WFS Expository Thoughts: Michaelmas

Self-denial is a difficult, but a godly thing. Better to lose something and keep God, Jesus says, than to keep something and lose God. Yet we live in a self-indulgent time. Nothing, it seems, should stand in the way of what I want. But what are the things of this life in comparison with the things to come? What could we gain in the world which will not pass away? Deny yourselves, Christians, and take up your cross, as painful as it might be, and the angels will rejoice when you lay it down in heaven. Matthew 18:1-11

Ruminations on Habakkuk 2:20

The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him. Habakkuk 2:20

Behold a mystery. The Lord comes to every place He is worshiped as the King of Kings. Power and majesty are in His hand, and all things happen under His mighty Providence. As Habakkuk fell silent before God who disciplines His people, let us approach Him in holy fear and worship.

Yet is not Christ in His holy temple, His body, of which we are the living stones? Shall we then profane His temple with unholiness? Holiness befits Your house, O Lord, that we may be holy as You are holy! May our spiritual sacrifices be seasoned with salt, so that in holiness we may see You.

Teach us, O living God, to trust in You. Guide us, O Lord, in your Truth. Sanctify us, O Holy One, that we may be as you are.

WFS Expository Thoughts: Trinity 13

We have heard the parable of the Good Samaritan many times, but do we listen to what it says? The problem with knowing things well is that we might stop listening. The same is true of mercy. We have heard many times to show mercy to our neighbor, to love them as we love ourselves. But like the lawyer, we might confuse knowing something with doing it. Let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth. Luke 10:23-27

WFS Expository Thoughts: Trinity 12

Miracles always teach us something about God. If we look for miracles simply because it is a miracle, then we have missed the point. God does all things to teach us to trust in Him, even when things seems hopeless in the world. From the parting of the Red Sea to the healing of those who were sick to even the resurrection of Jesus Christ Himself, God performs miracles to bring us closer to Himself in all things. We don’t have to look for our own miracles, because we know through what God has already done that He will do what He says. Mark 7:31-37

WFS Expository Thoughts: Trinity 11

Justification means to be righteous before God. Someone who is just would be able to show how they have kept the Law of God and conformed to that standard. Yet as the Pharisee shows us, you can do even more than the Law requires and still fall short of the glory of God. It is the tax collector who shows us what it means to be a Christian: saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. No room for boasting. No place for ourselves. Simply God’s free grace to sinners makes us just before Him. Luke 18:9-14

Propitiation

In the Gospel reading for Trinity 11, Luke 18:9-14, Jesus presents a contrast between a typical Pharisee and a tax collector. The former prays in a style that emphasizes how he does more than the Law requires, since neither regular fasting nor giving tithes on things which have been purchased are commanded (tithes are given on things produced, something which the seller would have already paid, so the Pharisee is essentially claiming to pay twice). The tax collector, however, prays a simple prayer with a simple petition: God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

The verb translated as “have mercy” can also be rendered as “be propitious.” Propitiation is an old word borrowed from Latin. In its most basic sense, it means changing divine attitudes about the one making the petition. Pagans naturally understood this as man’s work. A right sacrifice, a fulfilled vow, and the god would no longer be angry, propitiation having been made. But this is not an acceptable understanding of Biblical propitiation, as we see here in Luke 18.

The clue to understanding it comes from the word itself. It is closely related to the Greek word used to describe the mercy seat of the Ark in Exodus 25. This golden lid, flanked by cherubim and sitting atop the ark which held the testimonies of God’s acts like the tablets of the Law, is God’s seat. Exodus 25:22 says that God will meet Israel from above that seat and speak. This is the point of encounter with God.

Leviticus 16 describes the day of Atonement, and one of the specific acts of that day included sprinkling blood over the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:15). Since God had promised to be there, especially on that day, blood covers over the sin of Israel and restores them back into God’s holy presence. This, then, is Biblical propitiation, not pagan works, but redemption through blood.

As Hebrews 10:4 also makes clear, animal blood is not sufficient to bring about a true propitiation of God. It is Christ, bearing His own blood into the heavenly places, that brings about the true propitiation of God toward men. Man could not do it, since he was unfit to be in God’s presence. The sinless Son as both priest and sacrifice brought about this true change in God’s attitude, so that salvation comes from God and God alone.

Thus, the prayer of the tax collector for mercy is appropriate. God, be propitious to me, not by my own works, but by Your own! Amen.

Measuring Generosity

Jesus says in Luke 6:38: “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” This imagery of measurement describes the mercy of God toward us and consequently the mercy we are called to show to one another.

