Archive for December 2013
There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.
Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all—
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?
For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.
Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate—
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.
I contributed the following Advent reflection on Matthew 2:13-15 to the Sovereign Grace Church blog, where this is crossposted:
In today’s reading, we see Jesus and his family fleeing to Egypt at the warning of an angel, in order to escape Herod’s murderous rampage. Matthew writes that Jesus fulfilled what God had spoken through Hosea in this. But if you’ve ever taken the time to look back at Hosea 11, what Matthew says seems a bit of a puzzle. Hosea was referring to Israel rather than Jesus, and Israel’s calling out of Egypt had happened long before. Hosea does not seem to have been conscious of making any kind of prophecy. Calvin writes that because of this passage, “scoffers have attempted to disturb the whole religion of Christ, as though the Evangelist had misapplied the declaration of the Prophet.” But if we are not to be scoffers, how are we to understand this?
We have seen already that in the very first verse of his gospel, Matthew presents Jesus as the true Isaac, the true Solomon. In the same way, what Matthew is saying in today’s reading is that Jesus is also the true Israel. Just as Isaac failed to bring an enduring blessing to all the nations, and just as Solomon’s throne did not endure, so also Israel failed in their mission to be priests to the nations. Hosea himself goes on to indict Israel for their refusal to turn to God. But at the very climax of Israel’s failure — at the moment when they led all the nations in rebellion rather than worship — Jesus came as the true Israel, walking in their footsteps, suffering the same trials and temptations. Unlike Israel, Jesus remained faithful, and ultimately it was this very faithfulness that brought about the possibility of restoration that was also promised to Israel in Hosea 11. What the scoffers do not recognize is that Jesus fulfilled much more than just prophecy. We know, for example, that Jesus also fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17). And what Matthew is telling us here is that Jesus fulfilled a calling. Where Israel failed in the calling to minister to the nations, Jesus has succeeded.
But there is more. Notice that it is out of Israel that Jesus was called by an angel. It is in Israel that a tyrant murders Hebrew sons and must be deceived so that the savior can be saved. It is out of Israel that Jesus escapes by night. It is not Israel but Egypt that is a place of refuge. Taking all this together, Matthew is not only telling us that Jesus is the true Israel: he is also telling us that Israel itself has become Egypt, and Herod has become Pharaoh. There is a need for a new exodus and for a new Moses.
There is a calling and a caution for us in this, because the body always follows the head. Just as Moses made a personal exodus from Egypt for 40 years before leading Israel in the great exodus, the church must follow our head. Our calling is this: the church must now lead the nations in worship. Our caution is this: we must fulfill our calling sacrificially. While we are called to different kinds of death in different seasons, it is always the church’s willingness to die that brings life and light to the world.
Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (Hebrews 13:13)
I contributed the following Advent reflection on Matthew 1:1 to the Sovereign Grace Church blog, where this is crossposted:
It’s been said that some parts of the Bible are boring to read but interesting to study, and Matthew starts right off into one of those parts — a genealogy. This is especially boring for us as modern readers, because the old covenant’s Adamic priesthood has come to an end with the arrival of the long-promised seed. There is for us no longer any spiritual value in the careful recording of years and generations, so it is strange and unfamiliar.
Jesus is the last in a long history of promised sons; of miracle sons born in impossible circumstances; of latter sons who replace the first son; and of sons born to faith-filled women of tarnished reputation. Matthew begins his gospel with the hint that all this is coming to an end, that Jesus is the one true son to replace Adam and Israel. The phrase “book of the genealogy” uses the Greek root genesis, leading some commentators to suggest that Matthew is subtly presenting his entire gospel as a new Genesis, a “book of new beginnings.” And in this first verse, Matthew reaches back to two key promises that built upon God’s earlier promise of the seed in Genesis 3:15.
God had given to Abraham the promise that “your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:17-18). Abraham first thought this would be fulfilled through Ishmael, and later through Isaac. Abraham was willing to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, trusting that God would raise him from the dead, and seeming to understand that the nations would be blessed by the sacrifice of the seed. But Isaac was spared by a substitute, because the true seed, the true substitute, was still to come. By the end of Genesis, God had worked through Joseph to bring a preliminary blessing on all nations, and yet the nations turned away again from God. Jesus is the promised son of Abraham who brought an enduring blessing to the nations.
God made a similar promise to David, that his offspring would “build a house for my name,” and that God would “establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:13). Solomon built a physical palace for God, but his kingdom was broken up shortly after his death, and that palace was torn down by Nebuchadnezzar. As Israel waited for this promise, one they sang for nearly a thousand years in the Psalms, they came to call the Messiah the “son of David” (Matthew 22:42). Jesus is this son of David, the one who built the true house of God — a house made out of people (1 Pet. 2:5-6) — and whose throne will truly endure forever.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29)
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.