Women Accompanying JesusLuke 8:1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
The Parable of the Sower4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
The Purpose of the Parables9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
A Lamp Under a Jar16 “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. 18 Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”
Jesus’ Mother and Brothers19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
These are actual siblings (half-brothers) of Jesus. Matthew explicitly connects them with Mary, indicating that they were not cousins or Joseph’s sons from a previous marriage, as some of the church Fathers imagined. They are mentioned in all the Gospels (Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19–21; John 7:3–5). Matthew and Mark give the names of four of Jesus’ brothers, and mention that he had sisters as well (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3). Jesus was not repudiating his earthly family (cf. John 19:26–27). Rather, he was emphasizing the supremacy and eternality of spiritual relationships (cf. Matt. 10:37). After all, even his own family needed him as Savior (cf. John 7:5). This is not salvation by works. Doing the will of God is the evidence of salvation by grace. ESV MacArthur Study Bible, Personal Size
Jesus Calms a Storm22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.
34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
Jesus Heals a Woman and Jairus’s Daughter40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. 43 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. 45 And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” 47 And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
49 While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” 50 But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” 51 And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. 52 And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55 And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. 56 And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.
Jesus Sends Out the Twelve ApostlesLuke 9 1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4 And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5 And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
Herod Is Perplexed by Jesus7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. 9 Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand10 On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. 12 Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 And they did so, and had them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ18 Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
Jesus Foretells His Death21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
The Transfiguration28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
Jesus Heals a Boy with an Unclean Spirit37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God.
Jesus Again Foretells His DeathBut while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
Who Is the Greatest?46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
Anyone Not Against Us Is For Us49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”
A Samaritan Village Rejects Jesus51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.
The Cost of Following Jesus57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
What I'm Reading
Living Reasonably in an Unreasonable Age
By Don Bailey 1/01/2016
Before my call to pastoral ministry, I worked in a family garden center business. There I witnessed firsthand the growth of the modern consumer mentality. In the 1980s, large garden center chain stores had adopted the 100 percent money-back guarantee for a customer’s dead plant. Soon, our small family business met with more demanding and unreasonable customers. A man would approach our storefront with a dead azalea and a soured countenance. “Do you think,” I might ask, “that while you were in the Bahamas, your plant might have suffered a lack of water?” The angry retort would invariably follow, “You sold me a bad plant, and I want a new one!” Truthfully, we had always given another plant to such a customer in the past. But the former gift of grace became the customer’s right of entitlement.
When the Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians in 4:5, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone,” he entreats believers to lay down selfish entitlement attitudes. The word translated “reasonable” is sometimes rendered “gentle” or “moderate.” This does not mean moderate in passion for God’s honor and the cause of Christ. Nor does it mean gentle as a doormat when civic rights are assaulted. Remember Paul’s assertion of his rights as a Roman citizen in Acts 22? Instead, the Apostle urges that we lay aside the notion that we need to exercise our advantages to the detriment of others. Unreasonableness leads to the kind of personal friction he addresses in this epistle between Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2–3).
How might Christians live reasonably before all men in this increasingly unreasonable age? To begin with, we should continually cast our gaze upon the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul soars with this thought in Philippians 2:5–11: how truly amazing it is that the very Son of God, with all of the rights of deity, did not press His divine rights in His humanity. But being born in the likeness of men, he took on the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
This same Jesus was so confident of His own authority that He washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:1–11). He did this as a living demonstration of this divine reasonableness that serves others before demanding service (Mark 10:45). In doing so, He impressed upon His disciples that His kingdom is not one of lording authority over others for personal aggrandizement (Matt. 20:25; Mark 10:42; Luke 22:25).
Unless we continually place our faith in the person of Jesus Christ as He is presented in the Gospels, we will never make sense of laying aside our consumer mentality in our families, churches, and greater community. We must know — and remind ourselves — that Jesus experienced death and hell for our sakes before we will give up the self-seeking advantage of this world. We will live as new creations of a different sort than our pagan neighbors only when the fuel of our gospel imaginations remind us that our feet were dangling singed over the fires of hell, and that we have been liberated from the futile ways handed down by our forefathers (1 Peter 1:18).
Living reasonably before all men begins at home. The Apostle Paul follows his exhortation to believers to make known our reasonableness with these words: “The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5). Commentators debate whether Paul had in mind primarily the temporal nearness of the Lord in His imminent return or the omnipresence of the Lord as a reminder that He is close in His abiding presence. Both are undoubtedly true and certainly not mutually exclusive.
Yet we should also think pastorally in application. The Lord’s sanctifying work shines brightest before those nearest us. We who have been bought with a price should make known our reasonableness to husbands and wives, parents and children, coworkers and neighbors. When a husband seeks the honor of Christ ahead of his own wife’s submission, his wife will more likely respect him. We will make known the sacrificial nature of Jesus when we bear burdens with those who share our pew in worship. Likewise, the consistent thread of New Testament instruction on how to live before an unbelieving world stresses the down-to-earth duties of prayer, love, good deeds, wisdom, tranquility, hard work, and sacrifice (Col. 4:5; 1 Thess. 4:11; 1 Peter 2:12, 14–15).
An adage I heard in seminary with respect to preaching the gospel is apt in applying Philippians 4:5 to our everyday lives: “If you aim at everyone, you speak to no one. Aim at someone, and you speak to everyone.” It is far easier and more glamorous to aim at changing the world than serving those at hand. Ask, “Where am I over-pressing my sense of need at the expense of others?”
Repent daily. Protect the weak. Sacrifice comfort. Forgive neighbors. Love enemies. Practice generosity. When we believers relinquish our perceived “due” and find rest in the grand privileges we possess as sons and daughters of God, the light of the gospel beams brightly before a desperate and dark world.
By Iver Martin 1/01/2016
How important is your pastor’s training? If we believe in having ministers who preach, teach, and relate to the varied and many needs within our congregations, thorough training, as with any profession, is indispensable. Yet, for a variety of reasons, in the eyes of some Christians, theological education is at best negotiable and at worst dispensable. Some argue that Jesus’ disciples, despite not having had a theological education, became the most effective communicators of the gospel ever, just from having been “with Jesus.” So, accordingly, it follows that theological education is an unnecessary complication that gets in the way of the church’s real progress. Besides, in many places where churches are becoming weaker and less able to provide funding for seminary training, it is being suggested that preparation should be reduced to only “the essentials.” Others tell us that, in a post-Christian world dominated by secular resistance to the church, we need to “just get out there,” the implication being that seminaries are largely irrelevant.
Yet, when we think about what the church is and what we expect from Sunday worship, the ministry of the Word lies at the core. It follows, therefore, that if pastors are expected to meet the expectations of their people and fulfill their calling, they must know the Bible thoroughly and be able to communicate its truths skillfully. Furthermore, if we believe that mission is making disciples of all nations, as Jesus taught, then as the church goes out with the gospel, we must be grounded in biblical doctrine as well as equipped to communicate it. Interestingly, New Testament mission always included the substance of the faith as well as a presentation of the cross and an invitation to believe. Indeed, the first official mission to which the Apostle Paul was called was not to confront an unbelieving world with the cross but to teach the church in Antioch after they had come to faith (Acts 11:26).
The right kind of training will first of all provide students with the tools that they need to become thoroughly acquainted with the Scriptures. This includes a familiarity (to a greater or lesser degree) with biblical languages (Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek). Then, a good seminary will have, at its heart, the kind of theological teaching in which students will engage with major biblical doctrines. As the Bible points us upward to God, a grasp of systematic theology will, by piecing together the biblical data, bring us to a proper understanding of God’s attributes: His being, power, knowledge, and holiness. As the Bible points back to the cross, theology will seek to explore central issues such as sacrifice, atonement, reconciliation, purification of sin, and justification. As the Bible commands the church to move out with the gospel, a historical and theological perspective will force us to ask how God has guided the church over two thousand years, what the gospel is, and how it can best be communicated. In addition, pastoral and practical theology will introduce students to a wide variety of contemporary issues that ministers are likely to meet in everyday church life.
It is a serious mistake to assume that past challenges in the church can’t reappear, albeit in a different variant. Is the resurrection of Jesus a myth? Can we really believe that miracles happened? What do we mean by the Bible’s being God’s inerrant and infallible Word? Today’s church wrestles with whether Adam was a real historical person and the denial of penal substitution in the death of Christ. These issues deserve thorough, rational exploration that can only be undertaken from a knowledgeable theological perspective.
When it comes to relevance, our seminaries must never become merely academic institutions. Instead, a live connection to churches should be maintained in which churches’ needs and challenges can be understood. In addition, students have to be made aware of trends in cultural thinking so that they can be trained in how to communicate the Bible in today’s language in today’s world without compromising the message of God’s Word. To effectively reach today’s skeptical unbelievers does not mean less theology. If anything, it means more. If we believe that mankind in every generation has the imprint of God upon his soul, we should expect people, in responding to the gospel, to engage in a process of rational questioning about the content of the Christian faith in all its complexity.
A truly healthy church is one in which its members are theologians, coming to church each Sunday with a readiness to think and learn, with an insatiable appetite for more. A good pulpit ministry will richly edify God’s people. It is fatal to underestimate the perceptiveness of our congregations. As people discover what it means to follow Jesus, the intellect often comes to life and the gospel produces a hunger for knowledge that a pastor should be well equipped to satisfy.
To suggest that today’s pastors do not need rigorous seminary training because the disciples did not have it is a spurious argument. Their time with Jesus was a three-year intensive course, complete with internship and testing, and in which they discovered the Scriptures as never before. If the church in the twenty-first century is to thrive, it will depend on high-quality pulpit ministry and well-equipped pastoral skill. If training for the ministry comes at a high price, it is worth it. The church cannot afford otherwise.
Grief and the Christian
By Elizabeth Groves 1/01/2009
We worship a big God. He is sovereign and powerful. We are in His hands, and nothing happens to us by chance. That’s good news. But in grief, if that is all we remember about God, it might actually make the pain worse, rather than better. It might leave us thinking, like Mary and Martha (John 11:21, 32), “Lord, you could have stopped this, and you purposely didn’t. Why?” God’s sovereignty might leave us more angry than comforted.
So we need to remember some other things, too.
Jesus Defeated DeathGod hates death even more than we do. That’s part of the reason Jesus came. The wonderful news for us is that when Jesus broke death’s power by dying and rising from the dead, He did it not only for Himself but also for all who are united to Him (Heb. 2:14–15).
That means that those who die in Christ are more alive than ever and are experiencing life, joy, and glory beyond anything we can imagine, right now, in God’s very presence. It may seem that the Lord did not “heal” or “protect” them, but in fact He has healed and protected them in a much fuller, deeper, more permanent way.
When our oldest child went away to college, I expected to spend weeks feeling weepy from missing him. But he was so happy there, and I was so happy for him, that I found I wasn’t nearly as sad as I had expected. Similarly, when we know that our loved one is free, alive, and worshiping the Lord face-to-face with joy and abandon, it helps lessen our sadness.
We Grieve with HopeFirst Thessalonians 4:13 says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Notice that the text does not say that we shouldn’t grieve, just that we should grieve differently than those who have no hope.
Even in the context of hope, we still grieve, and that is appropriate. Jesus Himself wept at His friend’s tomb. The Bible does not dismiss or minimize grief, and we shouldn’t underestimate its impact. But we grieve differently than those without hope.
Let’s say I don’t know Jesus, and I believe there is no further existence after death. Then if my husband dies, he really is lost to me. Every single thing that made him who he was — his quirky sense of humor, his passion for people (and basketball and popcorn), his warm smile, his open heart, all of it — is gone forever. That grief is a black hole.
But for those who die in Christ — and for those who grieve in Christ — the picture is very different.
The sorrow of missing loved ones is still incredibly painful, but the separation is only temporary. We will see them again. That is an entirely different picture.
God Is with UsIn the midst of grief, it is critical for us to remember that the God who is sovereign and mighty is also Immanuel — God with us.
When our grief is debilitating and it feels impossible to function, God does not sit aloof in heaven. He does not leave us to figure out how to handle grief on our own or how to cast about for resources to get through it. He walks every step of the journey with us.
Jesus came and lived as a human in this broken world. He gets it. He knows the tormenting thirst and weakness of life’s final hours. As our High Priest who fully understands our heartaches, He intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25), as does His Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26). He calls us friends (John 15:15) and promises that He will never leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5), that His Spirit will dwell in us (John 14), and that He will give us peace (14:27; 16:33) and even joy (15:11; 16:22).
What we need most in the midst of grief is God Himself. He will meet us, give us Himself, fill the void left by our loved ones, warm our hearts, lift our burdens, and draw us into the sweet balm of fellowship with His Spirit. And as our Father tenderly swaddles us in His love, our love for Him will grow, our faith and trust will deepen, and even amid the heartache of grief we will praise Him with deep and true joy.
This is something the Lord does by His Spirit, through His Word, prayer, and the fellowship and love of His people. Those means of grace are not “tasks” for our to-do list — more burdens placed on our grief - weary shoulders. They are His love for us. If in your grief you struggle to pray or read the Bible, ask someone to pray for you and read the Bible to you. Grief is really, really hard. It hurts like crazy. But the Lord has broken death’s power, and therefore His children who have died are with Him. And He is with us. And before you know it, we will be together with Him and with them. That removes death’s sting—it really does. Even in the rending ache of grief, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can hang on to Jesus and grieve with the hope that His death and resurrection bought for us. Elizabeth W.D. Groves is lecturer in Biblical Hebrew at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. She is author of Grief Undone: A Journey with God and Cancer.
Where Are You God?
By Alex Aili 10/28/2016
“I’ve tried to believe in God. I want to believe, I really do, but I just can’t. He…just wasn’t there.”
The silence of God is a problem for many. It is for me. I’d like to be confident that the One who created me is involved with my life. If this Christian thing is a “heaven or hell” deal, I’d expect to see some clear signposts or messages from God if he truly wants to save people.
But, as many ex-Christians will say, “God just wasn’t there.” Seriously, what kind of psychopath lays out the choice between Heaven or Hell that’s contingent on whether we believe or not, but then conceals himself to make it easier for people to disbelieve–and go to hell?
Obviously, I don’t assume to know God’s mind, but there’s a problem when we think God doesn’t know what he’s doing. It’s a simple misunderstanding: if God made himself known in the ways many want him to, then that would require him to betray his intentions for us. According to the Judeo-Christian tradition, God didn’t make us like the animals who only do what comes naturally (Gen. 1:26-27); he gave us the capacity to relate with him (Psa. 8:4-6), but that inevitably means we can refuse if we so choose (and we did; Gen. 3:6-7). And whether it’s “easier for people to disbelieve” or not does not depend on God’s presence or absence, but on whether people love something else more than God. Sin is the problem, and God can’t give us himself unless its dealt with.
What would happen if God made himself known to us to the extent that doubts no longer exist? Would we believe, or die because of our sin? Would we retain our individuality, or would we be brainwashed and traumatized at the overwhelming presence of him? God wants us to be souls, not computer programs, but relating with him has become so much harder because of our sin. This issue isn’t simple. We’re free-willed, but we’re also finite (2 Cor. 4:7) and sinful. Put it all together and we simply can’t handle what we think we can.
