Romans 8:26 Speaking in Tongues, Or Not, and Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

For our Midweek Bible study at Banquo Christian Church we are going through “Who is the Holy Spirit?” by Sinclair Ferguson. This week we will be looking at session 11- The Inward Groan. As one might guess, the focus of the lesson is Romans 8:18-27.

In preparing for the lesson I consulted I consulted Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. As I further studied the words “groan” (8:22, 23, 26) and “helps” (8:26) I was reminded once again about the “risk” in using resources such as TDNT.

In discussing “groanings” in Romans 8:26, J. Schneider writes, “Since the reference is not to something which takes place in us, the apostle cannot be thinking of the sighing of Christians in prayer. He is referring rather to times when we are unable to pray, when because of our “weakness” we do not know what we ought to pray for. This means that he cannot have in view speaking in tongues, or the inarticulate stammering of ecstatic in worship.” (TDNT, 7.602)

Turning then to the word “helps” in the very same verse, G. Delling writes, “This pneumatic prayer is a charismatic dealing with God like speaking with tongues, whether with or without the corresponding forms.” (TDNT 1.376)

In other words, someone studying certain key words of Romans 8:26 could come away radically different interpretations of the verse if they only looked up either “groan” or “help.”

Schneider’s interpretation is obviously the correct one.

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Does it really matter what you believe about God’s Creation?

God of the ages-
You have seen fit to bless us with the coming of a new year.
May you receive the offering of our joy for it.
Even as your Spirit offers us the sobriety
Of knowing this day may be our last.

In this new year I have again reset my Bible reading odometer. Once again, I am reading one chapter from 10 different books. On day one, as I read the first chapters of Genesis, John, and Romans, I was impressed at the importance of creation.

The Bible begins with an explanation of man’s existence- not God’s. God is not “properly” introduced, or explained: he is simply there. God is presented as the one who by his Word (Genesis 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24) and through his Spirit (Genesis 1:2) brings all things into being. The existence of the universe, and man who inhabits it, is attributed to a God able to bring said universe into existence.

If such a God is powerful enough to create all that exists, do you suppose he would also be intelligent enough to communicate to others how he brought all things into being? Is he so powerful that he is unable to communicate simply? If such a God really exists; and if he did what Genesis 1 says he did; can Genesis 1 be trusted to tell us how he did it? Is God powerful enough to create all things instantaneously?

If God used, or needed, billions of years to accomplish creation I can only come to one of these conclusions: God is not as powerful as his word seems to indicate; or God is not a very good communicator.

John 1 brings the Trinitarian allusions in Genesis 1 into sharper focus. The Word through whom all things were made is Jesus (John 1:3). You cannot keep your doctrine of creation and your doctrine of Christ separate. For better or worse, whatever you say and believe about God’s creation in Genesis is going to affect what you say and believe about Jesus. Did Jesus make a man named Adam? Did that Adam’s sin bring death into the world? Did Jesus enter into his creation to obliterate the results of that Adam’s sin?

Does it really matter how I answer these questions? According to Romans 1 it does: at least, eventually. The exit ramp for the road to perdition is clearly marked: “Deny Creation.” Man takes his first step away from God by denying the testimony of creation (Rom. 1:20). Thinking of previous questions, should we take anything from the assertion that those who deny God’s power in creation are “without excuse”? Does Romans 1:20 indicate anything about the understandability of Genesis 1? Does Genesis 1 have a meaning that God hid from his people for over 6,000 years? Was mankind in the dark about Genesis 1 until Darwin came along and shed his light on the matter? If so, how could pre-Darwinian man be “without excuse”?

Does your understanding of creation matter? I guess only if your understanding of Christ matters. I guess only if eternal salvation matters.

John Calvin on The Trinity and Forgiveness

Wherefore, as during our whole lives we carry about with us the remains of sin, we could not continue in the Church one single moment were we not sustained by the uninterrupted grace of God in forgiving our sins. On the other hand, the Lord has called his people to eternal salvation, and, therefore, they ought to consider that pardon for their sins is always ready. Hence let us surely hold that if we are admitted and ingrafted into the body of the Church, the forgiveness of sins has been bestowed, and is daily bestowed on us, in divine liberality, through the intervention of Christ’s merits and the sanctification of the Spirit.

