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Deuteronomy 21     Psalm 108-109     Isaiah 48     Revelation 18

Deuteronomy 21

Atonement for Unsolved Murders

Deuteronomy 21:1 “If in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess someone is found slain, lying in the open country, and it is not known who killed him, 2 then your elders and your judges shall come out, and they shall measure the distance to the surrounding cities. 3 And the elders of the city that is nearest to the slain man shall take a heifer that has never been worked and that has not pulled in a yoke. 4 And the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley. 5 Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister to him and to bless in the name of the LORD, and by their word every dispute and every assault shall be settled. 6 And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, 7 and they shall testify, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed. 8 Accept atonement, O LORD, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.’ 9 So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD.

Marrying Female Captives

10 “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, 11 and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, 12 and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. 13 And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.

Inheritance Rights of the Firstborn

15 “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, 16 then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, 17 but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.

A Rebellious Son

18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

A Man Hanged on a Tree Is Cursed

22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.

Psalm 108

With God We Shall Do Valiantly

Psalm 108 A Song. A Psalm Of David.

1  My heart is steadfast, O God!
I will sing and make melody with all my being!
2  Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
3  I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
4  For your steadfast love is great above the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

5  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!
6  That your beloved ones may be delivered,
give salvation by your right hand and answer me!

7  God has promised in his holiness:
“With exultation I will divide up Shechem
and portion out the Valley of Succoth.
8  Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet,
Judah my scepter.
9  Moab is my washbasin;
upon Edom I cast my shoe;
over Philistia I shout in triumph.”

10  Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
11  Have you not rejected us, O God?
You do not go out, O God, with our armies.
12  Oh grant us help against the foe,
for vain is the salvation of man!
13  With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes.

Psalm 109

Help Me, O LORD My God

Psalm 109 To The Choirmaster. A Psalm Of David.

1  Be not silent, O God of my praise!
2  For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
speaking against me with lying tongues.
3  They encircle me with words of hate,
and attack me without cause.
4  In return for my love they accuse me,
but I give myself to prayer.
5  So they reward me evil for good,
and hatred for my love.

6  Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
7  When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin!
8  May his days be few;
may another take his office!
9  May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow!
10  May his children wander about and beg,
seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
11  May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
12  Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
nor any to pity his fatherless children!
13  May his posterity be cut off;
may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
14  May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD,
and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out!
15  Let them be before the LORD continually,
that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!

16  For he did not remember to show kindness,
but pursued the poor and needy
and the brokenhearted, to put them to death.
17  He loved to curse; let curses come upon him!
He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him!
18  He clothed himself with cursing as his coat;
may it soak into his body like water,
like oil into his bones!
19  May it be like a garment that he wraps around him,
like a belt that he puts on every day!
20  May this be the reward of my accusers from the LORD,
of those who speak evil against my life!

21  But you, O GOD my Lord,
deal on my behalf for your name’s sake;
because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!
22  For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is stricken within me.
23  I am gone like a shadow at evening;
I am shaken off like a locust.
24  My knees are weak through fasting;
my body has become gaunt, with no fat.
25  I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
when they see me, they wag their heads.

26  Help me, O LORD my God!
Save me according to your steadfast love!
27  Let them know that this is your hand;
you, O LORD, have done it!
28  Let them curse, but you will bless!
They arise and are put to shame, but your servant will be glad!
29  May my accusers be clothed with dishonor;
may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a cloak!

30  With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD;
I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
31  For he stands at the right hand of the needy one,
to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.

Isaiah 48

Israel Refined for God’s Glory

Isaiah 48 Hear this, O house of Jacob,
who are called by the name of Israel,
and who came from the waters of Judah,
who swear by the name of the LORD
and confess the God of Israel,
but not in truth or right.
2  For they call themselves after the holy city,
and stay themselves on the God of Israel;
the LORD of hosts is his name.

3  “The former things I declared of old;
they went out from my mouth, and I announced them;
then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.
4  Because I know that you are obstinate,
and your neck is an iron sinew
and your forehead brass,
5  I declared them to you from of old,
before they came to pass I announced them to you,
lest you should say, ‘My idol did them,
my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’

6  “You have heard; now see all this;
and will you not declare it?
From this time forth I announce to you new things,
hidden things that you have not known.
7  They are created now, not long ago;
before today you have never heard of them,
lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’
8  You have never heard, you have never known,
from of old your ear has not been opened.
For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously,
and that from before birth you were called a rebel.

9  “For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
10  Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
11  For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.

The LORD’s Call to Israel

12  “Listen to me, O Jacob,
and Israel, whom I called!
I am he; I am the first,
and I am the last.
13  My hand laid the foundation of the earth,
and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I call to them,
they stand forth together.

14  “Assemble, all of you, and listen!
Who among them has declared these things?
The LORD loves him;
he shall perform his purpose on Babylon,
and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans.
15  I, even I, have spoken and called him;
I have brought him, and he will prosper in his way.
16  Draw near to me, hear this:
from the beginning I have not spoken in secret,
from the time it came to be I have been there.”
And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and his Spirit.

17  Thus says the LORD,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the LORD your God,
who teaches you to profit,
who leads you in the way you should go.
18  Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;
19  your offspring would have been like the sand,
and your descendants like its grains;
their name would never be cut off
or destroyed from before me.”

20  Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea,
declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it,
send it out to the end of the earth;
say, “The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob!”
21  They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts;
he made water flow for them from the rock;
he split the rock and the water gushed out.

22  “There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.”

Revelation 18

The Fall of Babylon

Revelation 18 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. 2 And he called out with a mighty voice,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.
3  For all nations have drunk
the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,
and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
5  for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.
6  Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,
and repay her double for her deeds;
mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.
7  As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,
so give her a like measure of torment and mourning,
since in her heart she says,
‘I sit as a queen,
I am no widow,
and mourning I shall never see.’
8  For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,
death and mourning and famine,
and she will be burned up with fire;
for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.”

9 And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas! Alas! You great city,
you mighty city, Babylon!
For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.

14  “The fruit for which your soul longed
has gone from you,
and all your delicacies and your splendors
are lost to you,
never to be found again!”

15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,

16  “Alas, alas, for the great city
that was clothed in fine linen,
in purple and scarlet,
adorned with gold,
with jewels, and with pearls!
17  For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”

And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,

“What city was like the great city?”

19 And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out,

“Alas, alas, for the great city
where all who had ships at sea
grew rich by her wealth!
For in a single hour she has been laid waste.
20  Rejoice over her, O heaven,
and you saints and apostles and prophets,
for God has given judgment for you against her!”

21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,

“So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence,
and will be found no more;
22  and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters,
will be heard in you no more,
and a craftsman of any craft
will be found in you no more,
and the sound of the mill
will be heard in you no more,
23  and the light of a lamp
will shine in you no more,
and the voice of bridegroom and bride
will be heard in you no more,
for your merchants were the great ones of the earth,
and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.
24  And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
and of all who have been slain on earth.”

The Reformation Study Bible

What I'm Reading

Served by God, Serving Man

By David Mathis 3/1/2009

     My dad hasn’t been to seminary. He has no formal theological training. Nobody pays him and Mom for their endless hours serving the church. But they could write an article on sacrificial service to the church. They’ve lived it.

     Pop is a dentist in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He and Mom moved to town in the late seventies after dental school and a couple years practicing on marines. They didn’t know anyone when they arrived. They visited churches, soon found one, and have been there for over three decades now.

     I remember Pop giving all day Saturday to referee church basketball and getting up before five to get things ready for the men’s breakfast. Mom gave herself to the ladies of the church and helped launch the prayer room. I remember Pop putting the final touches on his Sunday school lesson and driving straight from work to an evening search committee or deacons’ meeting.

     The kids didn’t suffer from our parents’ church service. We only benefited. Parents who served the church became more and more sacrificial at home.

     I guess my folks are old school — and biblical. They didn’t join First Baptist for the entertaining music or youth ministry or cool preacher. They found a church where they could be blessed by God and be a blessing to others.

     So many of us think about it the other way around. We think of church in terms of our serving God and receiving from others. But this is backwards.

     Sacrificial service in the church doesn’t start with serving. It starts with being served by God. Then as we are satisfied in Him and who He’s revealed Himself to be in His crucified Son, we gladly overflow in service of others.

     The Bible actually warns us against serving God. There is a clear sense in which we must not serve Him. Jesus’ spokesman Paul says that God is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).

     We humans can’t give God anything that He hasn’t already given to us. Jesus’ ancestor David prayed, “All things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chron. 29:14). Nowhere is this seen clearer than in Jesus Himself, who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

     Beware serving the God who became man not to be served!

     But there’s another sense in which Christians do serve. We serve others. And we do so “by the strength that God supplies” (1 Peter 4:11). God is the giver. Our posture toward Him is one of receiving, even in our service.

     As we turn from facing God to face our fellow Christians, there should be a reorientation of the posture of our souls from receiving to giving. What amazing communities our churches are when we gather both with the expectation of receiving from God and with the expectation of giving to others.

     It’s easy to miss the gospel way either by attempting to give to God or by presuming to receive from others. Take, for instance, many from my dad’s generation. Born to World War II veterans who knew duty and the valor of service, they get the idea of serving others but transpose this to their relationship with God: “Grit your teeth. Do your duty. Serve God and man. Sacrifice for God whether you like it or not.”

     This isn’t gospel. Dutiful sacrifice doesn’t honor God as much as it honors our stone-like will. And thus it undercuts the very source of strength that enables us to serve others.

     On the other hand, I’ve seen some from my generation expect to receive from God, but accompanying this good expectation is a tragic, culture-capitulating, self-centered posture of feeling entitled to receive from others.

     Neither of these errors is “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). Believing the gospel reorients our posture toward God. Jesus did not come to be served by us, but to serve us by giving His life. He is the giver. We are the recipients of His grace.

(Ga 2:14) 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”   ESV

     And believing the gospel also reorients our posture toward others. We no longer expect to receive from them. Our default stance becomes one of giving. As Jesus has infinitely blessed us, so we want to bless others — finite as that blessing will be. And in serving them, we point them to Jesus who blesses infinitely.

     The church that seeks to give to God and receive from others will suffocate faith and smother love. But if Jesus’ gospel takes root, we will gladly come to God to feast and drink. Then with our hands full and our thirst being quenched, we will most gladly do good to others, especially the church — those who are of the household of faith (2 Cor. 12:15; Gal. 6:10).

(2 Co 12:15) 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?   ESV

(Ga 6:10) 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.   ESV

     O, how we need pastors and laymen like Pop and Mom! With every healthy vocational minister should be a crew of church-serving lay people who will receive from God and then give themselves to meet the needs of their church. I saw it in my parents and a pack of other selfless leaders as I grew up in Spartanburg, and I see it at Bethlehem Baptist Church, where I am now.

     May God raise up a generation of men and women who are so satisfied in Jesus that we are resolved to sacrificially pour ourselves out for the joy of His church.

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     David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org, pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and adjunct professor for Bethlehem College & Seminary. He is the husband of Megan, father of four, and his regular articles are available online at desiringGod.org/mathis.

David Mathis Books:

Says Who?

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 3/1/2009

     It is a rather tedious and tiresome thing to pull the legs out from under our national confession. Our country’s creed is not just internally inconsistent, nor is it just incomprehensible, it is both these things. That is, it does not start out with the fundamental premise, build a string of thirty or so syllogisms and come to a conclusion that contradicts the premise. You start with A, blink, and non-A is staring you right in the face. Our national creed is this: There is no such thing as true and false. The refutation is this: Is it true or false that there’s no such thing as true or false? It’s over already. As I already noted, this devastating critique is by this point both tedious and tiresome. Potent and compelling, yes, but still boring as soggy graham crackers.

     That this creed hasn’t a leg to stand on doesn’t keep it from being the very pillar of our society. Not a stable pillar, of course, but, then, we are no longer living in a very stable society. The more interesting question is this: How did an idea so utterly foolish come to be the very foundation of our culture? Why would a people, especially a people so given to intellectual pride, embrace such obvious folly? Because we’re foolish enough to believe that such will allow us to escape the call of God on our lives. Because while we profess ourselves to be wise, God gives us over to the foolishness of our own thinking (Rom. 1:22).

