What is Advent?

Maybe the greatest challenge of the Advent and Christmas season is to keep its true meaning in front of us. What is Advent really about?  Why the trees and the presents and the caroling and the parties?  Why all the hullabaloo?

The word advent means “coming.”

What’s coming?  Who’s coming?

Well, when you come to the Bible, you find a lot of talk about future things, but one of the most common and prominent future coming things throughout the Scriptures is the promise of a coming figure who would defeat Satan and evil and bring peace and deliverance to His people.

In fact, we don’t have to wait very long after the creation story to find God already talking about this. All the way back in Genesis 3:15 we find the first place where promises are made and where people begin anticipating or waiting upon someone who is going to come. 

In Genesis 3:15 we have God saying that a future descendant of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, Satan, which lead man and woman into sin.  

Many theologians call this the “protoevangelium” which is a fancy way of saying, the first announcement of the gospel (the good news), that one is coming who would deliver man and woman from their sins.

So right off, in the Scriptures, we have a sense of anticipation—a sense of forward looking towards a future, great deliverer that is coming. 

Jesus, the Long Awaited Deliverer

Of course, over time God would make many more promises to His people and would add many layers to this promise.  We know that he would be one like Moses who delivered his people from captivity.  We know that he would be a son of King David.  We know that he would be born of a virgin.  We know that he would be a suffering servant, one who was crushed and afflicted; one whose own wounds bring about our healing.  We know that he will sight to the blind and set the prisoner free.  We know that he will pour out his spirit on young and old and men and women, slave and free.  All of this and much more, we know from later promises that were given in the time of the Old Testament prophets. 

All of this would take thousands of years to unfold, but finally he came in the person of Jesus Christ.  And the world has never been the same.

But things didn’t stop there, did they?  No!  History didn’t end.  God still has plans and is still doing many things.  With the coming of Jesus came new insights into the Old Testament prophets and also new prophecies about the future. 

So although the advent, or “coming” of the Messiah, the Christ figure of the Old Testament, is here, that does not mean we are done waiting. 

Christians Are Still Waiting Today

Christians are still waiting today.  What are we waiting for now?  Over and over again the New Testament talks about Jesus coming again.  One well known story is found in Acts chapter 1 verses 6 through 11:

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

There it is.  This same Jesus, will come back, just as you’ve seen him go.  And in many other places similar things are said of Christ.

And Advent is a time for us to talk about that and express that reality in tangible ways.  Like today, for instance, we light the candle of hope.  There are two things about hope to realize.  First, hope points to a future reality.  Take Romans 8:24 and 25 for instance:

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Hope points forward.  But secondly, hope also points to something wonderful.  We don’t hope in bad things.  We hope in good things.  So there are good things coming.  Romans 8 that same passage talks about how all creation groans as though it were in childbirth for the restoration of the earth and for the revealing of the sons of God.  Those are good things that have not happened yet, so we hope in them. 

So today we light the candle of hope to say, yes of course, Christ has come, he has fulfilled many prophesies, but not all is complete yet and we are still waiting for his final coming and for the complete and full restoration of all things.

The Second Advent of Christ

The church has picked up on this and that is why historically, Advent has been the time when Christians actively anticipate and prepare for the 2nd coming of Christ. 

The Latin word adventus (where we get the word Advent from) is the Latin translation of the Greek word Parousia (pe-ROO-zea), which is a word commonly used of Christ’s second coming.

Because of Christmas, which follows the season of Advent, and because of the huge commercialization of the holiday, it is easy to think only of Christ’s first coming or first advent during these four weeks, but that would be a mistake.  Because, as I’ve already said, we are still today, waiting upon Christ to come again.

Already and Not-Yet

We live in that already not-yet period of time that I’ve spoken of before. 

Christ has already come and brought fulfillment to many of the promises that we see in the Old Testament, but they are not yet completely fulfilled in some senses. 

For instance, God has promised that he will complete the work that he has started in us who believe (Phil. 1:6) .  In a sense that promise is already fulfilled.  We are complete in Christ and before God we are blameless and clean, right now.  However, we still live in this sinful flesh and we still sin and struggle every day.  So the full fulfillment of that promise will not happen until the day of Christ Jesus, when he returns again and we are changed in the twinkling of an eye and given our perfect, resurrection bodies.