Institutes, 4.1.21

Willhelmus a Brakel on Why People become Atheists: They deny the Trinity

These are the fruits of dishonoring God and of denying the generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Ghost. First they propose the existence of three collateral persons—that is, existing side by side—which is followed by the notion of three gods, and eventually this culminates in denying the existence of God. These fruits proceed from a distaste for the old paths which are unknown to them and from a hankering for the promotion of that which is new. Such are the fruits of doubting the existence of God.[1]

It should be noted that Brakel argues that there are no “original” atheists. That is to say, no one comes out of the womb doubting the existence of God. Atheism is an alien condition: but it is one that can be arrived at. How does one become an atheist? First, by denying the orthodox teaching concerning the Trinity. Admittedly, the reasoning is somewhat circular: but if the Trinity is God, then denying the Trinity is atheism. Where does this denial of the Trinity come from? A repudiation of Holy Tradition and a desire for novelty. So Brakel sees the process as: denial of tradition, denial of the Trinity, denial of God. What is the remedy for one caught in such a trap?

“Persevere in reading God’s Word and join yourself to the godly in order to hear them speak about the delight they may have in God.”[2]


[1] Willhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 12.

[2] Ibid, 22.

Devotions for Advent Week 4 Friday Isaiah 7:10-14 Luke 1:26-38 The Virgin Birth

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”
But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”
And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Isaiah 7:10-14

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.
And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:26-38

Karl Barth wrote, “The Virgin birth at the opening and the empty tomb at the close of Jesus’ life bear witness that this life is a fact marked off from all the rest of human life, and marked off in the first instance, not by our understanding or our interpretation, but by itself. Marked off in regard to its origin: it is free of the arbitrariness which underlies all our existences. And marked off in regard to its goal: it is victorious over the death to which we are all liable. Only within these limits is it what it is and is it correctly understood, as the mystery of the revelation of God.”

The Virgin birth of Christ stands guard, as it were, at the entrance of the Christian faith. The Virgin birth confronts man with an astounding assertion. The Virgin birth proclaims that if you cannot believe this, there is no point in pressing forward into even greater mysteries.

As mentioned yesterday, the Virgin birth is not all that surprising to someone who comprehends the testimony of Scripture concerning God’s granting life. Anselm reminds us of the five ways God creates life:

1.         By the law of natural generation—a man and a woman
2.         Through divine empowering of a man and woman past age—Abraham and Sarah; Zechariah and Elizabeth
3.         Without man or woman—Adam
4.         A man without a woman—Eve
5.         A man without a woman—Jesus

Theologians spill much ink discussing the meaning, necessity, and reality of the Virgin birth. All along ignoring the very thing the Isaiah proclaims it to be: a sign. As we ponder the wonder of the Virgin birth this is what should guide and form our thinking: it is a sign.

The Virgin birth is a sign of the essentially supernatural character of Jesus and the gospel. If we find the virgin birth offensive, there is really no point in progressing forward. Yes god is not limited in how he creates life. But life has only come this way once. The birth of Jesus is different.

The Virgin birth is a sign of God’s judgment on fallen human nature. The race needs a redeemer but cannot produce one. Salvation cannot come through will or desire, education, civilization, or evolution. Salvation is not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Jesus came to earth through the Virgin birth as fully human to show that humanity had fully failed.

The Virgin birth is a sign that Jesus Christ is the new beginning. He is the divine interruption of the power of God into the plight of man. All things are new.

The Virgin birth is the joy of Christmas because the Virgin birth is the gospel. The Virgin birth declares man to be lost, God to be holy, and salvation to be created.

Devotions for Advent Week 4 Tuesday Judges 13:2-7, 24-25; Luke 1:5-25 The Barren Rejoice

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name, but he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.'”
And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”
And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 1:5-25

 

At Advent we remember the long line of barren women that God accomplished the impossible for. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, Hannah, and Elizabeth all must have wondered at the cause of their fate. After all, the promise of the Lord was that none that he favored would be barren (Ex. 23:26; Deut. 7:14). Yet in their struggle they would each be able to bless the Lord saying, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” (Ps. 113:9).

Advent is a testimony to the powerful creativity of God. God can give life to a man from the ground without man or woman- Adam. God can give life to a woman from a man without a woman- Eve. God can give life to a man from a woman without a man- Jesus. God can give life to the barren.

Such mighty acts are not limited to the sphere of procreation. God accomplishes the impossible in the salvation of the Gentiles. In Galatians 4 we have Paul’s teaching that the church is the fulfillment of the promise given in Isaiah, “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. In the church god has granted life where there was only death. The Gentile nations were long barren and without hope but now the gospel bears abundant fruit. Now the Gentiles, like Isaac, are children of promise.

