Category Archives: Bible Study

Forgetting The Paternoster

 

In his classic Puritan work, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs devotes several chapters to the evils of a murmuring spirit. In speaking of this, he references the Apostle Peter’s denial of Christ and states that he had forgotten the Paternoster. The Paternoster is the Latin name given to the Lord’s Prayer (it begins “Our Father”), in citing Peter’s forgetfulness in this matter, namely the portion of the prayer “Hallowed be your name….Your Kingdom come”, Burroughs relates this to our own forgetfulness of the Paternoster when we murmur. He writes,

“When you have a murmuring and discontented hearts, you forget your prayers, you forget what you have prayed for. What do you pray, but, Give us this day our daily bread?” Now God does not teach any of you to pray, Lord, give me so much a year, or let me have this kind of cloth, and so many dishes at my table. Christ does not teach you to pray so, but he teaches us to pray, ‘Lord, give us our bread,’ showing that you should be content with a little.”[1]

In reading through Burroughs’s example and application to our own condition, the thought occurred to me, how often are we likened to Peter and forget The Paternoster? It would seem this most often occurs as a failure to recognize the attributes of God’s character that are revealed in our model prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. Though many more could be added, below are some practical examples of forgetting The Paternoster:

  • When we forget Fatherhood of God
  • When we forget the holiness of God
  • When we forget the providence of God
  • When we forget the sovereignty of God
  • When we forget the mercy of God
  • When we forget the grace of God
  • When we forget the justice of God
  • When we forget the authority of God

Each of these have a practical outworking in our daily lives and are most reflected in our attitudes such as

  • When we murmur and complain
  • When we are anxious
  • When we are discontent
  • When we are jealous or covetous
  • When we think too highly of ourselves
  • When we think too lowly of ourselves
  • When we are quicker to condemn than to forgive
  • When we are self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-exalting
  • When we succumb to our temptations

The Lord’s Prayer, as it is so called, was Christ’s response to the disciples petition to teach them to pray. In His instructive model, He has taught us, among other things, a remedy against murmuring, namely that from Him and to Him and through Him are all things; said succinctly that God is a sovereign God. However, we far too easily forget the one to Whom we’ve prayed, because our hearts become so quickly disoriented by our selfish desires. As Burroughs adds,

“Where did Christ teach us provision for so long a time? No, but if we have bread for this day, Christ would have us content. Therefore when we murmur because we have no so much variety as others have, we do, as it were, forget our Paternoster. It is against our prayers; we do not in our lives hold forth the acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God over us as we seem to acknowledge in our prayers. Therefore when at any time you find your hearts murmuring, then do but reflect upon yourselves and think thus: Is this according to my prayers, in which I held forth the sovereign power and authority that God has over me?”[2]

Christian, let us be vigilant to set our minds on the sovereign, providential God Who deserves our gratitude and praise, not our murmuring and discontentment, lest we find ourselves alongside Peter in forgetting the Paternoster.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive our trespasses. As we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, the glory forever.

[1] Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentenment. Banner of Truth, pp. 152-153.

[2] Pg. 153

Assuming the Role of Priest

 

In the 5th chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, the author enters into the great theme of Jesus as High Priest. Having alluded to it in several verses prior (most notably 1:3, 2:17, 3:1, 4:16), his attention is now focused near-exclusively on this and it begins with an overview of the Levitical-Aaronic priesthood. The first four verses of the chapter set the tone for what will follow:

“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” Heb. 5:1-4

The author’s intention here is not a full-scale review of the Old Covenant priesthood, but instead to serve as a baseline for a priesthood ordained by God for the purpose of comparison and contrast with the Priesthood of Christ. Here we may observe several qualifications and duties of the Aaronic priests. First we see that every high priest is chosen and appointed by God. We’ll pick up on this again later, but for now let’s note the background for this concept of familial priesthood in Exodus 28 & 29, “Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests…” Ex. 28:1.

Next, we see that their appointment was from among men. No angelic being would suffice in the representation of men to God. The reason, as we see in verse 3, is that, “he can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” These statements will serve as a point of comparison and contrast along with providing further basis for the incarnation of Christ, namely that He had to be made a man in order to represent them to God; likewise He had to remain God in order to represent Him to man. The two divergent streams of God and man are brought together in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore the perfect Mediator, our Great High Priest, can only be the God-Man Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5).

Returning our focus to the Aaronic priesthood we see that in their role on behalf of men and in relation to God that they offered gifts and sacrifices to Him, first for their own sins, then for their family, and then for the sins of the people (Israel). This statement finds its basis in Leviticus 16 which is largely in mind as Hebrews reviews the Old Covenant priesthood. This verse (5:3) informs us that the fundamental weakness and chief insufficiency of the Aaronic priesthood was that the priests themselves were sinners. How can a sinner effectively represent other sinners before an all-holy God? Simply put, they can’t. Therefore a greater Mediator is needed, one who is not beset with sin and does not half to make atonement for His own sins first. The office of priest under the Old Covenant was always pointing forward to a better priesthood, with better sacrifices, and a better Mediator.

Summarizing thus far we see that the Aaronic priesthood was by way of an appointment from God, chosen from among men, sacrificed not only for the people, but for themselves because of their own sin.

In verse 4, we return our attention to the appointment of the priesthood by God Himself, “no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” Note how this verse forms the frame with verse 1 to highlight the significance of the author’s point, namely that the priesthood must be by way of appointment or calling from God. This is an extremely important point given the understanding of the priesthood in our modern vernacular. Today we have priests in Catholicism, some forms of Orthodox Christianity (Eastern, Greek, Russian, etc.), Anglican, Episcopalian, and even Mormons all holding to some office of priesthood, though among these the most visible is the papacy of Catholicism. Each of these, and most notably the Catholic office of priest, has assumed their role. The priesthood which Christ is being compared and contrasted with above, namely that of Aaron, was clearly established by God. He called and appointed each man to the role of high priest, yet today we have men in modern time claiming their role as priest. What are we to make of that?

Thankfully, the Bible is not silent concerning man’s self-elevation into the office of priest apart from the Divine appointment by God. In Numbers 16 we get our first example. Here God’s Word informs us that Korah, along with several other men, stood up against the leadership of Moses with the following bold statement, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” Num. 16:3 Korah had a fundamental problem with God’s establishment of leaders and roles within the nation of Israel, specifically the Aaronic priesthood. He, and the men with him, were expressing dissatisfaction with their own role and lot that God in His divine providence had allowed them. If God had so chosen, they would have been worthy only to collect the cattle dung from the Israelite animals, but in His grace even they were given a more noble position. Note Moses’ response,

Hear now, you sons of Levi: 9is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, 10and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also?” Num. 16:8-10

As we read in verse 1, Korah was from the tribe of Levi, those chosen to minister to God and serve Him in the tabernacle. However, from within the tribe of Levi was the family of Aaron, those who were specifically chosen to serve as high priest. It’s not difficult to see then that source of Korah’s discontentment and the basis for Moses’ response. As the chapter continues to detail the unfolding rebellion of Korah and the other men we find them burning incense (a priestly function) before the Lord at His command. In essence, God granted them the desire of their hearts or we might say He allowed their discontentment to go unchecked. Ultimately God judges Korah and those participating in the rebellion in a most public and terrifying way,

“And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” 35 And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.” Num. 16:32-35

And later in the chapter we are given the reason for this public display of God’s judgment as the men’s censors that contained the incense were hammered into a covering for the altar,

“to be a reminder to the people of Israel, so that no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the Lord, lest he become like Korah and his company.” Num. 16:40

A second example of assuming the role of priesthood without the divine appointment from God comes by way of King Saul 1 Samuel 13:8-10

“He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, ‘Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.’ And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.”

Here we find King Saul’s intrusion into the office of priest as he fails to wait for the arrival of Samuel and assumes for himself the role of priest in making burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. Upon Samuel’s arrival, he rebukes Saul for his disobedience of the Lord’s commandments (1 Samuel 13:13) and alerts him of God’s forthcoming punishment to strip the kingdom from him.

“But now your kingdom shall not continue…because you have not kept what the Lord has commanded you.” 1 Samuel 13:14

Finally, our third example of man assuming the role of priest apart from the divine appointment from God is found in the actions of King Uzziah again providing for us a witness of God’s attitude towards those who would attempt to undermine the authority of God’s commandments in establishing a particular lineage of priests.

“But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn inces to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.’ Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, by the altar of incense.” 2 Chronicles 26:16-19

Swallowed by the ground, deposed as king, and succumbing to leprosy are all realized consequences of assuming the role of priest, of the Aaronic order, when one has not been called and appointed by God. Following the author of Hebrews argument from the lesser to the greater, we may ask given our examples of those who assumed the priesthood under the Old Covenant, how much worse of an offense is it to those who assume the priesthood under the New Covenant now that Christ has fulfilled the priesthood in a far superior way.

How much greater of an offense is it to the person and finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ for a man to assume the role of Christ in acting on behalf of men in relation to God? Simply stated, it’s blasphemous! The office of priest in Catholicism, which includes the papacy, let alone those others mentioned previously, is nothing less than a blasphemous impersonation of the great High Priesthood in which Christ alone now resides. He alone is qualified to hold this position because of His incarnation, sinless life, sacrificial death, glorious resurrection, and exaltation at the right hand of the Father. How dare anyone attempt to usurp His authority and assume the role for themselves!

Every religion or so called denomination that puts a man into the office of priest for the purpose of acting as mediator between God and man undermines the authority, dignity, and majesty of Christ’s Priesthood, for which He has suffered, bled, and died for. Granting validity to this office by participating with, being accomplice to, or residing under the ministry of their intrusion is equivalent to blaspheming the name of Christ, for His name is synonymous with Great High Priest.

As we will see in the next section of verses, not just any old priest will do. We must have one of divine appointment, Christ Jesus alone.

Solus Christus!

Post script: 2 additional points must at least be mentioned in regards to this post. 1) Christ’s priesthood is of the order of Melchizedek, a superior priesthood to that of the Old Covenant; bearing in mind that the Old Covenant has reached its fulfillment in Christ.  This includes the sacrificial system and Aaronic priesthood  2) 1 Peter 2:5 establishes the preisthood of every believer in the true Israel sense, not intending to usurp Christ’s role as High Priest much the same way that Exodus 19:5 intended the statement for the nation of Israel, but certainly held the office of Aaron in higher regard.  This is no way means that those priests mentioned above are attempting to fulfill the role mentioned by Peter, instead in every way they are attempting to fulfill the role established by Christ.

Misunderstanding Son of God

 

In the Western World, and more specifically, the United States, it’s extremely difficult to read the Bible without importing our preconceived notions or understandings of particular words, phrases, or themes. In fact, it’s impossible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to restrain our understanding and allow the Bible to speak and define words or concepts for itself. One particular example in which this occurs is through the phrase “Son of God” as it is applied as a title to Christ. Though our Lord preferred the title Son of Man, nevertheless Son of God is the other predominant title given to Him in the New Testament, particularly through the pen of the Apostle John. We find this phrase 9 times in his Gospel, 9 Times in his first epistle, and one time in the book of Revelation. But what exactly does it mean?

I fear that our societal understanding of the term son immediately triggers a position of subordination in our minds. For instance, in a father-and-son business, generally speaking the father is considered the senior, more experienced of the two, while the son is often viewed as the younger, more vigorous of the two who one day hopes to take over the family business when he has reached a certain experiential level. When applied to God, I wonder if we haven’t made God the Father the gray-haired, crotchety, senior god and made the Son, a more compassionate, less hard-lined, less-experienced smaller “god”. In any event, my concern is that by hearing and reading the phrase Son of God, we’ve by default come to view Christ as a junior or lesser deity to the Father and that simply isn’t true, nor is it the intention of Scripture to convey this, in fact it is just the opposite.

The title Son, as it relates to Christ, is first meant to communicate equality in essence or being with the Father. Any other starting point will lead to a false conclusion and false understanding of who Christ is. This is where modern Arianism, i.e. Jehovah’s Witness, falter in their understanding of Christ’s deity. Their conception of son is that of a created being, similar to that of angels, Adam, or even Satan. But Scripture does not refer to Christ as Son of God in order to represent Him as a created being. It uses the term Son to communicate that God the Father’s “dna” if you will, or essence, is entirely held within the person of the Son. This is what’s intended in passages such as Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:15, 19.

Again, difficulties may arise with our understanding of the word son. When my son was born, he possessed my dna. However my dna is not pure, though it is specific to me, because it did not originate from me. I have millennia, back to Adam and Eve, of ancestors who’s dna has combined to form me. Likewise, my son has a combination of my wife’s ancestral dna such that he is made up 50% of me, 50% of my wife. When we think of Christ, we cannot import this understanding of son into Scripture because God is eternal, having no beginning or ending. This means that His “dna”, if again you will allow the use of that term, has no origin apart from Himself, nor mixture from any outside source. Likewise, Christ is said to be equally eternal, begotten from the Father with no mixture of “dna” and no entrance of maternal dna. To be clear, we are talking of Christ’s deity and title as Son of God here, not of His incarnation or title Son of Man, lest there be here any turning of our thoughts toward Mary. With this understanding, we can begin to see that when Christ is called Son of God, it is meant to convey nothing less than Christ = God. This is precisely what is stated in John chapter 5.

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” John 5:16-18

In this passage, the central theme is that Christ has healed on the Sabbath and has therefore fallen under condemnation of the law in the eyes of the Jewish Pharisees. In verse 17 of this chapter, we read Jesus’ declaration that “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This statement has a dual edge; the first clearly states that God is His Father and the second implies equality between the two in that both are equally “working”. The Jews, who hold none of our modern societal impediments (though certainly have their own), understand the meaning of Christ’s declaration of Himself as God’s Son. Note carefully John 5:18, “…not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making Himself equal with God.” This is the Apostle John’s commentary on the situation. Clearly, the Jews of Christ’s day understand the divine genealogical principle being established by our Lord. Through His assertion that God is His Father, He is implicitly stating that He is God. They understand that God is eternal, having no beginning or ending. They understand that there is no mixture of “dna” in Him. So when Christ claims Him as Father, this automatically carries with it the idea of deity, not a lesser deity mind you, but as the passage states, equality with God.

Explaining this passage to a Jehovah’s Witness may be tricky. Their immediate defense is to eschew this meaning and assert that this was the Jews misunderstanding. In other words, they believe that the Jews wrongly assumed that Jesus was calling Himself God and it follows that they wrongly accused Him of blasphemy and wrongly crucified Him on this basis. However, this interpretation is a bucket full of holes and cannot hold water. It falls precisely into the trap of importing a false notion of Son into the equation and it fails to properly understand that God the Father is eternal and did not procreate with anyone else to create Christ, nor would Christ’s creation from other material (or angelic being) give proper weight to the term “son”.

Note the declarations of Christ’s Apostles, who share the Pharisees understanding of the term “son”.

Matthew 14:32-33, “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

This statement is neutered of its meaning if we take it to say Christ is a lesser god or Christ is a created being. That would be saying something similar to the following, “Look how the wind and waves obey Him. Truly He is a created being.” Or “Look how the wind and waves obey Him. Truly He is a lesser god than the Father.” Those interpretations simply make no sense. This passage is boldly stating the following, “Look how the wind and waves obey Him. Truly He is Yahweh.”

Matthew 16:15-17, “He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Let’s again apply the erroneous understanding of son as meaning a lesser god or created being and observe how it again neuters the impact of this powerful statement. “Simon Peter replied, you are the Christ, a lesser god than the Father!” Or “Simon Peter replied, you are the Christ, a created being!” Even the weak attempts by Jehovah’s Witness to say that Christ is an “exalted being” fail to do justice to these emphatic statements of His divinity.

Next observe the interrogation of Christ at His pre-crucifixion trial from Matthew’s Gospel. “57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council[h] were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” Mattew 26:57-67

First we see that our Lord’s accusers tried in vain to trump up charges against Him, but were unable. When they did bring forth two witnesses, their words actually misconstrued what Christ had said.[1] Next, Caiphas asks bluntly, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” His question is twofold, yet related, and reveals the Jewish understanding and anticipation of the Messiah (Christ or Annointed One) and the divinity that He was to hold, Son of God. When Jesus responds in the affirmative to the question, yet adds more to Caiphas’ understanding (verse 64), the high priest responds with, “He has uttered blasphemy”. Those who were interrogating Jesus understood that He was making a claim to deity. Contextually, there is simply no other way to take this. They haven’t misinterpreted His words, as the Jehovah’s Witness claims; they recognize that His affirmation of being the Son of God is nothing less than a claim to deity and for that they condemn Him to death.

There are many more examples that we could look at, but those above serve well to help our understanding that the title Son of God when applied to Christ is a clear reference to His divinity.

Secondly, and the order is important, the title Son of God is meant to communicate a subordination of ROLE, function, or office, NOT of essence or being. Space prohibits developing this theme in more depth, but it should be mentioned here to prevent further misunderstanding and objections to Christ as Son. It’s actually on this point that most who deny Jesus as God base their claim. For instance, they read such passages as John 14:28, “…for the Father is greater than I” and John 10:29, “…My Father…is greater than all….” and make the false conclusion that Jesus is lesser in His essence or being, yet they fail to reconcile those passages with others, such as those mentioned above, in which Son of God means that Jesus has equality with God. If we were to keep reading in John 5 we would see that Christ’s subordinate role is further defined, yet it in no way does it undermine His divine nature or make Him a lesser god. As a further study, John 5:30-47 clearly outlines several subordinate roles that have been given to Him by the Father, yet all the while it maintains His supreme status as God. At issue then is that this secondary understanding of Son of God is given primary status and used as a rubric through which all other passages asserting Christ’s deity are read and subsequently dismissed. That is a fatal flaw in Scriptural interpretation and leads to a false understanding of who Christ is. Anyone who holds to a lesser Christ than one who is God stakes their hopes in no Christ at all and are subject to the wrath and condemnation of God, that is Christ, to whom all judgment has been given (John 5:22-23).

Much more could be said regarding Jesus’ claim as Son of God and exactly what that means, including Jesus as Son-King. Likewise, there is more to be said from an Old Testament perspective that Christ as Son fulfills the promises made to David, but that for another day.

Son of God as applied to Christ means nothing more and nothing less than God the Son. It is an emphatic statement of His deity and role as the Second Person in the Trinity. He is not a lesser god, He is God; He did not become God’s Son at His incarnation, He has always been and will always be. To Him belongs all glory and honor. He is worthy of all worship, praise, and adoration.

[1] There is a play on words here with the word temple. See Jesus’ statements on this in Matthew 24 or Mark 13.

*Image credit: Harvestrockford.org