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The Council of Ephesus

Theodosius II convoked the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus to settle a controversy between Nestorius of Constantinople and Cyril of Alexandria.  The debate began over the term theotokos, the Mother of God, but it soon became clear that nothing less than rightly understanding how Jesus is both God and man was at stake.  Yet, as the questionable politics and personal animosities of the council demonstrate, church history is not about triumph leading to triumph, but God preserving His Church and His truth even with fallible men.  Join us for a discussion of the history and theology of the Council of Ephesus.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Episode: 56

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Lent Midweek Sermon Series: 1 Peter 5

In light of coming persecution for the saints in Asia minor, as well as God’s faithfulness in all things (1 Peter 4:12-19), pastors are to watch over the flock of God.  They are to do so with pure motives rather than for personal gain; they are not to do so in a domineering way, but rather as examples.  The difficult labors of this life will not last forever; Jesus will return (1 Peter 4:4).  All—whether pastors or hearers, young or old—should treat each other with humility. 

We should also humble ourselves before God.  He gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34);  saving them, but bringing down the arrogant (Psalm 18:27; Luke 1:52; James 4:10).  Each of us should remember his place as a creature.  Each of us should, in meekness, be mindful of our sin.  None of us should regard himself more highly than he ought (Rom. 12:3)—whether before man, or before the Almighty.  Instead, we should have the same mindset as Christ, who in humility gave himself into death in our place (1 Peter 4:1; Phil. 2:5-7). Pride is a snare of the Devil (1 Tim. 3:6).

Satan prowls looking for prey therefore the Christian should be sober and watchful (Job 1:7; 2:2; Eph. 4:27).  He is a liar and murderer (John 8:44).  We should pray against temptation (Matt. 6:13; Matt. 26:41).  If we resist the Adversary, he will flee; instead we should draw near to God (James 4:7-8; 2 Tim. 2:22). 

Whatever the nature of the temptation—whether persecution for the saints in Asia Minor, or fleshly enticements for us today—no temptation, no testing, lasts forever (1 Peter 5:10; 1 Cor. 10:13).  As the Book draws to a close, we see again one of the first themes of the Epistle: “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).  These trials work for our good and God’s glory (1 Peter 1:6-7; 1 Peter 3:14-17).   

Christ is the cornerstone of the church (1 Peter 2:7).  We are a building for his habitation (1 Peter 2:4-5).  He is the Head of the body, his church (Col. 2:19; Eph. 4:15).  He alone has brought us to God (1 Peter 3:18).  All things have been subjected to him unto all eternity (1 Peter 3:22; 1 Peter 5:11).  His power sustains us to the end, so that we might with him in his glory forever (1 Peter 5:10).

Your Holy One Will Not See Corruption (Psalm 16)

The Psalms are the prayers of the body of Christ. While this is true of all of them, occasionally we have a clear and unambiguous testimony from the Holy Spirit. Peter and Paul both directly connect this Psalm to the passion of Christ. David’s own experience informs this psalm, to be sure, but only in a partial way, just as ours does. Yet Christ fulfills this psalm to the utmost. His own struggle with His enemies has become our own. His trust has become ours. His experience fills up and informs our own, because we are in Him.

Psalm 16 presents some difficulties, but may be divided into three sections: calling on God to deliver (verses 1-4), trust in God who provides (verses 5-8), and a blessing of God (verse 9-11). The exact issue prompting this psalm is not specified. However, since David refers to idolaters and the grave throughout the psalm, it is safe to say that he faces a peril from his enemies which threatens his life. Yet the primary focus of the psalm is not the danger, but the trust in God to deliver, so that even in the grave, God will not abandon His people.

A Miktam of David. Preserve me, God, for I take refuge in you.

You have said to the LORD, You are My Lord. My goodness is not apart from you.

The term “miktam” occurs here and in the titles of Psalms 56 through 60. Like so many of the other terms in the headings of the psalms, its exact meaning is uncertain. Some associate it with another word meaning “gold,” as in Job 28:19. If this is true, a miktam is a “golden psalm,” perhaps signifying its special importance. However, its usage also in Psalms 56-60 shows that we should be cautious of reading too much into such an interpretation. On the other hand, the Septuagint rendered miktam as “inscription,” suggesting that it is suited for use as an epigram. It is equally likely, however, that the term is either a tune name or a form of poetry.

David calls on the Lord to deliver him from trouble. While the first verse is thus straightforward, the next three are the most difficult to interpret in the psalm. The second verse begins “you have said” without specifying the subject. It seems most likely he is speaking to himself or to his soul, so that some translations insert “O my soul” to this verse. Others, following the Septuagint, modify the verb to “I have said,” which is more or less the same idea. God gives the soul, after all, and is its Lord (Ecclesiastes 12:7). All good that we have is also from God, so that apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

To the holy ones who are in the land, they are the mighty ones. All my pleasure is in them.