Devotions for Advent Week 3 Thursday Isaiah 54: 1-10 Luke 7:19-23 Salvation, the Sovereignty of God, and will of man

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.”
“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.
“This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
Isaiah 54:1-10

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “’Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
Luke 7:24-30

 

It is the purpose of God to glorify himself though the salvation of a multitude of sinners washed in the blood of his Lamb. God sent the flood to judge mankind. But Noah built an ark large enough to save multitudes. God sent his Son to judge sin. But the death of Christ is sufficient to save the world.

Those involved in small or struggling ministries may tend to console themselves with, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” And, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Or with thoughts like, “God is just as glorified when he condemns a sinner as when he saves one.” But is he?

There is a secret delight in reading Jesus’ scathing criticisms of the Pharisees. But that delight is not one shared by Jesus. Jesus was not pleased to constantly point out the wickedness and hypocrisy of the Pharisees. This was not God’s purpose in sending his Son. It was God’s purpose that the Pharisees join with all the people- tax collectors included!- in recognizing the justice of God.

The convergence of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is one that may never be understood. But this I know, when the Day of Judgment comes not a single person will be able to say to God, “I wanted to be saved but you just wouldn’t let me.”

God is a “big tent” God. If heaven rejoices when one sinner is saved, what must go on when ninety-nine are saved? God is not narrow in his grace. He is not constrained in his mercy.

 

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy.

 Portia’s Speech, The Merchant of Venice Act 4 Scene 1

Devotions for Advent: Week 2, Monday Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 5:17-26

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Isaiah 35:1-10

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he said to the man who was paralyzed–”I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”
Luke 5:17-26

At Advent we remember that the greatest need of man has been met. The promise of seeing the glory of the Lord is empty. It is a promise made with full knowledge that it will never be fulfilled. Unclean people will never see the Lord. No man will ever see the Lord.

The promise of gladness and joy is check with insufficient funds. Yesterday in our small, country church, prayer was asked for three different children undergoing treatment for cancer, or seizures, or having surgery. One man had just spent the week in the hospital. A woman still could not find the cause or relief for a debilitating illness. Life is pain.

But Advent reminds us that both of these promises are fulfilled. In the coming of Jesus man is made whole. Given a choice, most people would probably chose physical healing over spiritual healing: even most religious people. Why did the Jews seek more signs from Jesus and not more sermons? Because people would rather walk than see God. But the Gospel reading in Luke teaches us the reason Jesus healed man’s physical ailments: to prove his power to heal man’s spiritual ailments.

Any quack, or cultist, or priest, can claim to grant forgiveness of sins. It is truly a matter of faith. There is no tangible demonstration that sins have been forgiven. Jesus performed the lesser work- healing the body of man- to show his power to do the greater work- healing the soul of man.

So now we wait. The Good Shepherd has bound up the spiritual wounds of his flock, but there are many who are still halt and lame. The joy of forgiveness is pierced and strained by the pain of life. But Jesus is coming to complete the work he came to do. Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you. He is coming to complete the work of salvation: and man’s whole body, soul, and sprit will be preserved blameless.

 

 

Devotions for First week of Advent: Tuesday, The Advent of the Trinity

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples–of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
Isaiah 11:1-10

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
Luke 10:21-24[1]

Advent is the season of appearing. In Advent God makes himself known. Today’s passages reveal the deepest aspect of the mystery of God’s appearance: the fact that God is Trinity. Jesus did what he did because of who he was: God. Jesus was able to do what he did because of the power he received from the Holy Spirit. The work of Jesus from beginning to end was the work that the Father willed.

In Isaiah 11 we see that God’s kingdom comes through the Branch who judges righteous judgment. This righteous judgment is empowered by the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. The gospels make the role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus unmistakable. It is by the Holy Spirit that he is conceived;[2] the fills people to worship God because of Jesus;[3] Jesus was announced as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit;[4] the Holy Spirit rested on Jesus when he was baptized;[5] it was in the power of the Spirit that Jesus entered the wilderness, left the wilderness, and began his teaching ministry;[6] it was in the power of the Spirit that Jesus cast out demons;[7] before he left Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples;[8] Jesus commanded that new disciples be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit;[9] Jesus kept his promise and sent the Holy Spirit.[10] Advent makes known the inseparable bond between Jesus the Messiah and the Spirit of the Lord.

But the advent of Jesus also makes known the inseparable bond between Jesus the Messiah and God the Father. In Luke we stand upon holy ground. We enter into the communication of the Trinity. In wonder and amazement we hear the Son of God proclaim that he has all of the authority of the Father. The sovereignty of God over salvation is made explicit. The Father hides salvation from some and reveals it to others. The Son chooses whom he will reveal the Father to. We know these hard words are true because who said them: Jesus the Son; and because of how he said them: “in the Holy Spirit.”

