All posts by John

Christian saved by grace through faith.

Standing on the Promises of God

 

Hebrews chapter 11 has long been considered the Hall of Faith for saints, particularly those who were in the Old Testament, but there is much more going on.  Yes, attention is drawn to the lives of saints as examples in our day (see also Heb. 13:7), and yes this chapter is collectively a model of encouragement for the perseverance of the saints, but perhaps more than all of this is that the central figure in this Hall of Faith is not Abraham or Moses, but God Himself, most notably through His faithfulness to His promises in the lives of His children.

The concept of promise is not new to Hebrews as we reach this 11th chapter, rather it has been an underlying theme throughout the book, particularly since the 6th chapter where the promise and oath of God was rooted and grounded in His inability to lie and His own justice (see also Heb. 4:1).  Promises emerge in Hebrews 11 out of two statements made in chapter 10, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” and “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” from 10:23 and 10:36 respectively, each of which serve as an introduction to our chapter under discussion.

Building on this, chapter 11 picks up the promise motif in 11:9 with the mention of Abraham – and the land of promise, Isaac and Jacob – the heirs of the promises, and the promise of God to Abraham and Sarah for the blessed seed.  With is in mind, four additional mentions of promises in this chapter serve to highlight the foundation of God’s faithfulness.

The first occurs in Heb. 11:13, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

The second occurs in Heb. 11:17, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son…”

The third occurs in Heb. 11:33, “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises”

The fourth occurs in Heb. 11:39-40 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

In over-viewing the promises above, we find a bit of a conflict, a dichotomy of sorts.  On the one hand, in verse 13 we read a summary statement of the saints listed up to this point who died having NOT received the things promised.  Instead, they saw them and greeted them from afar.  Next we read that Abraham DID receive the promises, followed by another summary statement in verse 33 that these obtained promises.  Finally, we read the section summary which states that all of these did NOT receive what was promised.  So which is it?  Did they receive the promises or not?  And what are the promises?

In order to solve this mystery we need to remember that the major theme of Hebrews is to highlight the lesser, of the Old Covenant, over against the greater, of the New Covenant.  Simply put, those described in this chapter did receive the promises of God by faith, each in their individual contexts, as we read.  But these promises were only shadows, not the substance.  While they were very real promises and very real exercises of faith that received these promises, nevertheless there was a greater promise to come through the person and work of Jesus Christ.  By means of His incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and now intercession at the right hand of the Father as the King-Priest after the order of Melchizedek, our Lord has instituted His New Covenant, not creating division between the saints of old and saints of new, but unifying them as one people, one flock, with One Shepherd.  Therefore, while the saints of old, those highlighted in chapter 11 of Hebrews, did indeed receive the promises of God, there was a greater fulfillment of these promises to come, in Christ, that they did not receive in their lifetime.

In Hebrews 11 not only do we see the faith of the saints on display, with no mention of their failures we might add, and not only do we see their perseverance unto death, but we find a magnificent display of the faithfulness of God in the lives of His children.  With the evidence of His faithfulness held up in fulfilling the lesser promises, we can be sure that He will continue to be faithful with the greater promises that have now come through His Son Jesus Christ.  Let us then, as our brothers and sisters before us, by faith, stand firm on the promises of God.

 

Standing on the promises of Christ my King
Through eternal ages let his praises ring
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing
Standing on the promises of God
Standing, standing
Standing on the promises of God my Savior
Standing, standing
I’m standing on the promises of God
Standing on the promises, I cannot fall
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all
Standing on the promises of God
Standing, standing
Standing on the promises of Christ my Savior
Standing, standing
I’m standing on the promises of God
– Russell Kelso Carter 1886

The Heart’s Gauge

 

During our Lord’s earthly ministry, He repeatedly pressed upon His disciples, and those who heard Him speak, that the heart and affections must be set upon heavenly, spiritual, godly things, indeed upon God Himself, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Desiring to convey both what he heard and saw from His Lord, the Apostle John provides this sentiment of proper desires in chapter 2 of his first epistle.