If we could play God for a day, what realities would we create? One where everyone goes to Heaven? Would we be free-willed? And how do we know that these alternative realities would incubate the type of traits Heaven requires? How could we, as free-willed people, know love, courage, compassion, heroism, mercy, justice, forgiveness, truth and goodness unless we lived in a world with hate, fear, disdain, indifference, cowardice, injustice, guilt, falsehood and evil? We can’t know darkness unless we know light, or right unless we know wrong.
Further, what if the greatest good is to know God? Well, how could we know him unless we have some sort of actual, experiential knowledge of everything he is not? I assume God doesn’t want posers in Heaven, but unless we live in our current world and experience the light and the darkness, goodness and evil, then posers are what we’ll be.
God’s silence teaches us that the world within and without is truly dark, but it also teaches us that the yearning for him is just as true (Eccl. 3:11), for to see something as truly dark is to know there’s something that’s truly light. Faith is the element that refuses to believe there’s only darkness even when that’s all we see. Faith looks at the hole and knows something can fill it.
The most important element in this equation is God’s omniscience. He knows what he’s doing. He knows why he’s “hiding.” If we’re smart enough to imagine alternative realities, then we’re smart enough to know that a Being of God’s magnitude already considered them all and set the current one in motion to suit his purpose. And if we’re wise enough to understand how finite we truly are, then we should be content with never finding answers, as the book of Job reminds us; after pages of rants from Job and his “friends,” God disregards it all with a single question: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? (Job 42:3)
Frederick Buechner’s words are insightful here: “God is absent from all Job’s words about God, and from the words of his comforters, because they are words without knowledge that obscure the issue of God by trying to define him as present in ways and places where he is not present, to define him as moral order, as the best answer man can give to the problem of his life. God is not an answer man can give, God says. God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.”
God giving us what we think we need is sometimes the worst thing for us. We’re ontologically weak, and therefore unable to relate with him in the ways we wish we could. As we wait for God, we’re left to echo the laments of the Biblical poets:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psa. 22:1)
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psa. 10:1)
“Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy?” (Job 13:24).
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psa. 13:1)
“Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?” (Psa. 44:23-24)
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psa. 10:1)
It’s not dangerous to admit your weakness or lack of faith (Mark 9:24). In fact, I believe that’s the point: “when we were dead in our sins, [God] made us alive” (Eph. 2:5). We’re dead without God. We’re not meant to be anything substantial outside of Christ (2 Cor. 4:7), which is why Christianity dwells on him. We’re supposed to have faith in God, not faith in our faith. It’s never been about what we do, but about what God’s doing in and through us (Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:24; see also Eph. 2:4-6; Col. 2:9-14). The same is true when we wrestle with God’s silence, for from the silence comes the growth of faith. God’s “absence” is the best training ground for trusting God. As Paul says, “who hopes for what he sees?” (Rom. 8:24).
Those times I wonder if “this Christian thing is even true” are the times my faith grows, for it forces me to return to the core of Christianity (1 Cor. 15:1-8) to reevaluate the logic and evidence, thus reinforcing the reasonableness of it. But even if we get doctorates in Christian apologetics, there’s still mystery and uncertainty because we just can’t know God’s mind. Muscles strengthen through work, not inactivity, and so does faith. Waiting for God in the silence puts true faith to work.
Now whenever God chose to reveal himself in the age of Scripture, he didn’t come barging in as Creator God, glory on full throttle, expecting us to see him as he is (John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 4:12). That’s why he goes covert. As the Bible records, the Creator lives up to his name. He appears in dreams/visions (Num. 12:6), bushes (Exod. 3; or rather an angel via the bush), storms (Exod. 19:16), angels (Luke 1:11), donkeys (Num. 22:38), and most notably, Jesus (Heb. 1:2). The Word became flesh (John 1:14) because if it didn’t, we’d probably explode from the immensity of who he is (as suggested by Isa. 6: ; Rev. ). We need sunglasses for driving into the sun, and we need God to be sneaky for us to comprehend what he’s trying to give us. God relates with images, visions, donkeys, angels, symbols and parables because humanity’s eyes needed time (centuries, in fact) to adjust to the light.
The silence of God is the most brutal, yet most fruitful, method for procuring faith and individuality in humans. Only when God is absent do we become individuals because when he’s “gone” we’re forced to confront the hole he left behind and figure out who we are and what kind of person we’re going to be when God’s nowhere to be found. When he’s silent, the loudest voice is our own–our fears, guilts, misdeeds.
Perhaps the sin is the chief culprit after all. As humans, we tend to flock to anything that tries speak louder than the silence, but little do we know that these false gods are just trying to distract us from what God is saying in his silence. But thank God the silence will never be silent, for within the incessant silence lies our redemption. When the emptiness becomes too much to bear, the wholeness he brings becomes irresistible. Buechner nails this when he says the Gospel is bad news before it is good news because God must strip us in order to clothe us. What’s good news if we’ve never heard of bad news? “It is out of the absence of God that God makes himself present,” he says.
So yes, the silence of God is a problem for me, but so is raising children, getting up for work, telling the truth, staying fit, keeping friends, saving money, and a host of other disciplines that, by all appearances, are “good.” Biblical faith can be unstable at times, and it can coexist with doubt in the same way they coexist when someone walks without crutches for the first time. There are doubts, but faith is stronger because they’re walking (even when the ground gets unstable).
The silence of God is a dark forest that everyone eventually stumbles into, multiple times, but I suppose those who make it out don’t care why it was there because through it all they just learned to love God more.
Terms for the Covenant
By R.C. Sproul 1/01/2016
Reformed theology, as many have said, is covenant theology, for the concept of covenant has shaped the development of Reformed thinking. We should expect as much because of our doctrine of sola Scriptura, which says that the Bible is the only infallible authority for Christian faith and practice. Therefore, we want to structure all theological understanding according to Scripture. This demands covenant theology, since covenant is an organizing principle in Scripture.
Given the importance of the biblical doctrine of covenant, all Christians should have at least a basic understanding of what the Bible means by the term covenant. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word we translate as “covenant” is berith, and it was used for centuries by the ancient Israelites. However, after Alexander the Great conquered the Eastern Mediterranean world and brought with him the Greek language, many Jews became more familiar with Greek than with Hebrew. Consequently, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament was made during the third century B.C. We know this translation as the Septuagint, ( See article below to better understand what the Septuagint is.) on and it had a tremendous impact on the writers of the Greek New Testament.
One challenge that the Jews who produced the Septuagint faced was the decision about how best to translate the Hebrew term berith or “covenant,” since there wasn’t any Greek word that precisely matched the Hebrew term. Eventually, the word chosen by the Septuagint translators was the Greek word diathēkē, and this was adopted by the New Testament writers, who, for the most part used diathēkē for the concept of “covenant.”
Some confusion arises here, however, because the Greeks used the word diathēkē in the sense of “testament.” That’s because a testament in Greek culture, at least at that time, included several nuances that made it different from the Hebrew concept of covenant. First, in Greek culture, a diathēkē—a testament—could be changed at any time by the testator while the testator was still alive. The testator could make up his last will and testament and then get irritated at his heirs and write them out of his will. And that continues to this day, for we know that people are sometimes disinherited, or written out of the will of a friend or family member. But that’s significantly different from a diathēkē—a testament or covenant—made by God. When God makes a covenant with His people, He can punish them for covenant breaking, but He never cancels the covenant promises He has made.
Another difference between the Greek understanding of diathēkē as a testament and the Hebrew understanding of berith as a covenant is that in the Greek world, the benefits of the testament, or diathēkē, did not accrue until after the testator died. Obviously, when God makes a covenant, His people don’t have to wait for Him to die to inherit the blessings of that covenant, because He’s incapable of dying.
Given those two great weaknesses, why did the Septuagint translators and the New Testament authors choose the Greek word diathēkē (“testament”) to translate the Hebrew berith,/ (“covenant”)? Because it was a better choice than the alternative Greek term—synthēkē. That word features the prefix syn-, which we see in such English terms as synonym, syncretism, and synchronization. It simply means “with.” And the idea of a synthēkē in Greek culture was an agreement between equal partners, an agreement with the consent of peers. The Jewish translators wanted to maintain that the covenants that God makes with His people are made between a superior and a subordinate, not between two equal parties. So, the word synthēkē was rejected.
The Septuagint translators and New Testament authors chose diathēkē because in its original use, before the Greeks came to use it to mean “testament,” it had reference to what is called “the disposition for one’s self.” A diathēkē had to do with an individual’s disposition of his goods orproperty for himself; that is, it referred to his sovereign determining of his heirs. To this day, that’s how we understand the concept of a testament or will. That aspect of disposition is an element that reflects the Hebrew concept because in His covenant, God sovereignly determines to give promises to whom He will give promises.
He made a covenant with Abraham, not Hammurabi. He chose the Jews, not the Philistines. He entered into a covenant relationship with them and said, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” That’s a choice God made, not the Jews. So, even though the Greek word diathēkē includes aspects that don’t overlap with the Hebrew notion of a covenant, it carries the key notion of sovereign determination.
This might seem pedantic, but there’s one important point to take away from this discussion. If God’s covenant were a synthēkē made between two equal parties, all would be lost. Our role in maintaining the covenant relationship would be fully equal to His. But we are sinners who cannot keep covenant perfectly. A synthēkē would mean no salvation. A diathēkē is different. Because it is God’s sovereign administration with an unequal party, the onus for the fulfillment of the covenant’s promises is on the greater party — the Lord Himself. He swore by Himself to uphold the covenant (Gen. 15; Heb. 6:13–20). His honor is on the line, and if He fails, His glory suffers. But we know that God cannot fail, that He will not surrender His glory (Isa. 48:11). In the Lord’s diathēkē, or covenant, He guarantees the fulfillment of His Word for His name’s sake, which means the redemption of His people is secure.
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 | Go to Books Page
How Do We Know Matthew Was the Author of the Gospel of Matthew?
By Jonathan Morrow 10/28/2016We live in a culture that has questions about the Bible. And that’s OK–because questions, if the goal is truth, will lead to a stronger faith. I have seen this time and again. (But how we question the Bible is critically important)
But as Christians we also are called to respond to challenges which threaten to undercut our faith (Jude 3; 1 Peter 3:15). And in case you haven’t noticed, the Bible is a BIG target so there are lots of challenges!
The Skeptical Challenge of the Authorship of the Gospels
Skeptics like to raise doubts and new “hidden” or “lost” information about the Gospels. Why? Because that is where all the information about Jesus is. And if you can undermine confidence in biblical authority there, then that weakens the overall authority of Christianity. Why? Because Christianity rises or falls with Jesus.
Here’s the basic argument of the Bible skeptic meant to raise doubt:
“Did you know that we don’t know who wrote the Gospel of Matthew? In fact, this Gospel is anonymous–(i.e., there is no formal claim to authorship within the document itself). The early church for political reasons wanted to exclude certain writings it didn’t like and so used an Apostle’s name (i.e., Matthew) to generate authority so this version of Christianity could win.”
One of the new challenges in this generation is that arguments like this used to stay locked up in stuffy ivory towers. The effect was that everyday Christians never encountered them. Enter social media and youtube. Now these “sophisticated” arguments are available for the masses. And in our culture with a general distrust of authorities, conspiracy theories are then off and running.
How do we respond?
3 Reasons Why the Apostle Matthew Wrote the Gospel of Mathew
New Testament Scholars like Darrell Bock, D.A. Carson, and Michael Wilkins (among plenty of others) have done a lot of excellent work. Here is just a short summary of the evidence for why we can be confident that Matthew, wrote the Gospel of Matthew, even though this Gospel is technically anonymous.
(1) First, regarding Matthew, “there is no patristic evidence that anyone else was ever proposed as the author.”
(2) Second, Papias, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, and Origen all affirm Matthean authorship.
(3) Third, the literary evidence reveals that Matthew was the most popular Gospel in the earliest period of the church and it was circulated widely.
2 Objections to Matthew as Author
There are two common objections to his authorship. First, it is argued that Matthew, an apostle himself, would not have relied so heavily upon Mark, who was not an apostle, when composing his Gospel. But since we have very good evidence that Peter stands behind Mark’s Gospel, Matthew would have had no issue utilizing the recorded testimony of Peter.
The other common objection is that the Greek is too good to have been written by Matthew. However, Matthew was likely trilingual (Aramaic, Greek, and Latin) by growing up as a Jew in the region of Galilee, and as a tax collector he would have been required to know Greek well.
Does it Matter if Matthew is the Author?
Let me make one last point: Our goal is to say (and defend) what the Bible says—no more and no less. In the case of Paul writing a letter that bears his name, we are compelled to defend his authorship as a matter of biblical integrity. However, when it comes to the four Gospels, there is no one specifically to defend (i.e., because it is technically anonymous).
As a thought experiment, let’s say it was somehow discovered that Andrew wrote what we now know as the Gospel of Matthew in the 1st century? Would that mean that there is an error in the Bible? Actually, no, because no claim of authorship was technically made in this document (the same logic would hold for the book of Hebrews)
So the bottom line? We have good reason to believe that Matthew is the author of this Gospel. I go into more detail for the authorship, reliability, and claims of the Gospels here.
What Is the Septuagint?
By Ryan Reeves 8-12-2018
WHY SHOULD CHRISTIANS CARE ABOUT THE SEPTUAGINT?
The Septuagint is quite possibly the most important translation of the Bible. It is the oldest translation of the OT into another language. It was considered by Philo and Josephus to be on an equal footing with the Hebrew Bible. It was preferred to the Hebrew by the Early Christian Church. And it sheds much-needed light on the development of the New Testament. The Septuagint The Hebrew Bible The Septuagint helps us better understand the New Testament The Septuagint helps us better understand Jewish theology THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE SEPTUAGINT AND THE HEBREW OLD TESTAMENT
Still, many Christians today have little to no knowledge of it.
What is the Septuagint?
So, when scholars use this term, it does not refer to a single text. Rather, it refers to a collection of Greek translations produced by numerous scribes over the course of a few hundred years and, in all likelihood, composed in different locations. Today, the term is usually used to refer generally to the various Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, as well as some additional books, such as Tobit, Maccabees, and Sirach, to name a few.
Though somewhat legendary in character, the Letter of Aristeas (second-century BCE) preserves some valuable information on the origins of the Septuagint. It tells us that an Egyptian king, Ptolemy Philadelphus (reigned from 285-246 BCE), commissioned a translation of the Hebrew Bible for his library in Alexandria. Seventy-two translators from Jerusalem were subsequently sent to the Island of Pharos to translate the Torah into Greek.
The term Septuagint, meaning “seventy,” actually refers to the seventy-two translators—six from each tribe of Israel—involved in translating the Pentateuch from Hebrew to Greek in the third-century BCE (seventy-two is rounded down to seventy, hence the Roman numeral LXX). The rest of the Hebrew Bible was translated from Hebrew to Greek by various hands over the next century or so.
