I contributed the following Advent reflection on Acts 2 to the Sovereign Grace Church blog, where this is crossposted:
After the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, Peter portrays God’s plan for history, and how he was accomplishing this through his son Jesus. As Christmas approaches, this helps us to remember where this baby in a manger was destined: a glorious king, seated on a throne with all things being put in increasing subjection to him, until he delivers the kingdom to the Father.
We recall that the flood was the first and last time God destroyed the earth itself; however, it was not the last time he brought an old creation to an end and established a new creation. To use prophetic and visionary language, in each of his covenants God tore down the sun, moon and stars of one fallen created order, and fashioned out of its very dust a new and better creation. Israel’s great exodus from Egypt was one such miraculous new creation. But even there our separation from God and the sting of the curse were highlighted: at Sinai, God’s glorious presence descended on a lofty mountain, Israel was forbidden to draw near, and only seventy elders could share a meal with God at a distance. Immediately afterwards, Israel fell into sin with the golden calf, and 3000 people were put to death. A newer and better creation was needed!
In his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus accomplished the last and greatest exodus from the old creation into the final new creation. In contrast with Sinai, at Pentecost God’s glorious presence descended directly on his people, all of whom are now welcome to draw near and commune with him in his own house. 3000 people were then added to God’s house: in Jesus, life, cleansing and healing are now contagious rather than death and curse. The sweep of Peter’s sermon also reminds us that Jesus’s whole life was wrapped up in this mission of “loosing the pangs of death” and of renewing all creation in himself. Not just his death but his life, obedience, teaching, prayers, healings, resurrection and ascension were all working to accomplish the condemnation and destruction of the old creation in its climactic failure, and at the very same time to prepare and begin to transfigure the old creation into the new. Even in the events of his birth we see battle lines beginning to be drawn.
And until the end, it remains a contest of loyalties, a war both without and within. Peter reminds us that we participate in this glorious new creation through identification with Jesus. Repentance breaks allegiance with the old creation and all that is both good and bad in it: we repent for our sin, and even for our attempts to deal with sin and find life apart from Jesus. Faith identifies with Jesus by continually laying hold of his sacrifice for sin and welcoming his rule over all things. Finally, baptism joins us with Jesus in an exodus from the old creation, just as Noah and later all Israel passed through the waters into a new creation.
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. . . . Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I was amused to find this in my fortune cookie last night.
For most of the last thirteen years, I have worked on IBM’s z/OS Communications Server mainframe networking product. Over the last two years I have still reported to Comm Server management but have been on loan to other IBM product areas as part of helping to lend our networking, security and high-availability expertise. I’ve only had three managers in the last thirteen years, which I think is fairly unusual.
But now I’m making the move to the IBM PureApplication System organization, where I have been working for the past year. You can think of it as “cloud in a box” (although this is both a little inapt and also oversimplified).
I’ll miss working with all of the wonderful folks in Comm Server. But I’m looking forward to wrestling with a new challenge.
Jon Barlow writes:
History works because of the suckers. I am not ashamed to be counted among the suckers. If the sucker can rule his own heart, he is greater than he who can rule a city (Prov. 16:32). Tell me that the broken politics in America right now is not an externalized vision of your own heart and I’ll praise your self mastery. Otherwise, there is a city for you to rule right now. It requires no compromise. You are a little laboratory of the word and spirit and and you can try out any program of reform you like right now. You can experiment with incentives. You can legislate morality. You can implement austerity. You can give everything away. You can keep everything and use it for good. There will be a day when your little city stands before a much more exalted bar than a senate oversight committee meeting.