Translations differ, sometimes widely, on this verses. The Septuagint and the Vulgate render it something like “To the saints who are in his land, he has made wonderful all my [or his] desires in them.” Some older translations like Luther and the King James render it differently: “But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.” Many modern translations are similar to my own. Much of the difficulty comes from an unusual word order and several ellipses.

Following the translation I have given, David associates himself with the godly, especially against the ungodly. Identifying with the body of believers is another way of associating with God. If we group ourselves with the godly, then we are by extension grouping ourselves with the Lord to whom they belong. We are, after all, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). To leave off meeting together is to separate ourselves not only from other believers but also from God (Hebrews 10:25; 1 Corinthians 12:21).

They will multiply their pains. They have acquired another [god]. I will not pour out their libations of blood, and I will not lift up their names on my lips.

This verse can also be difficult, because the subject is not stated. However, since it seems to make little sense to interpret this in terms of the holy ones, David distances himself from the ungodly. Their way is a way of pain and sorrow, because they have sought another god. The verb translated here as “acquired” is identical to another verb meaning “to hasten” or “to run after.” However, as in Exodus 22:15, it can also refer to paying a bridal price. Idolators seek to betroth a false god to them, instead of the Lord who identifies Himself as the Husband of Israel (Hosea 2:16). “Hasten after,” however, carries the same idea, since they are pursuing another god.

Their libations or drink offerings may indeed be of blood, given the depravity of some Canaanite practices, but it is more likely that David means that their offerings are stained with sin (Isaiah 1:15). David also refuses to take up the names of their false gods on his lips. This is not literally avoiding naming them, since the prophets frequently give the names of false gods, but to avoid naming them in a way which shows them honor (Exodus 23:13; Joshua 23:7). There is, after all, no other name than Jesus by which we will be saved (Acts 4:12).

The LORD is the portion of my portion and my cup. You hold my lot.

The measuring lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Indeed, a pleasing inheritance to me.

I will bless the LORD who advises me. Also, by night my kidneys discipline me.

I have set the LORD before me continually. Because [he is] at my right hand, I will not be made to stagger.

Having called on God to deliver, the psalm now confidently turns toward the fulfillment. There is no need to fear those who trouble us, because our inheritance is with God. Like the Levites, our inheritance is God Himself (Numbers 18:20). Indeed, the Lord is called the portion of Israel as a whole, because our hope and confidence is in Him (Jeremiah 10:16; Deuteronomy 32:9). He is our cup, because He is our salvation (Psalm 116:13). He holds our lot, because He has all things in His hand.

The imagery of “measuring lines” here hearkens back to the division of the land in passages like Joshua 17:5, where it is rendered as “portion.” The word itself means a rope or a cord, as in a surveyor staking out property. It is, however, a pleasant place, because the godly one delights in what God has given to him. It is not too small, as the portion of Joseph (Joshua 17:14-17), nor displeasing like the land of Cabul (1 Kings 9:12-13). What comes from God is pleasing, because it is meant for our good (Romans 8:28).

Kidneys in the Old Testament are regarded as the innermost part of man. This is why the word is frequently translated as “heart” in English, since we use the heart to denote the same idea. Since the heart shows the truth of the soul (as Jesus says in places like Matthew 15:34), it “disciplines” in a positive sense by calling to mind the words and promises of God. It is not necessarily a negative thing to be instructed or disciplined, as we often use the word. Rather, just as God counsels us through His Word, so He also calls forth in our memory those same words for our reflection.

Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices. Indeed, my flesh dwells in security.

Glory here is a reference to the tongue, because we glorify God through praising Him with it. David also refers to his tongue in this way in Psalm 57:8, calling on it to awaken with God’s praises. Peter also, when he quotes this psalm in his sermon at Pentecost, renders it as “tongue,” following the Septuagint (Acts 2:26). His flesh or body dwells securely, not in a carnal way, but knowing that God cares also for the body (Matthew 6:25-34).

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol. You will not give your pious one/faithful one to see the pit/corruption.

On the basis of this verse, both Peter and Paul refer to Psalm 16 in direct connection with Christ. The idea is straightforward. David expresses confidence in God, knowing that God will not abandon him even in the grave. He will not cast us off once we have passed into the pit or into corruption. Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26).

Yet, as Peter says to the Jews at Pentecost, this cannot be fully true of David. David, after all, died, and his body fell into corruption (Acts 2:29). Yet Christ Himself fully fulfills this prophecy, because though He died, His body did not see corruption (Acts 2:31). Paul makes the same point to the Jews at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:35-37). Thus, according to the testimony of the Spirit, Psalm 16 only indirectly speaks of David, but directly of Christ Himself.