Why the need for a Greek translation of the Old Testament?
(Ne 13:24) 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. ESV
It is important, therefore, to remember that the Septuagint is first and foremost a translation. One of the key areas of study for Septuagint scholars today is the method(s) of translation adopted by scribes. For example, did the translator of a given Old Testament book take a more literal approach or an approach closer to dynamic equivalence?
Scholars agree that some books are literal translations and others are paraphrases, much like the Living Bible. Given that Greek manuscripts are the earliest witnesses to the Hebrew Old Testament, a more literal manuscript can be helpful for textual criticism. The non-literal translations, however, may shed light on the theology, philosophy, or religious practices of the Jewish faith in the late Second Temple period.
There are some obvious ways in which the Septuagint has influenced the New Testament. For example, the title for Jesus in the NT, “Christ” [Christos], is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word maschiach, “Anointed One,” in the Septuagint. Words we are all familiar with, such as “glory” [doxa], “Lord” [kurios], and “gospel” [euangelion], derive special meaning from the LXX.
One of the most important areas of study relating to the Septuagint is the use of the OT in the NT. The reason for this is that most of the direct citations of the OT in the NT match the Septuagint, not the Hebrew Bible (or Masoretic Text [MT]). There are approximately 300 OT passages that are directly quoted or strongly alluded to in the NT.
In most of these cases, the NT writers did not cite the OT text word-for-word but paraphrased the OT texts using Jewish exegetical techniques. However, in cases where the OT is cited word-for-word, the NT writers quote the Septuagint over the MT approximately 75 percent of the time (according to some scholars, that percentage climbs to over 90 percent, depending on how one defines “citation”).
This raises several important questions. Did the NT authors cite the Septuagint to make a particular theological point that could only be made from the Greek translation? Or is the apparent preference of the Septuagint simply a matter of using the translation of the OT that corresponds to the language in which the biblical author was writing? This would be like how modern preachers cite the ESV or NIV translation in a sermon, irrespective of the translational nuances and exegetical differences.
An interesting case in point is the citation of Isa 7.14, the famous words of the prophet Isaiah to Ahaz, in Matt 1.23:
Hebrew: “Behold, the young woman [‘almah] shall conceive.”
Septuagint: “Behold, the virgin [parthenos] shall conceive.”
Matthew 1.23: “Behold, the virgin [parthenos] shall conceive.”
(Mt 1:23) 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, ESV
Matthew cites the Septuagint (not the Hebrew) word for word, which suggests that the language of the virgin birth of Jesus is derived, in part, from the Septuagint.
Of course, each text must be studied independently and carefully, but the preponderance of Septuagint citations in the NT and key theological terms demand that we take the Septuagint seriously.
For example, in the Septuagint version of the Pentateuch, the Hebrew word for altar [mizbeah] is rendered by thysiasterion when referring to the Jewish altar but by bomos when speaking of pagan altars. This shows that the translators may have had a theology motive — they wanted to distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish practices.
Scholars disagree on the extent to which theological interpretations occur in the Septuagint, especially where the Greek translation diverges significantly from the Hebrew Bible. Some have argued that the translator’s primary purpose was to translate the Scriptures and make it accessible and intelligible for his audience, similar, perhaps, to how a modern-day Bible translator might approach his or her task.
Others have maintained that the translator’s job was more theological or exegetically motivated, to reinterpret and actualize the Scriptures for his immediate community and with reference to contemporary circumstances and events.
An example that illustrates this debate is the Greek translation of the Servant Song in Isaiah 53:10, which is noticeably different from the MT:
MT: “Yet it was YHWH’s will to crush him, to cause him to suffer.”
LXX: “And the Lord desires to cleanse him from his blow.”
(Is 53:10) 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; ESV
Why did the Septuagint translator render the Hebrew word “crush” by the Greek word “cleanse”? One scholar suggests that the translator is lessening the suffering of the Servant in order to avoid associating YHWH with a “demonic” action.
Another theory is the translator did not know the meaning of this relatively rare word, and that “cleanse” is simply a mistranslation or an educated guess. A third possibility is that the translator was looking at a Hebrew text that presented a different word here.
Perhaps you can see why Septuagint scholars love digging into this translation!
For instance, large differences are discernible in the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11; there are significant pluses and minuses (phrases or verses that are added or omitted) in most of the books of the Old Testament, but especially in Numbers, Joshua, Samuel, and Kings. Major chronological and editorial structures are transposed in Samuel and Kings. The Septuagint Psalter adds an extra Psalm (Psalm 151), and the Septuagint copy of the book of Jeremiah is significantly shorter (1/8th) than the Hebrew. And lastly, the books of Daniel and Esther have significant sections added to the Greek versions.
Determining the earliest or “original” text is a complex process fraught with challenges. Nevertheless, scholars engaged in textual criticism record and analyze the differences between Greek and Hebrew manuscripts (among others). They reckon these differences with the various stages of the Old Testament books in order to determine the reliability of and relationship between manuscripts.
These studies have been incorporated into the critical editions of the Hebrew Bible (e.g., BHS, BHQ, HUBP) and Greek Bible (Cambridge or Göttingen Septuagint) and have sometimes influenced our modern translations.
When modern translators work on an English translation these texts are used to determine the best translations of the Old Testament books. There is much work yet to be done.
The importance of the Septuagint cannot be emphasized enough. It sheds much-needed light on important words and theological concepts in both the Old and New Testaments. It helps us understand better the religious and political context in which Jesus and the New Testament authors lived; it has helped scholars determine which manuscripts are most reliable, which in turn leads to reliable translations of the Old Testament; and it gives us greater insight into the church fathers, who often quoted the Septuagint over the Hebrew Bible . So, although I would not recommend selling everything you have, I say with Hitzig, “Go buy a Septuagint!”
The SeptuagintThe term Septuagint is often thought of as the Greek version (or translation) of the Hebrew Bible, much like the Vulgate is the Latin version or the Peshitta is the Syriac version. But, technically speaking, there is no such thing as “the Septuagint.” If you own a modern copy of the Septuagint (e.g., Rahlfs or Brenton editions), it is an “eclectic” edition, that is, a collection of the best and most reliable Greek manuscripts reconstructed to approximate the original translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek.
The Hebrew BibleHebrew ceased to be a spoken language as early as the exilic or post-exilic period (cf. Neh 13.24), and Aramaic became the lingua franca of the Jewish people. With the rise of Alexander the Great and the Greek empires, the Jews in the diaspora were Hellenized, and for some Jews, especially those living in Ptolemaic Egypt, Greek became the primary language. Thus, it became necessary for the Scriptures to be translated into Greek.
The Septuagint helps us better understand the New TestamentA Greek scholar once remarked, “A single hour lovingly devoted to the text of the Septuagint will further our exegetical knowledge of the Pauline Epistles more than a whole day spent over a commentary.” The hyperbole notwithstanding, few would dispute the broader point: the Septuagint is an invaluable resource for Christians interested in the New Testament (NT).
The Septuagint helps us better understand Jewish theologyThe Septuagint also sheds light on the theology and worship practices of the Jewish people in the Second Temple period (the period leading up to New Testament times).
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE SEPTUAGINT AND THE HEBREW OLD TESTAMENTOne issue for scholars is the fact that there are differences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible in every book of the Old Testament. Most of these differences are negligible, but some are quite significant, involving entire paragraphs, if not chapters, of a particular biblical book.
By Vaneetha Rendall Risner“It’s never God’s will for his children to suffer.”
I hear that statement frequently from both Christians and non-Christians as they interpret the character of God. Why would a loving God not want his children to be happy?
I understand that reasoning. I too want to be happy. I don’t want my close relationships destroyed. Or my health ruined. Or my livelihood taken away.
Yet in the manifold wisdom of God, as I look at Scripture, I see clearly how God uses suffering for our good. And for our eternal joy. Which is far deeper than any fleeting happiness.
Isaiah 30 speaks beautifully to how God uses suffering, regardless of how it comes. Speaking to the Israelites, who have been disciplined for their disobedience, Isaiah says,
He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!” (Isaiah 30:19–22)God may give us the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, but with them come extraordinary promises. Assurance that he hears and answers our prayers, the ability to see him and sense his presence, clear direction for our decisions, power to destroy sin and strongholds — these are staggering gifts.
God Hears and Answers
When we are suffering, we can be confident that God hears our desperate pleas. The Maker of heaven and earth is listening attentively, waiting for us to call out to him. It doesn’t need to be an eloquent prayer. Just a sincere cry for help.
And as soon as the Lord hears our cry, he answers us. Immediately. He responds as soon as our plea for mercy goes out.
But honestly, in the midst of suffering, I have often felt the opposite. I have felt that God was ignoring my cries because my situation wasn’t changing. As I was begging God for deliverance, things were getting worse. But God has gently reminded me that his answers can be “yes,” “no,” or “wait.” And though I may not understand it, I know that God will always give me what is best for me, when it is best for me.
He Gives Us Himself
God uniquely gives us his presence in suffering. The Lord, our Teacher, doesn’t hide himself anymore. Even though God never leaves us, we are often unaware of his presence. We may go about our day-to-day life, oblivious to the fact that God goes with us. But in suffering, God’s presence is unmistakable. It is as though he removes the veil that hides his face from us, and we find ourselves in the very throne room of God.
For me, this is an uncommon feeling. While I know that God is always with me, I rarely experience God’s presence in an unmistakable, spectacular way. I have felt close to him while reading Scripture, praying, sitting in silence, and praising God in community, yet there is something special about his unveiled presence in suffering.
I will never forget those supernatural encounters with God. The joy I felt in those moments, moments that were surrounded by excruciating circumstances, is still vivid. Those times are anchors for me, for whenever God seems vague and distant, I remember how he revived my soul in my deepest suffering.
God Gives Us Clear Direction
Years ago I was walking through another dark valley. Physical and emotional pain overwhelmed me, making it hard to even think or process. But at the same time, pain strangely made me more attentive to God’s voice. I could ignore the noise around me and focus on what God was saying.
God was gracious as I leaned on him in ways I never had before. I asked for advice, and God gave it. He directed my steps as I walked. Through fellow believers, through circumstances, through prayer, but mostly through reading his word, I learned to recognize his ways. And his voice. I just had to listen.
Listening for me requires reading the Bible, since that is where I hear God most often. It is through Scripture that God spoke most clearly as he comforted me, convicted me, and guided me. He used passages that felt loved and familiar, as well as those that had once seemed dry and boring. As I read them, he breathed life into the words, bringing fresh insight, wisdom, and direction.
God Helps Us Destroy Our Idols
Lastly, Isaiah 30 shows us that suffering helps us destroy our idols. While I don’t worship carved idols, I have taken idols into my heart (Ezekiel 14:3), which can be even more dangerous. I have worshiped approval, respect, success, and having a perfect family. I thought they would make me happy. But when they were taken away, the power of those idols diminished.
All of my suffering has involved loss. Loss of things I valued. Loss of what I loved. Often they were good things, sometimes wonderful things, but none of them were as good as God himself. And so even though I grieved their loss, I saw how God could give me joy without them. Because my joy became rooted in him.
While I wouldn’t choose adversity, it has been an unparalleled gift in my life. Has it been hard? Yes. But has it been worth it? Absolutely.
I can honestly echo Joni Eareckson Tada’s words, “I wouldn’t trade places with anybody in this world to be this close to Jesus.”
Vaneetha Rendall Risner
Jerusalem Was Jewish 1,300 Years Before Birth of Islam
By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz 10/27/2016
“At that time they shall call Yerushalayim the throne of Hashem; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of Hashem, to Yerushalayim; neither shall they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil heart.” Jeremiah 3:17 (The Israel Bible™)
A 2,700-year-old papyrus that is the oldest known non-Biblical Hebrew reference to Jerusalem has been found, announced the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) on Wednesday. The papyrus, originally stolen by antiquities thieves, was put on display in Jerusalem on Wednesday, coinciding with the second UNESCO resolution attempting to deny Judaism’s connection to its most holy city – a connection this ancient artifact so graphically proves.
The two lines of writing on the tiny scrap of papyrus (4.3 inches by 1 inch) are surprisingly clear: “From the king’s maidservant, from Naharta, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.”
The scroll was originally plundered from a cave in Nahal Hever in the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea by antiquities thieves. Professor Shmuel Ahituv of Ben-Gurion University studied the papyrus when it was first recovered. He spoke at the IAA press conference, noting that on the papyrus, the name of the city was spelled with a letter ‘yud’, as it is in modern Hebrew. Pronounced ‘Yerushalayim’, Ahituv noted that it is spelled this way only four times in the entire Bible.
Ahituv also noted that papyrus, made from the pith of the papyrus plant, was more expensive than the more common clay. The text specified a “female servant of the king” sending the wineskins to “Yerushalem”, suggesting the shipment was sent by a prominent woman to a person of high status in the capital.
Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, emphasized in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that the papyrus indicates the importance of Jerusalem to ancient Israel.
“It underscores the centrality of Jerusalem as the economic capital of the kingdom in the second half of the 7th century BCE,” he said.
IAA director Israel Hasson explained to the Jerusalem Post that ‘Naharta’ mentioned in the text is located on the border between the traditional lands of Ephraim and Benjamin.
And it went down from Janoah to Ataroth, and to Naarah, and reached unto Yericho, and went out at the Jordan. Joshua 16:7.
Radiocarbon dating determined the papyrus was from the seventh century BCE, at the time of the First Temple, making it only one of three Hebrew papyri from that period and predating the Dead Sea Scrolls by hundreds of years. Orthography (the study of letters and language) confirmed this date. The especially arid environment preserved the papyrus remarkably well.
The recovered document emphatically disproves the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem, a precondition that has been a stumbling block preventing negotiations with Israel. This battle-cry has been taken up by UNESCO in two resolutions initiated by the Arab nations granting Islam a religious monopoly on the Temple Mount. This Hebrew papyrus proves that Jerusalem was the Jewish capital 1,300 years before Mohammed, the father of Islam, was born.
The papyrus even carries another clear indication that Jerusalem was originally a Jewish, and not Muslim, city: its subject is wine, a flourishing industry in ancient Israel and an essential part of the Temple service – and a substance expressly forbidden in Islam. Muslims would be hard-pressed to explain their part in this wine deal.
Speaking at the dedication of the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship at IDC Herzliya, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made use of the papyrus when discussing UNESCO’s “distorted, scandalous” decision.
“This was a document, a shipping invoice, that was sent over 2,700 years ago from Na’arat, near Jerusalem, and it says in ancient Hebrew, and this is the critical word, but you can see it in Hebrew, ‘[me-a]mat ha-melekh me-Na’aratah nevelim yi’in Yerushalima’. ‘From the king’s maidservant, from Na’arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem’,” Netanyahu translated.
“Here is a letter from the past to UNESCO. It is written ‘Yerushalima.’ It explains, in Hebrew, our connection to Jerusalem and the centrality of Jerusalem. A servant of the king, certainly a king of Judah. It is from over 2,700 years ago – Jerusalem. Not in Arabic, not in Aramaic, not in Greek or Latin – in Hebrew.”