There are two major sections that lead into our passage under consideration in this post.  The first occurs in 1 John 2:3-6 in which the Apostle outlines the requirement of obedience to God’s commands as evidence for coming to know God.  Rather than leaving it as heartless duty, he intertwines it with love, “whoever keeps His word, in Him truly the love of God is perfected.”  With that statement he paves the road for our second passage, 1 John 2:7-11 which builds upon this concept of love.  Notably, John introduces love as a commandment, not a new commandment, but an old one, but not really an old one because it is new in Christ.  By weaving together love and obedience, John most definitely recalls the words of Christ from John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

But also our Lord’s words from John 14:15,  If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” As well as His words from John 15:9-14

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

With this context in mind, providing our framework for understanding what the Apostle is aiming for in this chapter, we arrive at the passage under our consideration

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:15-17

Love continues to be the theme in this section of chapter two, though stated negatively, do not love, or we might even say dislike, or perhaps even more strongly stated, hate the world and the things of the world.  Said this way, we should be compelled to ask, what does John’s use of world here mean?  Surely not the created order that God made as recorded in Genesis?  Surely he doesn’t mean hate trees, and squirrels, and the sun?  Before unpacking this further, notice that John places a qualification on loving the world, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  As has been typical throughout the book, there is no room for gray area here.  Love the world, then the love of the Father is not in you.  Love the Father, obey His commandments, and love the brethren, then it is incompatible to love the world.

Here we are in need of further defining the use and meaning of world.  Thankfully, this is done for us in the verse that follows

  • the desires of the flesh
  • the desires of the eyes
  • the pride of life (or pride in possessions)

Puritan Matthew Henry sheds light upon the meaning of these three phrases when he writes, “The things of the world are classed according to the three ruling inclinations of depraved nature. 1. The lust of the flesh, of the body: wrong desires of the heart, the appetite of indulging all things that excite and inflame sensual pleasures. 2. The lust of the eyes: the eyes are delighted with riches and rich possessions; this is the lust of covetousness. 3. The pride of life: a vain man craves the grandeur and pomp of a vain-glorious life; this includes thirst after honour and applause. The things of the world quickly fade and die away; desire itself will ere long fail and cease, but holy affection is not like the lust that passes away.”

In our passage we are exhorted, or better commanded, to not love the world or the things of the world.  This was preceded by a test of our affections for God and a delight in the duty of obedience.  The issue under our consideration is where do our affections lie?  We ought to consistently, even daily, consider the gauge of our hearts to determine whether it is inclined towards loving the things of the world, or whether it is inclined towards loving God, obeying Him, and loving others.  It isn’t a matter of legalistic do’s and don’ts.  It is a matter of desire, at the heart level, of where the affections of our heart rest.  That is the genuine test of a Christian and it is one that we need to apply to ourselves on a regular basis.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Check Engine Light of Worship – Part 3

 

In our study of the doctrine of the church, or ecclesiology, we have come to narrow our focus upon the practices that occur when believers gather in the name of Christ, usually referred to as worship.  A specific area of worship towards which we have drawn our attention is the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  This particular practice, because of its universality, but also because of its widespread differences, is a particularly good litmus test for the evidence of Scriptural authority, not only in matters of faith, but in practice as believer’s gather together.

In this particular series we have been looking at the key text often recited during observances of the Lord’s Supper, namely 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.  In the first post, we outlined the passage as follows:

  1. A Statement of the Problem (11:17-22)
  2. An Appeal to Christ’s Institution of the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26)
  3. Rebuke (11:27-32)
  4. Exhortation (11:33-34)

In that post, we noted that the Apostle Paul was addressing a particular error in the practice of observing the Lord’s Supper that the young church (ekklesia) at Corinth had fallen into.  Recall that the context for his rebuke was a meal, a common meal, perhaps the agape or love feasts that had become a frequent occasion in the early Christian gatherings (see Jude 1:12).  However, these meals had become opportunities for gluttony and excess for the haves and further deprivation for the have nots.  Rather than having all things in common and sharing a meal, or waiting on everyone to arrive, some of the believers in Corinth were seeing these love feasts as an opportunity to indulge.

In the second post we noted the context of the inception of the Lord’s Supper by indicating that it occurred on the night that Jesus was betrayed, which coincided with their own observance of Passover.  Additionally, we saw that Jesus commanded that this observance take place, as often as you do this and that this practice was to continue until His return.