(Ro 1:22) 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,   ESV

     Relativism is not driven by honest epistemological skepticism. That is, its impetus isn’t the result of uncertainty about truth. It is driven instead by ethical perversion. It exists not in the end so that we can escape truth per se, but that we might escape a particular truth — that we are sinners in rebellion against God. We deny that there is truth, so that we can deny that there is a truth to which we must give an answer. It is an attempt to escape from authority.

     As is so often the case, the folly that infects the world soon infects the church. According to George Barna, fifty-four percent of those who profess to be evangelicals also agree that there is no objective true and false. That evangelicals believe this is as absurd as the notion that there is no objective true and false. Evangelicals, by definition, are those who affirm the objective truth of the evangel (the gospel). But this is not the only way relativism assaults the church. It infects our understanding of the Bible itself. We come to the Word of God not to find out what God says but to find out what it says “to me.” We open our Bibles not to find “thus saith the Lord” but to find grist for our own mills, to affirm “thus is what it means to me.”

     Those of us in the Reformed camp, while hopefully not falling for this folly, have at least failed to fight it well. To be sure we have our share of worldview gurus who are willing and able to refute this nonsense. Such we ought to be doing. But we spend most of our time manning the barricades against assaults on the sovereignty of God. Charismatics speak of the Holy Spirit. Dispensationalists write about the end times. The Reformed talk about God’s sovereign power.

     Of course it is good and wise to speak about the Holy Spirit, as long as we are speaking biblically. It is right and proper to write about the end times, as long as we are writing biblically. It is sound and fitting to talk about God’s sovereign power, as long as we are talking biblically. What we tend to skip lightly over, however, is God’s sovereign authority. That when He speaks the winds and the waves obey manifests not just His power but His rule. He is God Almighty, there is no other. When He speaks, He need not persuade us of what He says. He need not overpower us either. Instead, because He is the Creator and we but creatures, when He speaks we must ever and always reply, “Amen.”

     While it is certainly true that the modern, or should I say postmodern church suffers from acute worldliness, that we stumble because we follow the world, the broader reality is that the world follows us. That is, we do not fail to submit to God’s Word because they out there are relativists. Instead, they are relativists, not submitting to God, because we first do not submit to Him. If we want to live in a world where authority is recognized and honored, we need to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people that bow before God’s Word. The world will continue to collapse until the church learns, within her own walls, to be more faithful.

     Jesus said as much when He, with all authority, commanded us all to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. Our first calling is to get our own house in order, to become sons and daughters who honor our Father. When that happens, and only then, all these things will be added unto us. All that we worry about, or even all that we hope for — including a better, sounder, safer, broader culture — will then come to pass. First, however, we must get first things first. Our sound refutations of foolish worldviews will get us nowhere until we submit to all that He has said. Submission is our mission. Let God be true and every man a liar.

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     R.C. Sproul Jr. has served previously as a pastor, professor, and teacher. He is author of numerous books. Some are listed below.

R.C. Sproul Jr. Books

The Divine Foundation of Authority

By R.C. Sproul 3/1/2009

     “You’re out!” “I’m safe!” “Out!” “Safe!” “Out!” “It’s my ball, and it’s my bat, and I say that I’m safe.” This is how we settled disputes over plays in our pickup baseball games played without the benefit of a referee or umpire. When a disputed play could not be resolved through reason or through yelling, the one who possessed the equipment usually determined the outcome. It was a child’s game in which might made right. It was the nascent expression of the cynical statement: “He who owns the gold, rules.”

     These illustrations indicate that at some level ownership is involved in authority. The very word authority has within it the word author. An author is someone who creates and possesses a particular work. Insofar as God is the foundation of all authority, He exercises that foundation because He is the author and the owner of His creation. He is the foundation upon which all other authority stands or falls.

     We use the term foundation with respect to the imagery of a building. Houses and commercial buildings are erected upon a foundation. As Jesus indicated in His parables, if the foundation is not solid, the structure will not stand. The house that is built upon the sand will crumble at the first sign of a windstorm. Instead, Jesus commended the building of the house upon a rock. The foundation has to be firm in order for the house to stand.

     In the sixteenth century, the critical dispute that arose in the Protestant Reformation focused on two central issues. Historians speak of one as being the material cause, that is, the matter around which the dispute centered. That material cause was the doctrine of justification. The battle was fought over the issue of what is required for a person to be justified in the sight of God. The other issue, the formal one, lurked only slightly under the surface of the external debate about justification: the question of authority. When Luther defended his doctrine in his disputes with Cardinal Cajetan and with the theologian Johann Eck, the Roman Catholic experts called attention to the decrees of earlier church councils and of papal encyclicals to refute Luther’s arguments. Luther in response argued that the edicts of church councils and even the encyclicals of popes can err and often do err. The only final authority Luther would recognize, upon which the controversy could be resolved, was the authority of Scripture, because that authority carried the weight of God’s authority itself.

     As a result, the Diet of Worms culminated with Luther’s expression: “Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I cannot recant because my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. God help me. I can do no other.” In that statement, Luther was affirming publicly his commitment to the principle of sola Scriptura, that the Bible alone is the only authority that can bind the conscience of a person absolutely because it is the only authority that carries with it the intrinsic authority of God Himself.

     In the Scriptures we see that God creates the universe and owns the universe. It is His possession, and He governs it by His own authority. The authority by which God governs all things is His autonomous authority. To say that God’s authority is autonomous is to say that God is a law unto Himself. He is not bound by some abstract system of law that exists outside of Himself or independent from Him (ex lex). Nor is God under some external law (sub lego); rather, He is a law unto Himself. This does not mean that He acts or behaves in an arbitrary manner. Rather, God’s activity is directed by God’s own character. And His character is completely righteous. All that He does flows out of His own internal righteousness. His external authority comes from His internal righteousness. In this sense God’s authority is intrinsic. It is found within Himself. It is not borrowed, delegated, or assigned from any other source.

     In the same manner, all lesser authorities on heaven and on earth are only as valid as they are delegated by God’s authority. Whatever authority we possess is extrinsic rather than intrinsic. It exists only by delegation. This was the issue in the garden of Eden. The primal sin of Adam and Eve could be described as the grasping for autonomy. They sought to take for themselves the authority that belonged only to God. To act on one’s own authority against the authority of God is the essence of disobedience and of sin. When we grasp authority ourselves and do what is right in our own minds, we are attacking the very foundation of life and of the welfare of human beings.

     “You’re out!” “I’m safe!” This question has to be determined by some foundation other than the possession of bats and balls. Justice must reign if we are to escape a life and a world without foundations. Any authority that rules without divine foundation is tyranny.

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Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.

R.C. Sproul Books:

Authority in Vocation

By Gene Edward Veith 3/1/2009

     Do you want to know how Christians can influence the culture? How to have a strong family? Do you want to know the meaning of your life? Do you want to know how authority works? Then attend to the Reformation doctrine of vocation.

     This strangely neglected doctrine has to do with how God providentially governs the world of human beings. It also constitutes the theology of the Christian life.

     The doctrine of vocation, a term that is just the Latin word for “calling,” deals with how God works through human beings to bestow His gifts. God gives us this day our daily bread by means of the farmer, the baker, the cooks, and the lady at the check-out counter. He creates new life — the most amazing miracle of all — by means of mothers and fathers. He protects us by means of police officers, firemen, and our military. He creates beauty through artists. He heals by working through doctors, nurses, and others whom He has gifted, equipped, and called to the medical professions. He proclaims His Word, administers His sacraments, and cares for His sheep through the calling of pastors.

     Luther called vocation a “mask of God.” He said that God milks the cows by means of the milkmaid. We see a menial worker and may even be so presumptuous to look down upon her, but behind that humble façade looms God Himself, providing milk for His children.

     And we too are masks of God in all of our multiple callings. We have callings in the church (pastors, elders, choir members, parishioners); in the state (rulers, subjects, voters); in the workplace (employer, employee, factory worker, milkmaid, businessman); and in the family (husband and wife; father and mother; child; grandparent).

     Before God, all vocations are equal. Our standing before Him is based solely on Jesus Christ, our sin-bearer, our redeemer, and our righteousness. But as we receive God’s grace in Christ, we are then sent into the world to live out our faith in the daily routines of ordinary life — that is, in our vocations.

     The purpose of every vocation is to love and serve our neighbor. God does not need our good works, commented Luther, but our neighbor does. In our vocations we encounter specific neighbors whom we are to love and serve through the work of that calling. Husbands and wives are to love and serve each other; parents love and serve their kids; office and factory workers love and serve their customers; rulers love and serve their subjects; pastors and congregations are to love and serve each other. And God is in it all.

     Of course, we also sin in vocation — insisting on being served rather than serving; loving ourselves rather than our neighbors; misusing the gifts and the calling God Himself has given us — we come to Him on Sunday mornings in repentance, hearing God’s Word, being built up in our faith. Whereupon God sends us back into our callings, with all of their trials and tribulations, for that faith to bear fruit in love, service, and sanctification.

     One problem people often have with vocation — that of others, as well as their own — is that some vocations exercise authority. “There is no authority except from God,” says the apostle Paul (Rom. 13:1). Strictly speaking, only God has authority in Himself. But as Romans 13 goes on to say, God exercises His authority through the agency of lawful government, punishing wrongdoers and rewarding those who do well, so as to make civil order possible.

     Similarly, fathers have an authority in the family because of the fatherhood of God. In marriage, Christ is hidden in the office of the husband. In the church, a pastor wields the authority of God’s Word.

     This authority is not inherent in the person but rather comes by virtue of the office. But authority in vocation is not just a matter of who gets to boss whom. Authority in vocation must be exercised in love and service to the neighbor (see Matt. 20:26–27). The ruler is described as “God’s servant” (Rom. 13:4). Masters are reminded that they too have a master (Eph. 6:9).

     The vocation of marriage entails only one neighbor to love and serve: one’s spouse. Christ is hidden in marriage. Thus, wives are to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). But note how husbands are to exercise this authority: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25). Wives are indeed to submit, but husbands, like Christ, are to give themselves up for their wives.

     This self-sacrificial love is the foundation of Christian authority. It allows for no tyranny. A husband is not called to hurt, use, or brutalize his wife. Rather, he is called to love and serve her by giving himself up for her sanctification (v. 26). Parents are not called to harm their children or even provoke them to anger, but rather to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (6:4).

     Earthly rulers too are to exercise their office in love and service to their neighbors, that is, to their subjects. According to Romans 13, earthly rulers are called to protect the innocent and punish wrongdoers. A ruler who protects wrongdoers and punishes the innocent has no calling — and thus no authority — from God.

     God is hidden in vocations that bear authority. But that puts the pressure on the human being who exercises that authority to act with God’s justice and grace.

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     Dr. Gene Edward Veith is provost emeritus and professor of literature emeritus at Patrick Henry College and director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Gene Edward Veith Books:

Thanks Be to God

By Knox Chamblin 3/1/2009

     In December 2008, I turned seventy-three. Invited by Tabletalk to address younger generations “on matters pertinent to the faith,” I thought of Psalm 71, the prayer of an elderly man. Says verse 18: “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” I seek to do so now.

     Wisdom: “O God, from my youth you have taught me” (Ps. 71:17a). “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (90:12). For an ancient Hebrew, heart had rational, emotional, and volitional dimensions. So one way to love God with all one’s heart was to love him with all one’s mind (Matt. 22:37). I urge you, whatever your calling, to commit yourself to the serious study of the Holy Scriptures. When I taught at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), reading an assigned exposition sometimes left me wondering: “If this student believes the Bible is God’s infallible Word, why has he expended so little effort to mine its treasures?” While writing a commentary on the gospel of Matthew in recent years, I was acutely aware of the need for both utter dependence on God and unrelenting discipline: these are like the two wings of an aircraft, both essential for flight (The Inspiration and Authority of Bible, chap. 8).

     The crucial dimension of the heart is the will. Failure to do the truth shows that I have not grasped the truth (James 1:22; 1 John 3:18). Colossians 1:9–10 teaches that believers are given “spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”; and that by “bearing fruit in every good work” they will be “increasing in the knowledge of God.” “All right knowledge of God is born of obedience” (The Institutes Of The Christian Religion, 1.6.2).

