Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category
Part 2 of 3: What the Church Needs to be Preaching. Now.
In part one of this short series of posts, I talked about what I think the church needs to be doing now, namely, preparing the way for the coming of Jesus. By preparing the way, I mean: calling people to repentance. It may seem simple and, perhaps, a wee bit out of sync with all the fancy things that churches are told they ought to be doing, but it seems to me that everyone needs to repent–including the church. In fact, the apostle Peter himself wrote: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Funny that Peter said this to the Church!
My point is, hopefully clearly, that there is always room for repentance and that perhaps this ought to form more our core message even today.
So there's that. John preached repentance. Jesus preached it. Paul preached it. Peter preached it. Clearly this is an important aspect of our preaching. But there's also another important part of our preaching that I want to explore in this short post. It has to do with the Kingdom.
For whatever reason, I can count on my one hand the number of sermons I have heard about the Kingdom in the local church. One sermon stands out because I was still in college at the time and didn't understand a single word the preacher preached. He preached from Matthew 13 and used Robert Farrar Capon's book The Parables of the Kingdom and its rather complicated (at the time for me) text to expound upon what Jesus was saying about the Kingdom. To this day I'm not sure I understand what the preacher said that Sunday or what Capon wrote in his book.
Scott McKnight has done a superior job teaching us about the Kingdom. His book Kingdom Conspiracy was a shockingly devastating book that nails it from the first page to the last. I took a lot from the book. Here's one thing McKnight wrote:
Kingdom mission flows from the kingdom story, and that story focuses on on God at work in history as God brings that history to its focal point in Jesus as King. That kingdom story, then, focuses on God as King through King Jesus. That story counters all other stories, especially stories that make humans kings and queens and thereby become stories of idolatry. […] This kingdom story tells the story of a kingdom; kingdom is a people, and that means kingdom mission is about forming the people of God. That is, the kingdom mission forms a kingdom people and that kingdom people in the present world is the church. This means kingdom mission is all about forming and enhancing local churches as expressions of the kingdom of God in this world. Which leads us back to a central reality of kingdom theology: there is no kingdom without a King. (123)
He says on the next page, which also happens to be the first page of chapter 8 "The King of the Kingdom", this: "Indeed, God is king, but God rules through his Son, the Messiah, the Lord, King Jesus." (125)
A little later he writes, "This ideal-king psalm [Psalm 72] leads to one of the most important observations about kings and kingdoms: kings determine what their kingdoms are like" (his emphasis, 128).
There is so much more I'd love to share, but this is a short post and you really should get your own copy of the book. But here's the point, from Mark 1:1: "The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus the Messiah." He then goes on to tell the story of Jesus: the things Jesus said, the things Jesus did, the places Jesus visited, the people Jesus interacted with, and the things Jesus preached. So, from the get go of Mark's Gospel, we, the readers, know that this is the Gospel (good news) about Jesus.
A few verses later, Mark tells us that John the baptist had been put in prison and that Jesus picked up where John left off. Mark wrote, "Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God. 'The time has come,' he said, 'the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Gospel'" (Mark 1:14-15). Well this is certainly interesting isn't it? Mark says the Gospel is about Jesus, the Messiah. Then John prepared the way for this Gospel to be preached. Then Jesus came on the scene preaching this same Gospel. And Mark uses the same word in all three places: 1:1, 14, and 15 all contain the word 'gospel' (or, as some translations say, 'good news.')
What are we to make of this? Well, if I may put a very sharp point on this, I will say: Jesus went around preaching…himself. The good news, or Gospel, is Jesus. Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was 'near' (interestingly, after he started preaching) and that because of this proximity, we ought to…wait for it…repent and believe the gospel! This is remarkable, isn't it?
Now, I think about this. The content of the Gospel is Jesus (of course this is fleshed out for us in several places; 1 Corinthians 15 comes to mind). It's what Jesus preached–and somehow this good news about Jesus, this Gospel, is related to this Kingdom of God he also proclaimed as near. We need to think about how, in our pulpits, we are going to make this connection both central and clear. We need to be telling a different story from our pulpits. We need to be constructing a different mission in our churches. We need to be preaching a different kingdom in our congregations. We need to be assuring the church and the not-church that Jesus is king, has received all authority in heaven and earth, and will be returning to claim his rightful place as King of this world.
We need to talk about the good news that Jesus is King. That Jesus rules.
In short: we need to be talking an awfully, significantly, larger amount about Jesus. We need to talk about the things Jesus did: he did miracles, he showed compassion, he demonstrated God's mercy, he loved unconditionally. And we need to talk about these things not as mere object lessons for how we can live better lives, but for the sake of themselves, for the sake of Jesus. In other words, these are the things Jesus did that characterize the Kingdom he said was near! Are we talking about them in our churches? Why do they matter? Why did Jesus do them? What do they signify or point to? What do they tell us about Jesus?
We need to talk about the things Jesus said. What did he say about himself? What did he say about the Kingdom? What did he say about humanity's need for repentance? What did he say about God's wrath, God's love, God's mercy, God's church, and the way of life he called us to? Jesus said his life was defined by the cross and resurrection. He told us that our way of life will be defined by taking up our cross, denying ourselves, and following him. Well, what are we saying about this life? What did Jesus say about the kingdoms of this world? What did he say about the end of exile, forgiveness of sins, and return to the Land? And again: we ought to talk about these things as part of the meta-narrative they are embedded in and not as if they were merely ways to help us live a better Americanized version of Christianity. We tell of the things Jesus said because Jesus said them. They are his words to us! We ought to listen to what he said. And we ought to preach them.
What story are we telling in the church? The world has all sorts of narratives out there floating around and many people are falling for them hook, line, sinker, and bobber. What story are we telling? Are we merely telling the story of mere salvation? Is it a mere join the club kind of thing? Or is it something greater, grander, better, bigger, badder, more magnificent and spectacular, and grandiose–and I'll run out of adjectives before I can run out of talking about the peculiar beauty and power that is the Kingdom of God Jesus was telling us about in his story. It's sad when our politicians speak more about Jesus than the church does. Jesus didn't call us to spend a lot of our efforts preaching theology–as important as that is–but he did tell us to spend a lot of time talking about himself. Jesus is the Way. Jesus is the Life. Jesus is living water. Jesus is the bread of Life. Jesus is truth. Jesus is the Resurrection. Jesus is I Am. That's who and what we ought to preach.