Good measure begins with an accurate measurement. The Scriptures frequently condemn false measures as a sign of ungodliness. Leviticus 19:35-36 declares that all measurements shall be just, because “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” To deal falsely with someone else even from the very beginning is a sign of lovelessness, and thus also a sign that one is not of God.

Pressed down, because a fair and just measure sometimes means pressing down to remove all gaps and spaces, like brown sugar being packed into a measuring cup. Shaken together describes the same motive, like shaking a bag to make the material settle into it. It is not a begrudging attitude, one that seeks to give only under compulsion, but striving to meet the need of the other person to the fullest. It is the same commandment as leaving the edge of the field for the poor (Leviticus 23:22) or taking a small amount of your neighbor’s crop into your own hand but not the bag (Deuteronomy 23:24-25). What you have been given comes from God, not your own hand or your own labor, and what has been given is meant to be given in service of your neighbor. Give then, not begrudgingly, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Running over, because God’s mercy is not limited. Instead of merely the amount needed, God gives far more than we can think or ask. Would you look with envy on your neighbor, forgetting the manifold blessings God has given to you even this single day? Does He not make His sun to rise on the just and on the evil? Christ Himself gave not a single drop of His blood, which alone would have been enough to cover the world’s sins, but a rich fountain which knows no end. After measuring out our neighbor’s needs, let us also pour on still more without compulsion or envy.

The measurement you use will be measured back to you. If you, like Israel, want to disobey the Lord’s commandments even in His blessings, will not your efforts breed worms and stink? Yet if we measure with an omer, will we not have our daily needs met? God’s blessings will rest on those who show mercy as He shows mercy to us. Let us lift each other up generously, measuring out our neighbor’s needs and adding still more besides.

Cain’s Folly

After being sent away from the presence of the Lord, Cain built a city and named it after his son Enoch in Genesis 4. This city should not be confused for our own understanding of a city: a relatively open place where many people live. Rather, the city of Enoch was likely more of a fortress, designed to protect Cain from those who sought his life in revenge for Abel. Cain also sought to stay put instead of wandering, somewhat contrary to the Lord’s judgment upon him. The fortress-city of Enoch was built in the land of Nod, that is, the land of wandering, away from the presence of the Lord.

Just as Genesis 5 will outline the line from Adam to Noah in ten generations, Genesis 4 outlines the line of Cain to the children of Lamech in seven. Lamech’s boast in Genesis 4:23-24 shows the fruit of that line in unbridled evil. Instead of heeding the Lord’s mercy toward Cain as an opportunity for repentance, Cain’s descendants have used it as a pretext for further wickedness. Shall we also presume on the Lord’s mercy?

At any rate, the sons of Lamech also discover and employ certain kinds of technology. Jubal invents a number of musical instruments, and Tubal-Cain begins to forge metals. Both of these technologies can and will be put to a godly use (such as the building of the tabernacle). Yet it is noteworthy that they find their origin in the cursed line of Cain. Having lost sight of heaven, they have instead set their sights on the world.

One could interpret this as a sign of God’s free mercies. Has He not, after all, used the pagans to produce much that is good in this world? Does He not make His sun to rise and send His rain on the just and on the unjust? I think it is equally likely, however, that this is a slight indictment. Cain built a wall for an evil purpose. Having lost his trust in the Lord through his sins, Cain resorts instead to a worldly solution and employs the technology of a wall to that end. What is a wall compared to the living God? Likewise, Jubal and Tubal-Cain undoubtedly employed these things for evil ends, all in the service of idolatry. Instead of relying on God, they have begun to rely on the works of their own hands.

As noted above, these inventions will be used for godly ends, per the Lord’s commands. Yet there is a substantial difference in employing technology when commanded to do so by God and doing so in the place of God. The former is heeding the voice of the Lord and following after Him in all that He says. The latter is trusting in the works of our hands to save us from perceived problems and ascribing to them, consciously or not, the aspects of divinity.

Created to Work

The Lord created man to labor, as seen in Genesis 2. There, prior to the fall into sin, Adam tended the garden in Eden. A future where man no longer has to work because his needs are perfectly met–the dream of technocrats, futurists, and communists of old–is not valid. Working is part of what it means to be human, and the Lord creates so that we also may improve and tend what He gives.

Technology existed also in the days of Adam, even if it is not explicitly mentioned. Moses notes that gold adorned the land of Havilah near Eden. Even if it is likely that this is meant to educate his contemporary audience, gold in any substantial quantity can only be obtained through the use of technology. Ezekiel 28:11-19, where the king of Tyre is compared to Adam, describes some of the beauty of Eden and the perfection of Adam in gold and precious stones.

Thus, because man needs technology to labor, and because man was created to labor (Isaiah 65 even describes the life to come as one in which men will labor and enjoy the fruits of that labor), the use of technology is a part of being a creation of God. The difficulty enters in only when that technology is employed for ungodly ends, as will be seen in future posts.