The word rendered as “pious” or “faithful” can certainly be rendered as “holy,” but it also emphasizes the obedience of Christ. Jesus was obedient even to death on the cross, and thus God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him far above all things (Philippians 2:8-11).

You make known to me the path of life. Fullness of joy is before your face. At your right hand is delight everlasting.

David thus closes this prophecy with joy. In God and in God alone is a joy which knows no end. Because Christ lives, we also will live with Him to glorify Him forever. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Christ is our highest joy. Christ is our everlasting rest and delight. We have no reason to fear anything in this world, because Christ reigns triumphant at the right hand of God, exalted above all earthly things.

First Sunday in Lent: Matthew 4:1-11

The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness following His baptism, but not unwillingly. Nothing happens to Christ without His consent or permission (John 10:18). His temptation in the wilderness also happens because of His choice. The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, and no one will hinder Him from carrying out His mission! One may even say that Jesus deliberately entices the Devil to a contest, because the Devil has no power apart from God’s permissive will (cf. Job 1-2).

Like the scapegoat of old (Leviticus 16:8-10), Jesus begins His work of carrying away our sins immediately following His baptism. Mark relates that He was with the wild animals, away from the domain of men and utterly alone (Mark 1:13). He abstains from all food for forty days, as Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) had done. Moses and Elijah could not do so apart from God, and Jesus’ own fast is a proof of His divinity. Jesus explicitly tells His disciples in John 4:34 that His food is to do His Father’s will, suggesting that He had no need to eat whatsoever. That He eats and becomes hungry is a sign of His humiliation, becoming like us, not by necessity, but by choice.

It is likely that the forty days stand for the forty years during which Israel wandered in the wilderness as a divine punishment, especially since earlier in Matthew, Jesus is explicitly said to fulfill the prophecy of Hosea 11:1. Just as Jesus is the second Adam, being everything that Adam was not, so also is Jesus the greater Israel, faithful where Israel of old was faithless.

The word temptation and its related forms is used in three different ways in Scripture. God may tempt us, as He did with Abraham (Genesis 22:1). Men may tempt God, something which is explicitly forbidden (Deuteronomy 6:16). Satan may also tempt us into sin (1 Corinthians 7:5). What is common to all of these is the idea of testing. To be tempted is not a sin. If it was, Jesus sinned in the wilderness, something which is blasphemous to say (Hebrews 4:15). This test is a kind of proving, attempting to determine the truth or the quality of something. God proves His servant Job through His trials against the accusations of Satan. Thus this temptation, like the temptation of Abraham, is not an invitation to sin. James says that God tempts no one, because the temptation in question there is an enticing to sin (James 1:12-15). Rather, God proves the character of His saints to their praise and to His glory.

Men may not tempt God or put Him to the test, because it calls into question His nature. A man would test God to see whether He is faithful or telling the truth, as the Israelites did at the first Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7). Yet God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind (Numbers 23:19). Satan also tempts man in the same way by presenting opportunities to sin, drawing into question the Word of God (as with Eve in Genesis 3) or by laying before us a trap. Satan tempts Jesus to sin, but Jesus resists him and does not give way. We are also capable, through the work of the Holy Spirit, of resisting temptation. It is only when we assent to it that sin gives birth to death, though this assent is not hard to gain.

Satan is described in three ways within this passage: the “tempter,” the “slanderer,” and the “adversary.” He is the Tempter for reasons noted above. He is the Devil, or the Slanderer, because he seeks to accuse by lies and half-truths (Zechariah 3:1-2). He is the Adversary, because he opposes God and His saints. Satan tempts Jesus out of his desire to be a murderer (John 8:44). He is a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Yet as noted above, Satan should not be understood as God’s opposite. Satan comes into the wilderness because God has permitted it, not because Satan can do so on his own (Job 1:12; Matthew 8:31-32).

The first temptation here is a test of God’s providence. Can God provide something as simple as bread for You in this wilderness, as He did for Israel with the manna? God the Father quoted Psalm 2, “This is my beloved Son,” just forty days earlier or so at Jesus’ baptism. Is that still true? Satan’s question, “If you are the Son of God,” is thus drawing into doubt that pronouncement more than anything else. Yet Jesus rebukes the devil with Scripture, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. God gave Israel manna so that they would learn to trust in Him above all things. It is not a difficult thing for God to provide, even when it seems like it is physically impossible to us. God’s providence is not limited to natural laws, but all things come from His gracious hand (1 Kings 17:14-16; Psalm 145:15-20; 1 Kings 17:4-6, etc.).