     Warfare: “O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!” (Ps. 71:12). Galatians 5:16–26 describes conflict between “the flesh” and “the Spirit.” “Flesh” here is not a part of the person, but the whole person viewed in a certain way — in rebellion against God. “The Spirit” is not the human spirit (which itself produces “works of the flesh”) but the Holy Spirit of God.

     By means of the fifteen “works of the flesh” (vv. 19–21), sin (the power behind the flesh) assaults God’s people. The eight traits at the heart of the list — “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy” — all spring from competitive pride, the foremost of the seven deadly sins (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, chap. 8). Pride and its offspring rob me of love, joy, and peace (Gal. 5:22). I can now see that pride assailed me throughout my teaching career. At Belhaven College and at RTS, I always taught with people who were better at doing what I did best! In face of their superior gifts and attainments there was always the threat of jealousy, rivalry, and envy.

     “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (v. 16). Over the years I have come to see that the nine qualities of 5:22–23 are weapons from the Spirit to combat the flesh. Especially potent against pride is love (Greek agapē) — love that “does not envy or boast” (1 Cor. 13:4), that esteems others more highly than oneself (Phil. 2:1–3). In the face of pride, the Spirit also granted me joy — in praying with colleagues, in valuing all that they taught me, in knowing them to be skilled comrades-in-arms against a common foe (Eph. 6:10–20), in recalling how they discouraged me from taking myself too seriously.

     Worship: “My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day” (Ps. 71:8). I give thanks to God the Father. He fashioned me in His own image, and surrounded me with the wonders of His creation. He has granted me seventy-three years of life. He disclosed the glory of His Son to me. He drew me out of darkness into light, out of death into life. When I willfully disobey, He disciplines me — as gently as possible, as sternly as necessary! I shudder to think what course my life would have taken had it not been for the heavenly Father’s patience, mercy, and love to His stubborn and wayward child.

     I give thanks to God the Son. He loved me, and He went to the cross to save me from the sins that enslaved me, to crucify the record of guilt that the demonic powers used against me (Col. 2:13–15). He is my wisdom, my righteousness, my holiness and my redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). I now have a far more radical view of human wickedness and personal sin than before. For this very reason, I have a far more radical view of grace: what was long an important concept is now a preeminent reality.

     I give thanks to God the Holy Spirit. He has enlightened me to understand the Bible and has enabled me to teach. He has armed me for battle against the flesh; and He has slowly been cultivating in my life such qualities as love, joy, peace, and patience. I well know my natural bent to selfishness, gloom, anxiety, and impatience; so when my heart is moved to love God or another person, I know the Holy Spirit has been at work.

     For your own worship, I recommend a 30-day notebook. For each day, include (besides names of persons for whom to pray) a biblical Psalm and a hymn of praise. You have a Bible. You may need a hymnbook: buy one, don’t take it from the church pew!

     “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed” (Ps. 71:23).

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     Dr. Knox Chamblin was professor emeritus of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. In addition to teaching Sunday school, he participated in conferences and foreign missions.

Knox Chamblin Books:

Deut. 21; Psalms 108-109; Isaiah 48; Revelation 18

By Don Carson 6/16/2018

     Psalm 108 is rather distinctive in the book of Psalms. Apart from minor changes, it is made up of parts of two other Psalms. Psalm 108:1-5 follows Ps. 57:7-11; Psalm 108:6-13 follows 60:5-12. Nevertheless the “feel” of the result is startlingly different.

     Both Psalms 57 and 60 find David under enormous pressure. In the former, the superscription places David in flight from King Saul, and hiding in a cave; in the latter, David and his troops have been defeated. In both cases, however, the Psalm ends in praise and confidence — and the respective sections on praise and confidence from these two Psalms are now joined together to make Psalm 108. Although Psalm 108 still hints at a stressful situation that includes some chastening by God (Ps. 108:11), the tone of the whole slips away from the dark moods for the early part of the other two Psalms, and in comparison is flooded with adoration and confidence.

     That simple fact forces us to recognize something very important. The earlier two Psalms (57 and 60) will doubtless seem especially appropriate to us when we face peril — individual or corporate — or suffer some kind of humiliating defeat. The present Psalm will ring in our ears when we pause to look back on the manifold goodness of God, reminding ourselves of the sweep of his sovereignty and his utter worthiness to receive our praise. It might prove especially useful when we are about to venture on some new initiative for which our faith demands fresh grounding. This perspective of changed application occurs because the same words are now placed in a new context. And that is the point.

     For although all of Scripture is true and important, deserving study, reflection, and carefully applied thought, the Lord God in his wisdom did not give us a Bible of abstract principles, but highly diverse texts woven into highly diverse situations. Despite the diversity, of course, there is still only one sweeping storyline, and only one Mind ultimately behind it. But the rich tapestry of varied human experience reflected in the different biblical books and passages — not least in the different Psalms — enables the Bible to speak to us with peculiar force and power when the “fit” between the experience of the human author and our experience is especially intimate.

     For this astonishing wealth, God deserves reverent praise. What mind but his, what compass of understanding but his, what providential oversight over the production of Scripture but his, could produce a work so unified yet so profoundly diverse? Here, too, is reason to join our “Amen” to the words of 108:5: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.”

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Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition. He has authored numerous books, and recently edited The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016).

Don Carson Books:

Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 65

O God of Our Salvation
65 To The Choirmaster. A Psalm Of David. A Song.

1 Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
2 O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
3 When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
4 Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!

5 By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
6 the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
7 who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
8 so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

      6. These being the ends proposed, it remains to see in what way the Church is to execute this part of discipline, which consists in jurisdiction. And, first, let us remember the division above laid down, that some sins are public, others private or secret. Public are those which are done not before one or two witnesses, but openly, and to the offence of the whole Church. By secret, I mean not such as are altogether concealed from men, such as those of hypocrites (for these fall not under the judgment of the Church), but those of an intermediate description, which are not without witnesses, and yet are not public. The former class requires not the different steps which Christ enumerates; but whenever anything of the kind occurs, the Church ought to do her duty by summoning the offender, and correcting him according to his fault. In the second class, the matter comes not before the Church, unless there is contumacy, according to the rule of Christ. In taking cognisance of offences, it is necessary to attend to the distinction between delinquencies and flagrant iniquities. In lighter offences there is not so much occasion for severity, but verbal chastisement is sufficient, and that gentle and fatherly, so as not to exasperate or confound the offender, but to bring him back to himself, so that he may rather rejoice than be grieved at the correction. Flagrant iniquities require a sharper remedy. It is not sufficient verbally to rebuke him who, by some open act of evil example, has grievously offended the Church; but he ought for a time to be denied the communion of the Supper, until he gives proof of repentance. Paul does not merely administer a verbal rebuke to the Corinthian, but discards him from the Church, and reprimands the Corinthians for having borne with him so long (1 Cor. 5:5). This was the method observed by the ancient and purer Church, when legitimate government was in vigour. When any one was guilty of some flagrant iniquity, and thereby caused scandal, he was first ordered to abstain from participation in the sacred Supper, and thereafter to humble himself before God, and testify his penitence before the Church. There were, moreover, solemn rites, which, as indications of repentance, were wont to be prescribed to those who had lapsed. When the penitent had thus made satisfaction to the Church, he was received into favour by the laying on of hands. This admission often receives the name of peace from Cyprian, who briefly describes the form. [593] "They act as penitents for a certain time, next they come to confession, and receive the right of communion by the laying on of hands of the bishop and clergy." Although the bishop with the clergy thus superintended the restoration of the penitent, the consent of the people was at the same time required, as he elsewhere explains.

7. So far was any one from being exempted from this discipline, that even princes submitted to it in common with their subjects; and justly, since it is the discipline of Christ, to whom all sceptres and diadems should be subject. Thus Theodosius, [594] when excommunicated by Ambrose, because of the slaughter perpetrated at Thessalonica, laid aside all the royal insignia with which he was surrounded, and publicly in the Church bewailed the sin into which he had been betrayed by the fraud of others, with groans and tears imploring pardon. Great kings should not think it a disgrace to them to prostrate themselves suppliantly before Christ, the King of kings; nor ought they to be displeased at being judged by the Church. For seeing they seldom hear anything in their courts but mere flattery, the more necessary is it that the Lord should correct them by the mouth of his priests. Nay, they ought rather to wish the priests not to spare them, in order that the Lord may spare. I here say nothing as to those by whom the jurisdiction ought to be exercised, because it has been said elsewhere (Chap. 11 sec. 5, 6). I only add, that the legitimate course to be taken in excommunication, as shown by Paul, is not for the elders alone to act apart from others, but with the knowledge and approbation of the Church, so that the body of the people, without regulating the procedure, may, as witnesses and guardians, observe it, and prevent the few from doing anything capriciously. Throughout the whole procedure, in addition to invocation of the name of God, there should be a gravity bespeaking the presence of Christ, and leaving no room to doubt that he is presiding over his own tribunal.

8. It ought not, however, to be omitted, that the Church, in exercising severity, ought to accompany it with the spirit of meekness. For, as Paul enjoins, we must always take care that he on whom discipline is exercised be not "swallowed up with overmuch sorrow" (2 Cor. 2:7): for in this way, instead of cure there would be destruction. The rule of moderation will be best obtained from the end contemplated. For the object of excommunication being to bring the sinner to repentance and remove bad examples, in order that the name of Christ may not be evil spoken of, nor others tempted to the same evil courses: if we consider this, we shall easily understand how far severity should be carried, and at what point it ought to cease. Therefore, when the sinner gives the Church evidence of his repentance, and by this evidence does what in him lies to obliterate the offence, he ought not on any account to be urged farther. If he is urged, the rigour now exceeds due measure. In this respect it is impossible to excuse the excessive austerity of the ancients, which was altogether at variance with the injunction of our Lord, and strangely perilous. For when they enjoined a formal repentance, and excluded from communion for three, or four, or seven years, or for life, what could the result be, but either great hypocrisy or very great despair? In like manner, when any one who had again lapsed was not admitted to a second repentance, but ejected from the Church, to the end of his life (August. Ep. 54), this was neither useful nor agreeable to reason. Whosoever, therefore, looks at the matter with sound judgment, will here regret a want of prudence. Here, however, I rather disapprove of the public custom, than blame those who complied with it. Some of them certainly disapproved of it, but submitted to what they were unable to correct. Cyprian, indeed, declares that it was not with his own will he was thus rigorous. "Our patience, facility, and humanity (he says, Lib. 1 Ep. 3), are ready to all who come. I wish all to be brought back into the Church: I wish all our fellow-soldiers to be contained within the camp of Christ and the mansions of God the Father. I forgive all; I disguise much; from an earnest desire of collecting the brotherhood, I do not minutely scrutinise all the faults which have been committed against God. I myself often err, by forgiving offences more than I ought. Those returning in repentance, and those confessing their sins with simple and humble satisfaction, I embrace with prompt and full delight." Chrysostom, who is somewhat more severe, still speaks thus: "If God is so kind, why should his priest wish to appear austere?" We know, moreover, how indulgently Augustine treated the Donatists; not hesitating to admit any who returned from schism to their bishopric, as soon as they declared their repentance. But, as a contrary method had prevailed, they were compelled to follow it, and give up their own judgment.

9. But as the whole body of the Church are required to act thus mildly, and not to carry their rigour against those who have lapsed to an extreme, but rather to act charitably towards them, according to the precept of Paul, so every private individual ought proportionately to accommodate himself to this clemency and humanity. Such as have, therefore, been expelled from the Church, it belongs not to us to expunge from the number of the elect, or to despair of, as if they were already lost. We may lawfully judge them aliens from the Church, and so aliens from Christ, but only during the time of their excommunication. If then, also, they give greater evidence of petulance than of humility, still let us commit them to the judgment of the Lord, hoping better of them in future than we see at present, and not ceasing to pray to God for them. And (to sum up in one word) let us not consign to destruction their person, which is in the hand, and subject to the decision, of the Lord alone; but let us merely estimate the character of each man's acts according to the law of the Lord. In following this rule, we abide by the divine judgment rather than give any judgment of our own. Let us not arrogate to ourselves greater liberty in judging, if we would not limit the power of God, and give the law to his mercy. Whenever it seems good to Him, the worst are changed into the best; aliens are ingrafted, and strangers are adopted into the Church. This the Lord does, that he may disappoint the thoughts of men, and confound their rashness; a rashness which, if not curbed, would usurp a power of judging to which it has no title.