WFS began our discussion of technology and the Christian in this episode:
Technological Society and Its Future

The Cross and Human Wisdom

On Shrove Tuesday in 1552, Erasmus Sarcerius preached a sermon on Christ and our cross. His text was Luke 18:31-43, in which Jesus foretells his death and resurrection a third time and heals the blind beggar outside of Jericho. He parsed the text into seven articles — the sixth is below for your consideration. It is a critique of those arch-heretics, Reason and Human Wisdom, who deceive even the disciples, keeping them from understanding the clear words of Christ.

Reason and Human Wisdom are such successful heretics because they seem to deliver on their promises for a time. Seeking honor leads to honor. Seeking prosperity leads to prosperity. Trust in their promises pays off in ways so delightful to our flesh that we overlook the times they fail to deliver. It’s a classic case of confirmation bias.

The end of trust in Reason and Human Wisdom is despair in time of need, especially in our greatest need at the hour of death. At that point, their promises come to an end, and they have no help to give. Instead they can only lead you to conclude that you are a wretched, miserable creature with no hope. But that bit of truth emerging from their heresy is too little, and it arrives too late.

Such honesty about Reason and Human Wisdom makes enemies with the world. It is an annoyance and burden to the flesh, and it must compete with the clarion call to talk about something more relevant, something that matters right now. It is striking how similar the voice of Sarcerius’ world is to ours.

For the Christian, the cross of Christ is a source of eternal comfort because it means that our weakness and crosses are not meaningless. Far from it. By faith in the promises of Jesus secured by his suffering, death, and resurrection, our weakness and crosses are given ultimate significance. They are the path to glory – a glory that does not terminate at the grave. It is a glory that is not self-serving and vain. It is the glory of perfection, holiness, and love. It is the glory of Christ, lifted up on the cross, drawing all nations to himself.

The sixth article holds before us the ignorance of Christ’s disciples as an example. They didn’t understand their master’s talk of his suffering and his resurrection. Luke shows us: “They understood none of these things, and the saying was hidden from them, and they did not know what was said.”
 

In view of such ignorance, we rightly wonder that the disciples were with Christ for so long, went in and out with him for so long and yet did not understand this saying of Christ concerning his suffering and resurrection.

The source of the disciples’ ignorance

It comes from reason and human wisdom, which are heretics that persuaded the Jews to think that Jesus would be a worldly king and lord. Because they are now stuck in these thoughts, they have imagined him as a rich, powerful, and happy lord, who should rule and govern in this world with great honor, happiness, and prosperity. There was nothing more unimaginable to them than that the Christ should suffer and die. Because they couldn’t imagine it, they haven’t understood his sayings about the cross and resurrection.

What we learn from this sixth article

We learn that we cannot, by nature, direct or orient ourselves towards the teaching of the cross and the rescue from it. Therefore both the suffering of Christ and his rescue from it are not subject to reason and human wisdom. They can’t rightly judge and evaluate either the cross or the rescue.

Likewise we learn that the teaching of the cross is annoying and burdensome to our old Adam and our flesh, and that reasoning and fleshly men won’t be bothered with it.

Likewise we learn the source of our ignorance, in which we don’t understand the teaching of the cross nor the rescue from it. It comes namely from reason and human wisdom, which are heretics that teach hatred of the cross and despair of human power and help in times of great need.

Likewise we learn the source of our burden and annoyance at the cross. People would much rather have good days than evil ones. They’d rather live and remain in peace and prosperity than have cross and misery. On that account one finds at all times people who regard temporal peace more than eternal blessedness and eternal peace. That’s seen nowadays in our time when, for the sake of temporal prosperity, God’s word and the truth are abandoned, and they cry out with clear voice that one must give way to the time and present needs. Among them he is a wise man who can accommodate religion to the times.

Likewise we learn that, by nature, we don’t know the right way to attain honor in the kingdom of Heaven. It is found in the cross. This ignorance is also a fruit of reason and human wisdom, which teach that one climbs to honor through honor, to power through power, etc. And for such heretics there is nothing more impossible to believe than that in the kingdom of heaven the right way to attain honor is the cross and weakness.

Likewise we learn that the kingdom of heaven is to be distinguished from a temporal kingdom. In the kingdom of heaven, one is great and comes to honor through suffering and death. In the latter, through power and riches.


Erasmus Sarcerius, Eine predigte von Christi und unserem Creutze: Item wie man von Christo dem rechten artzte beiderley gesundheit an leib und seel erlangen sol, trans. David Buchs, (Leipzig: Jacobum Berwald, 1552),