I wonder: are we selling people short by not telling them this story? It's a better story, isn't it? I'm not content with the stories of this world. I want a better story. I'm willing to bet there are other folks who feel the exact same way. So let's tell them the story of Jesus–for the sake of Jesus and nothing else. When people come to the church, they should hear the story of Jesus–for the sake of Jesus. I think Jesus is far less concerned about us leading 'good' lives here in America than he is about his kingdom being proclaimed and the good news about himself being heralded from our pulpits.
So the question remains: What ought the church to be preaching? Now? I think the answer is simple: Jesus.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
I am a Christian. I am a preacher–I just don't actually have a pulpit right now or a church or a Word from the Lord. It's not always easy–being a Christian, that is. I'm not always honest–which means that sometimes I am a hypocrite. I am not a strong-always-faithful-kind of guy. I am a weak-my-grace-is-sufficient-for-you-kind of Christian. I have to be because otherwise I would have nothing. I've learned that I cannot trust myself no matter how much effort I exert. I am far too easily amused and far too easily distracted.
It's been about five and a half years since I was removed from the pulpit of the church I served nearly 10 years.
There's a large part of me that is glad Mark Driscoll quit Mars Hill. It's about as large as the part of me that was glad when Rob Bell quit the other Mars Hill. Here's why. Aside from a small blip every now and again, I don't have to hear about Mars Hill, Rob Bell, and some of the silly things he used to say in his efforts to be relevant or controversial or emergent or whatever his shtick of the week was. I'm hoping the same results occur now that Mark Driscoll has quit Mars Hill, Seattle. Frankly, I am hopeful he will just go away and live off the fat of the money he made during his time in Seattle for a little while, learn some humility, repent of his sins, and return someday to be used by the Lord.
This is what I genuinely hope for him. I hope he will start again. Maybe I hope that because I hope maybe someday also to start again. The desert can be an arid place.
I should be clearer about why I'm writing this because someone might misunderstand me and think that this is about a personal animosity or personal dislike or that I'm just another blogger looking for google-love or whatever. I'm not. Really, I don't care. My real issue is that what the church really needs is for the celebrity preacher to just go away. Seriously. Just. Go. Away. Stop trying to go nationwide. Stop trying to make the nation your parish. Stop trying to dominate the airwaves with your sermons. Stop trying to take over the world of publishing with your books. Be content with your small parish or congregation and work in the field the Lord gives you. Make disciples. Preach the Word in season and out of season. Do the work of an evangelist. Don't be afraid to be small and unnoticed outside your community.
Stop trying to be a celebrity.
This is the inevitable result of one preacher trying to take faith nationwide–a task I'm not even sure Jesus tried to do. "I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel" I recall him saying and while his eventual goal and result is 'all authority in heaven and earth' belonging to himself, I think it is safe to say that Jesus stayed with his mission to work in the fields God had called him to and he then entrusted others to carry on his work. He had other sheep, but he trusted that others would be faithful and bring them in to the fold.
An example from Driscoll himself is a book I have sitting on a shelf right next to me where I'm typing. I have owned this book since it was published in 2010. It's the only Mark Driscoll book I own or will ever own. And here's the kicker, I've never even read it. I haven't even inscribed my name on the inside of the cover, near the spine, as I do with all my books. I'm not even sure why it is this close to where I am studying. I have no use for it precisely because on the cover it says, "What Christians Should Believe." I have no use for the word should. (I think this book was a book club choice once and it came before I responded to the card. I'm not sure why I own it.) But the point is this: who is Mark Driscoll to tell anyone what they should believe? Who am I to tell anyone what they should believe? Who is any Christian to make such nationwide, worldwide claims about faith in Jesus? (My point here is that I'm not defending Driscoll or excusing him personally. That is, I'm not necessarily a fan, but he's a brother in Christ and a companion in preaching.)
It's my opinion that Driscoll simply got too big for his britches. But he's only one example of many who could be pointed to. Many, many of these celebrity preachers end up all the same so I don't think Driscoll is any worse or any better than any other celebrity preacher who starts off with good intentions, is blessed by the Lord, allows it to go to his head, creates a scandal, resigns in humiliation, and goes away. I am hopeful, frankly, that Driscoll stays away. I hope he learns something from his sins. I hope the Lord restores him someday and he finds a way to start preaching the Gospel again.
I am happy that another celebrity preacher has quit. I'm not happy about the way it happened and I think there are a lot of bloggers and celebrity christian writers who will have to answer some day for the things they said about Mark. I'm glad Mark is no longer at Mars Hill because I happen to think he has more to offer and I do not believe for a minute that Jesus is finished with him; I hope he's not. I hope Mark comes back full of humility, full of grace, full of mercy, full of love, and full of gratitude for what God gave him for so many years.
I hope that because I hope that for myself too.
I can feel this way because I am a preacher too and I understand what it means to lose a pulpit, to lose God's trust, to have your faith shaken. To be sure, I was no celebrity preacher. I was not famous and never will be, but there is a part of me that understands what happens when a preacher forgets to depend upon the Lord and starts depending upon his own ability or prowess or popularity or skill. It is easy to forget the Lord in the pulpit even though the words are as holy and gospel infused as the Scriptures themselves. Sometimes preachers forget who they are and what they are called to do because the task at hand is so vital and eventually it ends up going to their heads that maybe, just maybe, the Lord is using them somehow in his scheme.
And maybe it's the Lord's intention to give them time to remember. Mark Driscoll might never remember. I pray he does.
Many are rejoicing over Driscoll's resignation. I'm not one of them. I understand all too well this pain and shame; the loneliness he may well have to endure for a while. Perhaps now that he is gone those angry bloggers and writers and critics careers too will come to a screeching halt–maybe now they won't have so much cannon fodder, maybe now the Lord can rebuke them too. Maybe they too can give up their dream of being nationwide and just go away. Maybe now that their whipping boy is gone, they can shut up and stop bringing an even worse shame to the body of Christ with their hyper-critical and hateful spirits.