So, in that sense we are already complete and not-yet complete.

This is what Advent is all about for us as Christians.  We live in that in between time—in between the two advents of Christ.

So even today, as Christians, we are still in a posture of waiting.  We are still anticipating.  God has been faithful to send the Deliverer once, and we know He will come again.

And that is what Advent is about.

End Notes

This blog is an excerpt from a recent message by Pastor Josh. Watch on YouTube here.

A Thanksgiving Proclamation

Today it’s commonly argued that our Constitution does not allow for any speak of God in our public life by the government or its officials; that God and government cannot and should not be mixed and that to do so is to violate our Constitution’s most sacred ideals (or not-so-sacred ideals).

For example, groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) suggest that our nation is fundamentally a “secular” one.  Speaking of the phrase “In God We Trust” on our nation’s currency, they argue:

“‘In God We Trust’ is a religious phrase. It does not belong on the legal tender of our secular nation, the first nation to separate church and state with a godless constitution.”

The FFRF believes that the establishment clause contained within the First amendment grants them a constitutional right to be free from religion.

Interestingly, the founders of our nation didn’t feel that way.  In fact, the prayers and speeches of many of our nation’s earliest leaders suggest to us that whatever the meaning of the establishment clause, it most certainly was not to cut God off from our public life or to free people from religion.

Take this proclamation made by George Washington in New York City on October 3rd, 1789, when he first proposed that our nation have a national day of Thanksgiving:

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.” 1

Nearly 75 years later Abraham Lincoln would make Thanksgiving a Federal holiday.  I won’t post it here, but that proclamation as well makes it clear that despite the claims of so many today, the founders of our nation did not think that God and government were like oil and water.  The Federal holiday we know as Thanksgiving Day, a day that was set apart by our government itself, is a day for the offering up of praise, thanksgiving and prayer to our most beneficent Heavenly Father (in the words of Lincoln).  And this holiday stands as a monument to the fact that historically, our leaders have not interpreted our nation’s founding and governing documents in a godless fashion, but rather naturally saw it not only their prerogative to make religious proclamations while in office but also their duty and proper place to exhort the entire American populace to recognize the source of our many blessings in this once great nation as coming down as “gracious gifts from the Most HIgh God” (Lincoln’s words again).

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Image “We the People” by Stephen Nichols, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

  1. The text from this proclamation can be found at http://www.heritage.org/initiatives/first-principles/primary-sources/washingtons-thanksgiving-proclamation. Accessed on 11.26.15.

What is The Reformation?

At Red Door Church here in central Vermont we are celebrating the Protestant Reformation for the sixth year in a row (since 2014).  One way we’ve decided to do that these last few years is by putting on an event we call, “Reformation Day Celebration.”  We open our doors during our town’s annual Fall Festival and invite people in to play Reformation themed games, eat seasonal foods, and look at our displays and booths which tell the story of the Reformation.

It is not uncommon that as I’m telling someone in our community about the event they ask, “What is the Reformation?”

I’m going to try and answer that question now.

A Definition

Definitions only go so far, but let’s start there.  Alister McGrath, professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, defines the Reformation as follows:

The term “Reformation” is used by historians and theologians to refer to the western European movement, centering upon individuals such as Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin, concerned with the moral, theological, and institutional reform of the Christian church in that region. 1

In terms of impact, the Reformation may be one of the most important events in Christian (and world) history.  Yet sadly many Christians are uninformed about this massive event that eventually spawned the Protestant church.

When Did the Reformation Start?

As hard as it is to suggest one particular starting point for the Reformation, if there was one act that set it fully in motion it was the swing of Martin Luther’s hammer on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31st, 1517.  The document he fixed there that day would make him forever famous.  In fact, more books have been written about Martin Luther than about any other historical figure, except Jesus Christ, largely in part because of his actions that day.

The document he posted on the door of the church has been called the 95 Theses because in it Luther raised 95 concerns with the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church at the time.  You can read an English translation of the 95 Theses here.