The second temptation here is a test of God’s faithfulness. The devil takes Jesus physically to a high point in the city and tells him to throw Himself down, for Psalm 91 says that God will bear you up and keep you from physical harm. Yet this rash action would become a temptation of God, because casting ourselves into danger in order to determine whether God will keep His Word is drawing into doubt His faithfulness. It is an act of faith to trust in God, knowing that He will deliver us, even when things seem hopeless or contrary to our expectations. It is an act of presumption to see whether God will do it in ways that fit our parameters and conditions. Thus, Jesus rebukes the devil with Deuteronomy 6:16, which is perfectly fitting, since the sin of Israel at Massah was the same as the devil’s proposal.

The last temptation here is a test of God’s sovereignty, since it is an invitation to idolatry. Now on a very high mountain, the devil presents to Jesus a vision of the world. He baldly lies and claims the authority to give and take these kingdoms as he pleases. This is God’s possession and perogative, not Satan’s (Psalm 2:8; 22:28; 47:8; 50:10). In exchange for this worldly glory, shown to be as empty as it really is in Satan’s lie, he calls on Christ to worship him as the source of that glory. However, God rules over the world, and all things are under His dominion. He alone is the proper object of worship, because He is the Creator, not a creature. He is the Lord, and glory belongs to Him alone (Isaiah 42:8).

With the words of Deuteronomy 6:13, Jesus sharply rebukes Satan for his pride. Again, these words fit perfectly, because God warned Israel in that portion of Deuteronomy 6 of the dangers of the world. When they come into their inheritance in the land and live in that which God gave them, they must not be enticed to think that such things came by their own power. God rules over all things, and He is the one who gives all things. We must not seek to worship other gods, because such gods are nothing at all and did not bring us out of slavery into the promised land. God alone is our Redeemer, our Provider, and our King.

Let us also take note of two things in this passage. First, Jesus sharply rebukes Satan and commands him to depart. Resisting temptation may indeed involve drastic measures, even to the point of abstaining from something entirely. If something I do leads me or someone else to sin, it is better to not do it at all than to dabble in it in the name of freedom (1 Corinthians 8:13). Second, Jesus rebukes the devil with the Word of God. Our strength is not in ourselves, but in God and His Word. Spending time in that Word is the surest way to resist temptation, because it is our life and our weapon against the devil (Ephesians 6:17). Jesus resists the invitation to sin, because He is sinless, but He shows us the way to resist the devil and his temptations by His example.

Second Sunday in Advent: Luke 21:25-36

Jesus, with the Temple in view, speaks about the coming of the end. Those who marveled at the building regarded it as enduring and noble. They had evidently forgotten that this was no less than the third sanctuary of the Lord. The Lord rejected Shiloh, the tent of the tabernacle, and cast down the temple of Solomon (Jeremiah 7:12-15). Even the foundation of this temple met with grief, since it was the sin of the fathers which had caused the Lord to cast the first one down (Ezra 3:10-13). Putting trust in the building itself missed the point entirely. This temple also would be pulled down, so that one stone would not be left upon another.

The pericope for the Second Sunday in Advent opens in the middle of this prophecy. The world will be in turmoil and confusion on the great and terrible day of the Lord. These signs will be the breaking of the fixed order of the world at the coming of the Son of Man. The nations will be in emotional distress because they will be perplexed, seeing no way out of what is coming upon the world. They will be gripped in the indecision of fear, because of the roaring of the sea and the waves and the breaking of the world. Everything is breaking forth from its appointed boundaries and casting all into confusion. It was God who set the boundaries of the sea (Genesis 1:9-10), commanding its proud waves to stop at His command (Job 38:8-11). The Lord shut its waves in, no matter how much it rages (Jeremiah 5:22), so that it would no more cover the earth (Psalm 104:8-9). But now the old order is passing. The sea threatens to overwhelm all again, because heaven and earth are passing away.

Fear is the only possible response for the godless. They will faint away as though dead, just as the soldiers did at the tomb of Christ (Matthew 28:4) or John did at the vision of Christ (Revelation 1:17). A sense of dread will overtake them, even before the Son of Man appears, because the heavens will rot away and the skies will roll up like a scroll (Isaiah 34:4). They will try to hide, but in vain, because the great day of the wrath of the Lamb has come (Revelation 6:12-17). All the heavens, which seemed so firm and immovable, will be shaken, and nothing will be left upon anything else.

In that hour, they will see Christ, the Son of Man, returning in power and majesty. As the Son of Man, Jesus has dominion over all heaven and earth (Daniel 7:13-14). He will come on the clouds, because they are under His feet. Just as the sky is depicted under the feet of God (Exodus 24:10), so also is the earth His footstool (Isaiah 66:1). Jesus is exalted above all, and all will see Him in the fullness of His glory.