We all have to learn. We all have to remember. Sadly some of us have to do these things are a far bigger stage than others which is exactly why we need less celebrity preachers. Leave the grand stage to Jesus. Exalt him; not yourself.
And come back faithful.
Title: Giving Blood
Author: Leonard Sweet
Pages: 368 (I read an e-book version on my Nook reader. My page numbers may be a bit different. I apologize in advance for any troubles this may cause.)
[Disclaimer: I was provided with a reader's copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I am happy to provide that very thing in the following blog post.]
I once preached a sermon about the Bible. I think it might have been from John's Gospel, but I don't really remember. The sermon had something to do with the Scripture, the Bible, the Word of God–however you want to refer to it, that was the topic. It might have been about Jesus. I might have even trekked into the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah and wrestled a bit with his idea that in his mouth the Word of God tasted like honey, but in his gut it was turning him inside out, upside down, and sending him scurrying off to the bathroom.
I don't really remember all the particular details of the sermon except for the end. I recounted a story about a tradition (perhaps apocryphal) that when young Jewish children first hear the Torah or first read it, they are given honey to eat. It is, so the story goes, to remind them of the sweetness of Scripture. So I preached my sermon and finished with a reading of Scripture. I then moved down to the floor where I had arranged a table with two or three jars of honey and some plastic spoons. That day, instead of an invitation hymn or prayer or announcements I simply invited the congregation to silently walk forward when they were ready. One by one they came forward and received a single spoonful of honey–pure, sweet, glorious, raw honey. It was a beautiful moment.
It was one of the best sermons I ever preached and easily one of the few, without referring to my journals, that I remember. It was a stroke of genius.
One time I went to hear a friend preach. He had just taken a position with a new congregation and it was his first sermon. I don't remember all that much about what he preached that day or what passages of Scripture he used, but I do remember that at all of us in the room had been supplied with a small can of PlayDoh! and that at some point he had us take the PlayDoh! from its can and work it with our hands. He said, "mold the PlayDoh! into the shape of what you think you would like to be or do with your life." I remember that as I shaped PlayDoh! and created a dream, so I can give that dream to God and allow him to shape me into something he can also use. It was a brilliant idea.
Leonard Sweet has written a large book about preaching. This is a thick book both in overall content and sheer girth: 369 pages (about 1/10 is reserved for end notes) and I only read an e-book on my Nook. To be sure, 369 pages was too many in my opinion for the very fact that at the end of the day, as Sweet himself notes, metaphors tend to break apart. In the case of Giving Blood there was simply too much repetition and, in my opinion, he stretched the metaphor too far. Less is more and I think in this case the sheer volume and density of words was kind of overwhelming. Couple this with one of my pet-peeves, unbalanced chapters, and you end up with a lopsided book that despite the beauty of the metaphor was rather tedious (I was actually sick of the word 'narraphor' by page 50.) I really dislike when one chapter is 30 pages and another is 5. It's a personal thing, but there were times when I was convinced Sweet could have lopped off about 50% of a chapter and still made his point.
That being said, the metaphor is beautiful and I agree with a great portion of what Sweet wrote. Preaching is, to me, exactly what Sweet calls it: giving blood. And unless a person has stood in the pulpit and preached a sermon, or spent time in the study during the week preparing (bleeding), or stayed up late on a Saturday night because there were simply no words, then they will not ever understand what Sweet means by giving blood. Any preacher worth his salt does these very things. Then on Sunday mornings he or she has the audacity to stand up before people who expect a miracle and lay out their heart and mind and soul in mere words. People expect all their problems solved, all their questions answered, all their wounds balmed, and all their sins forgiven. Yet the preacher is tasked with standing and proclaiming the word of God to a people who will not listen and who will forget every single word by the time they cross the threshold of the back door.
Preachers give blood. And if preachers do not give blood, then perhaps they need to review if it is preaching they are actually doing. This is what we do week after week, in season and out, in good times and bad: we keep coming back for more because that is what we do. We preach. We cannot help ourselves. From near the conclusion of the book he writes:
Do you bleed over every sermon? Do you give blood through every sermon? Preaching is the discipline and craft of giving blood. (330)
It's true. Preaching takes years off our lives because we put our life into every jot and tittle we scratch across the paper.
I think the best parts of the book were found in the 'Labs' and the 'Interactives.' These were short sections at the end of chapters where Sweet applied his principles to a passage of Scripture (e.g., Jonah) or shared some ideas or exercises for how to put into practice the subject matter of the preceding chapter. Of these two, I liked the labs the best. I especially enjoyed his various readings of the book of Jonah. I recall one time I preached a sermon from Luke 15 and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. That morning I didn't so much preach a sermon, but offered four different readings of the parable. That is, I told the story from four different perspectives–the father, the son, the older brother, and as a disinterested bystander. It was a lot of fun to see the anguished faces of the olders among us that morning as I 'tore apart the sacred story.' I still smile because for me it was enlightening and exhilarating to see the story from other perspectives than the same one I had always used.
I think this is the gist of this book. Preachers are called to bring the living word to life among dead and dying people. We will never do this if the people are bored. And we will not awaken them if the way we preach does nothing to spark their curiosity and arouse their suspicion. This is what I loved doing when I preached and why I waited until the last possible minute to script my sermons. I didn't want to know what I was going to say until it was time to say it. One time I preached a funeral sermon with nothing but my heart. No notes. No Bible. No nothing. I just poured out words and prayed that the Holy Spirit would do something with them. Sweet is absolutely correct that a lot of preachers tend to be rather boring. I think so boring even the devil won't hang around because the preacher is doing all his work for him by keeping the people sedated.
Sermons need life but if the preacher doesn't care, I can't imagine the Spirit does. What is the Living Word in the hands of a dead man?
One time I preached a sermon about Jesus' crucifixion. I don't recall all the specifics of the sermon, but I recall the conclusion. Sometime in the weeks leading up to the sermon me and one of the deacons had taken apart an old piano that was no longer in good repair. While doing so, we came across a large hunk of wood inside the old instrument. I'm not sure what purpose it served, but I do know that it probably contributed considerably to the weight of the piano. It must have weighed 150 pounds. It was solid. As soon as I saw it I was reminded of what may have been the crossbeam of the cross of Jesus.
