Jesus, the Son of God

On August 24, 2010, in Culture, Reformed Theology, Religion, Theology, by marc

I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to read during lunch at work, and I’ve chosen R.C. Sproul’s new commentary on the Gospel of John (part of his St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary series published by Crossway) as the book I’ll be reading.  Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1, which deals with the prologue of the book (verses 1-18), and specifically addresses Jesus’ claim of divinity:

John by RC Sproul

RC Sproul - St. Andrews's Commentary on John

Sometimes Jesus stated his origins very explicitly.  For instance, He said on one occasion, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).  Likewise, in a discussion about the Jewish patriarch Abraham, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58).  The Jews immediately picked up stones to put him to death because they understood His message–Jesus was equating Himself with God, who had revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14).  Again, when He told a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven, He then healed the man so that, in His words, those who were there would “know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:6).  These were not statements of humility.  They were statements by which Jesus openly declared that He had come from heaven. John’s prologue was intended to accomplish much the same goal–before John gave us his record of the earthly visitation of Jesus, he told us where Jesus was from.

Just a reminder that there is no way to claim that Jesus never saw himself as God.  The reality is that Jesus was either who he said he was, or he was a madman.  I believe the former with all my heart.

John Calvin (1509-1584)

Some time ago, I posted a link to some article or other on my Facebook page that had some relation to the dispute between Protestants and the Roman Catholic communion on the issue of justification.  I can’t remember what the specific article was, or how it addressed the issue, but at some point in the comment banter that followed, one of my Roman Catholic friends (of which I have a few) noted that he wanted a fuller explanation of the Protestant position on justification, as the logic of it escaped him.  I said I would be happy to provide one, thought about how to do so for a few days, and then, in the business of life, the whole thing slipped from my mind.

Back in May, I had the privilege of attending the first RCA Integrity conference at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (here’s a recording of Dr. Mark Dever, our speaker at the conference, speaking on preaching), and I came home with a lot of free books, among them a number from the 9Marks series including What is the Gospel?, which is currently awaiting its turn at the top of my active reading pile of books.  I also left the conference with a renewed desire to get into God’s Word, which is probably more important than the free books.

One of Dr. Dever’s addresses at the conference was his take on what is driving the resurgence of Reformed Theology in America and beyond today.  This was a great lecture, and I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t record it, but I took decent notes and as a result have begun reading one of the men he mentioned as being important to the current revival of Reformed thought, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones.  Thanks to the used book section of Baker Book House, I’m now the proud owner of two volumes of his commentaries on Romans, which cover chapters 3-5 of Paul’s great epistle, the first volume of which I’ve been reading aloud

I’ve also benefitted this week from Baker’s $1 book sale, which is their attempt to clear out some of their old stock—if you want a nice fresh copy of Pat Robertson’s 1988 campaign biography, it’s there—and also to move some of their used material that has been sitting around too long.  Today I picked up a copy of John H. Bratt’s The Rise and Development of Calvinism, which was written by the long-time Calvin College professor back in 1959, at which time my alma mater still took its namesake seriously and remained steadfastly Reformed in outlook and practice.

As I’ve been reading Bratt’s chapter on the life and work of John Calvin, I came across a reference to one of Calvin’s more obscure writings, his Reply to Sadoleto. The Sadoleto referenced in the title is Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto, who—upon Calvin’s departure from Geneva—had written to the leaders of the city in the hopes of winning Geneva back to Rome.  The Council of Geneva promised the Cardinal a reply, and turned to Calvin—then in Germany—to reply.  A significant excerpt can be found here; a sample:

Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto (1477-1547)

Cardinal Sadoleto (1477-1547)

As to the charge of forsaking the Church, which they were wont to bring against me, there is nothing of which my conscience accuses me, unless, indeed, he is to be considered a deserter, who, seeing the soldiers routed and scattered, and abandoning the ranks, raises the leader’s standard, and recalls them to their posts. For thus, O Lord, were all thy servants dispersed, so that they could not, by any possibility, hear the command, but had almost forgotten their leader, and their service, and their military oath. In order to bring them together, when thus scattered, I raised not a foreign standard, but that noble banner of Thine which we must follow, if we would be classed among Thy people. Then I was assailed by those who, when they ought to have kept others in their ranks, had led them astray, and when I determined not to desist, opposed me with violence. On this grievous tumults arose, and the contest blazed and issued in disruption.

With whom the blame rests it is for Thee, O Lord, to decide. Always, both by word and deed, have I protested how eager I was for unity. Mine, however, was a unity of the Church, which should begin with Thee and end in Thee. For as oft as Thou didst recommend to us peace and concord, Thou, at the same time, didst show that Thou wert the only bond for preserving it.

But if I desired to be at peace with those who boasted of being the heads of the Church and pillars of faith, I believed to purchase it with the denial of Thy truth. I thought that anything was to be endured sooner than stoop to such nefarious compact. For Thy Anointed Himself hath declared, that though heaven and earth should be confounded, yet Thy Word must endure forever.