But, Jesus says, lift up your head. Lift your eyes to the hills. The Lord comes as Your Helper (Psalm 121:1-2). Though the believer is in the pit, they can look up to find their deliverance in the coming of the Lord. This is why the return of Christ is a joy for the faithful, even though it is a terror for the ungodly. The Lord sets us free from the waterless pit (Zechariah 9:11-12). In the hour that Jesus judges the living and the dead, He will give justice to His elect speedily (Luke 18:7). All the workers of lawlessness will depart, because all will be set right forever. The violent rhetoric of every imprecatory psalm looks toward this glorious hour, when God will remember every injustice done against His people and bring the due reward of the wicked on their heads. We will rejoice in that hour, because the Lord has not forgotten His people.

Jesus then uses a parable to explain His meaning further. A fig tree bears fruit once or twice a year. The first appearing of its fruit comes in late spring and early summer. When this early fruit appears, it is a sign that the heat of the summer is coming near. Likewise, the signs in sky and sea are a herald of the coming end, not the end itself. The coming winter wind will come and shake the stars from the sky like the late figs from the tree (Revelation 6:13). Thus, these early fruits are the signs of the coming wars and persecutions which Jesus said will come before the end (Luke 21:10-11).

This generation, Jesus says, will not pass away before all these things take place. Generation here does not have to refer to a single group of people in the way we typically use it today. It can also have a broader application, as it does in some of the Psalms and elsewhere (Psalm 14:5; 24:6, for example). Jesus may also be referring to the signs which herald the end, which that specific generation certainly saw before the judgment on Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

However, the key point here is that, even though heaven and earth will pass away and be found no more, the Word of the Lord will never pass away. It is the one enduring and everlasting reality, because it is the Word of the living and eternal Lord. Earth and heaven will perish, but God will remain (Psalm 102:26). The heavens will vanish, and the earth will wear out like a garment, but the salvation of our God will be forever (Isaiah 51:6). Do not put your trust in anything of this world, because they belong to God, and God will destroy them with fire (2 Peter 3:7). But put your trust in the Lord, who is our stronghold in trouble. He will never let the righteous fall (Psalm 55:22).

But watch for that day! If we become bogged down in the anxieties and cares of this world, giving into the works of the flesh, that day will catch us like a thief (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4). Drunkenness and anxiety are the works of those who fear the future, who seek refuge in the things of this world. But that day will come like a trap upon all who are alive. Stay awake! Ask the Father in holy prayer to be counted worthy (or to have strength) to escape. Only through asking, that is, only through prayer will we be found worthy, because prayer relies on God alone. We will stand before the Son of Man on that day because we rely on Him for all things. It will be a fearful day to see the fixed order of the world broken before our eyes, but it will be the last violent pangs of a world reborn through Jesus.

The Majesty of God (Psalm 8)

Glory, majesty, power, dominion—all words used to describe the Lord and His perfect reign on earth. Yet God’s ways are not our ways, and the wisdom of God is foolishness to men (Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 1:20-25). God’s majesty and glory display themselves in unexpected ways. This reality prompts two important questions for the Christian. How and why does the Master of the whole creation take notice of such seemingly insignificant creatures as we? Why do the words of God and our present reality not seem to match up with each other? David addresses both these questions in Psalm 8.

This short psalm is unique in being entirely a direct address to the Lord. While other psalms certainly address God directly, they also speak directly to other men, whether calling on the congregation to praise the Lord for what He has done, calling on the Lord’s enemies to repent, or for some other reason. Therefore, Psalm 8 has the characteristics of a hymn, down to the repetition of the opening at the end as well as its three-part structure.

The very first word of the psalm proper is the divine name: “O Lord, our Lord,” or perhaps more to the point “O Jehovah, our Lord.” By opening and closing this psalm with God’s revealed name, David centers the answers to his questions in that name. God’s name is more than just a way to distinguish Him from others. God’s name expresses both who He is and what He has done. “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples” (Psalm 105:1)! God’s name has the power to save (Acts 4:12).

This name is “majestic” in “all the earth.” The creation itself bears witness to the works of God. Even Paul’s point that God’s perfect witness in the world leaves all without excuse (Romans 1:20) demonstrates that His majesty is not limited to believers. His specific glory is the redemption of His people, but His general glory also flows forth from His work of creation. The world endures because God reigns over it (Psalm 65:9-13). God’s glory, which can also be rendered “cloak” as in 1 Kings 19:13, envelopes everything, even the mighty heavens.

