Category Archives: Theological Thoughts

Herod the Fox, Jesus the Hen, and the Exodus: Lectionary, Luke 13:31-35

In these few verses in St. Luke, the writer plays on the animal vocabulary to describe two opposing groups. In the process it also echoes the exodus motif.

In this text, Herod is described as a fox. A fox is known for its cunning and deceitful ways. Herod wants Jesus out of his way. As N.T. Wright observes, “Herod is a predator.” The Pharisees come along and ask Jesus to flee the fox and exodus from the town. On the other hand, Jesus describes his purpose in gathering Israel to a hen protecting her own.

Herod wants to kick Jesus out and Jesus wants to kick demons out (exorcism). Jesus wants to gather his brood, but they will not listen. They do not want Jesus’ hen-like protection, and so they will suffer destruction. Their home will be left desolate. The glory will exodus from Israel’s temple. Jesus will journey out of the region, so that He may depart to Jerusalem. Finally, Jesus will work on day one and two, but on the third day He will depart and cry It is finished.

Authority of Word and Miracles

Arthur Just makes the simple observation that ἐξουσίᾳ (authority) is used in Luke 4:32 and 4:36. The first connects Jesus’ authority with his words/teaching and the second connects it with his miracles. Jesus’ words cannot be separated from his miracles. The Word of the Lord does not return void. His Word changes the natural composition of the world every time it is proclaimed. His Word cuts asunder; performs divine surgery on frail men who is then put back together in a profoundly whole and restored fashion. The Word of God is nothing short of miraculous.

When was James Written?

Mark Horne makes a brief assessment as to why James was written before the death and resurrection of Jesus. He notes:

Name any other “New Testament” epistle that encourages believers to endure through suffering without mentioning the death and resurrection of Jesus as a past event that should give them encouragement and hope.

There aren’t any.

The Abuse of Introspection

Some people dwell so much on their sinfulness that they find themselves constantly bombarding their status with doubt. Am I really a Christian? Am I worthy? These questions are not atypical of those who grow up in environments where internalized Christianity is emphasized. There is a healthy form of self-examination and Paul informs Pastors (II Corinthians 13:5) to encourage parishioners to examine themselves. At the same time, there is a difference between self-examination and introspection that is not often considered.

It is worth mentioning that God cares about our hearts. Out of it can flow the waters of destruction or waters of peace (Ps. 42). The repentant psalmist cries that God would create in him a clean heart, and that God would restore the joy of his salvation. Here again it is important to notice that this salvation has a face, a joyful one.

Martyn-Lloyd Jones wrote that a depressed Christian is not a good apologetic for Christianity. Whether there are physiological components at the root of this depression or not, it is still not a good presentation of the Christian faith. Depression is a form of despising God’s gifts and goodness. All of us are prone to it, and all of us must fight it. Schmemann once wrote that “Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.” Joy is not forced, rather it is the natural outflow of a heart saturated with grace.

But aren’t we all sinners in need of repentance? While Simul Iustus et Peccator is true, we can over-stress the clarity of our sinfulness. I am aware of pastors who declare with great boldness the sinfulness of men without declaring with great boldness the sublime fact of the justification of men through the act of the ascended Messiah. This latter part seems to be missing in our day. The doctrine of total depravity has had the effect of depriving many Christians from a life of common joy lived in the presence of the One who has become our joy. While stressing man’s condition as sinful is important, an over-use of this hermeneutical tactic can lead men and women to live lives of doubt and insecurity.

While we invest time in our spiritual journeys to reflect and examine our lives, and to see if there are any wicked way in our thoughts and actions, we must invest an even greater time nourishing the spiritual magnitude of our status before God. When we live our lives in a constant environment of self-mortification we will mortify not only our flesh, but also our joy.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes in his insightful Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures that “we cross the line from self-examination to introspection when, in a sense, we do nothing but examine ourselves, and when such self-examination becomes the main and chief end in our life (17).” When the chief end of man becomes self-examination there will always be a temptation to morbidity and spiritual depression. By constantly “putting our souls on a plate and dissecting it” we are showing the world a severe level of insecurity in our union with the reigning and risen Lord.

There are vast implications for all of this. Two examples will suffice to make this point:

First, introspective people–as I hinted earlier–rarely find time for others’ needs.  They have the immensity of their own depraved heart to occupy themselves. I have seen this played out throughout the years and, in fact, I speak from experience. When one delves deeply routinely into the many conspiracies of the heart he will sink in them. The heart is deceitful above all things, even deceiving us to think we only need to dwell in it.  The pastor may encourage his people to examine whether they are loving, desiring, and pursuing God as they should. But if this is the theme of his preaching and pastoral ministry he is building a congregation of morbid purists. This is why–I argue–there is legitimacy to those who call us to look to Jesus (Heb. 12:2). But generally when some call us to look to Jesus, they are in fact calling us to look back to our hearts to see whether we are looking to Jesus. Again, this is problematic and only exacerbating the problem. We do not look to Jesus as a lucky-charm, rather we look to Jesus because we reflect his glory and righteousness. Those who are united to Jesus become like Jesus. Those who worship Jesus become like Jesus. We look to Jesus, so that we move from self-examination to living out our faith with joy, peace, and abundant satisfaction (Ps. 16:11).

Ultimately, introspection is deadly. It is not surprising, then, to see those who walk about with defeatist spirits sporting their defeatist introspective theology.