All of this is to say that I remain grateful to God that I have been raised in a tradition that taught me the doctrines of grace, and that in light of what I mentioned at the beginning of the post (and due to the fact that my reading right now is focused on Romans, which contains within it the clearest exposition of said doctrines in all of scripture), I plan to begin what will hopefully turn out to be an occasional series on justification, expounding upon the great Biblical principle of sola fide. So if you’re at all interested, feel free to check in from time to time to see if I’ve made any progress.  Lord willing, I shall.

Psalm 8

On April 29, 2010, in Culture, Religion, Theology, by marc

I was reading this yesterday and decided to work on memorizing it.  I probably did before at some point in my schooling; say, fourth grade or so.  But it’s been so long since I’ve concentrated on memorization of scripture.  I figured, might as well try; goodness knows I have lots of room in my memory for stupid, inconsequential stuff.

Psalm 8

Oh Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise
because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

Oh Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

As I’ve noted before, I’m currently reading through the Bible with a goal of completing it in a year or less.  I started in late December when I picked up my copy of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible, which I’ve found to be a very good reading Bible.  It doesn’t have a full set of footnotes with a more or less verse-by-verse exposition of the scriptures as one gets in, say, the Reformation Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible, but it does contain a lot of additional material highlighting the importance and centrality of stewardship to the Christian life.  For Psalm 8, the SSB contains a quote from the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards:

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

We have shown that the Son of God created the world for this very end, to communicate Himself in an image of his own Excellency… When we behold the light and brightness of the sun, the golden edges of an evening cloud, or the beauteous rainbow, we behold the adumbrations of His glory and goodness, and in the blue sky, of His mildness and gentleness.

One thing that has tripped me up on occasion in this particular Psalm is verse two: “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”  Perhaps the translation is awkward and it sounds more natural in the original Hebrew, but I’ve always wondered what the first part of the sentence has to do with the last part.  Over at Logos.com, they have a commentary available which sheds a bit of light on the connection:

[Verse] 2. So manifest are God’s perfections, that by very weak instruments He conclusively sets forth His praise. Infants are not only wonderful illustrations of God’s power and skill, in their physical constitution, instincts, and early developed intelligence, but also in their spontaneous admiration of God’s works, by which they put to shame—

still—or, silence men who rail and cavil against God. A special illustration of the passage is afforded in Mt 21:16, when our Saviour stilled the cavillers by quoting these words; for the glories with which God invested His incarnate Son, even in His humiliation, constitute a most wonderful display of the perfections of His wisdom, love, and power. In view of the scope of Ps 8:4–8 (see below), this quotation by our Saviour may be regarded as an exposition of the prophetical character of the words.

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We Have No Excuse

On April 6, 2010, in Culture, Reformed Theology, Religion, Theology, by marc

RC Sproul, writing in his commentary on Romans:

RC Sproul - RomansObviously, Freud was not on the Sea of Galilee when the storm arose and threatened to capsize the boat in which Jesus and his disciples were sitting. The disciples were afraid. Jesus was asleep, and so they went to him and shook him awake, and they said, “‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:38-39). There was not a zephyr in the air. You would think the disciples’ gratitude would have led them to say, “Thank you, Jesus, for removing the cause of our fear.” Instead, they became very much afraid. Their fears were intensified, and they said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (v. 41). They were dealing with something transcendent.

Paul outlines the dreadful consequences that fall on a race of people who live by refusing to acknowledge what they know to be true about the character of God.  The result is a futile mind, a blackened heart, and a life of radical corruption.  People are exposed to God’s displeasure so that their only hope is the gospel of his dear Son.

What we see in the disciples is xenophobia, fear of the stranger.  The holiness of Christ was made manifest in that boat, and suddenly the disciples’ fear escalated.  This is where Freud mised the point.  If people are going to invent religion to protect them from the fear of nature, why would they invent a god who is more terrifying than nature itself?  Why would they invent a holy god?  Fallen creatures, when they make idols, do not make holy idols.  We prefer the unholy, the profane, the secular – a god we can control.

Here in Romans the apostle brings us to the place where we have no excuse, where ignorance cannot be claimed, because God has so manifested himself to every creature that every last one of us knows that God exists and that he deserves our honor and thanks and is not to be traded in or swapped for the creature.

I managed to do a bit more reading from the Stewardship Study Bible, and stumbled upon something that really made me think about the nature of humanity.

Oftentimes, we like to think (even as Christian believers) that it would be nice to know for sure that God exists and what his plans and instructions are for us going forward.  Who hasn’t daydreamed about receiving a 3×5 card with written instructions from God on precisely how to proceed with some difficult task, or even things that aren’t really difficult at all?  I certainly have, and I know I’m not alone.  And of course the implication of such thoughts is that if only God would reveal himself to us in such a direct way, all our doubt and uncertainty would be washed away and we would be able to live our lives fully committed to His will and His ways.