Jordan Ballor quotes Bavinck on a similar theme:
All good, enduring reformation begins with ourselves and takes its starting point in one’s own heart and life. If family life is indeed being threatened from all sides today, then there is nothing better for each person to be doing than immediately to begin reforming within one’s own circle and begin to rebuff with the facts themselves the sharp criticisms that are being registered nowadays against marriage and family. Such a reformation immediately has this in its favor, that it would lose no time and would not need to wait for anything. Anyone seeking deliverance from the state must travel the lengthy route of forming a political party, having meetings, referendums, parliamentary debates, and civil legislation, and it is still unknown whether with all that activity he will achieve any success. But reforming from within can be undertaken by each person at every moment, and be advanced without impediment.
Spring used to be my favorite season.
Now it’s fall.
I wonder if that is a result of growing older (barely).
I have a theological rationalization handy, of course. You see, the biblical themes of maturation, glorification, reaping and eschatology are just as vital as the biblical theme of regeneration, new life. History moves toward harvest, autumn.
Surely there will be Ferris wheels, funnel cake and pecan pie in the resurrection.
I’m grateful, though, that each year we experience the whole cycle of seasons, that we taste this repetition of death, rebirth, glorification and feasting. My other favorite season is whichever one comes next.
Earlier I pointed out that it would be interesting to map the structure of the middle ethical section of Ephesians relative to the ten commandments. I haven’t yet found an outline that explains the organization of every single commandment in this passage, but I do hope to show that all ten commandments are represented here.
This section of Ephesians runs from 4:17 to 6:9. It seems to have two major divisions, one from 4:17-31 and the other from 5:1-6:9. Each division begins with an introductory statement grounded in the first four commandments, then addresses human relationships out of the last six commandments. The first division focuses on those commandments that address our relations with all men, while the second division focuses on those commandments that have to do with covenantal relations with one another. In the words of Peter, we could summarize this section of Ephesians by saying, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.” (1 Pet. 2:17). This gives us an outline as follows:
Honor everyone (4:17-31)
- Put on the new self (4:17-24, mainly from the first and second commandments)
- Give no opportunity to the devil (4:25-31, mainly from the sixth commandment)
Love the brotherhood (5:1-6:9)
- Walk as children of light (5:1-20, mainly from the first and third commandments)
- Submit to one another (5:21-6:9, mainly from the seventh and fifth commandments)
Let’s see how each of the commandments is represented in this passage. Recall that each of the commandments is meant to be understood broadly, and in particular that the book of Deuteronomy gives us an inspired template for reading the commandments in this way. Note that there is significant overlap in how the commandments appear in Ephesians.
God first commands that we are to have no gods before him. In Deuteronomy 6-11, Moses applies the first commandment to a variety of issues including fearing God, teaching our children, walking in holiness and obedience, idolatry, recalling our disobedience and unworthiness, recalling God’s covenant, circumcising our hearts, and loving, serving and obeying God. This is wide-ranging, but not surprising, since the first commandment can be understood to sum up all ten commandments.
These themes appear throughout this passage in Ephesians, but most particularly in the introductory sections for each division (4:17-24, 5:1-18). The first commandment also relates to the church’s submission to Jesus in 5:23ff, and to fathers instructing children in 6:4.
While the first commandment is concerned with what James Jordan calls “covenantal idolatry,” the second commandment is concerned with “liturgical idolatry,” that we worship the one God rightly. Thus, in Deuteronomy 12-13, Israel is commanded to be iconoclastic and to worship only at God’s tabernacle and temple. This theme undergirds the introductory section 4:17-24, where our relationship with Jesus is highlighted, but not so much the second introductory section, which is more concerned with our relationship with fellow men. However, the theme does reappear in 5:22ff, as the church must rightly relate to Jesus her head.
We generally take this commandment to mean that we should not speak God’s name lightly, but the word used is to take or bear God’s name. This has much broader implications: since, as God’s people, we carry his name out into the world, we are to honor his name not only with our lips but also with our actions. We are to rightly represent him before the world in everything we say and do.
In Ephesians, I find this theme in 4:24 (“created after the likeness of God”), 4:30 (grieving the Spirit), and 5:1ff (which are concerned with imitating God and being light to the world).