Factors that Fanned the Flame of Reformation

There were various catalysts for the Reformation.  Maybe one of the most significant was what later came to be know as The Renaissance.  The Renaissance was characterized by a fresh interest in the literature of antiquity.  The Reformation therefore was not something new.  In fact, it was a passionate plea to go back to the things of old.  “The Reformers were never innovators, as the papacy was so often to allege, but renovators.”  2 

One of the popular slogans around the time of the Reformation was ad fontes!, a Latin phrase meaning “to the fountains” or “[back] to the sources.”  A renewed interest in the study of original source documents and ancient literature had many looking to antiquity for inspiration.  The same was true of Christians.  Suddenly, many educated Christians (those who could read Greek and Latin) began to look to the Bible and to the church fathers instead of the Catholic Church and its traditions.3  What they began to see was that a great deal of accepted teaching and practice within the Catholic Church was out of sink with the Bible.

Another major factor was the invention of the printing press.  Just a few decades before Luther’s birth, around 1450 Johann Guttenberg invented the movable type printing process which allowed for the rapid printing and distribution of lengthy texts.  This would play a serious role in the dissemination of Luther’s writings including his 95 Theses, German Bibles and other literature, all of which were instrumental in educating the masses and allowing them to see the force of Luther’s arguments for themselves. 4

For more on the causes and various factors that played into the Reformation, read Russ Rohloff’s helpful entry “The Necessity of the Reformation” posted recently.

What Were Some of Luther’s Complaints?

(1) Indulgences.  One of Luther’s most serious complaints against the Catholic Church of the time was regarding what was called “indulgences.”  Below are numbers 27 and 28 in his Theses speaking of indulgences:

27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

Part of the money made from indulgences was used in the building fund for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  But here’s the way indulgences worked:

The Catholic Church had created the idea of the Treasury of Merit, sort of a “bank account” of merit deposited by Christ, Mary, the saints, and others as a result of their good works. When church members sinned, they could purchase an indulgence, which was akin to asking the Church to “transfer funds” from the Treasury of Merit to the sinner’s account. The indulgence basically excused the sinner from a certain amount of time in purgatory and/or temporal punishment for that sin. 5

(2) The issue of authority.  Sylvester Prierias, one of Luther’s staunch opponents in the Roman Church, wrote in response to Luther’s 95 Theses: 

He who does not accept the doctrine of the Church of Rome and pontiff of Rome as an infallible rule of faith, from with the Holy Scriptures, too, draw their strength and authority, is a heretic.

Official Catholic teaching saw the church as the highest authority, over even the very Word of God.  This was backwards to Luther, who believed that the Bible was the highest authority.

(3) Distortion of the Gospel Message. Back in 1510 before Luther posted his Theses, he had made a trip to Rome as a representative of his Augustinian Monastery.  Though the trip was for church business, Luther had hoped that it would help him personally.  Ever since he began church as a boy, Luther could not get over his intense fear that God was angry with him.  He once wrote “If I could believe that God was not angry with me, I would stand on my head for joy.”  And his progress in the church only made his guilt and anxiety about his standing with God worse.  He was ordained into the priesthood in 1507, received his Doctor’s degree in theology in 1512 and was given the chair in Biblical Theology at the University of Wittenberg (which Luther held the rest of his life).  But none of it helped.

Rome was to be for Luther a time to find healing and help.   But God had very different plans. Instead of finding answers to his questions and help for his troubles, Luther left Rome frustrated.

It was not until Luther began to read the Scriptures for himself that he found help.  It grieved Luther that the pure gospel message of salvation in Christ alone through faith alone was obscured and distorted through the teachings of the Church at the time.  Most people, in fact, could not read the Bible for themselves because common Bibles were written in Latin and were extremely expensive.  What is more, the Church taught that the Bible was difficult and hard to understand and therefore should not be entrusted to the interpretation of the common man, but only the Magisterium (or teaching office of the church) could accurately interpret them.  Luther himself saw that not only was the belief of the Church untrue, but it prevented people from having access to the very thing that gave freedom to those suffering under guilt and the oppression of sin. 6   He writes in his book Bondage of the Will:

But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from [our] own blindness or want [i.e. lack] of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth… Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear scriptures of God… If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that hath the Spirit of God… If you speak of the external clearness, nothing whatever is left obscure or ambiguous; but all things that are in the Scriptures, are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light, and proclaimed to the whole world.

Protestantism Born Out of the Reformation

After Luther’s death in 1546 the Reformation continued to spread and evolve.  Out of it was born the Protestant churches, which make up one of the three major branches of Christianity in the world today.