In her remarks at the IAA press conference announcing the recovery of the papyrus, Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) echoed the prime minister and spoke to the future. “The discovery of the papyrus on which the name of our capital Jerusalem is written is further tangible evidence that Jerusalem was, and will remain, the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” said Regev.
“It is our duty to take care of the plundering of antiquities that occurs in the Judean Desert, and no less important than this is exposing the deceit of false propaganda, as is once again happening today in UNESCO.
“The Temple Mount – the very heart of Jerusalem and Israel – will remain the holiest place for the Jewish people, even if UNESCO ratifies the false and unfortunate decision another 10 times.”
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 119Your Word Is a Lamp to My Feet
119:17 Deal bountifully with your servant,
that I may live and keep your word.
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law.
19 I am a sojourner on the earth;
hide not your commandments from me!
20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your rules at all times.
21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
who wander from your commandments.
22 Take away from me scorn and contempt,
for I have kept your testimonies.
23 Even though princes sit plotting against me,
your servant will meditate on your statutes.
24 Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.
Fox's Book Of Martyrs
By John Foxe 1563In the morning the inquisitor, with three other ecclesiastics, returned, when the former asked the prisoner what difficulties he had on his conscience that retarded his conversion; to which he answered, 'he had not any doubts in his mind, being confident in the promises of Christ, and assuredly believing his revealed will signified in the Gospels, as professed in the reformed Catholic Church, being confirmed by grace, and having infallible assurance thereby of the Christian faith.' To these words the inquisitor replied, "Thou art no Christian, but an absurd heretic, and without conversion a member of perdition." The prisoner then told him that it was not consistent with the nature and essence of religion and charity to convince by opprobrious speeches, racks, and torments, but by arguments deduced from the Scriptures; and that all other methods would with him be totally ineffectual.
The inquisitor was so enraged at the replies made by the prisoner, that he struck him on the face, used many abusive speeches, and attempted to stab him, which he had certainly done had he not been prevented by the Jesuits; and from this time he never again visited the prisoner.
The next day the two Jesuits returned, and putting on a very grave, supercilious air, the superior asked him what resolution he had taken. To which Mr. Lithgow replied that he was already resolved, unless he could show substantial reasons to make him alter his opinion. The superior, after a pedantic display of their seven sacraments, the intercession of saints, transubstantiation, etc., boasted greatly of their Church, her antiquity, universality, and uniformity; all of which Mr. Lithgow denied: "For (said he) the profession of the faith I hold hath been ever since the first days of the apostles, and Christ had ever his own Church (however obscure) in the greatest time of your darkness."
The Jesuits, finding their arguments had not the desired effect, that torments could not shake his constancy, nor even the fear of the cruel sentence he had reason to expect would be pronounced and executed on him, after severe menaces, left him. On the eighth day after, being the last of their Inquisition, when sentence is pronounced, they returned again, but quite altered both in their words and behavior after repeating much of the same kind of arguments as before, they with seeming tears in their eyes, pretended they were sorry from their heart he must be obliged to undergo a terrible death, but above all, for the loss of his most precious soul; and falling on their knees, cried out, "Convert, convert, O dear brother, for our blessed Lady's sake convert!" To which he answered, "I fear neither death nor fire, being prepared for both."
The first effects Mr. Lithgow felt of the determination of this bloody tribunal was, a sentence to receive that night eleven different tortures, and if he did not die in the execution of them, (which might be reasonably expected from the maimed and disjointed condition he was in) he was, after Easter holy-days, to be carried to Grenada, and there burnt to ashes. The first part of this sentence was executed with great barbarity that night; and it pleased God to give him strength both of body and mind, to stand fast to the truth, and to survive the horrid punishments inflicted on him.
After these barbarians had glutted themselves for the present, with exercising on the unhappy prisoner the most distinguished cruelties, they again put irons on, and conveyed him to his former dungeon. The next morning he received some little comfort from the Turkish slave before mentioned, who secretly brought him, in his shirt sleeve, some raisins and figs, which he licked up in the best manner his strength would permit with his tongue. It was to this slave Mr. Lithgow attributed his surviving so long in such a wretched situation; for he found means to convey some of these fruits to him twice every week. It is very extraordinary, and worthy of note, that this poor slave, bred up from his infancy, according to the maxims of his prophet and parents, in the greatest detestation of Christians, should be so affected at the miserable situation of Mr. Lithgow that he fell ill, and continued so for upwards of forty days. During this period Mr. Lithgow was attended by a negro woman, a slave, who found means to furnish him with refreshments still more amply than the Turk, being conversant in the house and family. She brought him every day some victuals, and with it some wine in a bottle.
The time was now so far elapsed, and the horrid situation so truly loathsome, that Mr. Lithgow waited with anxious expectation for the day, which, by putting an end to his life, would also end his torments. But his melancholy expectations were, by the interposition of Providence, happily rendered abortive, and his deliverance obtained from the following circumstances.
It happened that a Spanish gentleman of quality came from Grenada to Malaga, who being invited to an entertainment by the governor, informed him of what had befallen Mr. Lithgow from the time of his being apprehended as a spy, and described the various sufferings he had endured. He likewise told him that after it was known the prisoner was innocent, it gave him great concern. That on this account he would gladly have released him, restored his money and papers, and made some atonement for the injuries he had received, but that, upon an inspection into his writings, several were found of a very blasphemous nature, highly reflecting on their religion, that on his refusing to abjure these heretical opinions, he was turned over to the Inquisition, by whom he was finally condemned.
While the governor was relating this tragical tale, a Flemish youth (servant to the Spanish gentleman) who waited at the table, was struck with amazement and pity at the sufferings of the stranger described. On his return to his master's lodgings he began to revolve in his mind what he had heard, which made such an impression on him that he could not rest in his bed. In the short slumbers he had, his imagination pointed to him the person described, on the rack, and burning in the fire. In this anxiety he passed the night; and when the morning came, without disclosing his intentions to any person whatever, he went into the town, and inquired for an English factor. He was directed to the house of a Mr. Wild, to whom he related the whole of what he had heard pass the preceding evening, between his master and the governor, but could not tell Mr. Lithgow's name. Mr. Wild, however, conjectured it was he, by the servant's remembering the circumstance of his being a traveller, and his having had some acquaintance with him.
On the departure of the Flemish servant, Mr. Wild immeidately sent for the other English factors, to whom he related all the paritculars relative to their unfortunate countryman. After a short consultation it was agreed that an information of the whole affair should be sent, by express, to Sir Walter Aston, the English ambassador to the king of Spain, then at Madrid. This was accordingly done, and the ambassador having presented a memorial to the king and council of Spain, obtained an order for Mr. Lithgow's enlargement, and his delivery to the English factor. This order was directed to the governor of Malaga; and was received with great dislike and surprise by the whole assembly of the bloody Inquisition.
Mr. Lithgow was released from his confinement on the eve of Easter Sunday, when he was carried from his dungeon on the back of the slave who had attended him, to the house of one Mr. Bosbich, where all proper comforts were given him. It fortunately happened that there was at this time a squadron of English ships in the road, commanded by Sir Richard Hawkins, who being informed of the past sufferings and present situation of Mr. Lithgow, came the next day ashore, with a proper guard, and received him from the merchants. He was instantly carried in blankets on board the Vanguard, and three days after was removed to another ship, by direction of the general Sir Robert Mansel, who ordered that he should have proper care taken of him. The factor presented him with clothes, and all necessary provisions, besides which they gave him two hundred reals in silver; and Sir Richard Hawkins sent him two double pistoles.
Before his departure from the Spanish coast, Sir Richard Hawkins demanded the delivery of his papers, money, books, etc., but could not obtain any satisfactory answer on that head.
We cannot help making a pause here to reflect how manifestly Providence interfered in behalf of this poor man, when he was just on the brink of destruction; for by his sentence, from which there was no appeal, he would have been taken, in a few days, to Grenada, and burnt to ashes; and that a poor ordinary servant, who had not the least knowledge of him, nor was any ways interested in his preservation, should risk the displeasure of his master, and hazard his own life, to disclose a thing of so momentous and perilous a nature, to a strange gentleman, on whose secrecy depended his own existence. By such secondary means does Providence frequently interfere in behalf of the virtuous and oppressed; of which this is a most distinguished example.
After lying twelve days in the road, the ship weighed anchor, and in about two months arrived safe at Deptford. The next morning, Mr. Lithgow was carried on a feather bed to Theobalds, in Hertfordshire, where at that time was the king and royal family. His majesty happened to be that day engaged in hunting, but on his return in the evening, Mr. Lithgow was presented to him, and related the particulars of his sufferings, and his happy delivery. The king was so affected at the narrative, that he expressed the deepest concern, and gave orders that he should be sent to Bath, and his wants properly supplied from his royal munificence. By these means, under God, after some time, Mr. Lithgow was restored from the most wretched spectacle, to a great share of health and strength; but he lost the use of his left arm and several of the smaller bones were so crushed and broken, as to be ever after rendered useless.
Notwithstanding that every effort was used, Mr. Lithgow could never obtain any part of his money or effects, although his majesty and the ministers of state interested themselves in his behalf. Gondamore, the Spanish ambassador, indeed, promised that all his effects should be restored, with the addition of 1000 Pounds English money, as some atonement for the tortures he had undergone, which last was to be paid him by the governor of Malaga. These engagements, however, were but mere promises; and although the king was a kind of guarantee for the well performance of them, the cunning Spaniard found means to elude the same. He had, indeed, too great a share of influence in the English council during the time of that pacific reign, when England suffered herself to be bullied into slavish compliance by most of the states and kings in Europe.
Foxe's Book of Martyrs
The Man Jesus Renamed
By J. Ligon Duncan 12-13-2009If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 8 and this great story of the man who was possessed by demons, liberated by the Lord Jesus Christ. Derek Thomas was reminding me this morning that Ridderbos, in his famous book, The Coming of the Kingdom, records seventeen different interpretations that he had found of this particular parable. Now I must say that that really boggles my mind because Luke's main point is so crystal clear and it's set in the context of three other stories that are crystal clear. We said the last time that we were together that in Luke 8 you begin four miracle stories, all of which either happen in Galilee or in Gentile lands. This, by the way, is the miracle story that happens in Gentile land. You’ll notice at the beginning of the passage that they go across the lake to the east side and that puts them outside the bounds of Galilee and outside the bounds of Israel and over into Gentile territory on the other side. And it's very clear that they’re in Gentile territory because they find themselves in a country where there is a huge, huge herd of pigs. Now not only did the Jewish people not eat bacon, and not only were they forbidden by Moses to eat bacon, but they were not allowed to raise bacon even to sell it to the Gentiles. And so the fact that you’re in a country with a herd of pigs lets you know that you’re in Gentile territory and that's part of the point of the story.
So these four miracles show Jesus reaching out to Gentiles, either in Galilee or even in even more Gentile territory across the river. It's a picture of His great commission outreach, not just to Jews but to Gentiles also. These four miracle stories, also we said, in contrast to the miracles in Luke 4 and 5, are focused on settings where a small group of the disciples witness the miracles. In Luke 4 and 5, great multitudes are following Jesus Christ when He does His miracles. The miracles that are recorded here, just like the one that we saw last week, are seen by that small circle of disciples that is following Jesus around. This means that these miracles are especially meant to teach believers something.
Last week we said the focus was on the power and the person of Jesus Christ. And guess what this week's focus is on? The power and the person of Jesus Christ. And repeatedly, these miracles will focus us in on “Who is Jesus?” and “What do His deeds tell us about what He has come to do and the power that He has?” And so this passage helps us in this way. So I don't know how seventeen interpretations of this particular story got circulated.
I will say that I struggled with the title to this sermon. I've ended up, and I’ll explain it later, giving the title “The Man Jesus Renamed.” Now that may peak your interest because in the passage no name is ever given for the man, either before or after his conversion, so you may be wondering why I've named it that. Well, I’ll try and explain that before the end of the sermon, but there were several titles that didn't get included in the sermon bulletin today. One was, “His Name Was Legion, Not Ligon.” I have been confused with Legion all my life and it worries me that it's not just the sound of the name, but I want to make it clear that Legion is not in any way related to Ligon.
Another title that didn't make it was “Demons, Pigs, and a Request to Leave.” Now I think actually that beautifully outlines what happens in this passage, but for a specific reason I've wanted to zero your attention in on this man, this nameless man, who is afflicted by demons and who is liberated by Jesus Christ because there is a Gospel message for all of us. This is clearly an extraordinary event. Luke means it to be an extraordinary event. Luke doesn't think that it's an every day occurrence for a person to be possessed by a host of demons. So he's drawing our attention to an extraordinary event, but the reason he's drawing our attention to that extraordinary event is because there are actually truths which transfer across the last 2,000 years, right to where we are today, that we are to learn out of this passage.
Well let's pray before we read God's Word together.
Heavenly Father this is Your Word. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it and open our ears, we pray, to hear Your Word rightly. By Your Holy Spirit, show us our need of grace. Show us the sins of our hearts that we are captive to. Show us the only hope of deliverance from those sins and teach us these things from this passage. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the Word of God:
“Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes”
[Let me just pause right there. In some of your Bibles, it may say Gergesenes or Gadarenes in the parallel passages in the gospels. All you need to know right now, if you’re interested in that I'm happy to talk about it until the cows come home, but all you need to know is each of those places — the regions of the Gergesenes, the Gadarenes, and the Gerasenes — it's all on the other side of the Lake of Galilee. It's all Gentile territory, so just bear that in mind. ]
“They sailed to the country of the Gerasenes which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met Him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before Him and said with a loud voice, ‘What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.’ For He (that is, Jesus) had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion,’ for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged Him to let them enter these. So He gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So He got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with Him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Many of you have seen, maybe fewer of you have read, a book by the famous British philosopher and skeptic, Bertrand Russell. It's entitled, Why I Am Not A Christian. Now it's not a very profound book. I could have come up with better arguments against Christianity than Bertrand Russell, but in the course of this book in one of the chapters, he says it is this story that led him to the conclusion that Jesus was neither the best nor the most virtuous of men. It deeply disturbed Bertrand Russell that Jesus allowed a herd of two thousand pigs to be destroyed. And he said that a good and virtuous man could not have allowed something like that to happen and therefore, Jesus was not the best and most virtuous of men and therefore Christianity was disproven. Well this is a taste of the profound arguments that you will find in that book. But it struck me as interesting that Bertrand Russell had the exact same reaction to this miracle that the people of the Gerasenes had. They had the exact same reaction to Jesus that Bertrand Russell would manifest two thousand years later. Well I’ll explain that too, later on.
This passage is fundamentally about Jesus. He is the dividing line here. It's His person and His power that we're having our attention draw to and there are four things in particular that I want you to see in this passage. I want you to see a person in the thrall of sin. It's this man who doesn't even remember his name who's possessed by a host of demons. He's not only a person extraordinarily under bondage to demonic activity, but he's actually a picture of everyone who is in the thrall of sin. Secondly, I want you to look at the Lord Jesus Christ Himself because His power over Satan is on display full force in this passage. Third, I want you to see the change that results in this man after he is not only liberated from these demons, but after he clearly, because of a change of heart, becomes a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. And then finally, and very, very sadly, I want you to see in contrast to him, the reaction of the majority of the people in his city and country to what Jesus has done. And there's a lesson in each of these things for all of us.