Yet, in the first section of the psalm, David clarifies that this glory does not express itself in expected ways. Though we might associate glory and power with human strength, God casts down the mighty and exalts the lowly. “Out of the mouth of children and infants you have established strength” (Psalm 8:3). Jesus rebukes the chief priests and the scribes with this verse, since they regarded the praise of children as shameful. Having worldly significance means nothing in the eyes of God (1 Samuel 16:7). The strength of children comes from having the name of God on their lips, even when it is lisped or stammered.

This reversal prompts another important question in the second section and which is the key question of the entire psalm. David is evidently out under the night sky, since he mentions the moon and the stars and omits any mention of the sun. Few sights in this creation as the glory of the night sky have the ability to make men feel so small and insignificant. The numberless stars, the brightness of the moon, the limitless arm of our galaxy—all make us ask an important question: “what is mankind that you remember him, and the son of man that you visit him” (Psalm 8:5)?

It is impossible to interpret this Psalm correctly without noting Paul’s words in Hebrews 2:5-9, where he identifies the son of man with the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. Yet I think it is important to note that while this psalm applies specifically to Christ, it also applies generally to the sons of men (a title also applied to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 2:1, etc). In fact, it is the transition from the general application regarding men in general to the specific application in Christ that answers the questions laid out by the Psalm.

Applied generally, then, the third section of this psalm describes the uniqueness of mankind with respect to the rest of creation. Man’s physical insignificance in the face of all that the Lord has created is offset by the Lord’s care and concern for Him. Because of God and God alone, man is what he is. The dominion given in creation does not belong to Adam because of something within him, but stems from God alone (Genesis 1:28). As the child whispering the name of God is stronger than the wicked man in all his worldly strength, so the importance of man stems from God’s words alone. God’s name from beginning to end makes us who we are, even as human beings.

Yet this is precisely the point where the other question comes into the forefront. Judging by our present reality, we no longer exercise the dominion given to Adam, or at least in an extremely fractured way. “Is the wild ox willing to serve you” (Job 39:9-12)? “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord” (Job 41)? Our present reality of sin shows that Psalm 8 is not a song of human triumph. The disparity between its words and our current mourning shows that it must look forward to something else.

This is why Hebrews 2 is so important for interpretation. Christ, the Son of Man, has been made a little lower than the angels. His dominion also awaits its completion, since “we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him” (Hebrews 2:8). But it is in Christ that we see the fulfillment. Jesus is man in the way that man is supposed to be. Adam was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), but Christ is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15). Adam exercised dominion under God (Genesis 1:28), but Christ has dominion under the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-27). In God and God alone, man finds the full expression of who he is as God’s creation.

Therefore, Psalm 8 is not a glorification of man, but of God. Though man seems childish and insignificant in comparison with God’s creation, Christ proves to us that God cares for us. The cross, foolish in the eyes of the world, is God’s visitation among men and the proof that we are His chief concern. Even if our lives seem small and unimportant, we bear the name of God. Bearing that name will mean bearing a cross, so that our experience will be one of weakness and seemingly contrary to God’s promises. Yet as God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The New Man


On this episode we discuss the third of the four states of man: man in Christ. This condition is common to every Christian as we strive to put off the old man and put on the new. Join us to listen to how Christ manifests the true image of the Father and how we are conformed to His image.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 12

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The King of Zion (Psalm 2)

The sovereignty and lordship of God forms the backbone of the entire Psalter.  In the midst of the troubles and uncertainties of life, the Lord reigns as king.  When the righteous seek after God and pray to Him knowing that He will hear, the Lord reigns as king.  No matter the circumstances, the Lord remains firmly in control of all things.  Psalm 2, therefore, may be considered as a second introduction to the whole book, because it powerfully introduces this recurring and important theme.

This Psalm may be divided into four sections with three verses each.  In such a division, the Psalm moves in a clear thought pattern:  (1) the nations conspire against the Lord and His anointed king; (2) the Lord establishes this king nevertheless; (3) this king reigns victorious over his enemies; and (4) the nations should repent and submit to the king.  This pattern also gravitates toward the middle, where the focus is on the coronation.  The Lord establishes the reign of this king, and he reigns triumphant for this reason.

In the first section, therefore, the Psalmist describes the conspiracy of the nations.  They are “restless,” a word used only here in the Old Testament, and the peoples “plot in vain.”  As noted in the study on Psalm 1, this word translated as “plot” means something like “muttering.”  The righteous man in Psalm 1 mutters the Word as he focuses on it.  The wicked here mutter among themselves as they seek to cast off this king from ruling over them.  Yet they are not merely muttering against the Lord’s anointed king, but also against the Lord Himself.  As Moses told the Israelites who complained:  “Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord” (Exodus 16:8).  To grumble against those whom the Lord establishes is to also grumble against the Lord who established them in the first place.

