainty: work and family were human endeavors, but human action was not ultimately determinative in them. Work did not always come to fruition; marriage did not always produce children. The psalm is grounded in fundamental trust in the providence of God as the decisive factor in all of human life. —James Luther Mays, 1994.
The poet proves that everything depends upon the blessing of God. His examples are taken from the God-ordained life of the family and of the state. These are things which depend upon the blessing of God, without natural preliminary conditions being able to guarantee them, well-devised arrangements to ensure them, unwearied labors to obtain them by force, or impatient care and murmuring to get them by defiance. —Franz Delitzsch, 1867 (translated by Francis Bolton).
Unless the good hand of God be upon us we cannot prosperously build a place of worship for his name. –Adam Clarke, early nineteenth century.
The two human activities of verse 1 are samples of a great area of life: its enterprises and its conflicts, the work of creating and of conserving. For each of them this verse sees only two possibilities: either it will be the Lord’s doing or it will be pointless; there is no third option. –Derek Kidner, 1973.
He is far from thinking that human care and labor, which are employed in the building of houses and keeping of cities, are to be regarded as useless. These are more especially useful and effective when the Lord himself is the builder and keeper. The Holy Spirit is not the patron of lazy and inert men. –Wolfgang Musculus, sixteenth century.
Theologically the psalm anticipates a Pauline emphasis upon “good works” within a context of faith over against mere “works” (Eph. 2:9-10). Labor is to be a matter of collaboration with God (1 Cor. 15:10, 58). Under the new covenant there is an even closer intertwining of the believer’s fortunes with his Lord, as Jesus reaffirmed, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). –Leslie C. Allen, 1983.
A. (2:22-24): Joseph and Mary go to Jerusalem in order to obey the Law of the Lord.
B. (2:25-27): Simeon, a devout man who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25). He comes “into the temple” (v. 27) at the time when the baby Jesus arrives.
C. (2:28-32): Simeon’s First Speech: A joyful prayer.
X. (2:33): And his father and mother were marveling….
C′. (2:34-35): Simeon’s Second Speech: A sober warning.
B′. (2:36-38): Anna, a devout woman who never departs “from the temple” (v. 37). She sees the baby Jesus and speaks of him to others who are “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38).
A′. (2:39-40): Having obeyed the Law of the Lord, Joseph and Mary leave Jerusalem.
In his highly-regarded 1994 commentary, Darrell Bock argues that the verbs in Luke 1:51-55 should be translated with the English future tense. Although almost all English translations use the past tense in these verses, Bock references six other commentators who see a future reference here, and I find this position makes best sense of the passage.
The Greek grammar in these verses does not tell us whether the described events take place in the past or future (from Mary’s position in time, that is). The verb forms (aorist indicative) can be translated with either the English past tense or the English future tense (Wallace 1996, pp. 554-55, 563-64).*
Context is what tells us how to translate an aorist verb. Mary’s song responds to what the angel just told her about her coming baby — thus, Gabriel’s announcement is the key context. Gabriel spoke to Mary about the present and the future. He spoke to Mary about her present state of favor with God and about the future high status of her yet-to-be-born baby. Mary responds to each of these in turn. Thus, verses 46-50 correspond to verses 28-30 (Mary’s present favor), and verses 51-55 correspond to verses 31-35 (the baby’s future reign). Furthermore, note the following future-orientated phrases: “from now on” (v. 48), “from generation to generation” (v. 50), and “to Abraham and his offspring forever” (v. 55). Finally, Mary’s song parallels Zechariah’s prophecy in verses 67-79, a prediction of the future accomplishments of the Messiah. Here then is how I translate Luke 1:46-55:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked upon the humble state of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One does great things for me – holy is his name. His covenantal mercy extends from generation to generation to those who fear him.
He will most assuredly work powerfully with his arm; he will scatter those who are proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he will bring down the mighty from their thrones, and he will exalt those in a humble state; the hungry he will fill with good things, and the rich he will send away empty. He will help Israel his servant, remembering his covenantal mercy ( just as he spoke to our fathers) to Abraham and to his offspring forever.
Mary speaks prophetically. She is joyfully certain that her promised son will bring about a perfect reign of justice and righteousness in Israel. Though she may not yet understand that “the offspring of Abraham” (v. 55) will include Gentiles, she does know that the essential characteristic of those who will experience this promised reign of righteousness are “those who fear the Lord” (v. 50). We today who are God-fearers and children of Abraham by faith experience the righteous reign of Mary’s son inside the church and we await its consummation when the Messiah returns. More on this in Sunday’s sermon!
*The Greek aorist verb presents an occurrence in summary, viewed as a whole from the outside, without regard for the internal make-up of the occurrence (as opposed to a Greek present-tense verb, which presents an occurrence as an ongoing process). The aorist often corresponds to the English simple past tense, but not always. One use of the aorist verb is “the futuristic aorist.” The futuristic aorist describes an event that has not yet occurred, but it describes the event as though it were already completed, thus stressing the certainty of the event (as opposed to the Greek future tense which in itself does not indicate anything about completion one way or the other).
From Matt Merker’s excellent blog post this morning:
The New Testament describes singing as a corporate activity. A hallmark of those who are filled with the Holy Spirit is that they address “one another” in song (Ephesians 5:19). Why? Because singing is an avenue for Christian love.
You can read the whole thing here.
Merker mentions this post, which is also good on this theme.
From this coming Sunday’s sermon passage… most English translations render the first Hebrew word of Isaiah 45:15 as “Truly.” I cannot explain why this is. Here is what some of the better Hebrew language resources say about the word in question, the Hebrew word ‘aken.
It usually reverses what has immediately preceded. (Allan Harman in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol. 4, p. 1031).
‘aken usually reverses or restricts what immediately preceeds (Waltke & O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, p. 670).
Try these examples out for yourself. What English word makes most sense in place of ‘aken? Does the word, “but,” or, “nevertheless,” fit?
Psalm 31:22: I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight,” ‘aken you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy….
Psalm 82:6-7: I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; ‘aken, like men you shall die….
Isaiah 49:4: I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; ‘aken my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.”
Isaiah 53:3-4: He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not; ‘aken he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows….
In this last example, notice the repetition of the words “sorrow” and “grief” in reverse order, once each before ‘aken and after ‘aken.
The sense of Isaiah 45:15 is that God hides himself from the Egyptians, Cushites and Sabeans. Note that these are the three nations that God has exchanged for Israel (Isa.43:3). The Egyptians are coming over to Israel, but God is a God who hides himself; he is the God of Israel.
Where is this all leading? More on Sunday! 🙂