Before the morning worship began that day, I had arrived early and strategically placed the 'crossbeam' in the middle of the sanctuary. I had also supplied a few hammers and scattered a large supply of heavy nails on the floor. After the conclusion of the sermon, I said something to the effect of 'we have all had a part in nailing Jesus to the cross.' I then invited the congregation to come to the center where the patibulum was located and pound a nail into it. I was amazed that everyone there participated. I kept the crossbeam in my office until I eventually left the church as a reminder of what we, the entire congregation, had said that day about our relationship with Jesus.
It's not so much, then, that Sweet is offering us a new paradigm for preaching or homiletics. He is simply putting down on paper what some of us had discovered a long time ago: images work because we all learn in different ways. In education we call this the 'theory of multiple intelligences.' I have a suspicion that we never really grow out of our particular intelligence for learning. That is, if I am a kinesthetic learner as a 10 year old, perhaps I will still be such when I am 20. It doesn't mean I cannot develop other ways of learning, but it does mean that perhaps I will always lean in one direction more than another. And perhaps–and here I agree with Sweet even if he says it more implicitly than explicitly–preachers need to take a long hard look at the way 'preaching' was conducted in the Bible and become more like those fellas who laid on their side for a year or cooked their food with feces than those guys who ramble on and on and on for years without end demonstrating to all the futility of a well mannered discourse to someone who learns by doing.
I'm sure a twelve year sermon from Romans is fantastic. But I'm sure it is also profoundly boring to most.
I think this is why God had the prophets in the Old Testament do some really strange things in order to get the attention of the people and why the Spirit animated the disciples so wildly on the Day of Pentecost that people thought they were drunk. Maybe we need to open ourselves to the Spirit. So maybe preachers can abandon, to an extent, the 'stand up and lecture people about what they should believe' style of preaching and instead adopt a way of preaching that illustrates ways of believing, ways of growing up in Resurrection life, ways of being a follower of Jesus. You know, let the living word live inside us and bring the Word to life among us.
I read an e-book version of Giving Blood obtained through NetGalley for review purposes, but I will purchase this book so I can give it more attention with my pen. Although I think the book is a little longer than it needs to be, I still recommend it. I would say give it to a younger preacher, but I think a lot of younger preachers already get this. I'd say give it to an older preacher who will either read it and change or who will laugh at you and prove why his ministry/congregation is ineffective.
In the church we are fond of a lot of things that, let’s be honest, have little or nothing to do with Jesus. I’m looking for something in the church I haven’t yet found. After spending the better part of fifteen years preaching in the church and being spiritually beaten to death by God’s people, I can honestly say that something about the church leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a wonder that anyone wants to join up with this club, pay dues, and attend regular meetings.
But church, despite my criticisms, is not meant to be, nor will it ever temporally be, a place of perfection. And the reason people get so bent out of shape is because they expect the church to operate like the local retail outlet: the customer is always right and we must do whatever it takes to keep the customer happy and returning and parting with their money. When the church doesn’t operate that way it’s time for something to change. Churchtopia is what some look for instead of simply a place where everyone who has been beaten, broken, hurt, and undone can meet with like living and treated people.
The church isn’t perfect; duh. What we haven’t figured out yet is this: it’s OK that the church isn’t perfect.
Does what we say resemble what Jesus said? With four Gospels to work with, the words and teachings of Jesus are not hard to find. If Christians really do believe what Jesus said, do we sound anything like him? Do books written by Christians sound anything like Jesus’ appearances in the Gospels? Did he even once mention our need to receive him as our personal Savior? Did he constantly talk about ‘discovering your destiny through your dreams?’ Was church growth a major Jesus topic? If not, why not? And where did we come up with all the things we love to devote conferences to? (Michael Spencer, Mere Churchianity, 54-55)
Of all the things his enemies chose to trap Jesus, politics was the best. Even I could have figured out that one. We can trap anyone in a conversation about politics. I’ve know people who would sell out their own mother because of politics, or, worse, their own child. It was a perfect trap for Jesus–because everyone knows that the Pharisees and Herodians were perfectly innocent when it came to politics!
I’ve often marveled at Jesus’s ability to come up with these so-called one liners that effectively silenced his critics with one fell swoop. “When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” When you come up against someone who knows all too well the tactics of the enemy, and he destroys you with thirteen words (probably less in Greek), what else can you do but leave? I wish I had that power, that wit, that ability to think so quickly.
Usually I think of the good stuff after the person leaves in anger. I wish just once I could say something so witty and thoughtful that a person left me because they were amazed.
The image we have, sometimes, in church and amongst Christians in general, is that being curt is unacceptable, undoing your enemies with words is beyond the pale. What we expect is courtesy and manners. I detect in Jesus’s words to the Herodians a great big, giant, massive, “Shut up already” or “Take this back to the Pharisees and let them smoke this for a while.” Jesus rules!
I know you’re thinking something like, ‘Well, he was Jesus and he could do what he wanted. With us, us saved people, we have to be nice to one another.’ Sure. Whatever.
Personally I think we put too much stock in being nice and having manners. When someone is acting stupid, asking stupid questions designed to do nothing but trap another, the other should be quick to be as witty and thoughtful as Jesus–to silence them and, perhaps, save them from further embarrassment. The problem is that we do not have time to be witty and thoughtful. All we have time for is the jugular. That is, Jesus wasn’t witty and thoughtful for the sake of destroying his enemies, but for the sake of truth.
If we cared about truth, and I suppose many Christians think they do, we would put more time into being witty and thoughtful and saying more with less. A beautiful thirteen word sermon was all it took to shut up stupid people. I like that about Jesus. (*smile*)
A new feature I will try to practice for a while. I have decided that I will follow the Lectionary readings for a while in 2009 for my preaching schedule. As I study and prepare each week, I will post my notes here at the blog for anyone to partake of. It will vary from week to week, but it will always have good resources.
This week’s readings are: Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, and Luke 24:36-49. My notes are from Luke 24:36-49. You can access all 10 pages of notes from my box.net account.
Notes on Luke 24:36-49: Resurrection Changes Everything
I hope the notes help. Some of them are unfinished thoughts. Others are lengthy quotations. All of them are trying to get at the heart of what happened in the room when Jesus appeared, what it meant, and what it means.