However, the Lord responds to their muttering with laughter.  This is not the laughter of happiness, but the laughter of derision.  The Lord laughs at the wicked who conspire against Him because they imagine that they can actually fight against what the Lord establishes.  In His burning anger, the Lord will make the conspirators flee in a panic.  They will not be able to accomplish what they desire, because what the Lord causes to happen will happen without question.  The Lord sets His king, more literally “pours out,” likely in an act of consecration.  Zion, the holy hill of the temple, also shows that this consecration is not merely a worldly event.  The Lord establishes this king in the very place of His presence, for Zion is holy because the Lord is there.

Out of all of the sections of this Psalm, the third section most clearly reveals the identity of this king.  The Lord says to this king, “You are My son, this day I have fathered you.”  Few other Psalms are quoted as often as this one in the New Testament.  It is cited directly in Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, and 5:5, all in reference to Christ.  The Gospel writers also allude to it at key moments within the earthly ministry of Christ, notably His Baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22) and His Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35).  Jesus reigns as king in Zion even in the midst of His enemies, all of whom will finally be placed under His feet.  His judgment against them means the destruction of those who oppose Him, shattering them like a pot.  Every knee will bow at the name of Jesus (Philippians 2:10-11), whether to their shame or to their joy.  Establishing the kingdom of God is as much about extending who belongs to that kingdom as rendering justice on those who do not.

Additionally, the promise of the nations as inheritance and the “ends of the earth” as property show that this is not an ordinary king.  Even apart from the clear testimony of the New Testament, this passage alone shows that a greater than Solomon is here.  Solomon’s kingdom had definite, if expansive, borders (1 Kings 4:21).  He ruled over the earthly kingdom in its greatest extent, but even he could not claim to rule over all the nations.  This is not hyperbole, either.  Christ reigns and will reign over all the nations of the earth, because He is the King of Kings without peer or rival.

The final section of the Psalm exhorts the same nations to submit to the king.  Kings and judges of the earth, the heads of the nations, should gain insight.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10).  Serving this king means walking in the way of the Lord.  Yet this service and joy comes with fear and trembling, because the fear of the Lord means fearing Him who can cast both body and soul into hell (Matthew 10:28).  Christ will return as judge, and the coming wrath means that the wicked will perish.  But Christ is also our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Those who fear Him as their King fear no man because Jesus is their Savior.

Christians can pray this Psalm confidently as a testimony to the kingship of God.  Even when the enemies of God seek to overwhelm, they are not able to overturn anything which the Lord does.  Further, just as this Psalm centers on the coronation of the king, so also the coronation of Christ, so prominent a theme in the New Testament, comforts us.  His reign as king means not only that He is in control, but also that there will be justice for His people.

Palm Sunday: Philippians 2:5-11

Philippi brought much joy through much sorrow to Paul.  While it seems that Paul passed through this Macedonian city on several occasions, on his first visit, he proclaimed the Gospel to the wealthy Lydia, who was baptized with her whole household (Acts 16:11-15).  Yet this joyful event soon met with trouble, for when Paul exorcised the demon possessing a slave girl, he and Silas suffered at the hands of Gentiles and were thrown into prison (Acts 16:16-24).  Even here, however, in the midst of suffering within the prison, the Lord in His providence brought the jailer to faith.  After he and his household were baptized, Paul and Silas left the city (Acts 16:25-40).

Years later, however, when Paul had been imprisoned, the saints at Philippi, who may have still included those who first believed when Paul was in the city, sent him a gift by the hand of Epaphroditus (Philippians 4:14-20).  Having heard of Paul’s situation, they sought to do what they could to support him, even though they could not free him.  Such a gift, as Paul said, was not as important in terms of the gift itself.  After all, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), by which Paul means that no matter the circumstances—poor or rich, hungry or sated, and so forth—Christ remains as our goal.  But the “fruit that increases to your credit” is a “fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God,” because the gift is a sign of the living faith that sent it. Paul desired that that gift—the faith which they had—would abound more and more, and this is the primary concern of his letter.

The primary concern for Paul seems to be disunity or at least the potential for disunity within the Philippian church.  Paul, after all, calls for them to “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2).  The letter, however, exudes joy and rejoicing, and there is no clear indication of a clear rebuke as in his other letters.  His exhortation to unity, therefore, seems to be one applicable to the Church in every situation rather than in explicit division.  To be a part of the Church is to have the mind of Christ, and such a mind exhibits itself in Spirit-given unity.

Paul presents Christ as a clear example to the Philippians for imitation.  Christ, who “was in the form of God,” emptied himself and became like one of us when He was born of the Virgin Mary.  He who had far more right than any of us for being exalted above others, since He is God Himself, chose instead to lower Himself for us men and for our salvation.  Because of this, the Father now exalts His name far above all names, because Christ won our salvation.