  1. Taken from his book Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought (Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA, 1998), 156.)
  2. Tim Dowley, ed., Introduction to The History of Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 370.
  3. If you are interested in the church fathers, who they were, some of what they wrote, click here.
  4. You can read more about the importance of the printing press in The Reformation here.
  5.  http://www.satisfactionthroughchrist.com/2014/10/what-is-reformation-day.html
  6. Luther would eventually translate a Bible in German to distribute to the common folk while living under the protection of Frederick of Saxony in the Wartburg Castle.  Luther’s Bible became the major German Bible of the time; all other later translations were dependent upon it.  He finished the New Testament in 1522 and the Old Testament over the course of the following ten years, from 1522 to 1532.  The first complete Luther Bible appeared in Wittenberg in 1534.  According to Dowley’s History of Christianity, “Luther’s Bible was a literary event of the first magnitude, for it is the first work of German prose.”

Why is the Door Red?

The door of our church is red, why?

Actually many, many churches have red doors.  If you Google “Red Door Church” and click “images” you will see a slew of them.

After doing a bit of research on this, there are actually a cluster of reasons why churches have red doors, though no one, clear, resounding answer can be found. 1 Here are some of the more common reasons I discovered:

1. Passover.  A church in Cincinnati, OH, has actually taken “Red Door Church” as their official name.  They have a neat three-minute video which explains the connection between the Red Door and the Passover. 2  In another place a Rev. Linda Strohmeier says:

Anybody read about Passover lately? You remember how the children of Israel were to mark “the lintel of the door” with blood, as a sign for the Angel of Death to pass over? Before modern chemistry and the variety of paint formulae, red paint was made with animal blood (really — I’m not making this up!). “Barn red,” that color so familiar, especially in New England barns, was made with a combination of buttermilk and animal blood — the blood for pigment/color, and the buttermilk as the binder/thickener. (You remember, of course, from art history, about renaissance painters making their paints using egg yolk as a binder…). Anyhow, that’s how they made red paint: blood and buttermilk. It’s a pretty short step from there to red doors, if you are deeply steeped in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and know about marking the lintel of the door with blood to signify that you are among the saved…’

2.  Blood.  It is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ that we enter into the gates of Heaven and eternal life.  A Red Door symbolically portrays this theological centerpiece of the Christian faith: In the words of Christ himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life, nobody comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). More symbolism was added during the development of elaborate cathedral architecture in the Middle Ages:

The color red, signifying the Blood of Christ, was painted on the north, south and east doors of a church. Such symbolism represented making the sign of the cross — Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Thus the edifice was marked as a sanctuary, identified as a refuge and safety zone from physical or spiritual dangers. The red doors shut out evil. Supposedly an enemy could not pursue his victim across the sacred threshold. 3

Some see the blood of the martyrs which is the seed of the church.  (Originally said by the 2nd century church father Tertullian.) In some traditions blood is connected to baptism as well.  For instance, at an Orthodox baptism, the godparents present the candidate with red shoes as a symbol of walking the way of the cross.  

3.  Sanctuary. Many say that in the Middle Ages in England, a church with a red door represented a place of sanctuary.

In those days, if one who was being pursued by the local populace, shire reeve (sheriff) or gentry could reach the church door he/she would be safe. Nobody would dare to do violence on hallowed ground and, in any case, the Church was not subject to civil law. The red door was fair warning to pursuers that they could proceed no further. One who claimed sanctuary in this way would then be able to present his/her case before the priest and ask that justice be served.”  4

This seems to be just a step away from the theological idea of God’s name being a “strong tower” in which the righteous run in and are safe (see Prov. 18:10; Psalms 61:3).  And in the New Testament the idea of shelter and safety is found in the blood of Christ.

4.  Paid Mortgage.  In the Episcopalian tradition it is said that a red door is a bold declaration that the church mortgage has been paid off.  Maybe there is a connection here again to Christ’s work and his final declaration on the cross “It is finished!” (John 19:30)?

5.  Reformed Church.  One Ken Kruger of Florida proposes:

Doors of mainline Protestant churches, especially Lutheran churches, are red because the doors of Wittenburg Cathedral in Wittenburg, Germany, where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses were red. The red doors simply symbolize that we are a church of the Reformation. 5

6.  Episcopalian church identification.  Some say the red door is simply a tradition of the Episcopalian church, nothing more.