Jonah and the Whale

Jonah and the Whale by Pieter Lastman

And yet the Bible gives us a completely different view of the matter.  How many people in the Bible communed directly with God, talked with Him, received direction from Him, only to turn away from Him later?  I touched on this a bit in the previous post, noting the poignancy of Solomon’s eventual straying from his solemn commitment to God at the dedication of the temple.  But my understanding of the gravity of Solomon’s sin was only enhanced through the reading of the beginning of I Kings 9, where the Lord appears to Solomon a second time. Imagine that – God appearing to you and speaking directly to you not once, but twice. One would think that should be enough to keep generations of a family on the straight and narrow.  And God’s instructions to Solomon are nothing if not clear:

“As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws,  I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’

“But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them,  then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples.  And though this temple is now imposing, all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their fathers out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.’ ”

This is not difficult to understand.  And coming directly from the mouth of God to Solomon, one would imagine that it would be unforgettable.  And yet, with the turn of a page, we see Solomon marrying foreign wives and allowing the worship of foreign gods in Israel.  Granted, many years had passed with that page turn.  But still – forgetting the personal, individual instruction of God?

And let us not forget that an entire generation of the nation of Israel enjoyed the physical presence of the incarnated Lord Jesus Christ – God enfleshed – and even that was not enough.  Matthew 12:38-45:

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

In the end, even the resurrection of the Son of God proved inadequate to convince many of the Jewish leaders of the authenticity of Christ’s claims.  If God-in-person wasn’t enough for some to change their ways, the 3×5 card probably wouldn’t make a lot of difference either.

Things are getting away from me here a little bit, so let me see if I can tease any worthwhile nuggets out of these scriptures and my mass of thoughts.

  • I suppose first of all, we must note the depravity of humanity.  The one thing we are able to do more easily than anything else it seems is to ignore God, to dismiss God, to shuttle God off to a corner while we go about our more important work.  Solomon had the opportunity to commune with God with a directness that most of us, if not all of us, will never experience or understand.  The chief work of his life was building a glorious temple for the Lord, a building which still inspires awe to this day in its description.  And yet, with the passage of time, even that was not enough to keep him fully committed to the Lord.  The first century Jews had Jesus, God himself, walking among them.  We all know how that story ended.  We must never underestimate our capability to ignore, deny, hate, and crucify God.  After the Fall, it is an inherent part of our being as humans.
  • With that being said, it is also important to note that while we will never have that 3×5 card from God, Jesus reminds us that what we have from God – His Word – should be enough for us.  I am reminded that God’s word serves as “…a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  A lamp does not flood the entire scene with light; rather it gives enough light to take a step or two, and reveals more territory as one walks along.  We need to live by faith, confident that the God who performed the miraculous deeds for his people in scripture is still the same today, and that “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  For myself, I know that this is a lesson I need to learn and re-learn, again and again, for the rest of my life.
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Bible Reading – Why We Fail

On March 26, 2010, in Culture, Religion, Theology, by marc

We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy. — R.C. Sproul

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A Sunday Reflection

On March 14, 2010, in Theology, by marc
Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Ran across this quote from Charles Spurgeon while browsing at challies.com:

You need not weep because Christ died one-tenth so much as because your sins rendered it necessary that He should die. You need not weep over the crucifixion, but weep over your transgression, for your sins nailed the Redeemer to the accursed tree. To weep over a dying Saviour is to lament the remedy; it were wiser to bewail the disease. To weep over the dying Saviour is to wet the surgeon’s knife with tears; it were better to bewail the spreading polyps which that knife must cut away. To weep over the Lord Jesus as He goes to the cross is to weep over that which is the subject of the highest joy that ever heaven and earth have known; your tears are scarcely needed there; they are unnatural, but a deeper wisdom will make you brush them all away and chant with joy His victory over death and the grave. If we must continue our sad emotions, let us lament that we should have broken the law which He thus painfully vindicated; let us mourn that we should have incurred the penalty which He even to the death was made to endure … O brethren and sisters, this is the reason why we souls weep: because we have broken the divine law and rendered it impossible that we should be saved except Jesus Christ should die.

Christianity and Liberalism

On February 24, 2010, in Reformed Theology, Theology, by marc
J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)

Via Reformation 21, I just discovered that one of the books on my reading list is available as a free pdf download (and there’s audio too, if you prefer) at ReformedAudio.org!  Christianity and Liberalism was J. Gresham Machen’s response to the growing theological liberalism within the Presbyterian Church in America in his time. In the book, Machen demonstrates that theological liberalism is not just a version of Christianity, but is actually a wholly different religion that denies the central claims of the Christian faith.  From the introduction:

The purpose of this book is not to decide the religious issue of the present day, but merely to present the issue as sharply and clearly as possible, in order that the reader may be aided in deciding it for himself. Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time; there are many who prefer to fight their intellectual battles in what Dr. Francis L. Patton has aptly called a “condition of low visibility.”1 Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding. May it not discourage contribution to mission boards? May it not hinder the progress of consolidation, and produce a poor showing in columns of Church statistics? But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end.

More like this in today’s reformed churches, please.