My current reading project is Willimon’s Conversations with Barth on Preaching. It is a fascinating book for any number of reasons, but it is especially helpful if you happen to be, ahem, a preacher. I was warned as a young college student to be afraid of Barth and his strange version of unorthodox orthodoxy, and I’ll confess that even now I am only a very wet behind the ears sort of student of Barth. What I appreciate about Willimon’s reading of Barth is that he is so evenhanded: Critical when criticism is warranted; effusive with praise when it is praiseworthy. What I have learned about Barth from this reading so far is that a) he has a terrifically high view of Scripture; everything he wrote and preached is dependent upon, and infused with, and drawn out of Scripture and b) he has a remarkably, equally high view of the act and work of preaching. I commend this book to you.
In my brief period of reading this morning, I was in chapter 5, Word Makes World. Barth’s understanding of what happens in preaching is simply astounding. I don’t confess to understanding all of the epistemological and philosophical or even theological underpinnings of his ideas, but I did understand what Willimon was saying on page 120. I’d like to share several paragraphs with you followed by a couple of thoughts of my own.
“Christianity is born in an assertion that it is virtually impossible not to see God. Whereas Israel’s story is a long record of an attempt to be faithful to the first commandment, the church’s story is a long story of attempting to be faithful to the first commandment (the prohibition against images) by saying that we are not to make an image for God because we already have the supreme image for God—Jesus Christ.
“Yet Lash also notes that such statements do not do justice to the nuances of our claim of God in Christ. There is, amid Christian claims of unveiling, a strong claim of veiling that is tied, not to God’s inherent obscurity, but rather to the identity of the God revealed in it—the crucified, suffering servant, the weak and poor one from Galilee. In both the person and the work of Christ, we are struck by our unknowing. God came to us, in the flesh, and the way God came to us led us to say, in the words of the Spiritual, ‘We didn’t know who you was.’
“The Jewish challenge to Christian claims of knowledge rests not only in the unique and surprising person of Christ but also in his work. To put it bluntly, if Jesus is the Redeemer, the faithful Jew wants to know, then why does the world not look more redeemed? Why don’t we as Jesus’ followers look more redeemed? This is a serious question for the Christian. Undoubtedly, to persecuted Israel, our claims of the ‘now and the not yet’ quality of the kingdom of God seem a bit limp, and our pointing to the church as the foretaste of Jesus’ complete redemption seems, at best comical.
“Yet, while Christian theology must confess its uncertainty, the constant contestableness of its most cherished concepts, its inherently unstable affirmations, it would do better to admit to its dependency, to receive with thanksgiving the revelation it has, to dare, despite all we do not know, to testify to what we know. It is the nature of the Crucified Messiah to be veiled and unveiled at the same time.” (120)
I like Willimon’s point about the ‘Jewish challenge.’ However, and I don’t think he means to limit it, I’d like to expand that thought a little. I think that challenge is one we face from all people. As a preacher, I honestly have to spend quite a lot of my time convincing people who are redeemed that they are redeemed and that, as such, they ought to live that way. It’s no wonder we are challenged by others in this way who make no claim to faith in Christ. Could it be that we simply or profoundly do not understand the redemption life? Do preachers not do enough to, in the words of Paul, ‘portray Christ crucified clearly’?
It comes from everywhere. I think sometimes I ask myself the same question of the people in the pew (but only, please read this well, only after I have asked that question of myself first!!): Why don’t they (indeed, we) act and talk and treat one another in a redeemed sort of way? Why all the ‘past living’? Is it enough to answer that question with a mere ‘now and not yet’ sort of answer? No. If that answer isn’t good enough for Willimon’s Jewish challengers, I think it is, at times, even less sufficient for the preachers’ congregational challenges. I think it is comical to preachers as well, and I think we are doomed to failure if we don’t laugh. No one can take the church that seriously, and yet we must. Which leads into my second thought.
I love this idea of Barth’s paradoxical tension in the Christian faith and I think Willimon appropriately highlights it for us in Barth. But is this just Barth’s idea? No. This is a Scriptural idea that is only forgotten or misused or paid lip-service to. That is, preachers talk about paradox, but don’t really grasp it or live it or preach it. This does damage to the church because preachers are then held to a level of academic achievement that simply cannot be maintained: “What do you mean I am saved and will be saved? What do you mean the Kingdom is here and we pray the Kingdom to come? What do you mean God is seen and unseen?” But instead of always trying to answer those questions, perhaps it is best to let those questions simmer in the hearts of those asking the questions. Perhaps the answer is not an answer. Silence?
The Scripture is full of this radical, paradoxical tension and it is delightful to behold. Why? Because it destroys pretense and legalism. The greatest threat to the church is the idea that any one idea of any one person is THE idea. Willimon had written on the previous page (119): “Barth fulminates against taking the gospel, which ought to be ‘truth that is new every morning,’ and attempting to ossify it ‘into a sacred reality.’” I think what he means there is just this: The gospel must not be reduced to mere principle or idea or law. When Gospel is ossified, when it is no longer alive, we are doomed. There in that ossification is the death of all that creates life and sustains life because there is the death of grace. (Perhaps I carry this a bit far.)
So Barth rightly fulminated against the idea. Living in this paradoxical idea is one thing. Preaching it quite another, but there it is. It is the story of a God who takes things that are not and makes them into things that are. It is the yes and the no. It is the veiling and unveiling. It is the seeing and blinding. It is the Christus Victor and the Crucified Lord. It is the knowing and the unknowing. It is the glory and the travail. It is crucifixion and resurrection. This paradox is captured beautifully in the Revelation, “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center before the throne…” (5:5-6) That scarcely makes sense: A Lion who is a Lamb? A triumphant Lion who is a Slain Lamb?
There at once is the tension, the paradox; the Triumph and the Travail. But we have to live in this tension because it prevents us from becoming (too) dependent upon ideas and structures as opposed to being dependent upon God’s grace through faith. That is, it (paradox) enables, nay, demands that we live only in and by faith. It is only those who cannot live in this paradoxical divine economy who find themselves living opposed to God’s grace. These are the ones who must construct all sorts of rules, laws, and opinions and live by them strictly and force others into the same mold. They miss the new mercies each day. They miss the freedom of being set free. They have traded one form of law for another and become slaves all over again.
The paradox also keeps us alert and searching. There is nothing worse, in my mind, than people who refuse to grow and learn and seek and search. These are the ones who have all the answers, who know what the Scripture says and are, by God, going to let us know. These are the ones who have abandoned any idea of paradox and live only in the world of the black and white where there is no ambiguity—where ambiguity means ‘less than fully saved.’ These are the ones who have ossified God’s grace into another code of law where now there are numerous and multiple conditions placed upon the reception and practice and distribution of God’s grace. They are in heaven by themselves.
Paradox keeps us humble.
This is, then, a serious aspect of the preaching of the Gospel: not to avoid the tension nor to avoid the paradox; not to eschew the mystery nor vacate the majesty, but to preach them both, together, at once and with urgency. It is ours to proclaim, to announce the Kingdom in all of its mystery and majesty, crucifixion and resurrection, turmoil and triumph, slavery and salvation, loss and gain, death and life. It is rather strange, isn’t it, how the same Gospel both opens and closes eyes, unveils and veils God, creates and destroys, saves and condemns. And yet this is the Gospel we preach—Jesus Christ crucified and triumphant. The Triumphant Lion who is the Slain Lamb.
“It must be so solely the truth and miracle of God if his Logos, as he does not regard the lowliness of his handmaiden…or view the unclean lips of Isaiah as an obstacle…does not think it impossible to pitch his tent in what is at best our poor and insignificant and stammering talk about God.” (Willimon, quoting Barth, 121)
This is part 10 of my current series of sermons 90 Days with Scripture. In this sermon from Mark 15, I begin by doing a short survey of the previous 9 sermons before offering a few thoughts on Mark 15. The sermon takes about 25 minutes and ends by wondering how it is that Jesus dying on the cross gives us any hope that God’s promise of New Covenant, New Heavens and New Earth, and Crushing the Serpent (among other things) can actually be brought about. And yet, that is the manifold witness of the New Testament: Jesus’ death does all that and much, much more. There is a lengthy quote from NT Write’s book Surprised By Hope in the conclusion. I have included a link to the manuscript at box.net below. jerry
You can download here: Jesus, pt 3: Mark 15
Or listen online using the inline player below:
Part 1: Genesis 3, Where it All Went Wrong
Part 2: Genesis 12:1-9, A Blessing for All People
Part 3: Exodus 7-12 (a), Freedom For God’s People
Part 4: Exodus 7-12 (b), Freedom For God’s People, b
Part 5: 2 Samuel 5-7, The King
Part 6: Isaiah 60-66, The New Heavens and New Earth
Part 7: Jeremiah 31, The New Covenant
Part 8: Matthew 1, Jesus pt 1
Part 9: Luke 1-2, Jesus pt 2
Part 10: Mark 15, Jesus, pt 3
Other download options are available through feedburner and archive.org.
Always for His glory!
This is a podcast of a sermon I preached this past Tuesday evening at a community Thanksgiving Worship event in my hometown. The sermon is 18:14 long and is based on Luke 1-2. A good, thorough reading of those two chapters will aid you much as you listen. You can also access the manuscript at the link below.
The sermon itself opens with a breif look at the current popularity, among some preachers, of preaching sermons about sex. Many people have no problem justifying this activity. I see it as a monumental waste of time. I also point out in this sermon that I think at least part of the reason why preachers preach this stuff is because they are bored; bored with the Gospel Jesus story.
Manuscript: Jesus and Sex
Download MP3: Jesus and Sex
Thanks for stopping by.
Semper Deo Gloria!
I finally managed to find my CD copies of my manuscripts from The Dangerous God sermon series of which I have posted a couple of the mp3’s here. I will be posting more of the mp3’s, but for now I would like to provide you with the sermon manuscripts. These sermons are filled with quotes from authors like David Wells, PT Forsyth, Mark Buchanan, Philip Yancey and more. Expository sermons from the lives of Gideon, David, Joshua, the disciples and more. I hope they are a help to you.
Dangerous God, pt 2: 1 Samuel 17:1-58, The God Who Does Greater with Smaller
Dangerous God, pt 3: Joshua 1:1-18; 5:13-27, The God Who Does the Impossible with the Improbable
Dangerous God, pt 4: Matthew 1:18-25, Revelation 12, The God Who Enters Chaos to Bring Order
Dangerous God, pt 5: Luke 23; Various, The God Who Saves in the Midst of Loss
Dangerous God, pt 6: Acts 2:22-36, The God Whose Life is Greater than Our Death
Dangerous God, pt 7: Acts 9:1-18, etc., The God Who Uses the World’s Rejects
Dangerous God, pt 8: Matthew 5-7, The Dangerous God’s Message to His People: A Radical Way of Counterculturally Living
Thanks for stopping by. Again, I hope you find these sermons helpful.
And, as always,
Soli Deo Gloria!
This sermon manuscript is from this past Sunday (Oct 26) at the church. This is sermon 5 in my short series exploring the narrative high-points of the Scripture from Genesis through Revelation. This sermon focuses on the promised king who was exemplified by the man David. My original intent was to make a few observations about David’s kingship based on 2 Samuel 5-7. Indeed, that’s where I begin the sermon with some excerpts from chapters 5, 6, and 7 of 2 Samuel. As the research progressed I realized that I would not be able to merely talkabout the Israelite king without going back to Deuteronomy and then going into the prophets and eventually tracing this history to the New Testament books of Matthew, John, and Revelation. So, I limited my own thoughts and simply let the congregation hear a great deal more of what Scripture says about the ‘root and offspring of David.’ David is important, as I note in the sermon, but David is not (and was not intended to be) an end in himself. He points us forward to the Great King that the Israelites were to expect and the King we now serve and under whose authority we live.
90 Days with Scripture
Week 5: October 26, 2008
2 Samuel 5-7: The King of God’s People
1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. 2 In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’ ” 3 When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a compact with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years. (2 Samuel 5)
20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
21 David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel-I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” 23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death. (2 Samuel 6)
18 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said:
“Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD ? 20 “What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign LORD. 21 For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.
22 “How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel-the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? 24 You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, O LORD, have become their God.