I’m not sure of any record regarding our church here in South Royalton that mentions why exactly our church door is red.

Perhaps the lack of explanation in any of our historical records gives us permission to treat the door as a kind of tabula rasa (blank slate) and recreate the meaning for today’s church.  If that is the case I would personally like to suggest that #2 (above) would be a beautiful symbolic interpretation of the significance of our church’s red door.  I would like to think that every time one of our members walked through the doors of the church they were reminded of the love and grace of God which grants them access to Himself by the Son’s shed blood on the cross.

  1. One man, Louie Crew says, ‘I suspect that the red doors are much like academic gowns: since there is no authoritative source about what they symbolize, you can have fun finding your own meanings in them.’
  2. To see the video you need to click on “I’m New,” and then “Our Name.”
  3. Mary S. Holley of Rochester, N. Y. as quoted on the Episcopal Life Archives.
  4. Taken from “Why many church doors are red” at ameganfindsartinphilly.wordpress.com.
  5. Taken from the Episcopal Life Archives.

Elisha and the 42 Children

He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.  From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

2 Kings 2:23-25

Taken at face value, this seems excessive. I mean it was just a bunch of kids just acting like kids, right? And yet Elisha the prophet thought it was appropriate to kill them all just because his feelings were hurt. In fact, in cursing them in the name of the Lord, it was ultimately God who sent the two bears. Most people will see this as unjust killing which further illustrates that God is evil and capricious. But is that in fact the case in this scenario? Was Elisha (and ultimately God) just in his actions against these innocent kids who were just acting like kids? That is the objection I will be dealing with in this blog post.

First, the Hebrew word used for children in this text is also used for young men. The Hebrew word used for “children,” is also used to describe Joseph in Genesis 37:2, who was 17 years old at the time, and refers to army men in 1 Kings 20:14-15. In addition it was used to describe the baby Moses in Exodus 2:6 but that’s the only time it refers to a baby. At other times it refers to a servant of unknown age. Instead of children, it’s more appropriate to say mature adolescents or young men.

Second, The Hebrew word for “little” is the word most critics hang onto in order to justify the view that these are actually children. While the word will frequently refer to size, it also refers to quality of significance. For example: It is used to compare the moon to the sun (Genesis 1:6); it refers to insignificant legal cases (Exodus 18:26); as well as “lesser” weights (Deuteronomy 25:13). It is also used to mean “young” when referring to persons who are obviously old enough to be mature (such as those surrounding Lot’s house and demanding to rape the visitors, Gen. 19:11).

Third, there was over 42 young men taunting Elisha. Does that not seem like an odd scenario? It seems rather odd that a crowd of over 42 young men only banded together for the sole purpose of insulting someone. Could it be that this crowd of young men could actually mean physical harm after their insults? I don’t see why it wouldn’t. Unfortunately we don’t know exactly how many young men. We know its over 42 but out of of how many people? 42 out of 50? 42 out of 100? 42 out of 500? There’s no evidence that these young men were innocent and only intended to insult God’s prophet after which they peacefully left. Also there’s no evidence that these young men were intending to rob/beat/kill Elisha after their insults as well. So if the critic is going to just assume that they are innocent young men only intending to insult and then peacefully leave why should I not assume that they were intending to harm Elisha? I don’t know. God knows though. And He thought it was an appropriate to act to protect Elisha.

Fourth, there is not enough biblical evidence to suggests that the crowd of over 42 young men were actually killed. There are two main points I want to make in this area:

Point 1: These were most likely Syrian Brown bears. These bears would typically weigh between 400-500lbs. For a comparison, female American black bears weigh between 150-300 lbs. and female American Grizzly bears weigh 290-440 lbs. The point is that 42 young men being injured or killed from just two of these bears is hard to imagine unless the crowd of men fought back instead of running away, seeking safety.

Point 2: The Hebrew word that was used to describe the action the two bears did to the 42 men does not mean “killed,” “devoured,” or anything similar. It means to “break open” which is used for chopping wood (Genesis 22:3), ripping garments (Joshua 9:13), an egg hatching (Isaiah 34:15), or breaking through an army (2 Kings 3:26). The use in this passage in 2 Kings could possibly be a way of saying that the bears scattered the young men, not that they killed them.