10. For when our Saviour promises that what his servants bound on earth should be bound in heaven (Mt. 18:18), he confines the power of binding to the censure of the Church, which does not consign those who are excommunicated to perpetual ruin and damnation, but assures them, when they hear their life and manners condemned, that perpetual damnation will follow if they do not repent. Excommunication differs from anathema in this, that the latter completely excluding pardon, dooms and devotes the individual to eternal destruction, whereas the former rather rebukes and animadverts upon his manners; and although it also punishes, it is to bring him to salvation, by forewarning him of his future doom. If it succeeds, reconciliation and restoration to communion are ready to be given. Moreover, anathema is rarely if ever to be used. Hence, though ecclesiastical discipline does not allow us to be on familiar and intimate terms with excommunicated persons, still we ought to strive by all possible means to bring them to a better mind, and recover them to the fellowship and unity of the Church: as the apostle also says, "Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thess. 3:15). If this humanity be not observed in private as well as public, the danger is, that our discipline shall degenerate into destruction. [595]

     Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain      Institutes of the Christian Religion

  • Lecture 12 Acts 9
  • Lecture 13 Acts 10-11
  • Lecture 14 Acts 12-13

     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     11/1/2011    In Defense of Words

     What is a pastor? I was asked this question not too long ago by a teenage girl who apparently didn’t know the meaning of the word pastor and was curious to learn. I must admit that I was somewhat shocked and quite saddened that she didn’t know what a pastor is, but I quickly sought to offer her an explanation of the word and how I serve as a pastor of God’s people by preaching, teaching, praying, evangelizing, discipling, counseling, and so on. And just as these words were coming out of my mouth, I realized that if she didn’t know the meaning of the word pastor, she likely didn’t know the meanings of any of these other words either—and she’s not alone. Over the years, I have found that people of every age, in the church and world, do not know the meanings of many of the most basic biblical and theological words. This isn’t primarily the fault of the people, it is the fault of us pastors. We have not been faithful in our calling to equip God’s people in the theology of His Word and in the theological terms of His Word.

     Many of the current problems in the church are due to our lack of knowledge of Scripture itself, and this is not just a problem in the pew but in the pulpit as well. The problem is not that we don’t read the Bible, the problem is that we don’t study the Bible. In fact, the Bible itself does not call us merely to read it in order to get through it as quickly as possible in a perfunctory manner—on the contrary, the Bible tells us to devour it one jot and tittle at a time, to study it as unashamed workmen, to rightly divide it, to search it, to meditate on it, to delight in it, to let it dwell within our hearts richly, and to hide it in our hearts that we might not sin against the Lord. We rightly affirm the complete, word-for-word inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, yet we often fail to study it word for word, thought for thought, phrase for phrase, and thus fail to grasp the very basic meanings of the eternally weighty and glorious words that God Himself has graciously revealed to us. More to the point, while there are many important theological discussions and disputes within the church, some result from a simple lack of historical, ecclesial, and theological understanding of terms.

     By the grace of God, if the rising generations are to hear the gospel and mature as disciples of Jesus Christ who make other disciples, they must have parents and preachers who know the meanings of the words of the gospel and the words of the Word of God. In our post-everything culture, we desperately need to recover a robust knowledge of the meanings of biblical and theological words so that we might rightly employ and apply them as we live coram deo, by the grace of God and for the glory of God, knowing as much as we can possibly know about the glorious meanings of grace and glory.

     click here for article source

     Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.

Ligonier     coram Deo (definition)

American Minute
     by Bill Federer

     The father of the American space program died this day, June 16, 1977. He developed the famed V-2 rocket for Germany before emigrating to the US, where in 1958, he launched America's first satellite. He became the director of NASA, the U.S. guided missile program and founded the National Space Institute. His name was Wernher von Braun, who stated: "The laws of nature that enable us to fly to the Moon also enable us to destroy our home planet… The guidelines of what we ought to do are furnished in the moral law of God."

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams

God, that dumping ground of our dreams.
--- Jean Rostand
Carnet d'un Biologiste

We don't forget that we are Christians. We forget that we are human, and that one oversight alone can debilitate the potential of our future.
--- Wayne Cordeiro
Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion

Reality is my god
evidence is my scripture
big history is my creation story
ecology is my theology
integrity is my salvation
insuring a just and healthy future is my mission
--- Michael Dowd
Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World

God’s people don’t live on explanations;
they live on promises.
--- Warren Wiersbe
Be Heroic (Minor Prophets): Demonstrating Bravery by Your Walk

... from here, there and everywhere

Cry of dereliction on the cross
     Stumbling Block

     We must now pass by the details of the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, his trials before Annas and Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate, Peter’s denials, the cruel mockery by priests and soldiers, the spitting and the scourging, and the hysteria of the mob who demanded his death. We move on to the end of the story. Condemned to death by crucifixion, ‘he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth’ (Isa. 53:7). Carrying his own cross, until Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry it for him, he will have walked along the Via Dolorosa, out of the city, to Golgotha, ‘the place of the skull’. ‘Here they crucified him’, the evangelists write, declining to dwell on the stripping, the clumsy hammering home of the nails, or the wrenching of his limbs as the cross was hoisted and dropped into its place. Even the excruciating pain could not silence his repeated entreaties: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ The soldiers gambled for his clothes. Some women stood afar off. The crowd remained a while to watch. Jesus commended his mother to John’s care and John to hers. He spoke words of kingly assurance to the penitent criminal crucified at his side. Meanwhile, the rulers sneered at him, shouting: ‘He saved others, but he can’t save himself!’ Their words, spoken as an insult, were the literal truth. He could not save himself and others simultaneously. He chose to sacrifice himself in order to save the world.
     Gradually the crowd thinned out, their curiosity glutted. At last silence fell and darkness came – darkness perhaps because no eye should see, and silence because no tongue could tell, the anguish of soul which the sinless Saviour now endured. ‘At the birth of the Son of God’, Douglas Webster has written, ‘there was brightness at midnight; at the death of the Son of God there was darkness at noon.’ (Douglas Webster, In Debt to Christ) What happened in the darkness is expressed by biblical writers in a variety of ways:
     Isa. 53:5–6; John 1:29; Mark 10:45; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13
     ... it seems that the darkness of the sky was an outward symbol of the spiritual darkness which enveloped him. For what is darkness in biblical symbolism but separation from God who is light and in whom ‘there is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5)? ‘Outer darkness’ was one of the expressions Jesus used for hell, since it is an absolute exclusion from the light of God’s presence. Into that outer darkness the Son of God plunged for us. Our sins blotted out the sunshine of his Father’s face. We may even dare to say that our sins sent Christ to hell – not to the ‘hell’ (hadēs, the abode of the dead) to which the Creed says he ‘descended’ after death, but to the ‘hell’ (gehenna, the place of punishment) to which our sins condemned him before his body died.
     The darkness seems to have lasted for three hours. For it was at the third hour (9 a.m.) that he was crucified, at the sixth hour (12 noon) that the darkness came over the whole land, and at the ninth hour (3 p.m.) that, emerging out of the darkness, Jesus cried out in a loud voice in Aramaic: ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ meaning, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Mark 15:25, 33–34 The Greek speakers present misunderstood his words and thought he was calling for Elijah. What he said is still misunderstood by many today. Four main explanations of his terrible cry of ‘dereliction’ (desertion, abandonment) have been offered. All commentators agree that he was quoting Psalm 22:1. But they are not agreed as to why he did so. What was the significance of this quotation on his lips?
     First, some suggest that it was a cry of anger, unbelief or despair. Perhaps he had clung to the hope that even at the last moment the Father would send angels to rescue him, or at least that in the midst of his utter obedience to the Father’s will he would continue to experience the comfort of the Father’s presence. But no, it was now clear to him that he had been abandoned, and he cried out with a heart-rending ‘why?’ of dismay or defiance. His faith failed him. But of course, these interpreters add, he was mistaken. He imagined he was forsaken, when he was not. Those who thus explain the cry of dereliction can scarcely realize what they are doing. They are denying the moral perfection of the character of Jesus. They are saying that he was guilty of unbelief on the cross, as of cowardice in the garden. They are accusing him of failure, and failure at the moment of his greatest and supremest self-sacrifice. Christian faith protests against this explanation.
     A second interpretation, which is a modification of the first, is to understand the shout of dereliction as a cry of loneliness. Jesus, it is now maintained, knew God’s promises never to fail or forsake his people. E.g. Josh. 1:5, 9 and Isa. 41:10 He knew the steadfastness of God’s covenant love. So his ‘why?’ was not a complaint that God had actually forsaken him, but rather that he had allowed him to feel forsaken. ‘I have sometimes thought’, wrote T. R. Glover, ‘there never was an utterance that reveals more amazingly the distance between feeling and fact.’ (T. R. Glover, The Jesus of History) Instead of addressing God as ‘Father’, he could now call him only ‘my God’, which is indeed an affirmation of faith in his covenant faithfulness, but falls short of declaring his fatherly loving-kindness. In this case Jesus was neither mistaken, nor unbelieving, but experiencing what the saints have called ‘the dark night of the soul’, and indeed doing so deliberately out of solidarity with us. In this condition, as Thomas J. Crawford puts it, the people of God ‘derive no conscious satisfaction from the joys of his favour and the comforts of his fellowship’. They are granted ‘no approving smile, no commending voice, no inward manifestation of the divine favour’. (Thomas J. Crawford, The Doctrine Of Holy Scripture Respecting The Atonement (1871)) This explanation is possible. It does not cast a slur on the character of Jesus like the first. Yet there seems to be an insuperable difficulty in the way of adopting it, namely that the words of Psalm 22:1 express an experience of being, and not just feeling, God-forsaken.
     A third quite popular interpretation is to say that Jesus was uttering a cry of victory, the exact opposite of the first explanation, the cry of despair. The argument now is that, although Jesus quoted only the first verse of Psalm 22, he did so to represent the whole Psalm which begins and continues with an account of appalling sufferings, but ends with great confidence, and even triumph: ‘I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him!...For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help’ (vv. 22). This is ingenious but (it seems to me) far-fetched. Why should Jesus have quoted from the Psalm’s beginning if in reality he was alluding to its end? It would seem rather perverse. Would anybody have understood his purpose?
     The fourth explanation is simple and straightforward. It is to take the words at their face value and to understand them as a cry of real dereliction. I agree with Dale who wrote: ‘I decline to accept any explanation of these words which implies that they do not represent the actual truth of our Lord’s position.’ (R. W. Dale, The Atonement) Jesus had no need to repent of uttering a false cry. Up to this moment, though forsaken by men, he could add, ‘Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me’ (John 16:32).
     In the darkness, however, he was absolutely alone, being now also God-forsaken. As Calvin put it, ‘If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual...Unless his soul shared in the punishment, he would have been the Redeemer of bodies alone.’ In consequence, ‘he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man’. (Calvin’s Institutes, II. Institutes of the Christian Religion (Set of 2 volumes)) So then an actual and dreadful separation took place between the Father and the Son; it was voluntarily accepted by both the Father and the Son; it was due to our sins and their just reward; and Jesus expressed this horror of great darkness, this God-forsakenness, by quoting the only verse of Scripture which accurately described it, and which he had perfectly fulfilled, namely, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ The theological objections and problems we shall come to later, although we already insist that the God-forsakenness of Jesus on the cross must be balanced with such an equally biblical assertion as ‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ’. C. E. B. Cranfield is right to emphasize both the truth that Jesus experienced ‘not merely a felt, but a real, abandonment by his Father’ and ‘the paradox that, while this God-forsakenness was utterly real, the unity of the Blessed Trinity was even then unbroken’. (C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel according to St Mark: An Introduction and Commentary (Cambridge Greek Testament Commentaries)) At this point, however, it is enough to suggest that Jesus had been meditating on Psalm 22, which describes the cruel persecution of an innocent and godly man, as he was meditating on other Psalms which he quoted from the cross; (E.g. ‘I am thirsty’ (John 19:28) is an allusion to Ps. 69:21 (cf. Ps. 22:15), and ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit’ (Luke 23:46), a quotation of Ps. 31:5.) that he quoted verse 1 for the same reason that he quoted every other Scripture, namely that he believed he was fulfilling it; and that his cry was in the form of a question (‘Why...?’), not because he did not know its answer, but only because the Old Testament text itself (which he was quoting) was in that form.
     Almost immediately after the cry of dereliction, Jesus uttered three more words or sentences in quick succession. First, ‘I am thirsty’, his great spiritual sufferings having taken their toll of him physically. Secondly, he called out, again (according to Matthew and Mark) in a loud voice, ‘It is finished.’ And thirdly the tranquil, voluntary, confident self-commendation, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,’ as he breathed his last breath. (John 19:28, 30; Luke 23:46) The middle cry, the loud shout of victory, is in the Gospel text the single word tetelestai. Being in the perfect tense, it means ‘it has been and will for ever remain finished’. We note the achievement Jesus claimed just before he died. It is not men who have finished their brutal deed; it is he who has accomplished what he came into the world to do. He has borne the sins of the world. Deliberately, freely and in perfect love he has endured the judgment in our place. He has procured salvation for us, established a new covenant between God and humankind, and made available the chief covenant blessing, the forgiveness of sins. At once the curtain of the Temple, which for centuries had symbolized the alienation of sinners from God, was torn in two from top to bottom, in order to demonstrate that the sin-barrier had been thrown down by God, and the way into his presence opened.
     Thirty-six hours later God raised Jesus from the dead. He who had been condemned for us in his death, was publicly vindicated in his resurrection. It was God’s decisive demonstration that he had not died in vain.
     All this presents a coherent and logical picture. It gives an explanation of the death of Jesus which takes into proper scientific account all the available data, without avoiding any. It explains the central importance which Jesus attached to his death, why he instituted his supper to commemorate it, and how by his death the new covenant has been ratified, with its promise of forgiveness. It explains his agony of anticipation in the garden, his anguish of dereliction on the cross, and his claim to have decisively accomplished our salvation. All these phenomena become intelligible if we accept the explanation given by Jesus and his apostles that ‘he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’.
     In conclusion, the cross enforces three truths – about ourselves, about God and about Jesus Christ.
     First, our sin must be extremely horrible. Nothing reveals the gravity of sin like the cross. For ultimately what sent Christ there was neither the greed of Judas, nor the envy of the priests, nor the vacillating cowardice of Pilate, but our own greed, envy, cowardice and other sins, and Christ’s resolve in love and mercy to bear their judgment and so put them away. It is impossible for us to face Christ’s cross with integrity and not to feel ashamed of ourselves. Apathy, selfishness and complacency blossom everywhere in the world except at the cross. There these noxious weeds shrivel and die. They are seen for the tatty, poisonous things they are. For if there was no way by which the righteous God could righteously forgive our unrighteousness, except that he should bear it himself in Christ, it must be serious indeed. It is only when we see this that, stripped of our self-righteousness and self-satisfaction, we are ready to put our trust in Jesus Christ as the Saviour we urgently need.
     Secondly, God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension. God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate. He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins. It is what we deserved. But he did not. Because he loved us, he came after us in Christ. He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sin, guilt, judgment and death. It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that. It is more than love. Its proper name is ‘grace’, which is love to the undeserving.
     Thirdly, Christ’s salvation must be a free gift. He ‘purchased’ it for us at the high price of his own life-blood. So what is there left for us to pay? Nothing! Since he claimed that all was now ‘finished’, there is nothing for us to contribute. Not of course that we now have a licence to sin and can always count on God’s forgiveness. On the contrary, the same cross of Christ, which is the ground of a free salvation, is also the most powerful incentive to a holy life. But this new life follows. First, we have to humble ourselves at the foot of the cross, confess that we have sinned and deserve nothing at his hand but judgment, thank him that he loved us and died for us, and receive from him a full and free forgiveness. Against this self-humbling our ingrained pride rebels. We resent the idea that we cannot earn – or even contribute to – our own salvation. So we stumble, as Paul put it, over the stumbling-block of the cross.36