I. A person in the thrall of sin.
Well the first thing I want you to see is this picture of a person in the thrall of sin. It's this man who is in bondage to these demons. It's interesting isn't it — Jesus crosses the river, the lake, and no sooner has He set His foot on the other side but this man shows up to meet Him. Jesus does not go looking for this demon-possess man, the man comes to Him. Now that's interesting isn't it? It seems to happen a lot in the gospels. It's almost like the demons are inexorably drawn to Jesus. They sort of seek Him out. Where He goes, they show up and they say things to Him.
Palmer Robertson was telling me not long after he had arrived in Africa to begin his ministry there he was taken to a nighttime fireside meeting with a witch doctor — a man who was possessed of familiar spirits, who had extraordinary powers of strength, prediction, he was hired by people to put curses on other people and to put spells on other people. And as Palmer approached him at the fireside, the man identified Palmer before he got there. “What are you doing here, man of God?” And then he attempted to intimidate him. It was interesting that Palmer had gone out without any announcement but this man knew who he was and he was obviously disturbed that he was there and he began to make threats. In fact, the next thing the name did was to take a steel bar, place it in his teeth, and proceed to bend it with his hands and with his teeth. He was possessed of extraordinary strength but he was aware that there was a man of God in his presence.
Well, this happens in the gospel with Jesus. The demons are aware that He is there and they are frightened. And so this man comes to Jesus, he seeks Him out, and Jesus says to him, “What is your name?” And the man doesn't know his name. You understand that Legion is not his name. Legion probably comes from the fact that Roman legions had four to six thousand men in them and this name, Legion, indicates that he is possessed by a host of demons. We know that two thousand pigs go over the cliff. I wouldn't care to speculate how many demons possessed this man, but the man can only identify himself as a person who is possessed by an almost innumerable host of evil spirits and he doesn't even remember his own name.
For you Tolkien fans it reminds me of a character in the trilogy of the Lord of the Rings. Do you remember at the end of the book, in the sixth book, when the King of Gondor and his captains and the host of Gondor have arrived at the black gates of Sauron — Sauron is the evil figure in the book and if you know Tolkien's cosmology, he was actually an apprentice to the Satan figure of Tolkien's writings. And he sends out his representative, a man who is known only as the Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr, the black gate. And he is sent out to negotiate with Aragorn and Gandalf, and the others. And Tolkien puts it this way — “The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr he was, and his name is remembered in no tale for he himself had forgotten it and said only, ‘I am the mouth of Sauron.’”
That is exactly what is happening here. This man, when Jesus says, “What is your name?” effectively says, “I do not know my name. I am but a man possessed by an innumerable host of demons. That is all I know.” Now I want to say very quickly, my friends, that there is no power in this universe that can cause a rationale being to sin. We are all responsible for our sins and so no demonic force can take control of a human life and make you sin unless you allow it. But once the door is open, well, we see in this story what can happen when you give in, what can happen when the demonic takes over. He was completely in the thrall of sin. He was incapable of changing his circumstances. He was totally dominated by these demonic forces. But now this is an extraordinary case. We do not find demons under every pew and under every rock. And Luke intends this to be a display of an extraordinary case. Clearly, Luke is telling you this because he wants you to show the amazing power of Jesus Christ, even over demons.
But there is a message in this for all of us and it is simply this — we may not be possessed by demons, but if we are possessed by what we want or by what we have and if what we want or what we have is not God in the Gospel of His dear Son, Jesus Christ, then we are no less in the thrall of sin that this man.
You know, a month ago, a month ago, if you had said to anyone, “You know, Tiger Woods is in slavery.” They would have looked at you and said, “You've got to be out of your mind. He is a billionaire, he is about to break Jack Nicklaus’ record, he's married to a model, he has two beautiful children, he has everything that anybody in the world could possibly want to have. He is the freest man in the world.” But today, if you said to anybody, “Tiger Woods is a slave to his desires,” they would recognize it. We do not say that to cast the first stone. We pray that he would find liberation in Jesus Christ and see his life and family restored, but my friends, any one of us, any one of us, can be in the same thralldom today.
What do you love? What do you want? What do you have that you’re captive to, that you’re enslaved to? Yes, this man is extraordinary. It's not every day that you meet someone inhabited by a host of demons, but every time you meet a Christ-less soul, you meet someone who is utterly captive to sin. And they are no more capable of liberating themselves than this man was capable of liberating himself from this host of demons. Well that's the first thing we see in this passage.
II. The power of the Lord Jesus Christ over Satan.
But here's the second thing. We see the power of Christ over Satan, don't we? It's amazing — Jesus comes to shore and it's obvious that He has immediately commanded the spirits to leave the man because they remonstrate with Him. “What have You to do with me, Jesus, the Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” And then the demons beg not to be cast into the abyss. The demons, who in this man have terrified the whole countryside to the point that they had tried to retrain this man with chains they were so frightened of Him, those demons are now afraid of Jesus because they know who Jesus is and they know where Jesus can cast them. They know that Jesus can cast them into the abyss, into the lake of fire, into the bowels of hell, and they’re frightened. And so they begin crying out, “Don't cast us into the abyss.”
Luke is telling you here that Jesus is sovereign over everything. There is no captivity that you can be captive to that is not captive to Jesus Christ for He has ascended on high and led captivity captive and He makes a sport and a spoil of the forces of darkness which are arrayed against God and against heaven. He is utterly sovereign. In fact in this passage with the demons naming His name, this was often done in the ancient world, if you knew someone's name you could call out that name as a part of casting a spell on them. And so the demons call out His name — “Jesus, the Son of the Most High God” — and it has no effect on Him. They cannot cast a spell on Him. There's nothing that they can do to restrain His mighty arm.
And then they beg to go into the herd of pigs. Now Jesus grants this permission. And you can ask yourself a lot of questions — Why did Jesus do that? Maybe it was because they were unclean animals. The bottom line is, I don't know why Jesus did that and neither do you and neither does anyone else. I remember my boyhood pastor, Gordon Reed, preaching through a sermon series on the gospel on Mark coming to a passage about demon possession saying, “I don't know much about demon possession, but I've read a lot of books about people on demon possession and they don't know much about demon possession either.” Well, before you give counsel to Jesus about what He has done in this passage you may want to take stock about how much you know about demon possession. I trust the Lord Jesus to know what to do with demons and what ought to be done.
But let me just suggest that one thing that might be happening here is a picture of Jesus’ future judgment on the demonic forces that are arrayed against God. What is going to happen, we are told by John the book of Revelation, is that God Himself is going to cast Satan and his demons into the lake of fire. Now what happens in this passage? The demons inhabit the bodies of this herd of pigs and the pigs cast them into the Lake of Galilee. It may well be a picture of the reverse of what happened in the Garden of Eden. Do you remember when a serpent, an animal, came and exercised authority over God's man and woman, Adam and Eve, who had been made in His image so that instead of them ruling over the animals, the animals ruled over them? Here, it may well be that a herd of unclean animals has been used to take thousands of demons to their doom in the lake in anticipation of the final judgment. Other than that my friends, I don't know.
But this I do know, when people say that because those pigs died it shows that Jesus was not a good and virtuous man they’re forgetting three things. First of all they’re forgetting that Jesus Himself has already said that His Heavenly Father cares even about the sparrows that fall from their nests. Secondly, they’re forgetting that Jesus also says that people are more important than sparrows. And thirdly, they are forgetting the fate of this man with an immortal soul who was in danger not only of a continuous life of torment, but an eternal separation from God. and what Jesus showed here was a love and a grace towards a man in captivity to sin who didn't deserve to be freed and didn't deserve to be forgiven, but Jesus did it anyway. It's a glorious picture of Jesus’ love for lost souls, even a Gentile. He loves our souls. Jesus is the lover of our souls. He's the friend of sinners. And it's the glorious picture of the value that He puts on an immortal soul. So you not only see the power of Christ over Satan in this passage in the miracle that He performs in casting these demons out of this man, but you also see Jesus’ compassion towards sinners.
III. The heart set free from sin by Jesus.
And then you see in this passage the change of a heart set free. When this passage begins, we have a man who is possessed by demons who had gone about naked, who had lived in the tombs, who was out of his mind, and who did not even know his name. And at the end of the passage, look how he is described. Twice he is described this way — look at verse 35, “the man from whom the demons had gone out” and then again “the man from whom the demons had gone” and then in verse 38, “the man from whom the demons had gone.” When Jesus had asked him, “What's your name?” The first time he had answered, “I'm the man possessed by a countless host of demons.” Now, he's the man from whom those demons have gone out. “I'm the man who Jesus saved by casting out the demons from me.”
He had a new name and he had a new nature to go along with it. He was no longer naked and he was no longer babbling and he was no longer living amongst the tombs, but when they came, he was clothed and in his right mind and sitting at the Savior's feet.
Now you understand what sitting at the Savior's feet means? That's what disciples do, they sit at their master's feet. He's a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ now. And not only that, he's about to be a witnessing disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is going to tell him, “You can't come with Me, but I do want you to go back and tell them what great things God has done for you. Go be a witness to Me. Go be a witness to Me as My disciple.”
And the thing that I love the most is the utter contrast in his attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at what he first says when Jesus meets him in verse 28 — “What do you have to do with me, Jesus? I beg You, do not torment me.” Then, if you look in verse 38, he begs Jesus that he might be with him. There's a total change of nature in this man. He's converted. He's set free. He's liberated. He's no longer under the domination of demons or his own sin. He's been set free by Jesus.
IV. The hard hearts of those who reject Jesus.
But the sad thing I want you to see at the end is the reaction of the majority of his countrymen, because unlike him, they do not beg to be with Jesus. In fact, they beg Jesus to leave. And you know what the most frightening thing of all is? He does. They, like the demons, are afraid of Him and they beg Him to leave and He does. Why? Because they cared more about what they had lost than what that man had gained or what they could gain in Jesus themselves. John Oxenham1 wrote a poem about this passage. It goes like this: These are the people of Gerasene speaking to Jesus — “Rabbi be gone. Thy powers bring loss to us and ours. Our ways are not as Thine. Thou lovest men, we love swine. Oh get you hence, Omnipotence, and take this foul of Thine. His soul, what care we for his soul? What good to us that Thou hast made him whole, since we have lost our swine?” Is that not a picture of people that love what they have or what they want more than they love the One who loves their souls?
What's going on here? Why does the herd of swine go over the cliff? Why did these people respond to Jesus this way? You don't have to look very far. It's back just a few verses, the answer is back just a few verses. It's in Luke chapter 8, verse 18. It's just 8 or 9 verses before this passage. What does it say? Do you remember? Two Sundays ago — “Take care then, how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” They thought those pigs were theirs. They were not. They belonged to God. Nothing we have belongs to us. It all belongs to God. But it was what they loved and they preferred it to everlasting blessing in Jesus Christ. And because they did not hear Him, they lost even what they had.
This story is a technicolor picture of Luke 8:18, and my friends, there don't have to be demons around for us to be facing the same challenge. Are we with a man, liberated, who trusted Jesus, who begged to be with Jesus and sought to be a disciple at His feet? Or are we with those who love what we want and what we have more than we love the Word of life from the only One who can give life? We’re in the same story, my friends. We’re in the same story.
Click here to go to source Dr. J. Ligon Duncan is the chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary and the John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology. He has authored, coauthored, edited or contributed to more than 35 books.
Ligon Duncan Books:
- 1 Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter
- 2 Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Redesign): A Response to Evangelical Feminism
- 3 Women's Ministry in the Local Church
- 4 In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement
- 5 The Gospel as Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices
- 6 Baptism and the Lord's Supper (The Gospel Coalition Booklets)
- 7 Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology
- 8 Preaching the Cross
- 9 Does Grace Grow Best in Winter?
- 10 Only One Way?: Reaffirming the Exclusive Truth Claims of Christianity
- 11 Should We Leave Our Churches?: A Biblical Response to Harold Camping
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
Who’s your Saul?
(Oct 27) Bob Gass
‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name.’
(Ac 9:15) 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. ESV
Saul of Tarsus was the last person on earth you’d ever have expected to become a Christian, much less the author of half the New Testament. Describing his life before he met Christ, he wrote, ‘I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it’ (Galatians 1:13 NKJV). So, when God called Ananias to go and pray for Saul, he wasn’t too keen on the idea: ‘“I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel”’ (Acts 9:13-15 NIV 1984 Edition). Ananias knew what Saul had done to the church. What he was about to learn, however, is that God was at work in Saul’s heart. Within a few short years God would use Paul to touch the world, but first He used Ananias to touch Paul. Has God given you a similar assignment? Has He given you a Saul? If so, don’t give up on him or her. When other people write them off, give them another chance. Ananias didn’t know about Paul’s encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road. God can go where you can’t, and get through to a person when you’re unable to reach them. Always remember: God never sends you where He hasn’t already been. So, by the time you reach your Saul, who knows what you’ll find?
by Bill Federer
His wife and mother both tragically died on Valentine’s Day, 1884. Depressed, he left New York to ranch cattle in the Dakotas. He organized the first Voluntary Cavalry, known as the “Rough Riders,” which captured San Juan Hill. He was Vice-President under William McKinley, in 1901 became America’s youngest President. His name was Teddy Roosevelt, born this day, October 27, 1858. President Roosevelt warned: “The thought of modern industry in the hands of Christian charity is a dream worth dreaming. The thought of industry in the hands of paganism is a nightmare beyond imagining. The choice between the two is upon us.”American Minute
by P.T. Forsyth, (1848-1921)
The Soul of Prayer
II. Let us beware of a pietist fatalism which thins the spiritual life, saps the vigour of character, makes humility mere acquiescence, and piety only feminine, by banishing the will from prayer as much as thought has been banished from it. “The curse of so much religion” (I have quoted Meredith) “is that men cling to God with their weakness rather than with their strength.”
The popularity of much acquiescence is not because it is holier, but because it is easier. And an easy Gospel is the consumption that attacks Christianity. It is the phthisis to faith.
Once come to think that we best say “Thy will be done” when we acquiesce, when we resign, and not also when we struggle and wrestle, and in time all effort will seem less pious than submission. And so we fall into the ecclesiastical type of religion, drawn from an age whose first virtue was submission to outward superiors. We shall come to canonize decorum and subduedness in life and worship (as the Episcopal Church with its monarchical ideas of religion has done). We shall think more of order than of effort, more of law than of life, more of fashion than of faith, of good form than of great power. But was subduedness the mark of the New Testament men? Our religion may gain some beauty in this way, but it loses vigour. It may gain style, but it loses power. It is good form, but mere aesthetic piety. It may consecrate manners, but it improverishes the mind. It may regulate prayer by the precepts of intelligence instead of the needs and faith of the soul. It may feed certain pensive emotions, but it may emasculate will, secularize energy, and empty character. And so we decline to a state of things in which we have no shocking sins—yes, and no splendid souls; when all souls are dully correct, as like as shillings, but as thin, and as cheap.