Fifth, it’s important to keep in mind that it wasn’t Elisha who is responsible for the injuries or deaths (if there were any) of the 42 young, aggressive men, it was God who was responsible. God is the creator, designer, and sustainer of the universe. His very nature is the standard of holiness, righteousness, and justice. And He is ultimately the very source of all life. If He wants to take your life, He has the right and authority to do such an action whether directly or indirectly and for whatever reason He deems necessary. It’s important not to think of God as a super-powerful human being but an all-knowing and all-powerful being who keeps the universe in being by his sovereign will. For God, it is not murder or killing when he takes someone from this life. He’s merely moving you from one plane of existence to another plane of existence…and no matter how much we might not like that, God, as the source of life, has the authority to do that and we do not.

Maybe these were not 42 innocent little kids. They were more likely a crowd of over 42 young men who wanted to do more than just insult God’s prophet and then peacefully leave. In showing aggression toward Elisha, God acted to protect his prophet. Even if deaths or injuries occurred, there is nothing evil and unjust in what God or Elisha did in this scenario.

Notes: I owe some of my insights on this tough passage to this article:
http://www.tektonics.org/film/elisha2bears.html

The Creed of Creeds: The Apostles’ Creed

blog-creed-of-creeds-2048px.jpg

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      Maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic* church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

*that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places

A Concise Statement of Core Christian Truth

Philip Schaff in his magisterial work Creeds of Christendom calls the Apostles’ Creed, “The Creed of Creeds.” He writes:

“As the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of creeds.”

-Philip Schaff

The great reformer, Martin Luther, said of the Creed, “Christian truth could not possibly be put into a shorter and clearer statement.”

Augustine, one of the early church fathers, said that the Apostles’ Creed was a rule of faith–something worth reciting morning and evening.

Dr. William Shedd writes in his A History of Christian Doctrine, Volume II, that the Apostles’ Creed is:

“…the earliest attempt of the Christian mind to systematize the teachings of the Scripture, and is, consequently, the uninspired foundation upon which the whole after structure of symbolic literature rests.”

-William Shedd (as quoted in Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom)

The apostles creed is not only the oldest creed produced by the Christian Church that was widely accepted by the Church as a whole but it is the basis for many other early creeds that followed, such as the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

It is called the Apostles’ Creed not because it was written by the apostles but because it is an early summary of the core teachings of the apostles. It represents the foundational, most fundamental teachings and doctrines at the heart of Christian faith as taught by Jesus’ earliest followers.

Studying the Apostles’ Creed with the Children

Early on in the Church, the Apostles’ Creed was used as a baptismal confession of faith for believers. Yet, far from relegating the Creed to something only useful in antiquity, the Christian Church still embraces the Creed today as a solid, statement of core Christian truth.

This Fall we are happy to announce that the children of the church will be starting a study of the Creed in children’s church. The creed will run 13 weeks and will look at each of the 12 articles of the Creed.

If you are not familiar with the Apostles’ Creed, I encourage you to take some time reading it and thinking over each of the 12 major points (or articles) found in the Creed (quoted at the top of this brief article). It may help to re-focus on you on the foundational teachings of our faith.

Notes:

For more on the importance of creeds, please see J. Warner Wallace’s excellent article “The Importance (and Early Use) of Creeds.”

Did Jesus Believe Himself to be God?

Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship (proskyneō) the Lord your God and serve Him only.'”

Luke 4:8

Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship (proskyneō) the Lord your God and serve Him only.'”

Matthew 4:10

The idea that there is one God and that He alone should be worshiped is shown throughout the Jewish scriptures (Deuteronomy 4:35, 6:4, 6:13-16, and 32:39, 2 Samuel 7:22, Isaiah 8:13, and Isaiah 43:10-11). The New Testament has provided several examples of people worshipping something or someone other than God and then being immediately corrected to worship God alone (Revelation 22:8-9, Acts 10:25-26 and 14:11-15). This can be clearly seen through the use of the greek word proskyneō, in the examples below:

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship (proskyneō) at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship (proskyneō) God.”

Revelation 22:8-9

When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped (proskyneō) him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.”

Acts 10:25-26

Jesus’ disciples, like many religious Jews at that time, clearly understood only God is to be worshipped. To worship someone other than God would make that person an idolater and a violator of the first commandment.

What’s most amazing is that Jesus was worshipped at various times throughout his earthly ministry. The fact that he accepted worship and did not condemn it (as in the cases above) gives us strong reason to believe Jesus considered himself God. Below I’ve listed a host of examples:

The wise men worshiped Him from the moment He was born

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped (proskyneō) him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

Matthew 2:10-12

The leper worshiped Him at his healing

And behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down (proskyneō) to Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Matthew 8:2

The synagogue ruler worshiped Him

While He was saying these things to them, behold, there came a synagogue official, and bowed down (proskyneō) before Him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.”

Matthew 9:18-19

The disciples worshiped him in the boat

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped (proskyneō) him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:32-33

The Canaanite woman worshiped Him

But she came and began to bow down (proskyneō) before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

Matthew 15:25-26

The mother of James and John worshipped Him

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, bowing down (proskyneō) , and making a request of Him.

Matthew 20:20-21

The blind man worshiped Him at his healing

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped (proskyneō) him.

John 9:35-38

The women worshiped Him at the empty tomb

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped (proskyneō) him.

Matthew 28:8-10

The disciples worshiped Him at the Ascension

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped (proskyneō) him.

Matthew 28:16-17

End Notes

*Much of the material for this post was taken from Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek’s book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist (Crossway, 2004) and Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ by Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski (Kregal, 2007).

Ordinary Times

The book of Ecclesiastes gives us a clue for understanding the Church’s liturgical year, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.[i] This verse reminds us that God created order and seasons with limits at the very heart of His creation, and that each of these seasons or times has a purpose that manifests and makes present the Kingdom in a particular way.  It may be the annual progression of the seasons of spring to summer to fall and to winter, or it may be seasons of distress or joy, feasting or fasting, remembering or putting into action.  Each and every one season has a purpose; each and every one is important.

In today’s English, the word ordinary makes us think of something that is not special or distinctive, and because of this we may be prone to think that Ordinary Times refer to those parts of the Church year that are not important.  But the fact that this time makes up the majority of the Church year (33 to 34 Sundays of our year) should tell us otherwise.  There are two periods of Ordinary Time, the shorter running from the celebration of Epiphany to Ash Wednesday, and the second longer period from Pentecost Sunday to the First Sunday of Advent.  Because the celebration of Resurrection Sunday varies from year to year, the season after Epiphany varies between 4 and 9 Sundays, and the season after Pentecost varies between 23 and 28 Sundays.

So much for counting Sundays, why are these Sundays placed where they are and what purpose do they play in our congregational life?  To understand Ordinary Times, we must look first at what “bookends” each period.  The book ends in each case are the annual portrayal of the central mysteries of our faith, the incarnation of Jesus, His death, His resurrection and ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit.  The season of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany proclaim the truth that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…to redeem”[ii] and that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”[iii]  The Sundays of Ordinary Times after Epiphany are intended to convince us that God’s deliverance has broken into our world through His Son.  It is intended to lay to rest forever in our hearts the question of who Jesus is, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”[iv]  The answer proclaimed to us is a resounding “This is the Chosen Deliverer of God, hear Him, believe Him.”

The Sundays after Epiphany end with Ash Wednesday and the observance of Lent and our journey to the cross, the empty tomb, a mountain in Galilee, and an upper room in Jerusalem.  This is the annual retelling of the story of our redemption, of our adoption as God’s children, of the mystery of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  The season of Lent, Holy Week, Resurrection Sunday, Ascension, and Pentecost echo the Apostle Paul’s words, “Now I would remind you…of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to …the twelve.”[v] 

In these days we celebrate the specific, historic, supernatural acts of God that have brought about the salvation and deliverance of creation.  By contrast, during the Ordinary Time from Pentecost to Advent we celebrate what God has done through the Holy Spirit, empowering us to live out the gospel message day to day in the context of our ordinary lives.  It is during this season that we recognize that Jesus continues to bring grace and deliverance to the world by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the church.  We might consider the church year from Advent to Pentecost as the proclamation of the good news of God’s love, grace, and deliverance; and the church year from Pentecost to Advent as the Acts of the Apostles, wherein God moves through the followers of His Son to bring in the kingdom in all its fullness.  This season is intended to remind us that our calling is to take the witness of who Jesus is and what He has done to the uttermost parts of our world.