At Advent God makes himself known. God reveals that he is Triune: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Three in person, one in essence.

 Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

O Savior, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!


[1] For more on this text see my post on the Trinitarian aspects of it click here.

[2] Luke 1:35

[3] Luke 1:41; 2:25-27

[4] Luke 3:16

[5] Luke 3:22

[6] Luke 4:1, 14, 18

[7] Matt. 12:28

[8] John 15:26

[9] Matt. 28:19

[10] John 20:22; Acts 2:33

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God: Sermon 8, Is Jesus Judge?

Sermon 8 in John Chrysostom’s series against the Anomoeans begins with a jaw-droppingly graphic description of the preaching event not likely to be endorsed in any contemporary homiletic text book:

Yesterday we returned from war, from a war and battle with the heretics. Our weapons were stained with blood, the sword of my discourse was red with gore. We did not strike down their bodies but we did destroy their arguments and “Every proud pretension which raises itself against the knowledge of God.” For such is the kind of battle this is and, therefore, such is the nature of the weapons. (1)[1]

Chrysostom is known for railing against Christian attendance at the theatre, games, and circus of the empire. We know from the beginning of the previous sermon the chariot races had begun. One might wonder if the preacher was not trying to out-spectacle the spectacles. But he does cite 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 convincingly. And I suppose if Paul can wish for the castration of his opponents,[2] we cannot fault Chrysostom for such thoughts.

The preacher moves on quickly to inform the congregation of the subject matter of the sermon to follow. The text of Matthew 20:23 will be under investigation: “He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’”(4). The Anomoeans present this text to assert that the Son must be lesser than the Father in some way. Chrysostom does not just flee to the standard method of using the temporary humility of the incarnation of the eternal Son. For this, I am thankful. Not because the standard argument is wrong, but because constant reliance upon such answers can serve to blunt spiritual maturity. Can one truly fight for the faith when he has never explored its depths? It can be more helpful to know how to discover the right answer than simply knowing the right answer.

Chrysostom’s first line of defense is to survey some of the verses that teach the Son indeed has the authority to judge. In Matthew there is the sheep and goat judgment and the parable of the 10 Virgins in Matthew 25; and the parable of the talents in Matthew 23:14-30 (7-15). In the gospel of John we read, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son”[3] (17). From the gospels he turns to passages in Paul that speak of the Lord’s rewarding of his servans: 1 Cor. 3:8 and 2 Tim. 4:7-8. (20-22).

But even with passages such as these, the job is still only half-done. While Chrysostom has effectively demonstrated that the Son does indeed have the prerogative of judgment, there remains the substance of Matthew 20:23. If Jesus says he will grant and forbid entrance into the kingdom, why does he here state that he does not have the right to offer rewards? If Jesus has all authority, why can he not assign John and James their place in the kingdom? If Jesus does not have the right to grant rewards, why does Paul expect Jesus to reward him? The rest of the sermon (23-48) is devoted to answering such questions.

Chrysostom’s argument is amusing, but I do not find it ultimately persuasive. The preacher basically maintains that Jesus does not want to “poison the well,” as it were. If Jesus told John and James they would have positions of power, they might get proud, over-confident and lazy. If Jesus told John and James they would not have positions of authority, they might get discouraged and disinterested. In both situations the result would be the same: James and John would do less for the kingdom if they knew their position in it. Jesus is playing coy and holding out the kingdom as a sort of carrot. The summary of the argument in is paragraph 40:

Because Christ wished to prevent men from growing more careless and lax since they were expecting further honors, he led them away from this erroneous surmise when he said: “It is not mine to give,” but yours to take, if you should show the willingness to do so. He said this so that you might show greater earnestness, more pains, and abundant zeal. He was saying: “I grant crowns to deeds, I give honors to pains, I award the prize to him who sweats. In my eyes, the strongest proof is the proof which comes from deeds.”

As far as it goes, Chrysostom’s logic is sound. The problem is that he still does not address the crux of Matthew 20:23. The problem is not just that Jesus says it is not his reward to give; the problem is that he says this and that the Father has prepared it. It is telling, however, that every time Chrysostom quotes this text in the last half of the sermon he leaves off the words “by my Father.” These are the very words that undercut his argument; the very words that the heretics would cling to.

In keeping with the militaristic beginning of the sermon, Chrysostom did not fare so well on the battlefield this day. To defend the truth is a noble and high calling. To be zealous for truth is vital: but sometimes zeal blinds. If, in our zealousness to support the truth, we distort the truth; we are no longer fighting for the truth. God keep me from being a blood-thirsty pastor.

 

 


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

[2] Gal. 5:12

[3] John 5:22