In this post, we will begin with an examination of the institution of the Lord’s Supper by returning to the night that it began, and continue the focus of it coinciding with Passover.  In doing so, let’s return to the Gospels, particularly Luke’s account, where  we read the following

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

Above we have the full context for the institution of the Lord’s Supper according to Luke’s account (please read and compare the other Synoptic gospel accounts).  Harmonizing what we read and concluded from 1 Corinthians with our passage here, we indeed find that on the night he was betrayed was also the night of Passover.  There is some debate as to whether this occurred on our current Wednesday night, which using the Jewish day/night schedule would have been their Thursday (14 Nissan), the official day of Passover, or whether this occurred on our current Thursday night, but that discussion for another day.  

That aside, we find that Jesus instructed His disciples to make preparations for Passover; prophesied about the location of Passover; desired to eat the Passover, which was a reference to the meal they were about to share; prophesied yet again of His own suffering, which He linked with the Passover; then declares that He will one day participate in the Passover again, when He comes into His kingdom; and finally, we see a reference to the particular components of the Passover, which the mention of the cup, after, they had eaten supper, and the bread, unleavened as per the instructions in Exodus 12, each providing for us the elements in which they observed the Lord’s Supper as an actual Passover meal. 

That said, it is the last statement of our Lord’s regarding Passover that is significant because it speaks to the perpetuity of Passover.  Not only does He state His desire to celebrate Passover with His disciples, in which He associates His own body and blood with the elements of the bread and fruit of the vine in one of the cups, but He indicates that there will be another day to come when He will partake of Passover again, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God”  The ‘it’ in this verse refers to Passover (it is the nearest antecedent).  

As a noteworthy point here, Jesus doesn’t even refer to this meal as “The Lord’s Supper” but as Passover, the annual Jewish feast of remembrance of the rapid Israelite exodus from Egypt, specifically marked by the Spirit passing over the houses of the firstborn who had placed the shed blood of a lamb on their doorposts.  Passover was to be observed annually when the Israelite’s reached the Promised Land.  It’s institution can be found in Exodus 12:1-28; 43-51.  In addition to serving as a reminder of God’s redemption and salvation, it served as evidence of a present participation in the covenant with the Lord.  One final point is that the Passover was clearly anticipatory, or that it looked forward to the death of Christ and the passing over, by the wrath of God, of those who have been covered by His shed blood (propitiation).  These past, present, and future elements of Passover is not to the neglect of the typological aspects, which sees Christ as the Greater Passover Lamb (John 1 and 1 Cor. 5) and the culmination of the Old Testament priesthood, sacrifices, and covenant practices (see Hebrews).   

Following the order of the Passover, our Lord proceeds into the meal and assigns New Covenant symbolism to the elements of the supper as seen with the reference to the cup filled with the fruit of the vine, and also to the unleavened bread, representing his blood and body respectively.  As a side note, do any of the Gospel accounts refer to the substance in the cup as wine?  Or do they all correspondingly refer to it as the fruit of the vine? The Greek word for wine, oinos, was available and widely used throughout the Gospels, but not here. Though historically a cause for debate and a call-to-arms, it’s an unnecessary point of contention and one that is not focused on the central issue at hand.

The significance of this institution of the Lord’s Supper occurring on Passover is not trivial.  Our Lord takes all of the history, meaning, symbolism, even typology of the Old Covenant, which reaches its zenith with the Passover celebration, and brings it to the threshold of the New Covenant.  In this sense, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a touchstone of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants.  Has that point been brought out during modern observances of the Lord’s Supper?  Hardly, if ever, because we completely ignore that this occurred on Passover and disconnect the New Covenant meal from the Old Covenant meal.  The practical ramifications of this are that it makes us as best, modern Dispensationalists and at worst, guilty of a Marcionite view of the Lord’s Supper (one that disregards the Old in favor of the New), not to mention the danger of falling into the same category error as the first century Corinthians, that of failing to correctly observe the meal and assign it the historical significance that it demands.  We will re-examine this again in a subsequent post.

Returning to our questions raised from earlier, how would first century believers have observed the Lord’s Supper and interpreted the phrase, as often (1 Cor. 11:25)?  Would they have maintained the association with Passover, or would they have deviated from the established pattern and done what seemed good and expedient to them?  Regardless of the answer, it’s clear that a deviation of the practice had taken place by the time the Apostle penned the letter to Corinth, a sobering reminder of the danger of slipping away or losing sight of Scripture’s authority.