We are not created to live on mountaintops where the view is spectacular, the light brilliant, and the air rarified.  We are called to make our dwelling in the valleys and plains where the rest of the world dwells and to work out salvation while seeking theirs.  The “mountain top” holy days provide vision, inspiration, and calling; it is in the ordinary times of the year that the leaven of the gospel is able to act.  Perhaps a quick illustration will help us understand the purpose and use of Ordinary Times.

The extraordinary acts of God to bring deliverance to our world are often likened to a seed that is sown.  Planting times were a time of celebration because the seasons had turned and the prospect of bringing forth new life from the earth was everywhere.  So too, the times of harvest were celebrations as the fruit of the fields were brought into the storehouse in abundance.  But in between planting and harvest, between seed time and fruitfulness, were weeks and weeks of watering, thinning, tending, weeding.  It was in this in-between time that the success and bounty of the seeds sown were actually brought about.  God has sown the precious seed of the gospel in our hearts, Ordinary Times allow us to care for it, nurture it, and see it come to maturity within our hearts achieving not just another cycle of time, but something that reaches into eternity.

End Notes


[i] Ecclesiastes 3:1

[ii] Galatians 4:4-5

[iii] John 1:14

[iv] Matthew 11:3

[v] I Corinthians 15:1-5

Creation Care, Why Care?

God Loves the Cattle

One of the interesting sidelight points to the book of Jonah is God’s care for non-human aspects of his creation.  At the end of this great book where God clearly manifests his love even for the lost, pagan, backwards, Gentile world and where God exposes the pride of one of his prophets, 1 we find a God who loves cattle.

Jonah was bitter because God had mercy on Nineveh when they repented (Jonah 3).  After leaving Nineveh like a child in mid tantrum stomping his feet, Jonah plops down to the east of the city and just watched, maybe hoping that fire would fall from Heaven as it did upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19).  God kindly

“appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort.” (Jonah 4:6)

But then God appoints a worm to destroy the plant.  And Jonah grows even more bitter than before.  Finally, God asks him:

And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11)

After all this business with Jonah, God takes a moment to point out that he loves the cattle.  He wanted Jonah (and us) to know that He spared Nineveh, in part, because of his love for the cattle.  The cattle were the innocent bystanders to Nineveh’s great evil, but God loved them and just like during the great worldwide flood of Noah’s day, God chose to spare some of them (see Genesis 6 and 7).

All of Creation Bears Witness to God

Creation manifests to everyone God’s invisible attributes, his eternal power, and divine nature (Romans 1:20).  Just as the heavens declare God’s glory and the skies proclaim his handiwork (Psalm 19:1), so too all of God’s created order.  Over and over throughout Scripture God calls upon the creation to praise him!  In Psalm 148 the sun and moon, stars, and heavens are all called upon to praise their maker (verses 2, 3, 4).  In 1 Chronicles 16:32-33 the sea and the trees of the forest are summoned to sing praises to their king:

“Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the LORD; For He is coming to judge the earth.”

In Isaiah 55:12,

“the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

And in Luke 19:40 Jesus responds to the Pharisees suggesting that he rebuke his disciples for singing praises to him as he enter Jerusalem:

He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

When searching for something to liken the beauty of his wife to, King Solomon cites nature:

1 Behold, you are beautiful, my love,
behold, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them has lost its young.
3 Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
behind your veil…
5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that graze among the lilies. (SOS 4:1-3, 5)

God Delights in His Glory Revealed in Nature

And because God delights in his own glory, God delights in all of his creation which reveals that glory. 2  One of the most sobering (and beautiful) passages that reveals God’s love for creation is Job chapters 38 through 41.  Verse after verse, these chapters reveal a God not only in absolute control of nature, but a God that delights in its diversity, complexity, beauty, and power.  In this section God cites creation as evidence in his case against Job, who was too hasty to question God’s providence. 3

In the Bible, all of creation is a part of the symphony of praise to God.  And for that reason, all of us who love God, will also love the creation.

  1. Jonah was a prophet from Gath Hepher according to 2 Kings 23:25.  His attitude may be representative of Israel in general at the time?
  2. Many Scriptures reveal this.  For a helpful list see “Biblical Texts to Show God’s Zeal for His Own Glory” at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/biblical-texts-to-show-gods-zeal-for-his-own-glory.  Accessed on 3/3/2016.
  3. Job finally repents at the end of the book (see Job 42:1-6).