All our forms and views of religion have their test in prayer. Lose the importunity of prayer, reduce it to soliloquy, or even to colloquy, with God, lose the real conflict of will and will, lose the habit of wrestling and the hope of prevailing with God, make it mere walking with God in friendly talk; and, precious as that is, yet you tend to lose the reality of prayer at last. In principle you make it mere conversation instead of the soul’s great action. You lose the food of character, the renewal of will. You may have beautiful prayers—but as ineffectual as beauty so often is, and as fleeting. And so in the end you lose the reality of religion. Redemption turns down into mere revelation, faith to assent, and devotion to a phase of culture. For you lose the power of the Cross and so of the soul.
Resist God, in the sense of rejecting God, and you will not be able to resist any evil. But resist God in the sense of closing with God, cling to Him with your strength, not your weakness only, with your active and not only your passive faith, and He will give you strength. Cast yourself into His arms not to be caressed but to wrestle with Him. He loves that holy war. He may be too many for you, and lift you from your feet. But it will be to lift you from earth, and set you in the heavenly places which are their who fight the good fight and lay hold of God as their eternal life.
--- Forsyth, P. T. (1848-1921).
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats,
politicians, and business leaders.
They have done the best they could, no doubt.
But this is an age for spiritual heroes-
a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith
and in spiritual character and power.
The greatest danger to the Christian church today
is that of pitching its message too low.
--- Dallas Willard The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives
Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.
--- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God's creation.
--- Maya Angelou
... from here, there and everywhere
Thanks to Meir Yona
How Titus Exhibited All Sorts Of Shows At Cesarea Philippi. Concerning Simon The Tyrant How He Was Taken, And Reserved For The Triumph.
1. Now at the same time that Titus Caesar lay at the siege of Jerusalem, did Vespasian go on board a merchantship and sailed from Alexandria to Rhodes; whence he sailed away in ships with three rows of oars; and as he touched at several cities that lay in his road, he was joyfully received by them all, and so passed over from Ionia into Greece; whence he set sail from Corcyra to the promontory of Iapyx, whence he took his journey by land. But as for Titus, he marched from that Cesarea which lay by the sea-side, and came to that which is named Cesarea Philippi, and staid there a considerable time, and exhibited all sorts of shows there. And here a great number of the captives were destroyed, some being thrown to wild beasts, and others in multitudes forced to kill one another, as if they were their enemies. And here it was that Titus was informed of the seizure of Simon the son of Gioras, which was made after the manner following: This Simon, during the siege of Jerusalem, was in the upper city; but when the Roman army was gotten within the walls, and were laying the city waste, he then took the most faithful of his friends with him, and among them some that were stone-cutters, with those iron tools which belonged to their occupation, and as great a quantity of provisions as would suffice them for a long time, and let himself and all them down into a certain subterraneous cavern that was not visible above ground. Now, so far as had been digged of old, they went onward along it without disturbance; but where they met with solid earth, they dug a mine under ground, and this in hopes that they should be able to proceed so far as to rise from under ground in a safe place, and by that means escape. But when they came to make the experiment, they were disappointed of their hope; for the miners could make but small progress, and that with difficulty also; insomuch that their provisions, though they distributed them by measure, began to fail them. And now Simon, thinking he might be able to astonish and elude the Romans, put on a white frock, and buttoned upon him a purple cloak, and appeared out of the ground in the place where the temple had formerly been. At the first, indeed, those that saw him were greatly astonished, and stood still where they were; but afterward they came nearer to him, and asked him who he was. Now Simon would not tell them, but bid them call for their captain; and when they ran to call him, Terentius Rufus 2 who was left to command the army there, came to Simon, and learned of him the whole truth, and kept him in bonds, and let Caesar know that he was taken. Thus did God bring this man to be punished for what bitter and savage tyranny he had exercised against his countrymen by those who were his worst enemies; and this while he was not subdued by violence, but voluntarily delivered himself up to them to be punished, and that on the very same account that he had laid false accusations against many Jews, as if they were falling away to the Romans, and had barbarously slain them; for wicked actions do not escape the Divine anger, nor is justice too weak to punish offenders, but in time overtakes those that transgress its laws, and inflicts its punishments upon the wicked in a manner, so much more severe, as they expected to escape it on account of their not being punished immediately. 3 Simon was made sensible of this by falling under the indignation of the Romans. This rise of his out of the ground did also occasion the discovery of a great number of others of the seditious at that time, who had hidden themselves under ground. But for Simon, he was brought to Caesar in bonds, when he was come back to that Cesarea which was on the seaside, who gave orders that he should be kept against that triumph which he was to celebrate at Rome upon this occasion.
by D.H. Stern
so one human heart reflects another.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for His Highest
The method of missions
Go ye therefore and teach (disciple) all nations.
--- Matthew 28:19.
Jesus Christ did not say—‘Go and save souls’ (the salvation of souls is the supernatural work of God), but—“Go and teach,” i.e., disciple, “all nations,” and you cannot make disciples unless you are a disciple yourself. When the disciples came back from their first mission, they were filled with joy because the devils were subject to them, and Jesus said—‘Don’t rejoice in successful service; the great secret of joy is that you are rightly related to Me.’ The great essential of the missionary is that he remains true to the call of God, and realizes that his one purpose is to disciple men and women to Jesus. There is a passion for souls that does not spring from God, but from the desire to make converts to our point of view.
The challenge to the missionary does not come on the line that people are difficult to get saved, that backsliders are difficult to reclaim, that there is a ‘wadge’ of callous indifference; but along the line of his own personal relationship to Jesus Christ. “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” Our Lord puts that question steadily, it faces us in every individual case we meet. The one great challenge is—Do I know my risen Lord? Do I know the power of His indwelling Spirit? Am I wise enough in God’s sight, and foolish enough according to the world, to bank on what Jesus Christ has said; or am I abandoning the great supernatural position, which is the only call for a missionary, viz., boundless confidence in Christ Jesus? If I take up any other method, I depart altogether from the method laid down by Our Lord—“All power is given unto Me …, therefore go ye.”
the Poetry of R.S. Thomas
That they should not advance
beyond certain limits left --
accidentally? -- undefined;
and that compensation be paid
by the other side. Meanwhile the
peasant -- There are no peasants
in Wales, he said, holding
his liquor as a gentleman
should not--went up and down
his acre, rejecting the pot
of gold at the rainbow's
end in favour of earthier
values: the subsidies gradually
propagating themselves on the guilt
of an urban class.
times! Never all day
did the procession of popular
images through the farm
kitchens cease; it was tiring
watching. Such truce as was
called in the invisible
warfare between bad and
worse was where two half-truths
faced one another over
the body of an exhausted
nation, each one waiting for
the other to be proved wrong.
Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest
To Maimonides, Hillel and Shammai, as opposed to their students, were in agreement not because they possessed a common tradition, but because they had a similar method of reasoning. Their agreement was not necessary but was the contingent outcome of their similar approaches to law. The logical possibility always existed that Hillel and Shammai would disagree. In fact, Maimonides shows that in specific cases they did disagree:
But as for their saying that when the disciples [of Hillel and Shammai] who had insufficiently studied, increased, dispute increased, this matter is very clear, for when two people are identical in understanding and in study and knowledge of the principles [Usul] from which they learn, there will not occur at all between them disagreement in what they learn by one of the hermeneutic principles, and if there will be disagreements they will be few, just as we have never found disagreements between Hillel and Shammai other than in a few laws, for their methods of study in all that they would learn by one of the principles were similar to one another, and also the correct general principles which were held by one were held by the other.
Only in the domain of law based on Sinai was there no possibility for disagreement. By not distinguishing between tradition-based law and reason-based law, men such as Ibn Daud must relegate the arguments in the Talmud to minute details which in principle could have been avoided had the students “waited upon their masters sufficiently.” Maimonides does not censure the students of Hillel and Shammai because he believes that their disagreements stem from their differing mental capacities and methods of interpretation. The similarity of approach of their masters, Hillel and Shammai, was lost by the students:
And when the study of their students became less and the methods of argument became weakened for them in comparison to Shammai and Hillel, their teachers, disagreement befell them during the give-and-take on many issues, because each one of them reasoned according to the power of his intellect and according to the principles known to him. And one should not blame them for this, for we cannot compel two people who are arguing to argue according to the level of the intellects of Joshua and Pinḥas. Also we are not permitted to have doubts regarding that about which they differed insofar as they are not as Shammai and Hillel or above them, for God Almighty did not obligate us to do so; but He obligated us to listen to the wise men, wise men of any generation whatsoever, as He said, “[you shall] appear before the levitical priests, or the magistrate in charge at the time, and present your problem” (Deut. 17:9). And in this manner befell disagreement, not that they erred in their receiving of tradition and one’s tradition is true and the other’s false. And how clear are these matters to one who reflects on them, and how great is this fundamental principle in the Torah.
The rabbis of the tradition could be trusted as transmitters of the tradition, despite the occurrence of disagreement in the Talmud, because they understood when they were appealing to reason and when to authoritative tradition. No disagreement ever occurred regarding laws based on authority. But, given the epistemological features of laws emerging from reasoning, disagreement was entirely legitimate. The text which Maimonides uses to justify the existence within Halakhah of laws developed by human reasoning is the same text which removed the prophet from participating as a prophet in halakhic debates and judgments. The appeal of the prophet to the authority of God is incompatible with the logic of legal deliberation. The prophet offers no room for disagreement. The appeal to the authority of God allows either for acceptance or for rejection, based upon whether one is either loyal or disloyal. To affirm loyalty to God, yet also to disagree with what the prophet proclaims, makes no sense.
At stake in Maimonides’ position is the logical status of legal reasoning. To Maimonides, legal rationality differs both from demonstrative proof and authoritative dictates. In authoritative appeals, only one position is valid: The authority—God—either said or did not say what the prophet claims. Similarly, in demonstrative proof, only one position is acceptable. The conclusion of a demonstrative inference whose premises are true, must also be true; whatever conclusions contradict this demonstrated conclusion must be false. One who disagrees with a demonstrated conclusion is either obstinate or irrational. Maimonides writes in the Guide:
For in all things whose reality is known through demonstration there is no tug-of-war and no refusal to accept a thing proven—unless indeed such refusal comes from an ignoramus who offers a resistance that is called resistance to demonstration.
In legal reasoning, however, when one is not simply transmitting a law based on authority, arguments are involved which support conclusions outside of strict entailment. Legal arguments make a position reasonable, sometimes even more reasonable than a rival position. They do not demonstrate that the contradictory is impossible. A judge may issue a verdict on the basis of arguments presented to him, yet he may still feel the weight of counter-arguments which could justify a future appeal of his decision. Since legal argumentation lacks the logical status of demonstrative proof, the procedure of deciding legal issues on the basis of majority rule is rationally comprehensible. In arguments based on demonstrative inference or on questions of fact, such procedure is unjustified and clearly absurd.
Maimonides, the master of legal rabbinic thought, understood the logical status of legal argumentation. He was well aware of those conditions under which it would make sense to speak of rational disagreement. Only one conclusion is valid when the appeal is to the authority of tradition or to demonstrative reason. The text, “And [you shall] appear before the levitical priests or the magistrate in charge at the time,” is the paradigm-text. By declaring the legitimacy of laws grounded in human reasoning, it prevents the prophet from appearing among scholars of the Halakhah and arguing from a base of prophetic authority. In the house of learning where scholars debate legal matters, one must follow the procedure of legal adjudication to decide which opinion shall prevail:
… even if one-thousand Prophets who are as Elijah and Elisha would interpret any interpretation, and one-thousand-and-one wise men interpret the opposite of that interpretation, “After the many to follow” (Ex. 23:2) and we follow the position of the one-thousand-and-one wise men, not the position of the one-thousand outstanding Prophets. And thus the Sages say, “By God! Even if Joshua, the son of Nun, had told it to me by his own mouth I should not have obeyed it and not have accepted it!”… even if one-thousand Prophets who are as Elijah and Elisha would interpret any interpretation, and one-thousand-and-one wise men interpret the opposite of that interpretation, “After the many to follow” (Ex. 23:2) and we follow the position of the one-thousand-and-one wise men, not the position of the one-thousand outstanding Prophets. And thus the Sages say, “By God! Even if Joshua, the son of Nun, had told it to me by his own mouth I should not have obeyed it and not have accepted it!”
None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. --- 1 Corinthians 2:8
When one hears people—passionate in their dislike of any innovation in theology or in religious thinking, declaring it is loyalty to Christ that makes them take their stand, the fact stares at us that it was such people—in their day quite sure that they too were right and working for God’s honor—who crucified our Lord. The Galilean Accent - Being Some Studies in the Christian Life In every age since then, they have continued doing it—old, angry, ill-conditioned Prejudice—with his deaf ears and his inhospitable heart.
Are our hands clean? It is easy to lose the gallant spirit that follows truth unflinchingly wherever truth may lead.
In the New Testament, however high the writers pitched their thoughts of Christ, they found these thoughts couldn’t meet the facts from their own experience, that they must make their thinking of him ampler still, and they kept doing it joyously. And it is a poor tribute to Christ to say that we have come to the end of him and know everything in him there is to know.
Suppose in our time a young man suddenly emerged out of an obscure village, a trades worker who had never been much out of his own valley and, talking in that provincial accent of his, told us that our accredited teachers were in many ways wrong and our religion largely obsolete, that he had come to show us a more excellent way, a truer faith—would we listen to him any more than they did then? Do we listen when he does send his messengers to us with some new light? “Christ,” said Tertullian, “did not call himself the custom, but the truth.” And while we are all loyal worshipers of custom, truth has few real disciples. Always it has had to fight its way to victory through hostile minds, distrustful and suspicious.
“I observe,” wrote Jonathan Edwards in his diary, “that old men seldom have any advantage of new discoveries, because these discoveries are beside a way of thinking they have long been used to. If ever I live to years I will be impartial to all pretended discoveries and receive them, if rational, how long soever I have been used to another way of thinking.” Such an entry in the diary of Caiaphas or Annas, lived out, would have saved us the Cross. Glancing up awestruck at what sins like ours can do, let us, too, pledge ourselves to that, praying God for the open mind that recognizes Jesus when he comes.
--- Arthur John Gossip
My Very Heart Melted
At the 1771 Methodist Conference in England, John Wesley said, “Our brethren in America call for help. Who is willing to go over?” Francis Asbury, five-foot-six, 150 pounds, sat listening. For months the young man had longed to visit America. So I spoke my mind, and made an offer of myself. It was accepted by Mr. Wesley, who judged I had a call.
Asbury returned home to break the news to his parents. Though it was grievous, they consented to let me go. My mother is one of the tenderest parents in the world; I believe she was blessed in the present instance with Divine assistance to part with me.