The Cross of Christ

The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism
     PART II / The Second Verse
     Maimonides on “You Shall Love” (1)

(1)     Reprinted, with changes, from Maimonidean Studies, vol. 3 (1994).

     The first word of this verse, ve’ahavta, “you shall love” (“the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might”), introduces us to one of the fundamental precepts of Judaism: ahavat Hashem, the love for God. This powerful theme, central to religion in general and especially to Judaism, (2) has engaged the attention and careful scrutiny of almost every major Jewish thinker. Because a comprehensive history of this concept in Jewish thought is beyond the scope of this volume, (3) I will focus on representative selections from the history of Jewish thought that pertain to our discussion of the Shema and to the interrelationship of spirituality and law in Judaism.

(2)     “All the Torah is included in the commandment to love God, because he who loves the King devotes all his thoughts to doing that which is good and right in His eyes” (Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, Positive Commandment 3).

(3)     The most comprehensive work on this subject is that of George Vajda, L’amour De Dieu Dans La Theologie Juive Du Moyen Age (Paris: Jo Vrin, 1957). When I published my article on which this chapter is based in Maimonidean Studies in 1993, I was unaware of the excellent article by Shubert Spero, “Maimonides and Our Love for God,” in Judaism (Summer 1983), 32:3.

     However, before we proceed to more analytic interpretations of our key verse, bearing on the nature of our love for God, let us linger briefly on a midrash that gives an entirely different “spin” to the commandment: “love the Lord your God.”

     The Sifre understands the verb ve’ahavta, “and you shall love,” as causative:

     Another explanation of, “You shall love the Lord your God” (
Deut. 6:4): Cause Him to be beloved by humans, even as your father Abraham did, as it is written, “[And Abram took Sarai his wife, and his brother’s son Lot and all the substance that they had gathered] and the souls that they had gotten in Haran” (Gen. 12:5). (Sifre to Deuteronomy, pesikta 32)

     “The souls that they had gotten in Haran” is interpreted by the Sages as referring to the proselytes whom Abraham and Sarah had converted from paganism to monotheism. Hence, to love God means to act so as to make Him beloved of others.

     In a parallel text in the Talmud, this same theme is recorded more elaborately:

     Abaye cited a baraita: “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God’ (
Deut. 6:4) means that because of you the Name of Heaven will become beloved.” [This means] that when a person studies Scripture and Mishnah and serves scholars of the Torah, and he speaks softly with other people, and his dealings in the market place are proper, and his business is conducted honestly—what do people say about him? [They say:] “Happy is so-and-so who studied Torah; happy is his father who taught him Torah; happy is his teacher who taught him Torah; woe to those who have not studied Torah. Have you seen so-and-so who studied Torah? How beautiful are his manners! How refined are his deeds! (Yoma 86a)

     Thus, both the Sifre and the Talmud consider the love of God as a functional and social as well as a personal and emotional commandment: we are to live and act so that others (beriyot, literally all human “creatures,” whether Jews or non-Jews, believers or nonbelievers) turn to Him in love. This parallels the commandment of kiddush Hashem, the “sanctification of the Name,” which we discussed earlier (see chapter 5).

     To Maimonides, the passages we have just discussed constituted far more than an engaging homily. In fact, he mentions them prominently in his work on the commandments, where they take up fully one-half of his description of the mitzvah of loving God. (4) Let us now turn our attention more directly to what Maimonides has to say about the precept itself: “And you shall love the Lord your God.”

(4)     Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Positive Commandment 2.

     Clearly, no serious consideration of Jewish thought or philosophy can omit the views of Maimonides. The locus classicus of his views on ahavat Hashem is this passage in his immortal legal code, the Mishneh Torah:

     What is the way to attain the love and fear of God? When a man contemplates His great and wondrous deeds and creations, and sees in them His unequaled and infinite wisdom, he immediately loves and praises and exalts Him, and is overcome by a great desire to know the great Name; as David said, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God”
Ps. 42:3). And when he considers these very matters, immediately he withdraws and is frightened and knows that he is but a small, lowly, dark creature who, with his inferior and puny mind, stands before Him who is perfect in His knowledge; as David said, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers … what is man that You are mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:4, 5). Thus do I explain many great principles concerning the actions of the Master of the Worlds, [namely,] that they provide an opportunity for a wise person to love God. As the Sages said concerning love, “as a result of this you will come to know Him by whose word the world came into being.” (Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah, 2:2)

     According to Maimonides, the two religious emotions of love and fear share a common origin: the contemplation of the cosmos. Deep reflection on the creation leads to two apparently divergent religious effects: ahavat Hashem (love of God) and yirat Hashem (fear of God). Although different, these two emotions are fundamentally linked to each other. We cannot discuss, let alone understand, the one without the other.

     Furthermore, love and fear serve as mirror images of each other. Love for God represents a centrifugal motion of the self: overwhelmed by the wisdom we see revealed in the marvels of creation, we seeks to reach outward and upward toward the Creator in order to know Him better. Fear of God is the precise opposite: overwhelmed by the greatness of the Creator, we realize our own triviality, our marginality, and our very nothingness. And so, in a centripetal counter-motion we pull ourselves inward and retreat into ourselves. (5)

(5)     This analysis of love and fear of God should be compared with that of the nineteenth-century Protestant thinker Rudolf Otto, who, in his The Idea of the Holy, wrote of two reactions to Nature; the first is fascination with the divine wisdom implicit in Nature, and the second is terror as man retreats before the Mysterium Tremendum. I do not know if Maimonides influenced him directly, but he certainly preceded Otto in this almost identical formulation.

  The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism

History of the Destruction of Jerusalem
     Thanks to Meir Yona

     CHAPTER 21.

     Of The [Temple And] Cities That Were Built By Herod And Erected From The Very Foundations; As Also Of Those Other Edifices That Were Erected By Him; And What Magnificence He Showed To Foreigners; And How Fortune Was In All Things Favorable To Him.

     1. Accordingly, in the fifteenth year of his reign, Herod rebuilt the temple, and encompassed a piece of land about it with a wall, which land was twice as large as that before enclosed. The expenses he laid out upon it were vastly large also, and the riches about it were unspeakable. A sign of which you have in the great cloisters that were erected about the temple, and the citadel which was on its north side. The cloisters he built from the foundation, but the citadel 32 he repaired at a vast expense; nor was it other than a royal palace, which he called Antonia, in honor of Antony. He also built himself a palace in the Upper city, containing two very large and most beautiful apartments; to which the holy house itself could not be compared [in largeness]. The one apartment he named Caesareum, and the other Agrippium, from his [two great] friends.

     2. Yet did he not preserve their memory by particular buildings only, with their names given them, but his generosity went as far as entire cities; for when he had built a most beautiful wall round a country in Samaria, twenty furlongs long, and had brought six thousand inhabitants into it, and had allotted to it a most fruitful piece of land, and in the midst of this city, thus built, had erected a very large temple to Caesar, and had laid round about it a portion of sacred land of three furlongs and a half, he called the city Sebaste, from Sebastus, or Augustus, and settled the affairs of the city after a most regular manner.

     3. And when Caesar had further bestowed upon him another additional country, he built there also a temple of white marble, hard by the fountains of Jordan: the place is called Panium, where is a top of a mountain that is raised to an immense height, and at its side, beneath, or at its bottom, a dark cave opens itself; within which there is a horrible precipice, that descends abruptly to a vast depth; it contains a mighty quantity of water, which is immovable; and when any body lets down any thing to measure the depth of the earth beneath the water, no length of cord is sufficient to reach it. Now the fountains of Jordan rise at the roots of this cavity outwardly; and, as some think, this is the utmost origin of Jordan: but we shall speak of that matter more accurately in our following history.