25 “And now, LORD God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, 26 so that your name will be great forever. Then men will say, ‘The LORD Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established before you. 27 “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servant has found courage to offer you this prayer. 28 O Sovereign LORD, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. 29 Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, O Sovereign LORD, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.” (2 Samuel 7)
David’s story sits in a particularly interesting place in Scripture: after the Judges before the prophets. After the Judges means that he is coming into being at the time when ‘there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ Before the prophets means that he was a powerful figure before the prophets started to lament the corruption of Israel and her magnificent downfall and predict the coming of a King who would be the King who truly followed in the footsteps of David.
There’s a lot that can be said about the Davidic king. David is named in the Scripture almost a thousand times. By way of contrast, Moses was named only around 800 times. I could also note that David seems to be the reason why the book of Ruth was included in our canon. David is the culmination of the books of Samuel & Chronicles. David is the author of most of the Psalms. David is the standard by which all other kings of Israel would be measured. We are told that it was David’s kingdom that would stand in perpetuity. David is no insignificant figure in the history of Christianity. In fact, in our last canonical book, the Revelation, David is prominently mentioned. But more importantly, it is the role of David that is of more significant-his role as king of Israel.
King wasn’t a new idea. The Lord had anticipated that Israel would want a king. In Deuteronomy 17, we read:
14 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.
By the time we arrive at the book of 1 Samuel, following closely on the heals of Judges when ‘there was no king and every one did as he saw fit,’ we should be expecting what would happen:.
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”
David was the height of a righteous king. After David, it pretty much went downhill. There were occasional bright spots, but for the most part the kings of Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not walk in the ways of their father David.
It got so bad that eventually the kingdom split, the people, including the king, were carried into exile. The prophets would prophesy that at some point David would regain his throne. Isaiah prophesied: (9:6-7)
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
And also: (11:5)
5 In love a throne will be established;
in faithfulness a man will sit on it-
one from the house of David-
one who in judging seeks justice
and speeds the cause of righteousness.
This is part two of my sermon on the Exodus narratives. In this sermon I focus on Pharaoh and the Passover. This is reverse side of the sermon for last week that focused on Prophets (Moses & Aaron) and the Plagues. The exodus, while a real even in history, also becomes a type of what God has done in Christ. Now he is still setting people free from slavery, but his people are not located in one particular nation, nor are his people from one particular nation. Instead, as John wrote in Revelation (Rev. 7:9), he is drawing people from every tribe, nation, people and language–a great multitude. But again, as I point out, this is not about mere liberation. If God is setting people free he is doing so that he may build a nation of those people who will, in Peter’s language, declare the praises of Him who set them free (see 1 Peter 2:9-10; Colossians 1:13-14). So we have no mere liberation theology here, but a powerful declaration of God who makes himself known (see Exodus 5:2 where Pharaoh says he does not know God; and 6:3, 7; 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:14, 29; 10:2; 14:4, 8 where God says these plagues were that he might make himself known.) Now God is known through Jesus Christ.
90 Days with Scripture
Week 4: October 19, 2008
Exodus 7-12: Freedom for God’s People, pt b
1 Now the LORD had said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. 2 Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold.” 3 (The LORD made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.)
4 So Moses said, “This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. 5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt-worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7 But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal.’ Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8 All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.
9 The LORD had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you-so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.
1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire-head, legs and inner parts. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn-both men and animals-and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”
As I said last week, the Exodus of Israel from Egypt is likely the most significant historical event to ever occur on planet earth. The problem is that often times the Exodus has been reduced to a mere type with the requisite anti-type being neglected. That is, some have spent so much time focusing on the Exodus as mere Exodus that they have neglected the greater theological significance of the narrative itself. Thus, what I have tried to do in last week and this week is describe for you the theological significance of the type and the direction the type is pointing us; namely, Jesus Christ.
This is all to say that the Exodus narratives and the historical events themselves point us beyond the mere story of a nation being brought out of slavery; people being brought out of slavery is nothing new: We have had that happen in our own nation. This is not to denigrate such an accomplishment, but it is to say that what is more important than the exodus of the nation of Israel is the manner in which the events took place and what the author of the narratives told us about the events that took place. The author necessarily interpreted the events through a theological lens and his perspective is meant to shape our understanding of the God who affected the event itself.
So last week, we looked at the first of two points: Prophets and Plagues. This week, we’ll conclude by looking at Pharaoh and Passover.
First, we’ll look at the Pharaoh who was the king of Egypt at the time. In God’s dealings with Pharaoh we have a demonstration of who runs the earth. Pharaoh thought for certain that it was himself. So he continued time and time again to stand up against the Lord and refused to alter his position.
But you see, Pharaoh was not working alone and he was not only protecting his interests. Pharaoh was working for the enemy doing all he could to snuff out the Lord’s people in order that the enemy might snuff out the Lord’s plans. This is a strange man who sacrificed the lot of his own people because of his stubborn refusal to let Israel go. What we learn is that the gods we set up always betray us in the end. They are only concerned about their own self-interests.
But I wonder: At the outset, we were told that God would make Moses like God to pharaoh and Aaron would be his prophet. So if YHWH was able to make Moses appear this way in Pharaoh’s presence, where did Pharaoh’s strength to resist the Lord come from? Was Pharaoh being played by his ‘gods’? “This is a section that focuses sharply on the conflict between heaven and earth, issuing in the same lesson which, in later years, Nebudchadnezzar had to learn the hard way.” You might recall from my sermon series on Daniel last year:
34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”
Simply put, the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. I suspect that even now we have this strange misconception that we are the ones running the earth and putting up the show. Pharaoh learned this lesson in a terribly difficult way. We see here that God takes back what is his by demolishing all that is not. He said, “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.”
Finally, we have the Passover. In the Passover event we see that God made a distinction between who belongs to God and who does not. He said, “But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal. Then you will Know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.”
It’s not everyone who was saved. The Egyptians suffered. Mightily. But the bottom line is this: It was only those who were under the protection of blood who were saved. If an Israelite did not paint his door with blood and keep everyone inside, he would have suffered loss. If an Egyptian had covered his door with blood and stayed inside, he would have been saved. It wasn’t just being a part of Israel that saved them, it was being under the blood that made them distinct. He didn’t say, “When I notice you are an Israelite I will pass over you.” He said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” I suppose we might justifiably say that anyone who came under the blood would have been safe.