He sailed on September 4. For three days I was very ill with the seasickness; and no sickness I ever knew was equal to it. But he soon recovered enough to gather his thoughts: I will set down a few things that lie on my mind. Whither am I going? To the New World. What to do? To gain honor? No, if I know my own heart. To get money? No: I am going to live to God, and to bring others so to do.
Asbury arrived in America on October 27, 1771. This day we landed in Philadelphia where we were directed to the house of Mr. Francis Harris who kindly entertained us and brought us to a large church where we met with a considerable congregation. The people looked on us with pleasure, receiving us as angels of God. When I came near the American shore, my very heart melted within me, to think from whence I came, where I was going, and what I was going about. I feel that God is here. …
Asbury never returned to England. He plunged into the American wilderness, traveling day and night for years, in all kinds of weather, through all kinds of hardship. He traveled 270,000 miles and wore out one horse after another. All he owned was carried in two saddlebags. When Asbury arrived in America there were fewer than 80 Methodist preachers and 14,000 members. When he died there were 2,000 preachers and 200,000 members.
We are not preaching about ourselves. Our message is that Jesus Christ is Lord. He also sent us to be your servants. The Scriptures say, “God commanded light to shine in the dark.” Now God is shining in our hearts to let you know that his glory is seen in Jesus Christ.
--- 2 Corinthians 4:5,6.
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - October 27
“It is a faithful saying.” --- 2 Timothy 2:11.
Paul has four of these “faithful sayings.” The first occurs in 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The next is in 1 Timothy 4:6, “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.” The third is in 2 Timothy 2:12, “It is a faithful saying—If we suffer with him we shall also reign with him”; and the fourth is in Titus 3:3, “This is a faithful saying, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.” We may trace a connection between these faithful sayings. The first one lays the foundation of our eternal salvation in the free grace of God, as shown to us in the mission of the great Redeemer. The next affirms the double blessedness which we obtain through this salvation—the blessings of the upper and nether springs—of time and of eternity. The third shows one of the duties to which the chosen people are called; we are ordained to suffer for Christ with the promise that “if we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” The last sets forth the active form of Christian service, bidding us diligently to maintain good works. Thus we have the root of salvation in free grace; next, the privileges of that salvation in the life which now is, and in that which is to come; and we have also the two great branches of suffering with Christ and serving with Christ, loaded with the fruits of the Spirit. Treasure up these faithful sayings. Let them be the guides of our life, our comfort, and our instruction. The apostle of the Gentiles proved them to be faithful, they are faithful still, not one word shall fall to the ground; they are worthy of all acceptation, let us accept them now, and prove their faithfulness. Let these four faithful sayings be written on the four corners of my house.
Evening - October 27
“We are all as an unclean thing.” --- Isaiah 64:6.
The believer is a new creature, he belongs to a holy generation and a peculiar people—the Spirit of God is in him, and in all respects he is far removed from the natural man; but for all that the Christian is a sinner still. He is so from the imperfection of his nature, and will continue so to the end of his earthly life. The black fingers of sin leave smuts upon our fairest robes. Sin mars our repentance, ere the great Potter has finished it, upon the wheel. Selfishness defiles our tears, and unbelief tampers with our faith. The best thing we ever did apart from the merit of Jesus only swelled the number of our sins; for when we have been most pure in our own sight, yet, like the heavens, we are not pure in God’s sight; and as he charged his angels with folly, much more must he charge us with it, even in our most angelic frames of mind. The song which thrills to heaven, and seeks to emulate seraphic strains, hath human discords in it. The prayer which moves the arm of God is still a bruised and battered prayer, and only moves that arm because the sinless One, the great Mediator, has stepped in to take away the sin of our supplication. The most golden faith or the purest degree of sanctification to which a Christian ever attained on earth, has still so much alloy in it as to be only worthy of the flames, in itself considered. Every night we look in the glass we see a sinner, and had need confess, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Oh, how precious the blood of Christ to such hearts as ours! How priceless a gift is his perfect righteousness! And how bright the hope of perfect holiness hereafter! Even now, though sin dwells in us, its power is broken. It has no dominion; it is a broken-backed snake; we are in bitter conflict with it, but it is with a vanquished foe that we have to deal. Yet a little while and we shall enter victoriously into the city where nothing defileth.
RISE UP, O MEN OF GOD!
William P. Merrill, 1867–1954
… that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the Gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. (Philippians 1:27, 28)
Our world is filled with much physical and social suffering. Often we prefer to close our eyes to these painful situations that are all around us. It is much more comfortable to associate only with those who live as we do. This kind of attitude within the church will turn any body of believers into nothing more than a religious club.
If we want to represent our Lord with integrity, we must not compartmentalize the church’s mission. Soul winning and social responsibility are woven intrinsically together and constitute an inherent part of the ministry. A starving person needs both his stomach as well as his soul cared for. Christ’s earthly ministry is a prime model of an ideal balance of caring for body as well as the soul of needy individuals.
The author of this call-to-action text, William Pierson Merrill, was a Presbyterian minister. He served churches in Philadelphia and Chicago, and he pastored the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York until his retirement in 1938. Merrill wrote “Rise Up, O Men of God!” especially for the brotherhood movement within the Presbyterian churches in 1911. Merrill was also a prolific writer of hymn texts and theological books.
An important secret of individual happiness is to be employed continually in doing something of value, to be “done with lesser things,” to be totally involved in serving “the King of kings.” And even the cup of water given in Christ’s name will not go unrewarded (Matthew 10:42).
Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things; give heart and mind and soul and strength to serve the King of kings.
Rise up, O men of God! His kingdom tarries long. Bring in the day of brotherhood and end the night of wrong.
Rise up, O men of God! The Church for you doth wait, her strength unequal to her task; rise up, and make her great!
Lift high the cross of Christ! Tread where His feet have trod. As brothers of the Son of man, rise up, O men of God!
For Today: Deuteronomy 11:13–32; John 12:26; Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:7
Determine by word and example to be a challenge to the members of your church by being more aggressively involved in an outreach ministry to your community. Reflect again on this musical truth ---
V. The Use, 1. Of Information. If wisdom be an excellency of the Divine nature; then,
1. Christ’s Deity may hence be asserted. Wisdom is the emphatical title of Christ in Scripture (Prov. 8:12, 13, 31), where wisdom is brought in speaking as a distinct person; ascribing counsel, and understanding, and the knowledge of witty inventions to itself. He is called also the power of God, and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). And the ancients generally understood that place (Col. 2:3), “In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” as an assertion of the Godhead of Christ, in regard of the infiniteness of his knowledge; referring wisdom to his knowledge of divine things; and knowledge to his understanding of all human things. But the natural sense of the place seems to be this, that all wisdom and knowledge is displayed by Christ in the gospel; and the words, ἐν αὐτῶν, refer either to Christ, or the mystery of God spoken of, (ver. 2). But the Deity of Christ, in regard of infinite wisdom, may be deduced from his creation of things, and his government of things; both which are ascribed to him in Scripture. The first ascribed to him (John 1:3): “All things were made by him;” and without him was not any thing made, that was made.”
The second (John 5:22): “The Father hath committed all judgment to the Son;” and both put together (Col. 2:16, 17). Now since he hath the government of the world, he hath the perfections necessary to so great a work. As the creation of the world, which is ascribed to him, requires an infinite power, so the government of the world requires an infinite wisdom. That he hath the knowledge of the hearts of men, was proved in handling the omniscience of God. That knowledge would be to little purpose without wisdom to order the motions of men’s hearts, and conduct all the qualities and actions of creatures, to such an end as is answerable to a wise government; we cannot think so great an employment can be without an ability necessary for it. The government of men and angels is a great part of the glory of God; and if God should entrust the greatest part of his glory in hands unfit for so great a trust, it would be an argument of weakness in God, as it is in men, to pitch upon unfit instruments for particular charges; since God hath therefore committed to him his greatest glory, the conduct of all things for the highest end, he hath a wisdom requisite for so great an end, which can be no less than infinite. If then Christ were a finite person, he would not be capable of an infinite communication; he could not be a subject wherein infinite wisdom could be lodged; for the terms finite and infinite are so distant, that they cannot commence one another; finite can never be changed into infinite, no more than infinite can into finite.
2. Hence we may assert the right and fitness of God for the government of the world, as he is the wisest Being. Among men, those who are excellent in judgment, are accounted fittest to preside over, and give orders to others; the wisest in a city are most capable to govern a city; or at least, though ignorant men may bear the title, yet the advice of the soundest and skilfullest heads should prevail in all public affairs: we see in nature, that the eye guides the body, and the mind directs the eye. Power and wisdom are the two arms of authority; wisdom knows the end, and directs the means; power executes the means designed for such an end. The more splendid and strong those are in any, the more authority results from thence, for the conduct of others that are of an inferior orb; now God being infinitely excellent in both, his ability and right to the management of the world cannot be suspected; the whole world is but one commonwealth, whereof God is the monarch. Did the government of the world depend upon the election of men and angels, where could they itch, or where would they find perfections capable of so great a work but in the Supreme Wisdom? His wisdom hath already been apparent in those laws, whereby he formed the world into a civil society, and the Israelites into a commonwealth. The one suited to the consciences and reasons of all his subjects, and the other suited to the genius of that particular nation, drawn out of the righteousness of the moral law, and applicable to all cases that might arise among them in their government; so that Moses asserts, that the wisdom apparent in their laws enacted by God, as their chief magistrate, would render them famous among other nations, in regard of their wisdom, as well as their righteousness (Deut. 4:6, 7, 9). Also, this perfection doth evidence, that God doth actually govern the world. It would not be a commendable thing for a man to make a curious piece of clock-work, and take no care for the orderly motion of it. Would God display so much of his skill in framing the heaven and earth, and none in actual guidance of them to their particular and universal ends? Did he lay the foundation in order, and fit every stone in the building, make all things in weight and measure, to let them afterwards run at hap-hazard? Would he bring forth his power to view in the creation, and let a more glorious perfection lie idle, when it had so large a field to move in? Infinite wisdom is inconsistent with inactivity. ( I really like that! ) All prudence doth illustrate itself in untying the hardest knots, and disposing the most difficult affairs to a happy and successful issue. All those various arts and inventions arnong men which lend their assisting hand to one another, and those various employments their several geniuses lead them to, whereby they support one another’s welfare, are beams and instincts of Divine wisdom in the government of the world. He that “made all things in wisdom” (Psalm 104:24), would not leave his works to act and move only according to their own folly, and idly behold them jumble together, and run counter to that end he designed them for; we must not fancy Divine wisdom to be destitute of activity.
3. Here we may see a ground of God’s patience. The most impotent persons are the most impatient, when unforeseen emergencies arise; or at events expected by them, when their feeble prudence was not a sufficient match to contest with them, or prevent them, But the wiser any man is, the more he bears with those things which seem to cross his intentions, because he knows he grasps the whole affair, and is sure of attaining the end he proposeth to himself; yet, as a finite wisdom can have but a finite patience, so an infinite wisdom possesses an infinite patience. The wise God intends to bring glory to himself, and good to some of his creatures, out of the greatest evils that can happen in the world, he beholds no exorbitant afflictions and monstrous actions, but what he can dispose to a good and glorious end, even to “work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28); and, therefore, doth not presently fall foul upon the actors, till he hath wrought out that temporary glory to himself, and good to his people which he designs. The times of ignorance God winked at, till he had brought his Son into the world, and manifested his wisdom in redemption, and when this was done he presseth men to a “speedy repentance” (Acts 17:30); that, as he forbore punishing their crimes, in order to the displaying his wisdom in the designed redemption; so when he had effected it, they must forbear any longer abusing his patience.
4. Hence appears the immutability of God in his decrees. He is not destitute of a power and strength to change his own purposes, but his infinite perfection of wisdom is a bar to his laying aside his eternal resolves and forming new ones (Isa. 46:10); he resolves the end from the beginning, and his counsel stands; stands immovable, because it is his counsel. It is an impotent counsel, that is subject to a daily thwarting itself. Inconstant persons are accounted, by men, destitute of a due measure of prudence. If God change his mind it is either for the better or the worse; if for the better, he was not wise in his former purpose; if for the worse, he is not wise in his present resolve. No alteration can be without a reflection of weakness upon the former or present determination. God must either cease to be as wise as he was before, or begin to be wiser than he was before the change, which to think or imagine is to deny a Deity.
If any man change his resolution, he is apprehensive of a flaw in his former purpose, and finds an inconvenience in it, which moves him to such a change, which must be either for want of foresight in himself, or want of a due consideration of the object of his counsel, neither of which can be imagined of God without a denial of the Deity. No, there are no blots and blemishes in his purposes and promises. Repentance, indeed, is an act of wisdom in the creature, but it presupposeth folly in his former actions, which is inconsistent with infinite perfection. Men are often too rash in promising; and, therefore, what they promise in haste, they perform at leisure, or not at all: they consider not before they vow, and make after-inquiries, whether they had best stand to it. The only wise God needs not any after-game: as he is sovereignly wise, he sees no cause of reversing anything, and wants not expedients for his own purpose; and as he is infinitely powerful, he hath no superior to hinder him from executing his will, and making his people enjoy the effects of his wisdom. If he had a recollection of thoughts, as man hath, and saw a necessity to mend them, he were not infinitely wise in his first decrees: as in creation he looked back upon the several pieces of that goodly frame he had erected, and saw them so exact that he did not take up his pencil again to mend any particle of the first draught, so his promises are made with such infinite wisdom and judgment, that what he writes is irreversible and forever, as the decrees of the Medes and Persians. All the words of God are eternal because they are the births of righteousness and judgment (Hos. 2:19); “I will betroth thee to me forever, in righteousness and judgment.” He is not of a wavering and flitting discretion: if he threatens, he wisely considers what he threatens; if he promises, he wisely considers what he promises; and therefore is immutable in both.
5. Hence it follows that God is a fit object for our trust and confidence: for God being infinitely wise, when he promises anything, he sees everything which may hinder, and everything which may promote the execution of it, so that he cannot discover anything afterwards that may move him to take up after - thoughts: he hath more wisdom than to promise anything hand over head, or anything which he knows he cannot accomplish. Though God, as true, be the object of our trust, yet God, as wise, is the foundation of our trust. We trust him in his promise; the promise was made by mercy, and it is performed by truth; but wisdom conducts all means to the accomplishment of it. There are many men, whose honesty we can confide in, but whose discretion we are diffident of: but there is no defect, either of the one or the other, which may scare us from a depending upon God in our concerns. The words of man’s wisdom the apostle entitles “enticing” (1 Cor. 2:4), in opposition to the words of God’s wisdom, which are firm, stable, and undeniable demonstrations. As the power of God is an encouragement of trust, because he is able to effect, so the wisdom of God comes into the rank of those attributes which support our faith. To put a confidence in him, we must be persuaded, not only that he is ignorant of nothing in the world, but that he is wise to manage the whole course of nature, and dispose of all his creatures, for the bringing his purposes and his promises to their designed perfection.