     4. But the king erected other places at Jericho also, between the citadel Cypros and the former palace, such as were better and more useful than the former for travelers, and named them from the same friends of his. To say all at once, there was not any place of his kingdom fit for the purpose that was permitted to be without somewhat that was for Caesar's honor; and when he had filled his own country with temples, he poured out the like plentiful marks of his esteem into his province, and built many cities which he called Cesareas.

     5. And when he observed that there was a city by the sea-side that was much decayed, [its name was Strato's Tower,] but that the place, by the happiness of its situation, was capable of great improvements from his liberality, he rebuilt it all with white stone, and adorned it with several most splendid palaces, wherein he especially demonstrated his magnanimity; for the case was this, that all the sea-shore between Dora and Joppa, in the middle, between which this city is situated, had no good haven, insomuch that every one that sailed from Phoenicia for Egypt was obliged to lie in the stormy sea, by reason of the south winds that threatened them; which wind, if it blew but a little fresh, such vast waves are raised, and dash upon the rocks, that upon their retreat the sea is in a great ferment for a long way. But the king, by the expenses he was at, and the liberal disposal of them, overcame nature, and built a haven larger than was the Pyrecum 33 [at Athens]; and in the inner retirements of the water he built other deep stations [for the ships also].

     6. Now although the place where he built was greatly opposite to his purposes, yet did he so fully struggle with that difficulty, that the firmness of his building could not easily be conquered by the sea; and the beauty and ornament of the works were such, as though he had not had any difficulty in the operation; for when he had measured out as large a space as we have before mentioned, he let down stones into twenty fathom water, the greatest part of which were fifty feet in length, and nine in depth, and ten in breadth, and some still larger. But when the haven was filled up to that depth, he enlarged that wall which was thus already extant above the sea, till it was two hundred feet wide; one hundred of which had buildings before it, in order to break the force of the waves, whence it was called Procumatia, or the first breaker of the waves; but the rest of the space was under a stone wall that ran round it. On this wall were very large towers, the principal and most beautiful of which was called Drusium, from Drusus, who was son-in-law to Caesar.

     7. There were also a great number of arches, where the mariners dwelt; and all the places before them round about was a large valley, or walk, for a quay [or landing-place] to those that came on shore; but the entrance was on the north, because the north wind was there the most gentle of all the winds. At the mouth of the haven were on each side three great Colossi, supported by pillars, where those Colossi that are on your left hand as you sail into the port are supported by a solid tower; but those on the right hand are supported by two upright stones joined together, which stones were larger than that tower which was on the other side of the entrance. Now there were continual edifices joined to the haven, which were also themselves of white stone; and to this haven did the narrow streets of the city lead, and were built at equal distances one from another. And over against the mouth of the haven, upon an elevation, there was a temple for Caesar, which was excellent both in beauty and largeness; and therein was a Colossus of Caesar, not less than that of Jupiter Olympius, which it was made to resemble. The other Colossus of Rome was equal to that of Juno at Argos. So he dedicated the city to the province, and the haven to the sailors there; but the honor of the building he ascribed to Caesar, 34 and named it Cesarea accordingly.

     The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Flavius Josephus Translator: William Whiston

The War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)

Proverbs 19:15-16
     by D.H. Stern

15     Laziness makes people fall asleep,
and an idle person will go hungry.

16     He who keeps a mitzvah keeps himself safe,
but he who doesn’t care how he lives will die.

Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)

My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers

                What do you make of this

     Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend … I have called you friends.
John 15:13, 15.

     Jesus does not ask me to die for Him, but to lay down my life for Him. Peter said—“I will lay down my life for Thy sake,” and he meant it; his sense of the heroic was magnificent. It would be a bad thing to be incapable of making such a declaration as Peter made; the sense of our duty is only realized by our sense of the heroic. Has the Lord ever asked you—“Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake?” It is far easier to die than to lay down the life day in and day out with the sense of the high calling. We are not made for brilliant moments, but we have to walk in the light of them in ordinary ways. There was only one brilliant moment in the life of Jesus, and that was on the Mount of Transfiguration; then He emptied Himself the second time of His glory, and came down into the demon-possessed valley. For thirty-three years Jesus laid out His life to do the will of His Father, and, John says, “we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” It is contrary to human nature to do it.

     If I am a friend of Jesus, I have deliberately and carefully to lay down my life for Him. It is difficult, and thank God it is difficult. Salvation is easy because it cost God so much, but the manifestation of it in my life is difficult. God saves a man and endues him with the Holy Spirit, and then says in effect—‘Now work it out, be loyal to Me, whilst the nature of things round about you would make you disloyal.’ “I have called you friends.” Stand loyal to your Friend, and remember that His honour is at stake in your bodily life.

My Utmost for His Highest

Song in a Year of Catastrophe
     the Poetry of RS Thomas

                Song in a Year of Catastrophe

And I went and put my hands
  into the ground, and they took root
  and grew into a season's harvest.
  I looked behind the veil
  of the leaves, and heard voices
  that I knew had been dead
  in my tongue years before my birth.
  I learned the dark.

  I let go all holds then, and sank
  like a hopeless swimmer into the earth,
  and at last came fully into the ease
  and the joy of that place,
  all my lost ones returning.

Wendell Berry

Searching For Meaning In Midrash

     BIBLE TEXT / Genesis 4:23–25 / And Lamech said to his wives,

   "Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
   O wives of Lamech, give ear to my speech.
   I have slain a man for wounding me,
   And a lad for bruising me.
   If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold."

     Adam knew his wife again, and she bore him a son and named him Seth, meaning, "God has provided me with another offspring in place of Abel," for Cain had killed him.

     MIDRASH TEXT Genesis Rabbah 23, 4 And Lamech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, hear my voice." Rabbi Yosé bar Ḥanina said, "He demanded of them 'use.' They [Lamech's wives] said to him [Lamech], 'Tomorrow a flood will come. If we listen to you, will we be fruitful and multiply for a curse?' He [Lamech] said to them [his wives], 'I have slain a man for wounding me, because of him I will be wounded. And a lad for bruising me, because of him I will be bruised. How strange! Cain slew and it was suspended for him for seven generations, and I who did not slay, isn't it right that it be suspended for me?' " Rabbi said, "This is a kol va-ḥomer of darkness [a logical argument which remains obscure]." If so, when can the Holy One, praised is He, collect His writ of debt? Rabbi Yaakov bar Idi asked Rabbi Yoḥanan, "If 'a man' why 'a lad'? And if 'a lad,' why 'a man'?" He said to him, "He was a man according to his size, but a lad year-wise." He [Lamech] said to them [his wives], "Let's go to Adam." They went to Adam. He [Adam] said to them [Adah and Zillah], "Do yours and the Holy One, praised is He, will do His." And they [Adah and Zillah] said to him [Adam], "Healer, heal your limp! You have been separated from Eve one hundred and thirty years just so that she won't have a child. How strange!" Because he heard this, he joined to produce future generations.

     CONTEXT / The Rabbis were puzzled by these verses: Why does Lamech say "I have slain a man for wounding me," when there is no record in Genesis of Lamech slaying anyone? And what is Lamech referring to when he says "and a lad for bruising me"? This chapter describes early human history—Lamech's two wives, Adah and Zillah; Adah's son Jabal, who "was the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and amidst herds"; and her other son, Jubal, who was "the ancestor of all who play the lyre and pipe." These ancient traditions speak of events that are virtually beyond human memory. Of course, this did not stop the Rabbis from filling in the details of the lives of these people and the events to which this story refers.

     According to Rabbi Yosé bar Ḥanina, He [Lamech] demanded of them [his wives, Adah and Zillah] "use," the rabbinic abbreviation for "use of the bed," a euphemism for sexual relations. They, his wives, Adah and Zillah, said to him, Lamech, "Tomorrow a flood will come in the time of Noah." The flood appears in Genesis 6, soon after the story of Lamech and his wives. "If we listen to you, will we be fruitful and multiply, give birth, for a curse," that is, will we have children who will die in the impending flood? Apparently, they knew of God's anger toward humanity and the flood that God would bring about in several generations. The curse is bringing children into the world just to have them killed in the flood.

     He [Lamech] said to them [his wives], "I have slain a man for wounding me," because of him I will be wounded. There is another Midrash that asserts that the blind Lamech accidentally killed his grandfather Cain. Lamech asks, "If Cain slew Abel and it, the judgment against Cain, was suspended for him for seven generations because there is no death sentence carried out against Cain himself, and I who did not slay intentionally, but accidentally, isn't it right that it be suspended for me for my accidental killing of Cain?" Since the Rabbis place these words in Lamech's mouth, he speaks using a kol va-ḥomer, a logical argument from a minor principle (kol) to a major principle (ḥomer), sometimes called an argument a fortiori. If a certain rule applies in the lesser (less significant, less important, less inclusive) case (hence kol, light or minor), then it applies in another case that is more significant, important, or inclusive (ḥomer, heavy or major)! In other words, "Don't worry. We can have sexual relations and children because I won't be punished; neither will my children be punished." Of course, this is the way the Rabbis read the text. The P'shat or contextual reading seems to have Lamech admitting his guilt. The Rabbis read "avenged sevenfold … seventy-sevenfold" as "judgment suspended seven generations … seventy-seven generations."

     Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi, head of the Jewish community in Israel, preeminent teacher of his time, and compiler of the Mishnah, known simply by his title of "Rabbi," said, "This is a kol va-ḥomer of darkness," an illogical argument. To Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi, this argument doesn't hold water: Just because Lamech wasn't punished is no proof of what will happen in the future. Perhaps his children will continue their father's evil ways, and they themselves will eventually be punished. That Lamech has not been punished (yet) is not proof that his future generations will not eventually be punished! If so, when can the Holy One, praised is He, collect His writ of debt, that is, the debt that is owed to God because of the evil that previous generations committed? Rabbi Yaakov bar Idi asked Rabbi Yoḥanan, "If 'a man' why 'a lad'? And if 'a lad,' why 'a man'?" Why does Lamech use both seemingly contradictory terms, man and lad? The Rabbis identify this man/lad as Abel, the brother slain by Cain. He [Rabbi Yoḥanan] said to him [Rabbi Yaakov bar Idi], "He, Abel, was a man according to his size, literally, "according to his limbs," but a lad year-wise, literally, "according to his years." (The translation attempts to retain the rhyme of the Hebrew phrase.) Abel, the slain brother, was a large person, looking like a man, but he was in actuality only a lad. He [Lamech] said to them [his wives], "Let's go to Adam." Lamech proposes having Adam, their ancestor, settle their argument about past sins and future punishments. If Cain was his grandfather, then Adam was his great-grandfather and he would be very, very old. This doesn't seem to bother the Rabbis. They went to Adam. He [Adam] said to them [Adah and Zillah], "Do yours and the Holy One, praised is He, will do His." Judgment is God's business; producing future generations of children is ours. If God will exact punishment, there is nothing we can do about it, even though we are afraid of what might happen in the future. And they [Adah and Zillah] said to him [Adam], "Healer, heal your limp!" (similar to "Physician, heal thyself!" of Luke 4:23). They accuse Adam of being a hypocrite: While telling Adah and Zillah to procreate, Adam himself has been separated from Eve one hundred and thirty years. This is based on a Midrash, cited in Genesis Rabbah 20:11 and 21:9, that Adam avoided sexual contact with Eve so that she [wouldn't] have a child. This was done out of fear: Adam was able to see into the future, and he knew that his descendants would be sinners, to be punished in Gehenna (hell). (This, of course, is not in the biblical text but is a Rabbinic legend, which doesn't prevent Adah and Zillah from knowing about it as well.) Adah and Zillah accuse Adam of hypocrisy in telling them to have children but in refusing to do so himself.

     This Midrash may seem to come out of nowhere, but it's actually based on an odd proximity of verses. The Rabbis noticed not only the strange nature of Lamech's speech, which is not connected to any event in Genesis, but also what happens right after Lamech finishes his speech to his wives. The text continues that "Adam knew [in the biblical sense: had sex with] his wife again, and she bore a son." Why, they wondered, did the text move from Lamech's speech to Adam's relations with Eve and the birth of another son? The Rabbis reasoned that Adah and Zillah called Adam's bluff and said, in effect, "Put up or shut up! If you're telling us to have faith in the future, you'd better also!" Adam, though still mourning the death of Abel, had to face the future and confront reality and produce future generations.

Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living

No Religiously Neutral Approach To Anything
     Origins and Authority of NT

     "Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books

     The reason there is no religiously neutral approach to historical study is that there is no religiously neutral approach to anything. Roy Clouser demonstrates that the Bible’s own epistemological position is that “there is no knowledge or truth that is neutral with respect to God.” (50) He appeals to a number of scriptural passages that show that how individuals think about God affects their ability to have knowledge. In Luke 11:52 Jesus says that when you take away the law of God, you “have taken away the key to knowledge.” And there is no reason to think only religious knowledge is intended. Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 1:5 Paul reminds his readers that “in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.” Other texts such as Colossians 2:3 affirm the same principle: “[In Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” And Psalm 36:9 declares, “In [God’s] light do we see light,” showing that knowledge of God is the key to acquiring other kinds of knowledge. Clouser concludes, “The cumulative effect of these texts is to teach that no sort of knowledge is religiously neutral.” (51)

     The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories, Revised Edition Roy A. Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 94. Clouser demonstrates that there are clear religious presuppositions in every area of thought, including mathematics, psychology, physics, politics, and more. For further discussions of a Christian epistemology along the lines of Clouser, see J. M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (A Theology of Lordship) (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987).

51 Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories, Revised Edition, 95.

Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books

Watching the Day of the Lord / Love So Amazing
     W. W. Wiersbe

     "Watching the Day of the Lord

If there had been newspapers in Joel's day, the headlines might have read:

No End to Drought in Sight

     A wise preacher or teacher will get the people's attention by referring to something they're all concerned about. In this case, the people of Judah were talking about the economic crisis, so the Lord led Joel to use that event as a the background for his messages. The people didn't realize it, but they were watching the Day of the Lord unfold before their very eyes, and the Prophet Joel explained it to them.

     The name "Joel" means "the Lord is God." Like all true prophets, Joel was commissioned to call the people back to the worship of the true God; and he did this by declaring "the word of the Lord" (1:1; see Jer. 1:2; Ezek. 1:3; and the first verses of Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). It was the task of the priests to teach the people the Law, and it was the responsibility of the prophets to call the people back to the Lord whenever they strayed from His Law. The prophets also interpreted historical events in the light of the Word of God to help the people understand God's will for their lives. They were "forth-tellers" as well as "foretellers."

     Joel wanted the people of Judah to understand what God was saying to them through the plague and the drought. In our own times, the nations of the world are experiencing severe droughts and famines, frightening epidemics, unexpected earthquakes, devastating floods, and other "natural disasters," all of which have greatly affected national and global economy; yet very few people have asked, "What is God saying to us?" Joel wrote his book so the people would know what God was saying through these critical events.

     As you can see from the suggested outline of Joel's book, the prophet announced "the Day of the Lord" and applied it to three events: the plague of locusts, the future invasion of the Assyrians, and the distant judgment that the Lord would send on the whole world. In this chapter, we want to focus on the first two applications of "the Day of the Lord."

     1. The Immediate Day of the Lord (Joel 1:1–20)

     When you're in a crisis, you'll hear all kinds of voices interpreting what's going on and telling you what to do. The optimists will say, "This crisis isn't going to last. Be brave!" The pessimists will sob, "It's going to get worse and there's no escape! We're done for!" The alarmists will see the enemy behind every tree, and the scoffers will question the news reports and shrug their shoulders saying, "What difference does it make anyway?"

     But Joel was a realist who looked at life from the standpoint of the Word of the Lord. He addressed himself to five groups of citizens and gave them four admonitions from the Lord.

     The elders and citizens in general: "Hear this!"
(Joel 1:2–4) He addressed the old men (In the KJV, the Hebrew word is translated "old men" in 1:2 and 2:28, and "elders" in 1:14 and 2:16. The NIV uses "elders" everywhere except 2:28, where the contrast between "young men" and "old men" is quite obvious. It's possible that the "old men" were indeed the official elders of the land.) first for probably two reasons: they had long experience and could authenticate what he was saying, and they were respected citizens in the land. With their support, Joel wasn't just a voice crying in the wilderness. They agreed with the prophet that the nation faced a catastrophe of monumental proportion such as they had never seen before. It was something people would tell to their children and grandchildren for years to come.

     Joel used four different words to describe the plague
(v. 4; see 2:25), and it's been suggested that they represent four stages in the life cycle of the locusts. However, the words probably convey the idea of successive swarms of locusts invading the land, each swarm destroying what the others had left behind. A swarm of locusts can devastate the vegetation of a countryside with amazing rapidity and thoroughness, and nothing can stop them (Ex. 10:1–20).

     To the drunkards: "Wake up and weep!" (Joel 1:5–7) Except for pointing out the insincerity of some of the worshipers (2:12–13), drunkenness is the only sin that Joel actually names in his book. However, this was a serious sin that the prophets often condemned (Hosea 7:5; Amos 4:1). Perhaps the drunkards represented all the careless people in the land whose only interest was sinful pleasure.

     These people had good reason to weep because there was no wine and wouldn't be any more until the next season, if there was a next season. Because of the locusts and the drought, "the new wine is dried up … the vine is dried up" (Joel 1:10, 12). Keep in mind that bread and wine were staples in the Jewish diet, so that even the people who didn't get drunk were affected by the loss.

     Joel compared the locusts to an invading nation and to hungry lions with sharp teeth (v. 6; see 2:2, 11). They attacked the vines and the fig trees, two things essential to Jewish life. Having one's own vineyard and fig trees was a symbol of success and contentment in the East
(2:22; Isa. 36:16; Amos 4:9; Ps. 105:33). Note how Joel uses the personal pronoun my as he speaks of the land and its vegetation, for all of it belonged to the Lord, and He had a right to do with it whatever He pleased.

     To the farmers: "Despair and wail!" (Joel 1:8–12) Joel named some of the crops that had been ruined: the grain (wheat and barley), the new wine, the oil, and the fruit from the pomegranate, palm, and apple trees. From season to season, the locusts ate whatever was produced, and the drought kept the soil from producing anything more. In verses 18–20, Joel includes the flocks and herds and their pastures. All that the farmers could do was express their grief and lament like an engaged girl whose fiancé had died. It seemed a hopeless situation.

     To the priests: "Call a fast!" (Joel 1:13–20) Not only were the people in need, but so was the temple. Nobody could bring the proper sacrifices because no meal, wine, or animals were available. Joel called the priests to lament and pray, including those who worked "the night shift"
(Ps. 134:1). (The phrase "your God" is used eight times in this book to remind the people of their personal relationship to Jehovah and their accountability to Him
(1:13–14; 2:13–14, 23, 26–27; 3:17).)

     The Jews were required to observe only one fast, and that was on the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29, 31). But the religious leaders could call a fast whenever the people faced an emergency and needed to humble themselves and seek God's face
(Jud. 20:26; 2 Chron. 20:3; Ezra 8:21; Neh. 9:1–3; Jer. 36:9). This was such an emergency. "Gird yourself" (Joel 1:13) means "Put on sackcloth!" (See Jer. 4:8 and 6:26). It was time for the people to humble themselves and pray
(2 Chron. 7:14).

     In Joel 1:15–18, we have the lament of the nation, and in verses 19–20, the prayer of the prophet as he interceded for the nation. The lament is a vivid description of the sad condition of the land, the crops, the flocks, and the herds; for "the Day of the Lord" had come to the nation. The immediate reference is to the assault of the locusts and the devastating effects of the drought, but later, Joel uses the phrase to describe the terrible "Day of the Lord" when the nations will be judged. God is the Lord of creation, and without His blessing, nature cannot produce what we need for sustaining life (Pss. 65; 104:10–18, 21; 145:15). We should never pray lightly, "Give us this day our daily bread," for only God can sustain life (Acts 17:25, 28).

     "How the cattle moan!" (Joel 1:18, NIV) This reminds us that all creation "groans and labors" because of the bondage of sin in the world (Rom. 8:18–22; Gen. 3:17–19). Creation longs for that day when the Creator will return to earth and set it free from sin's shackles, and then "the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad … and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom like the rose" (Isa. 35:1).

     It wasn't enough for the people to humble themselves and lament; they also had to pray. This is what God required in His covenant with His people
(2 Chron. 6:26–27; 7:12–15; see Deut. 28:23–24). Joel didn't ask God for anything; he simply told the Lord of the suffering of the land, the beasts, and the people, knowing that God would do what was right. "The fire" (Joel 1:20) refers to the drought, which left the land looking like it had been burned.

     Too often we drift along from day to day, taking our blessings for granted, until God permits a natural calamity to occur and remind us of our total dependence on Him. When water is rationed and food is scarce, and when prices for necessities escalate, then we discover the poverty of our artificial civilization and our throwaway society. Suddenly, necessities become luxuries, and luxuries become burdens.

     God didn't have to send great battalions to Judah to bring the people to their knees. All He needed was a swarm of little insects, and they did the job. Sometimes He uses bacteria or viruses so tiny that you need a special microscope to see them. He is the "Lord of hosts," the Lord of the armies of heaven and earth. He is "the Almighty"
(v. 15) and none can stay His powerful hand. ("Almighty" is a translation of the Hebrew word Shaddai, which is related to the Hebrew word for "breast." He is the all-sufficient One, the bountiful One, the God who can do anything. The name is found forty-eight times in the Old Testament, thirty-one of them in the Book of Job, where the greatness of God is one of the major themes. "Almighty" is used eight times in the Book of Revelation.)

Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship (The BE Series Commentary)

The Relevance of Rabbinic Writings
     Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

     This newly available material was not immediately integrated into the study of ancient Judaism. Emil Schürer’s Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (1886–1890) included surveys of Jewish literature (divided between “Palestinian Jewish” and “Hellenistic Jewish” literature), but his depiction of Jewish religion is drawn heavily from rabbinic writings. This is especially true of his treatment of “Life under the Law,” in which he drew primarily from the Mishnah, but even his account of messianic belief integrated data from the Pseudepigrapha with rabbinic beliefs. In the judgment of George Foote Moore, the chapter on the Law “was conceived, not as a chapter of the history of Judaism but as a topic of Christian apologetic; it was written to prove by the highest Jewish authority that the strictures on Judaism in the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles are fully justified” (Moore 1921: 240). Schürer’s work was a mine of information and historical detail. Its enduring value can be seen in the degree to which its structure, and much of its detail, are retained in the English edition revised by Geza Vermes and his collaborators. The revisers “endeavoured to clear the notorious chapter 28, Das Leben unter dem Gesetz—here re-styled as ‘Life and the Law’—and the section on the Pharisees … of the dogmatic prejudices of nineteenth-century theology” (Vermes et al. 1973–1987: 2:v; cf. 464 n. 1). Nonetheless, Schürer’s introductory claim is repeated: “The chief characteristic of this period was the growing importance of Pharisaism … the generalities of biblical law were resolved into an immense number of detailed precepts … this concern with the punctilious observance of the minutiae of religion became the hallmark of mainstream Judaism” (Vermes et al. 1973–1987: 1:1). Likewise, the section on messianism retained the systematic presentation, which synthesizes data from rabbinic sources and the Pseudepigrapha.

     The first scholar to offer a reconstruction of Jewish religion based primarily on the Pseudepigrapha was Wilhelm Bousset, whose Religion des Judentums im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter first appeared in 1903. It was greeted by a storm of criticism from Jewish scholars (Wiese 2005: 159–215). Bousset’s view of Judaism was more differentiated than that of Schürer. In addition to the legalistic aspect of Pharisaism, he also detected a universalistic strand on which the teaching of Jesus could build. Some of his Jewish critics objected to “this dogmatic reduction of Judaism to a ‘praeparatio evangelica’ ” (Wiese 2005: 180). But there was also a fundamental disagreement on the question of appropriate sources. Felix Perles praised Bousset’s treatment of the piety of apocalyptic and Hellenistic Judaism but objected to the prominence accorded to this material and the lack of a systematic description of “normative Judaism,” as represented by rabbinic literature. Bousset, he claimed, had missed the “center of the Jewish religion” (Perles 1903: 22–23; Wiese 2005: 181). Bousset responded that one must differentiate between “the scholarship of the scribes,” which became normative after 70 C.E., and the more diverse “popular piety” of the earlier period, and he charged that Perles was “incapable of understanding the richer and more diverse life of Jewish popular religion before the destruction of the Jewish nation, because he is focused on the Mishnah and the Talmud and the entire later history of the scribes” (Bousset 1903b; Wiese 2005: 186). Few scholars would now accept Bousset’s characterization of the Pseudepigrapha as “popular religion” without qualification, but the issue of the relevance of rabbinic literature for the Second Temple period persists as a live issue down to the present.