The fourth commandment concerns work and Sabbath-keeping, but we have seen that it applies to corporate worship in the church. As it relates to work, this appears in Ephesians 4:28. As it relates to worship, it is relevant to singing in 5:19-20, but especially to the church’s rightly relating to her husband in 5:22ff. The church stands before Jesus for his evaluation and approval every Lord’s day.
The fifth commandment, as we have seen before, applies not only to obedience to parents, but also to our relations with anyone who has a place of honor or authority over or under us. This means that all nine verses from 6:1-9 relate to the fifth commandment.
The sixth commandment prohibits murder, but as Jesus reminds us, this commandment applies to much more than murder (Matthew 5:21ff). In Ephesians 4, verses 26-27, 29, 31-32 all apply to the sixth commandment, because they concern destructive speech.
The reason I include verse 27 here is that the devil is said to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10) and to be the “father of lies” (John 8:44). I think that verse 27 countenances not only the sixth but also the eighth and ninth commandments, in that we are to carry out the Spirit’s ministry and not the devil’s ministry.
The seventh commandment prohibits adultery, but in terms of Deuteronomy 22:9-23:14 this includes all forms of sexual immorality. Ephesians 5:3-5 is concerned with sexual immorality in general, and 5:22ff is concerned that marriage specifically be upheld and honored.
The eighth commandment forbids stealing; this is addressed in Ephesians 4:27-28.
The ninth commandment requires us to speak the truth; Ephesians 4 speaks to this in verses 25, 27, 29.
The tenth commandment forbids coveting. Interestingly, Ephesians 5:3-5 links coveting directly to idolatry (the first and second commandments). In their own way, both the first and last commandment serve as summary statements that include all of the other sins contemplated by all ten commandments.
Paul draws from all ten commandments, with a significant amount of overlap. The introductory sections in each of the two divisions draw from the first four commandments. Then, Ephesians 4:25-32 takes as its basic theme destructive speech (the sixth commandment), but it layers on top of it the third, eighth and ninth commandments, in such a way that verse 27 becomes highlighted as the point at which these all stack up. Only towards the end do we have more clearly defined sections that cover the seventh and fifth commandments, but even in these cases there are intrusions (the seventh commandment overlaps significantly with the first, second and fourth; the fifth commandment includes the first when it relates to training our children).
I’m not entirely content with the structure I’ve outlined above. It seems to capture the organization of the passage, but the only significant payoff it has yielded is identifying 4:27 as a kind of keystone for the surrounding verses. But I do hope that I’ve offered something useful in identifying all ten commandments in this passage. Please comment if you find additional connections!
The verse 1 John 1:9 is familiar to us:
If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Calvin vividly describes what it would be to live without this blessing of forgiveness:
It is of great moment to be fully persuaded, that when we have sinned, there is a reconciliation with God ready and prepared for us: we shall otherwise carry always a hell within us. Few, indeed, consider how miserable and wretched is a doubting conscience; but the truth is, that hell reigns where there is no peace with God. The more, then, it becomes us to receive with the whole heart this promise which offers free pardon to all who confess their sins. — Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles
Calvin goes on to comment on the fact that God’s justice or righteousness is spoken of here, where we might expect to see his mercy mentioned instead:
Moreover, this is founded even on the justice of God, because God who promises is true and just. For they who think that he is called just, because he justifies us freely, reason, as I think, with too much refinement, because justice or righteousness here depends on fidelity, and both are annexed to the promise. For God might have been just, were he to deal with us with all the rigor of justice; but as he has bound himself to us by his word, he would not have himself deemed just, except he forgives.
The Judeo-Christian ethic of charity derives from the assertion that human beings are made in the image of God, that is, that reverence is owed to human beings simply as such, and also that their misery or neglect or destruction is not, for God, a matter of indifference, or of merely compassionate interest, but is something in the nature of sacrilege. — Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam, 47-48