6. Hence appears the necessity of a public review of the management of the world, and of a day of judgment. As a day of judgment may be inferred from many attributes of God, as his sovereignty, justice, omniscience, &c., so, among the rest, from this of wisdom. How much of this perfection will lie unveiled and obscure, if the sins of men be not brought to view, whereby the ordering the unrighteous actions of men, by his directing and over-ruling hand of providence, in subserviency to his own purposes and his people’s good, may appear in all its glory! Without such a public review, this part of wisdom will not be clearly visible; how those actions, which had a vile foundation in the hearts and designs of men, and were formed there to gratify some base lust, ambition, and covetousness, &c. were, by a secret wisdom presiding over them, conducted to amazing ends. It is a part of Divine wisdom to right itself, and convince men of the reasonableness of its laws, and the unreasonableness of their contradictions to it. The execution of the sentence is an act of justice, but the conviction of the reasonableness of the sentence is an act of wisdom, clearing up the righteousness of the proceeding; and this precedes, and the other follows (Jude 15); “To convince all that are ungodly of all their ungodly deeds.” that wisdom which contrived satisfaction, as well as that justice which required it, is concerned in righting the law which was enacted by it. The wisdom of a sovereign Lawgiver is engaged not to see his law vilified and trampled on, and exposed to the lusts and affronts of men, without being concerned in vindicating the honor of it. It would appear a folly to enact and publish it, if there were not a resolution to right and execute it. The wisdom of God can no more associate iniquity and happiness together, than the justice of God can separate iniquity from punishment. It would be defective, if it did always tamely bear the insolences of offenders, without a time of remark of their crimes, and a justification of the precept, rebelliously spurned at. He would be unwise, if he were unjust; unrighteousness hath no better a title in Scripture than that of folly. It is no part of Wisdom to give birth to those laws which he will always behold ineffectual, and neither vindicate his law by a due execution of the penalty, nor right his own authority, contemned in the violation of his law, by a just revenge: besides, what wisdom would it be for the Sovereign Judge to lodge such a spokesman for himself as conscience in the soul of man, if it should be alway found speaking, and at length be found false in all that it speaks? There is, therefore, an apparent prospect of the day of account, from the consideration of this perfection of the Divine nature.
7. Hence we have a ground for a mighty reverence and veneration of the Divine Majesty. Who can contemplate the sparklings of this perfection in the variety of the works of his hands, and the exact government of all his creatures, without a raised admiration of the excellency of his Being, and a falling flat before him, in a posture of reverence to so great a Being? Can we behold so great a mass of matter, digested into several forms, so exact a harmony and temperament in all the creatures, the proportions of numbers and measures, and one creature answering the ends and designs of another, the distinct beauties of all, the perpetual motion of all things without checking one another; the variety of the nature of things, and all acting according to their nature with an admirable agreement, and all together, like different strings upon an instrument, emitting divers sounds, but all reduced to order in one delightful lesson; — I say, can we behold all this without admiring and adoring the Divine wisdom, which appears in all? And from the consideration of this, let us pass to the consideration of his wisdom in redemption, in reconciling divided interests, untying hard knots, drawing one contrary out of another; and we must needs acknowledge that the wisdom of all the men on earth, and angels in heaven, is worse than nothing and vanity in comparison of this vast Ocean. And as we have a greater esteem for those that invent some excellent artificial engines, what reverence ought we to have for him that hath stamped an unimitable wisdom upon all his works! Nature orders us to give honor to our superiors in knowledge, and confide in their counsels; but none ought to be reverenced as much as God, since none equals him in wisdom.
8. If God be infinitely wise, it shows us the necessity of our address to him, and invocation of his Name. We are subject to mistakes, and often overseen; we are not able rightly to counsel ourselves. In some cases, all creatures are too short-sighted to apprehend them, and too ignorant to give advice proper for them, and to contrive remedies for their ease; but with the Lord there is counsel (Jer. 32:19), “He is great in counsel, and mighty in working;” great in counsel to advise us, mighty in working to assist us. We know not how to effect a design, or prevent an expected evil. We have an infinite Wisdom to go to, that is every way skilful to manage any business we desire, to avert any evil we fear, to accomplish anything we commit into his hands. When we know not what to resolve, he hath a counsel to “guide us” (Psalm 73:24). He is not more powerful to effect what is needful, than wise to direct what is fitting. All men stand in need of the help of God, as one man stands in need of the assistance of other men, and will not do anything without advice; and he that takes advice, deserves the title of a wise man, as well as he that gives advice. But no man needs so much the advice of another man, as all men need the counsel and assistance of God: neither is any man’s wit and wisdom so far inferior to the prudence and ability of an angel, as the wisdom of the wisest man and the most sharp-sighted angel, is inferior to the infinite wisdom of God. We see, therefore, that it is best for us to go to the fountain, and not content ourselves with the streams; to beg advice from a wisdom that is infinite and infallible, rather than from that which is finite and fallible.
Use 2. If wisdom be the perfection of the Divine Majesty, how prodigious is the contempt of it in the world? In general, all sin strikes at this attribute, and is in one part or other a degrading of it: the first sin directed its venom against this. As the devils endeavored to equal their Creator in power, so man endeavored to equal him in wisdom: both indeed scorned to be ruled by his order; but man evidently exalted himself against the wisdom of God, and aspired to be a sharer with him in his infinite knowledge; would not let him be the only wise God, but cherished an ambition to be his partner. Just as if a beam were able to imagine it might be as right as the sun; or a spark fancy it could be as full fraught with heat as the whole element of fire. Man would not submit to the infinite wisdom of God in the prohibition of one single fruit in the garden, when by the right of his sovereign authority, he might have granted him only the use of one. All presumptuous sins are of this nature; they are, therefore, called reproaches of God (Num. 15:30), “the soul that doth ought presumptuously, reproacheth the Lord.” All reproaches are either for natural, moral, or intellectual defects. All reproaches of God must imply either a weakness or unrighteousness in God: if unrighteousness, his holiness is denied; if weakness, his wisdom is blemished. In general, all sin strikes at this perfection two ways.
1. As it defaceth the wise workmanship of God. Every sin is a deforming and blemishing our own souls, which, as they are the prime creatures in the lower world, so they have greater characters of Divine wisdom in the fabric of them: but this image of God is ruined and broken by sin. Though the spoiling of it be a scorn of his holiness, it is also an affront to his wisdom; for though his power was the cause of the production of so fair a piece, yet his wisdom was the guide of his power, and his holiness the pattern whereby he wrought it. His power effected it, and his holiness was exemplified in it; but his wisdom contrived it. If a man had a curious clock or watch, which had cost him many years pains and the strength of his skill to frame it; for another, after he had seen and considered it, to trample upon it, and crush it in pieces, would argue a contempt of the artificer’s skill. God hath shown infinite art in the creation of man; but sin unbeautifies man, and ravisheth his excellency. It cuts and slasheth the image of God stamped by divine wisdom, as though it were an object only of scorn and contempt. The sinner in every sin acts, as if he intended to put himself in a better posture, and in a fairer dress, than the wisdom of God hath put him in by creation.
2. In the slighting his laws. The laws of God are highly rational; they are drawn from the depths of the Divine understanding, wherein there is no unclearness, and no defect. As his understanding apprehends all things in their true reason, so his will enjoins all things for worthy and wise ends. His laws are contrived by his wisdom for the happiness of man, whose happiness, and the methods to it, he understands better than men or angels can do. His laws being the orders of the wisest understanding, every breach of his law is a flying in the face of his wisdom. All human laws, though they are enforced by sovereign authority, yet they are, or ought to be, in the composing of them, founded upon reason, and should be particular applications of the law of nature to this or that particular emergency. The laws of God, then, who is summa ratio, are the birth of the truest reason; though the reason of every one of them may not be so clear to us. Every law, though it consists in an act of the will, yet doth presuppose an act of the understanding. The act of the Divine understanding in framing the law, must be supposed to precede the act of his will in commanding the observance of that law. So every sin against the law, is not only against the will of God commanding, but the reason of God contriving, and a cleaving to our own reason, rather than the understanding or mind of God: as if God had mistaken in making his law, and we had more understanding to frame a better, and more conducing to our happiness: as if God were not wise enough to govern us, and prescribe what we should do, and what we should avoid; as if he designed not our welfare but our misfortune. Whereas, the precepts of God are not tyrannical edicts, or acts of mere will, but the fruits of counsel; and, therefore, every breach of them is a real declamation against his discretion and judgment, and preferring our own imaginations, or the suggestions of the devil, as our rule, before the results of Divine counsel.
While we acknowledge him wise in our opinion, we speak him foolish by our practice; when, instead of being guided by him, we will guide ourselves. No man will question, but it is a controlling Divine wisdom, to make alterations in his precepts; dogmatically, either to add some of their own, or expunge any of his: and is it not a crime of the like reflection to alter them practically? When we will observe one part of the law, and not another part; but pick and choose where we please ourselves, as our humors and carnal interest prompt us; it is to charge that part of the law with folly, which we refuse to conform unto. The more cunning any man is in sin, the more his sin is against Divine wisdom, as if he thought to outwit God. He that receives the promises of God, and the “testimony of Christ, sets to his seal, that God is true” (John 3:33). By the like strength of argument, it will undeniably follow, that he that refuseth obedience to his precepts, sets to his seal that God is foolish. Were they not rational, God would not enjoin them; and if they are rational, we are enemies to infinite wisdom, by not complying with them. If infinite prudence hath made the law, why is not every part of it observed; if it were not made with the best wisdom, why is any part of it observed? If the defacing of his image be any sin, as being a defaming his wisdom in creation, the breaking his law is no less a sin, as being a disgracing his wisdom in his administration. ’Tis upon this account, likely, that the Scripture so often counts sinners fools, since it is certainly inexcusable folly to contradict undeniable and infallible Wisdom; yet this is done in the least sin: and as he that breaks one tittle of the law, is deservedly accounted guilty of the breach of the whole (James 2:10), so he that despiseth the least stamp of wisdom in the minutest part of the law, is deservedly counted as a contemner of it, in the frame of the whole statute-book. But, in particular, the wisdom of God is affronted and invaded.
1. By introducing new rules and modes of worship, different from Divine institutions. Is not this a manifest reflection on this perfection of God, as though he had not been wise enough to provide for his own honor, and model his own service, but stood in need of our directions, and the caprichios of our brains? Some have observed, that it is a greater sin in worship to do that we should not, than to omit what we should perform. The one seems to be out of weakness, because of the high exactness of the law; and the other out of impudence, accusing the wisdom of God of imperfection, and controlling it in its institutions. At best, it seems to be an imputation of human bashfulness to the Supreme Sovereign; as if he had been ashamed to prescribe all that was necessary to his own honor, but had left something to the ingenuity and gratitude of men. Man has, ever since the foolish conceit of his old ancestor Adam, presumed he could be as wise as God; and if he who was created upright entertained such conceits, much more doth man now, under a mass of corruption, so capable to foment them. This hath been the continual practice of men; not so much to reject what once they had received as Divine, but add somgthing of their own inventions to it. The heathens renounced not the sacrificing of beasts for the expiation of their offences (which the old world had received by tradition from Adam, and the new world, after the deluge, from Noah). But they had blended that tradition with rites of their own, and offered creatures unclean in themselves, and not fit to be offered to an infinitely pure Being; for the distinction of clean and unclean was as ancient as Noah (Gen. 8:20), yea, before (Gen. 7:2).
So the Jews did not discard what they had received from God, as circumcision, the Passover, and sacrifices; but they would mix a heap of heathenish rites with the ceremonies of Divine ordination, and practise things which he had not commanded, as well as things which he had enjoined them. And, therefore, it is observable, that when God taxeth them with sin, he doth not say, they brought in those things which he had forbidden into his worship; but those things which he had not commanded, and had given no order for, to intimate, that they were not to move a step without his rule (Jer. 7:31): “They have built the high palaces of Tophet, which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart;” and (Lev. 10:1); Nadab’s and Abihu’s strange fire was not commanded; so charging them with impudence and rashness in adding something of their own, after he had revealed to them the manner of his service, as if they were as wise as God. So loth is man to acknowledge the supremacy of Divine understanding, and be sensible of his own ignorance. So after the divulging of the gospel, the corruptors of religion did not fling off, but preserved the institutions of God, but painted and patched them up with pagan ceremonies; imposed their own dreams with as much force as the revelations of God.
Thus hath the papacy turned the simplicity of the gospel into pagan pomp, and religion into politics; and revived the ceremonial law, and raked some limbs of it out of the grave, after the wisdom of God had rung her knell, and honorably interred her; and sheltered the heathenish superstitions in christian temples, after the power of the gospel had chased the devils, with all their trumpery, from their ancient habitations. Whence should this proceed, but from a partial atheism, and a mean deceit of the Divine wisdom? As though God had not understanding enough to prescribe the form of his own worship; and not wisdom enough to support it, without the crutches of human prudence. Human prudence is too low to parallel Divine wisdom; it is an incompetent judge of what is fit for an infinite Majesty. It is sufficiently seen in the ridiculous and senseless rights among the heathens; and the cruel and devilish ones fetched from them by the Jews. What work will human wisdom make with divine worship, when it will presume to be the director of it, as a mate with the wisdom of God! Whence will it take its measures, but from sense, humor and fancy? as though what is grateful and comely to a depraved reason, were as beautiful to an unspotted and Infinite Mind. Do not such tell the world, that they were of God’s cabinet council, since they will take upon them to judge, as well as God, what is well-pleasing to him?
Where will it have the humility to stop, if it hath the presumption to add any one thing to revealed modes of worship? How did God tax the Israelites with making idols “according to their own understanding” (Hos. 13:2)! imagining their own understandings to be of a finer make, and a perfecter mould than their Creator’s; and that they had fetched more light from the chaos of their own brains, than God had from eternity in his own nature. How slight will the excuse be, God hath not forbidden this, or that, when God shall silence men with the question, Where, or when did I command this, or that? There was no addition to be made under the law to the meanest instrument God had appointed in his service. The sacred perfume was not to have one ingredient more put into it, than what God had prescribed in the composition; nor was any man upon pain of death to imitate it; nor would God endure that sacrifices should be consumed with any other fire than that which came down from heaven. So tender is God of any invasions of his wisdom and authority. In all things of this nature, whatsoever voluntary humility and respect to God they may be disguised with, there is a swelling of the fleshly mind against infinite understanding, which the apostle nauseates (Col. 2:18). Such mixtures have not been blessed by God: as God never prospered the mixtures of several kinds of creatures, to form and multiply a new species, as being a dissatisfaction with his wisdom as Creator; so he doth not prosper mixtures in worship, as being a conspiracy against his wisdom as a Lawgiver. The destruction of the Jews was judged by some of their doctors to be, for preferring human traditions before the written word; which they ground on (Isaiah 29:33): “Their fear for me was taught by the precepts of men.” The injunctions of men were the rule of their worship, and not the prescripts of my law. To conclude, such as make alterations in religion, different from the first institution, are intolerable busy bodies, that will not let God alone with his own affairs. Vain man would be wiser than his Maker, and be dabbling in that which is His sole prerogative.
The Existence and Attributes of God