One thing that I think we need to be careful about, however, is how we understand Christ’s obedience and humbling.  Obedience is not the same thing as being a push-over.  Conformity to the will of God does not mean obliterating our will and filling it with the will of God.  Obedience to God for us means a renewal of the will.  Christ was not an automaton, but the perfectly willing Son of the Father, because they were of one mind.  If we understand Christ’s humility as getting pushed around, then many of His actions, like entering Jerusalem publicly as a king, make no sense.  But when we understand the humility of Christ as part of His willing obedience to the will of the Father, then there is no contradiction.  Christ is the King who desires to take up the cross, because it is the will of God to redeem man through the Lamb of God.

Christians should not interpret being of one mind, therefore, as meaning self-obliteration either.  Rather, conformity to the will of God means that the whole man, including the will, follows after Christ.  The righteous man desires what God desires, because he walks the same way that God is walking.  Therefore, the whole Church also has one mind in Christ Jesus, because she desires what her Lord desires.

Third Sunday in Lent: Ephesians 5:1-9

Paul exhorts the Ephesians to “be imitators of God” and to “walk in love,” because that is fitting for those who are beloved children of the Lord.  Christ first loved us and offered Himself up on our behalf, “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).  Yet as Christ Himself is a pleasing odor, so also Christians, being in Christ, are called to be a pleasing aroma to God.  This seems to be the guiding thought behind the epistle lesson for today.

Following the flood, Noah offered up some of every clean animal which was with him on the ark, and “when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma,” He inwardly promises never to curse the ground again on account of sin (Genesis 8:21-22).  Yet the odor of sacrifice is not pleasing for its own sake.  “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them” (Amos 5:21-24).  “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me” (Isaiah 1:11-15).  For the smell to be pleasing to the Lord, the one offering it must be acceptible in His sight, fit for His worship.  Christ alone is without any blemish or spot, the perfect lamb offered up to the Father for the sake of sinful men.  Christians, then, being in Christ, have been made fit for His worship, clean in His sight, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The burnt offerings of Leviticus 1 waft up a pleasing aroma to the Lord, but the shedding of blood points to the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 10).  Such an aroma properly belongs to Christ alone, since through Christ we have been reconciled to God.  The grain offerings of Leviticus 2, on the other hand, also waft up a pleasing aroma to the Lord, but for a different reason.  Grain offerings involve no shedding of blood, and therefore are not meant as forgiveness, but rather as thanksgiving.  Only one who has already been made fit for the worship of God, ceremonially clean, is able to offer such a sacrifice to Him.

Salt formed an important part of such sacrifices.  Leviticus 2:13 states that “you shall season all your grain offerings with salt.  You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.”  Within the context of the New Testament, therefore, salt shows the purpose of grain offerings within the Christian life.  Christ tells us to “have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).  Paul also exhorts the Colossians to “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).  If our speech and conduct is to be salted, then they form our spiritual sacrifice to the Lord, which Pauls says in Romans 12:1 and Peter says in 1 Peter 2:5.

If our speech and conduct are the substance of our spiritual sacrifice to the Lord, then it also follows that such sacrifice, like the sacrifices of old, should be without blemish or spot.  Offering lame or blind or sick animals, for example, is offensive to God (Malachi 1:8).  More specifically with regard to grain offerings, leaven or honey rendered them unfit (Leviticus 2:11).  A little leaven, after all, leavens the whole lump (Galatians 5:9; see also 1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

Participating in sin blemishes the spiritual sacrifice and renders it unfit for God.  Yet Paul emphasizes that even speaking of such things are not fitting for a Christian for the same reason.  Paul rebukes such things, as is fitting, but to season our spiritual sacrifice with leaven is decidedly dangerous.  Leaven, having leavened the whole lump, renders one not only unfit for worship, but outside of the inheritance altogether.  To use a different metaphor, it is far better to resist sin being planted in the first place than to attempt to cut down the plant when it is in full bloom!

It must be remembered, of course, that even within the context of the old sacrificial system, only those who have been made fit for the worship of God were able to come into His presence.  Christ offered Himself up for us and made us to be His own through the shedding of His blood.  The Holy Spirit changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.  Only through the working of the Holy Spirit are we able to resist sin at all.  Yet seasoning our sacrifice with yeast rather than salt seems tantamount to tempting the Holy Spirit.  Paul says later in this chapter:  “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret” (Ephesians 5:11-12).  Speaking of such things in a way that does not rebuke them as darkness is akin to participating in them.  “For what fellowship has light with darkness” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)?  Christians must resist the temptation of sin even in its earliest stages, because Christ has made us to be His own, even while we were still His enemies.