     R. H. Charles, the scholar who did most to advance the study of the Pseudepigrapha, did not attempt a comprehensive study of ancient Judaism. While his own work focused largely on the apocalypses, he held that “Apocalyptic Judaism and legalistic Judaism were not in pre-Christian times essentially antagonistic. Fundamentally their origin was the same. Both started with the unreserved recognition of the supremacy of the Law” (Charles 1913: vii). Charles viewed the apocalyptic material positively, as a bridge between the prophets and early Christianity. His view of Judaism in this period as comprising two main strands is one of the major paradigms that has been adapted with various nuances in later scholarship (see VanderKam in Boccaccini and Collins 2007).

     Perles’s criticisms of Bousset were echoed almost two decades later by the American Christian scholar, George Foot Moore:

The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

Take Heart
     June 16

     In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. --- Romans 8:37.

     What does the Cross tell about the fact of suffering? (Classic Sermons on Suffering (Kregel Classic Sermons Series)) It tells you that God is in it with you. When I grasp that the sufferer hanging there is God incarnate, then my heart answers those who speak of a remote, spectator God, “You are wrong! In every pang that rends the heart of man, woman, or little child, God has a share.”

     What is the Christian answer to the mystery of suffering? Not an explanation but a reinforcing presence—Christ to stand beside you through the darkness, Christ’s companionship to make the dark experience sacred. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

     How different suffering becomes to those who have seen that vision! It is not just that God knows and sympathizes with you in your troubles. He is in you. And therefore your sufferings are his suffering, your sorrow his sorrow. Now that is true of all God’s creatures. Just think what God’s burden of suffering must be when the pains of all the world are in his heart! No one who has once grasped this will ever again rail at providence for being unkind. All our accusations and complainings are silenced before the agony of God.

     But remember this: if God shares your suffering, it is also true that you share his redemptive activity and his victory. “By his wounds we are healed.” Thus, suffering gives you a chance to cooperate with God. Every soul that takes its personal griefs and troubles and offers these up on the altar alongside the sacrifice of Jesus is sharing constructively in that eternal passion of God. It is as though God said, in the day of darkness, “Here, my child, is something you can do for me!”

     The real healers of human wounds are those whose own peace has been bought at a price, behind whose understanding and compassion there lies some memory of a valley of shadow, a lonely way, a wrestling in the dark.

     If from one soul’s hurt and conflict, the balm of healing and of peace can thus be distilled out for others, if pain can be transmuted into power, if, under Christ, our sacrifices can be made creative and redemptive—shall we still rail at life when it grows hard, and brood its cruelty and injustice? “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
--- James S. Stewart

Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers

On This Day
     William and Catherine  June 16

     Abraham believed that angels help us find our mates. “The LORD will send his angel ahead of you,” he told his servant, “to help you find a wife for my son” (Gen. 24:7b). Many years later, the heavenly matchmakers (assisted by a London businessman) also brought together William Booth and Catherine Mumford, who became one of the finest tag teams in church history, founding the Salvation Army and helping hundreds of thousands of England’s poorest. Of the two, Catherine was smarter—and the better preacher. “It was she,” wrote Constance Coltman, “who turned an energetic, rather vulgar dyspeptic into one of the great religious leaders in the world.”

     William was born in 1829 in Nottingham. Catherine arrived the following year in a nearby county, growing up in a Puritan-like home. She had read the Bible through eight times before age 12, and she excelled in studies. But at 14 Catherine developed curvature of the spine, making her bedfast. She was also diagnosed with tuberculosis. But her sickbed became a study where she devoured theology and church history. She slowly grew strong enough to start thinking of marriage. “I could be most useful to God,” she said, “as a minister’s wife.” She wanted a man dark and tall, and she thought he should be a “William.”

     Several years later, businessman Edward Rabbits, knowing both William and Catherine’s people, invited them to a meeting on Good Friday. Afterward he encouraged William to escort Catherine home. She later wrote, “That little journey will never be forgotten by either of us. Before we reached my home we both felt as though we had been made for each other.”

     For a few weeks, the romance wavered. Despite a growing reputation as evangelist to the poor, William had no job, no income, and no home. Catherine’s mother viewed him unfavorably. Nevertheless they persevered and were married in London on June 16, 1855.

     William preached a revival meeting on their honeymoon. The angels were smiling. The Salvation Army was about to be born.

     Charm can be deceiving, and beauty fades away,      But a woman who honors the LORD      Deserves to be praised.      Show her respect—      Praise her in public for what she has done.      --- Proverbs 31:30,31.

On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - June 16

     “And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” --- John 10:28.

     The Christian should never think or speak lightly of unbelief. For a child of God to mistrust his love, his truth, his faithfulness, must be greatly displeasing to him. How can we ever grieve him by doubting his upholding grace? Christian! it is contrary to every promise of God’s precious Word that thou shouldst ever be forgotten or left to perish. If it could be so, how could he be true who has said, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I never forget thee.” What were the value of that promise—“The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” Where were the truth of Christ’s words—“I give unto my sheep eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” Where were the doctrines of grace? They would be all disproved if one child of God should perish. Where were the veracity of God, his honour, his power, his grace, his covenant, his oath, if any of those for whom Christ has died, and who have put their trust in him, should nevertheless be cast away? Banish those unbelieving fears which so dishonour God. Arise, shake thyself from the dust, and put on thy beautiful garments. Remember it is sinful to doubt his Word wherein he has promised thee that thou shalt never perish. Let the eternal life within thee express itself in confident rejoicing.

     “The Gospel bears my spirit up:
     A faithful and unchanging God
     Lays the foundation for my hope,
     In oaths, and promises, and blood.”

          Evening - June 16

     “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” --- Psalm 27:1.

     “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Here is personal interest, “my light,” “my salvation;” the soul is assured of it, and therefore declares it boldly. Into the soul at the new birth divine light is poured as the precursor of salvation; where there is not enough light to reveal our own darkness and to make us long for the Lord Jesus, there is no evidence of salvation. After conversion our God is our joy, comfort, guide, teacher, and in every sense our light: he is light within, light around, light reflected from us, and light to be revealed to us. Note, it is not said merely that the Lord gives light, but that he is light; nor that he gives salvation, but that he is salvation; he, then, who by faith has laid hold upon God, has all covenant blessings in his possession. This being made sure as a fact, the argument drawn from it is put in the form of a question, “Whom shall I fear?” A question which is its own answer. The powers of darkness are not to be feared, for the Lord, our light, destroys them; and the damnation of hell is not to be dreaded by us, for the Lord is our salvation. This is a very different challenge from that of boastful Goliath, for it rests, not upon the conceited vigour of an arm of flesh, but upon the real power of the omnipotent I AM. “The Lord is the strength of my life.” Here is a third glowing epithet, to show that the writer’s hope was fastened with a threefold cord which could not be broken. We may well accumulate terms of praise where the Lord lavishes deeds of grace. Our life derives all its strength from God; and if he deigns to make us strong, we cannot be weakened by all the machinations of the adversary. “Of whom shall I be afraid?” The bold question looks into the future as well as the present. “If God be for us,” who can be against us, either now or in time to come?

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     June 16

          JUST AS I AM

     Charlotte Elliott, 1789–1871

     Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away.” (John 6:35, 37)

     Often we feel that if only we were in different circumstances or had some special talent, we could be a better witness for God and serve Him more effectively. Today’s hymn was written by a bed-ridden invalid who felt useless to do anything except express her feelings of devotion to God. Yet Charlotte Elliott’s simply worded text has influenced more people for Christ than any hymn ever written or perhaps any sermon ever preached.

     As a young person in Brighton, England, Miss Elliott was known as “carefree Charlotte.” She was a popular portrait artist and a writer of humorous verse. At the age of 30, however, a serious ailment made her an invalid for life. She became listless and depressed until a well-known Swiss evangelist, Dr. Caesar Malan, visited her. Sensing her spiritual distress, he exclaimed, “Charlotte, you must come just as you are—a sinner—to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Immediately placing her complete trust in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice for her, Charlotte experienced inner peace and joy in spite of her physical affliction until her death at the age of 82.

     Charlotte Elliott wrote approximately 150 hymns throughout her lifetime; today she is considered to be one of the finest of all English hymnwriters. “God sees, God guards, God guides me,” she said. “His grace surrounds me and His voice continually bids me to be happy and holy in His service—just where I am!”

     Just as I am, without one plea
but that Thy blood was shed for me,
and that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

     Just as I am, tho tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

     Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind—Sight,
riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need in Thee to find—
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

     Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

     For Today: Psalm 51:1, 2; John 1:29; John 3:16; Ephesians 2:13.

     Give God thanks for His acceptance of us just as we are. As we respond in simple faith to Him, we will find “all that we need,” not only for our personal salvation but also for the particular place of service that He has for us.

Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions

De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of the Will
     Martin Luther | (1483-1546)

     Sect. LVII. — IN the fourth place, you adduce from Deuteronomy xxx. many passages of the same kind which speak of choosing, of turning away from, of keeping; as, ‘If thou shalt keep,’ ‘if thou shalt turn away from,’ ‘if thou shalt choose.’ — “All these expressions (you say) are made use of preposterously if there be not a “Free-will” in man unto good” —

     I answer: And you, friend Diatribe, preposterously enough also conclude from these expressions the freedom of the will. You set out to prove the endeavour and desire of “Free-will” only, and you have adduced no passage which proves such an endeavour. But now, you adduce those passages, which, if your conclusion hold good, will ascribe all to “Free-will.”

     Let me here then again make a distinction, between the words of the Scripture adduced, and the conclusion of the Diatribe tacked to them. The words adduced are imperative, and they say nothing but what ought to be done. For, Moses does not say, ‘thou hast the power and strength to choose.’ The words ‘choose,’ ‘keep,’ ‘do,’ convey the precept ‘to keep,’ but they do not describe the ability of man. But the conclusion tacked to them by that wisdom-aping Diatribe, infers thus: — therefore, man can do those things, otherwise the precepts are given in vain. To whom this reply must be made: — Madam Diatribe, you make a bad inference, and do not prove your conclusion, but the conclusion and the proof merely seem to be right to your blind and inadvertent self. But know, that these precepts are not given preposterously nor in vain; but that proud and blind man might, by them, learn the disease of his own impotency, if he should attempt to do what is commanded. And hence your similitude amounts to nothing where you say.

     — “Otherwise it would be precisely the same, as if any one should say to a man who was so bound that he could only stretch forth his left arm, — Behold! thou hast on thy right hand excellent wine, thou hast on thy left poison; on which thou wilt stretch forth thy hand” — .

     These your similitudes I presume are particular favourites of yours. But you do not all the while see, that if the similitudes stand good, they prove much more than you ever purposed to prove, nay, that they prove what you deny and would have to be disproved: — that “Free-will” can do all things. For by the whole scope of your argument, forgetting what you said, ‘that “Free-will” can do nothing without grace,’ you actually prove that “Free-will” can do all things without grace. For your conclusions and similitudes go to prove this: — that either “Free-will” can of itself do those things which are said and commanded, or they are commanded in vain, ridiculously, and preposterously. But these are nothing more than the old songs of the Pelagians sung over again, which even the Sophists have exploded, and which you have yourself condemned. And by all this your forgetfulness and disorder of memory, you do nothing but evince how little you know of the subject, and how little you are affected by it. And what can be worse in a rhetorician, than to be continually bringing forward things wide of the nature of the subject, and not only so, but to be always declaiming against his subject and against himself?

The Bondage of the Will   or   Christian Classics Ethereal Library

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