One writer noted, “Ever since the fourth plague, the people of Israel had been set apart from the Egyptians, but in each case it was the onset of the plague itself that made their distinct status evident.” (Motyer, 126) The Israelites were special people whom God protected. Motyer goes on, “What we can say with certainty is that by the wonder of divine mercy they were the Lord’s people, the subjects of his saving activity, the people destined for deliverance and, in the meantime, in a world under his just and awesome judgment, they were a people set apart, the objects of his loving, protective care.” (123)
God did not allow his people, his special people, his chosen people, his unique people to be washed under the flood or swept under the rug or destroyed by the rebellion of humans. In the Passover God made a distinction and demonstrated in a mighty way that his judgment is just. He made a distinction and demonstrated that he will not allow anyone in heaven or earth or under the earth to destroy his people or the purposes he has planned for them. He demonstrates that he is able to protect those he loves.
It should give us great comfort; great strength; great courage. God demonstrates that he is able to protect his own. The gods of Pharaoh cannot say the same. So I don’t know why people blame God for this episode. We want this contest don’t we? We want to see whose god reigns, whose god is supreme, whose god has the power? I don’t know why people blame god for so much death when people are given every opportunity to come under his protection.
I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. 13″I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
God himself provided the protection for his people. Even now, as then.
We have examined four aspects of the Exodus narratives.
So in the Prophets we have a discovery of who speaks for God.
In the Plagues we have a declaration of who is God.
In the Pharaoh we have a demonstration of who runs the Earth.
And in the Passover we see a distinction between those who belong to God and those who do not.
But it is my contention that we are learning more here than just a mere history of the ancient Israelites and Egyptians. My contention is that we are learning something here about God’s dealings with humans and God’s ability and design to preserve the people he has called into being.
The battle here was that Egypt’s intent was to keep God’s people enslaved and thus prevent God from fulfilling his promise to bring them into the Land.
If the events that took place leading up to the Exodus, the plagues, the confrontations between Moses and Pharaoh, were designed so that God might show his power and his name be declared in all the earth (9:16), then can their repetition in this book serve any less purpose to us? We too are meant to know God. We are meant to know the God who makes himself known even if today we only read about these events we see God who triumphs over the gods we have erected. He says: Go ahead and trust in your gods. Go ahead and put your faith in the gods your hands manufacture. He doesn’t deny us that much. But we should not be surprised, either, when the True God wages war against those gods; neither when we suffer casualties and death because we have not chosen wisely.
The same event is happening, I believe, even today. God desires to be known and has made himself known. And he is redeeming his people from slavery all around the world. God’s people, however unknown to us, but known to him, are slaves all around the world and God is in the process of setting them free-overcoming the powers that hold them captive and setting them free by the Son: If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
But it seems that there is also the same result for those who refuse to know God. He still makes himself known, but now through Jesus; and the results are the same: some will be saved, some will not:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
He is gathering his people from among the nations. He is setting them free through Jesus. He is creating, Peter wrote, a ‘chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness and into his wonderful light.’
But we only get there through Jesus. Jesus is our message. Jesus we proclaim. When Jesus is lifted up will he draw all people unto himself. We have only one message of hope and deliverence for God’s people: Look to Jesus. Be free in Christ. He is our Exodus.
I printed the manuscript below for this sermon on Isaiah 3:1-4:1. The audio takes about 22 minutes or so-I am becoming much more efficient in my preaching. In this sermon, I follow on the heals of last week’s sermon which dealt primarily with trusting God. In this sermon, what I did was take that to it’s next step: What will we do when all vestiges of visible strength are removed? It is terribly important to remember that the prophet is speaking to God’s people specifically and not the population in general. Doing this makes the prophet’s message even more significant to people in our generation who believe that we can plunder God glory for our own ends. Israel plundered God’s glory and made their sin and shame their glory instead. As I conclude, it must not be this way for the church.
You can listen here: Plundering God.
Or use the inline player below.
Other download options are available through feedburner and archive.org.
Always for His glory!
This continues my series on The Crucifixion Driven Life. This quote is from John RW Stott a scholar admired and respected across denominational lines as a sound expositor of Scripture and a welcome ambassador for the Kingdom of God:
The uniqueness of Christ’s sacrifice does not mean, then, that we have no sacrifices to offer, but only that their nature and purpose are different. They are not material but spiritual, and their object is not propitiatory but eucharistic, the expression of a responsive gratitude…What spiritual sacrifices, then, do the people of God as a ‘holy priesthood’ offer to him? Eight are mentioned in Scripture…living sacrifices (Romans 12:1)…praise, worship and thanksgiving, ‘the fruit of lips that confess his name’ (Heb 13:15, Psalm 50:14, 69:30-31, 116:17)…the sacrifice of prayer, which is said to ascend to God like fragrant incense, and our fourth ‘a broken and contrite heart,’ which God accepts and never despises (Mal 1:11, Ps 51:17, Hose 14:1-2, Rev 5:8, 8:3-4)…faith is called a ‘sacrifice and service’ and sixth are our gifts and good deeds, for ‘with such sacrifices God is pleased’ (Phil 2:71, 4:18; Heb 13:16; Acts 10:4)…sacrifice is our life poured out like a drink offering in God’s service, even unto death, while the eight is the special offering of the evangelist, whose preaching of the gospel is called a priestly duty because he is able to present his converts as ‘an offering acceptable to God’ (Phil 2:17, 2 Tim 4:6; Rom 15:16)—The Cross of Christ, 263-264
Always For His Glory!
It is a DA Carson bonanza! Oooh! You know I am big fan of his and I happen to believe, with the exception of his strident Calvinism, that he is a brilliant expositor of Scripture. Anyhow, a friend provided a link, after he did some down-the-rabbit-hole searching and came up with the Nashville Conference on the Church and Theology. Once there, click on the ‘audio’ link on the sidebar and you will be taken to a media page where you can listen or download four different messages from Carson. The four titles are:
- Keeping Up the Conversation
- The Gospel and Postmodern Minds
- We Preach Christ Crucified
- The God Who Helps
Judging from the titles, they might have something to do with the book Carson wrote called Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. I have downloaded them and will begin listening this weekend. Good luck!