Secondly, this motif plays out in the Eucharistic life of a church. At this point, I criticize even my own Reformed tradition. Though strongly committed to Reformed truth I am also aware that instead of producing joyful Christians, our tradition produces an army of introspective experts.

This is seen most clearly in the Reformed liturgy. Some churches justify their monthly or quarterly communion by stating that the congregation needs a week or more to examine themselves for the day (usually Sunday evening) of the Lord’s Supper. But what kind of vision are we perpetuating for our people? That the Lord’s Supper depends on our worthiness? That the Supper demands an environment of perfected introspection? That the Supper and somberness are part of the same context?

It is my contention that until we are able to undo the decisively introspective evangelical culture we are going to provide ammunition to non-Christians. We must recover a healthy self-examination, but also a redemptive display of over-abundant joy.

Knowledge and Creation

Here is a brief summary of my argument in a lengthy exchange with a few friends on facebook.

First, God is all wise. Wisdom and knowledge come from him.

Second, this knowledge is dispensed in creation. Adam may have had the germ of knowledge at his creation, at the naming of animals, etc., but he lacked the true knowledge intended for every adopted Son of God.

Third, as Peter Leithart observes: ”

It was “not good” for Adam to be alone. But he wasn’t alone.  He was alone with God. But God judged that “alone with God” was “not good.”  Adam’s state became fully good only when another person joined him.

Truly, knowledge and completeness did not come until Adam was joined by another “likeness.” Another image-bearer is necessary, so that knowledge and a true humanity can function.

Fourth, this knowledge is grounded in the community of God. The God who is Three and One is not satisfied with isolation.

Finally, creation is the starting point of knowledge. To assume knowledge existed prior to the creation of woman is to imply knowledge can exist separated from other image-bearers. It is to make knowledge independent of response.

Ascension Sunday: Singing in the Reign, Luke 24:44-53

People of God, we are taking a short hiatus from our I Corinthians 15 study to concentrate on a few significant markers in our Church Calendar. This day we are going to delve into the Ascension of Jesus Christ.

I—like so many of you—did not grow up in a Church that had a Church Calendar. And I remember always wondering why was there no emphasis on the Resurrection or the Ascension or the Trinity. It was a great relief to me to realize that the Church did emphasize these truths continually, and every year.

One of the great advantages of following the liturgical calendar is that your life becomes centered on Jesus Christ. Your entire year is surrounded by the events that define us as a people. Our children will never have to wonder what the gospel is because they will hear it and see it week by week, year after year.

But another significant point about the Church Calendar is that it explains the mission of the Church. The Pentecost Season, which begins next week, celebrates the pouring out of the Spirit of God upon an infant church in the first century, but then we see this infant Church growing up into maturity and wisdom. This liturgical model is precisely what we see in Luke’s account this morning. We see today the Ascension of our Lord–when Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father. That’s the first part of the story. The other half of the story continues in Acts where we see the beginning of the Church’s labor in proclaiming the gospel of Christ and conquering the world through the power of resurrection. So, if someone were to ask: “What is this Church Calendar about?” You could say that the Calendar has two parts: First, Our calendar begins with the expectation of the birth of our Lord to His going up as the ascended and ruling King. Today, we conclude part one of the Church Calendar. The Second Part of the Church Calendar focuses on the mission of the Church from Pentecost to the gospel of Jesus spreading throughout all the nations of the earth.[1] We are going to inaugurate this season next Sunday when we all wear red to symbolize that God has poured his holy fire upon us, and made us equipped to proclaim his kingdom to the world.

Liturgically, Ascension is a joyous event. It is a continuation of what started at the Resurrection. In fact, we are called to be defined by this joy.

Alexander Schmemann once wrote:

“The Church was victorious over the world through joyand she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”[2] Continue reading Ascension Sunday: Singing in the Reign, Luke 24:44-53

Ascension and Jesus’ Humanity

Matt O’Reilly directed my attention to a great new work by Gerrit Scott Dawson entitled Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing IncarnationIn the work he describes Jesus’ continual humanity at the right hand of the Father:

“If he dropped the hypostatic union with humanity, then he dropped us, and we are left forsaken on this side of the great divide, unable to fulfill our purpose, find forgiveness and restored communion, or enact our mission” (6).

He elaborates on the continuation of Jesus’ incarnation:

“A human hand will grasp us as we make our way into heaven. We shall be greeted by a face – the face of Jesus – that has a form to recognize. The incarnation continues, and so we are included in the life of God. That is the essential meaning of the ascension. We are not left alone. Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity. Jesus is himself that new and living way. The fully human one has gone within the veil in our name and even in our skin. United to him by the Spirit, to the one who remains united to us, we may follow where he has gone” (7).”

This Sunday, our congregation, together with many others in the world, will celebrate the Ascension. The Ascension is not just another event in the life of Jesus, but the fundamental declaration that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to the God/Man who sits at the right hand of the Father.

Ascension Sunday, Brief Thoughts

The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord this Thursday. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday.

The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. However, it is biblically necessary to establish the eternal reign of Jesus over earth and heaven. In fact, the Ascension is to be viewed through the eyes of vindication. Though the Resurrection unlocks the events of history, the Ascension begins to put victory in concrete terms. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension the call to baptize and disciple would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ right-hand seat next to the Father, that we–image-bearers–can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory. This glory charges us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:

“The Church was victorious over the world through joyand she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.[1]

[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased