Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Foundations of the Gospel

 

Building on the introductions to Paul’s missionary journey at Corinth and the issues he faced there, we find the apostle beginning the most substantial portion of his First Epistle to Corinth, chapter 15.  Here he is concerned with correcting errant views on the Doctrine of Christ’s Resurrection and subsequently the bodily resurrection of believers.  We may recall that the city was largely a melting pot of people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds.  The influences upon the city were from Greek culture, as well as Roman, Jewish, and that of all those who had access to the city through its two major sea ports.

Also, we may recall the details of this missionary journey were captured for us in Acts 18 where we saw one of the fundamental objections to Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel was Christ’s resurrection.

It is this pillar of the Gospel that he aims to expound upon as he introduces 1 Corinthians 15:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

His discourse on the defense of this precious doctrine of the resurrection begins with a review of the Gospel, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you.”  It is the foundation of this gospel message that we are principally interested in examining in this post.

Paul begins by way of reminding the Corinthians of the gospel message that he preached to them and the impacts that it has had upon them.  Namely that it is this gospel which they received, upon which they stand, and through which they are being saved.  We may note here, in verse 3, the reference by Paul to the present on-going aspect of salvation.

He buttresses these statements of assurance with an exhortation unto perseverance in the faith, “if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain“.  This is by no means an affirmation that believer’s may lose their salvation, rather it is a declaration that true faith will persevere, will continue believing and continue holding fast, will continuing being saved.  Whereas those of a false faith, A la 3/4 of the soils in the parable from Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 and those in 1 John 2:19, fall away and prove their profession a shame.

After this prologue, which really could serve as the introduction to its own letter, the Apostle breaks down what this gospel message includes, principally the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

The first pillar of the gospel mentioned in our passage is the death of Christ. The death of Christ is the purpose for which He came into the world.  It is the manner and means through which God has redeemed a people for Himself.  Note here the application of His death, i.e. for our sins.  The little word “for”, huper in the Greek, is significant for its usage in connection with the substitutionary death of our Lord.

This first pillar is supported with an appeal to the authority of Scripture.  Clearly, the reference to the Scriptures here is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Christ’s death.  It is inclusive of ALL previous divine revelation of God as recorded in Scripture, but may also specifically refer to such passages as Gen. 3:15, Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, etc.

Second, we see the pillar of the burial of Jesus.  This may seem insignificant as compared to our Lord’s death and resurrection, however it affirms the first and anticipates the second, therefore serving as a critical link between the two.  His burial states emphatically that He died, thereby meeting the demands of the law and ultimately satisfying the wrath of God for all those who would believe.

Remember also that the burial of Christ was a point of controversy and thought by the Romans to be an opportunity for Christ’s body to be stolen such that the propagation of the “lie” of his resurrection would be made greater than the “lie” of His declaration of being God’s Son (Matthew 27:62-66).  Furthermore, the burial of Christ is a critical pillar because it serves as an apologetic against those who deny the burial of Christ, such as Islam, or those who assume only a spiritual resurrection.

Finally the significance of the burial may be seen in the place in which Christ was buried, namely a Garden.  This brings full circle the idea of the first Adam’s death (spiritually and then physically) in the first Garden and the Last Adam’s burial and subsequent resurrection (physically and then glorified) in the Garden (See also Romans 6:1-4).  It therefore is a connecting point of biblical themes all of which have their yes and amen in Christ.

Third, and the final pillar of the gospel foundation described in this passage, is the resurrection of Christ on the third day, again in accordance with the Scriptures.  The resurrection of our Lord is the validation of His declaration that He is the Son of God, His life of perfect obedience, His defeat of death, and His fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption (John 19:30).   It is the proclamation of victory over sin, death, and the devil.  It signals the inauguration of the reversal of the curse of sin and death, the enthronement of the King, and as we will see the firstfruits of all subsequent resurrections.  Furthermore, the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection and inclusion of it into the Gospel is the basis for the bodily resurrection of believers.  Therefore, this final pillar is not tangential to Paul’s forthcoming argument for the resurrection of believers, but is indeed its foundation.

One additional point to be noted concerning the second reference of “according to the Scriptures”.  This fascinating detail is again affirmation of submission to the authority of Scripture and a testament to its fulfillment.  Taken individually, it highlights several key prophecies of Christ resurrection.  Most notably that of Jonah (1:17, cf Matthew 12:40), Hosea (6:2) , and those made by the Lord Himself (Matt. 12:40, John 2:19; Matt. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19).

The Apostle Paul, by way of Divine inspiration is laying the foundation of the Gospel upon which he will build his doctrine of the bodily resurrection, first of Christ, which we have seen here, yet ultimately of believers.  Though there is much disagreement over sections of this mighty chapter dealing with the millennium, the kingdom, and aspects of the eschatology of resurrection, these foundational pillars of the Gospel are non-negotiable.

This is the gospel which has been preached.  Have  you believed it?  Are you standing upon it?  Are you being saved by it?  If so, hold fast to it.

For the Glory of God

 

**Image Credit: http://www.kevinbrownlee.com/2012/01/21/81/

Because of His Reverence

 

Hebrews 5:7 “…because of his reverence”

In the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry He was faced with much opposition from the world, from the Devil, and from weaknesses of His own human body. In the face of these fierce conflicts, He saw it necessary to retreat often to His Father in prayer. We find this in Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, Mark 6:46, Luke 5:16, Luke 9:18, Luke 9:28-29, Luke 11:1, and John 17, but perhaps most notably His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26/Mark 14/Luke). Here we read of the attitude with which our Lord communicated with His Heavenly Father. As the author of Hebrews alludes, He “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” none more reflective of the man of sorrows than what we find in the intensity of His own Garden on the precipice of His crucifixion. Despite the affliction of His soul, we are told the reason He was heard was the posture of His heart, “he was heard because of his reverence.”

We may read of this account from either of the synoptics, yet our conclusion would be the same, “he was heard because of his reverence.” Note the passage under discussion from Matthew’s perspective,

“36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Matthew 26:36-46

What may we say of this reverence? It can be none other than the disposition of His heart as He approaches His Father leading Him to utter those words, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” and again, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” An objection may arise here, if this is the prayer of reverence that was heard, how was it answered because we know that just a few moments later Christ would be crucified. Ah, but was His soul left to see corruption? May it never be! His prayer was answered and He was saved from death to the glory of our Lord! Let us not be guilty of assuming our prayers are not answered simply because the answer doesn’t look like how we pictured.

Dear Christian, what a privilege we have to approach the throne of our Heavenly Father by means of our Lord Jesus Christ the Great Mediator of the New Covenant and our faithful High Priest. Yet, how often do we do so with flippancy and triviality and wonder why our prayers never escape the ceiling of the room in which we’ve just prayed. God too is our Father if, and only if, we have embraced Him by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ relying only upon His finished work on the cross; yet God is nonetheless holy, necessitating all approaches to His throne be so done with reverence. May those Scriptural examples of persons who have had heavenly visions of the most awesome throne-room (see Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John via Revelation) serve as sign-posts on our own highway to the mercy seat reminding us that we ought to travel with a heart of reverence. In doing so, may we find our prayers more effective and the time spent on our knees more honoring to the Holy One.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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.