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Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Biblical Theology’ Category

So far does he remove our transgressions from us

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Walking westward, therefore, from the courtyard toward the sanctum was a movement toward God, representing Israel to him—an ascent into the summit of the architectural mountain of God. Walking eastward from the sanctum toward the courtyard was a movement away from God, representing him to Israel—and a descent from the cultic mountain of God. . . .

The text is careful to portray the goats as a set: the high priest takes them both from the congregation of Israel, presents them both together before YHWH at the door of the tent of meeting, and then casts lots for them both . . . Indeed, there is historical precedent [SCM: Morales cites rabbinical sources, but Jacob’s goats in Rebekah’s meal is a clear biblical–theological precedent] for understanding these goats to be identical in appearance, and chosen expressly because of this likeness, as if it were one goat accomplishing two different aspects of atonement—purification and expiation, cleansing from sin’s pollution and the removal of sin’s guilt. . . .

Moreover, as both goats begin together at the doorway of the tent of meeting, their movement may be tracked along an east–west alignment, movements coordinated with the early narratives of Genesis in relation to God’s Presence. Here it is worth emphasizing that the goats, as one symbol, stand for the sake of Israel: the sacrificed goat conveying Israel favourably into the inner sanctum vicariously, the led-away goat conveying Israel’s sins away from the face of God.

L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? 174, 179–180

From the day of atonement ritual, you would expect Psalm 103 to read, “so far does he remove our transgressions from him.” Surprise! Where does that place us? With Yahweh!

Written by Scott Moonen

March 30, 2020 at 7:49 pm

A reminder of sins every year

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With the tabernacle being a microcosm of the cosmos, its rituals, including those of the Day of Atonement, should be related to the reality of the cosmos. . . . The cultic drama of the microcosm’s cleansing points prophetically to a Day of Atonement not enacted on the cultic stage but rather upon its counterpart, the cosmos as true house of God. . . . The drama of the tabernacle’s defilement by the sin and corpse pollution of Aaron’s sons mirrors the drama of Adam’s own transgression and defilement of the cosmos. . . . What can be done? Is all lost? The answer provided in Leviticus through the Day of Atonement on the stage of the cultic drama, therefore, provides the answer for the cosmos as house of God as well—there must be a Day of Atonement for the cosmos. Ultimately, this annual purgation reiterates the need for a full and final cleansing—one that cannot be threatened or undone—for the covenant promise of humanity’s communion and fellowship with God to be realized.

L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? 171–172

Written by Scott Moonen

March 30, 2020 at 7:17 pm

Not contagious

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Moral impurity should be distinguished from ritual impurity. Ritual impurity is impermanent, sometimes contagious, may defile the courtyard altar, and, while requiring cleansing, does not require forgiveness; moral impurity requires atonement (sometimes being cut off or death), defiles the land, along with the innermost areas of the sanctuary, but is not contagious.

L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? 159

Written by Scott Moonen

March 30, 2020 at 7:05 pm

Exile

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As this pandemic and pandemonium forces our churches to close, and we gather in homes instead, I agree with Ben Zornes that we should not be taking the Lord’s Supper from house to house. I have written on this previously, and also stressed that the command to discern Jesus’s body applies directly to our receiving one another in corporate worship.

This does not mean that Jesus is not with us when we gather! Where two or three gather, he is with us (Matthew 18:20) by his Spirit. But it does mean that there is a kind of famine of God’s special presence and feast, as I have written in support of weekly communion.

The church doesn’t need to be disobeying civil orders right now. And livestreaming music and teaching is a blessing; so is gathering in smaller groups as we are able. It’s just that these things do not constitute covenant renewal, the “sacrifice of praise” before the throne as the ekklesia–assembly–body–bride. It is not true that our individual intercession is cut off. But it is true that the church’s heightened corporate and covenantal intercession, our role as Esther herself, has been cut off.

How should we understand this partial famine? For one, with the church’s intercession cut off, with an end to offering up a memorial of Jesus’s death (1 Cor 11), there is no more covenantal covering for God’s long-stored wrath toward the evils of our cavalier modern world such as abortion. This covering has allowed a merciful window for repentance, but now we should not be surprised to see God’s avalanche gather momentum, exactly and precisely because he hears and does not forget both corporate and individual prayers and cries.

But we also need to consider that judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17), just as it did most dramatically in the first century. This event is not an attack by the world against the church; it is something God has brought about, and he is certainly disciplining us, removing unfaithful lampstands.

With that in mind, the letters to the churches in Revelation are especially timely for the church to consider. With allowances for over-simplification:

  • Is our love for the world eclipsing our love for Jesus? (Ephesus) Are we dallying with the world? (Pergamum) Are we tolerating those who dally with the world? (Thyatira) It does seem that our love for the world and its ways is about to be sifted. Have we been faithful to tithe?
  • Be faithful and do not fear (Smyrna)
  • Hold fast; trust and obey (Philadelphia)
  • Correct your works: repent and be fruitful (Sardis, Laodicea)

One aspect of treasuring Jesus over the world is to cultivate a better sense of just what it is we have lost in this time. Woe to me that I stay home! (Psalm 120:5) Be glad to go to Jesus’s house! (Psalm 122:1) May all who hate the church be put to shame! (Psalm 129:5) How good and pleasant is our unity! (Psalm 133:1) We are a thousand times more blessed to dwell in God’s house than anywhere else! (Psalm 84)

Finally, with respect to the evil of abortion, have we been complicit in telling lies to the world about the true value of children by failing to discern our little ones to be among the body of Christ? “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Cor 11:30) It is amazing to me that God has orchestrated this so that little ones are not dying!

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131 ESV)

Written by Scott Moonen

March 23, 2020 at 6:32 pm

Various

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If you don’t yet follow Wrath of Gnon, you should.

This is beautiful: The Sound of the Hagia Sophia.

Here are some fascinating pictures of the locusts in Africa.

North Carolina had a couple of earthquakes in the western part of the state this past weekend, but we felt nothing here.

Christian Leithart thinks about how to panic sensibly.

So do Squirrel Nut Zippers. From “La Grippe”:

There’s an Asian influenza
Infecting us all by the scores
And it’s turning into pneumonia
We must go out once more . . .
So we must go out and dance around

Have a look at Jelle’s Marble Runs and see if you can resist getting completely absorbed.

For fun, the kids and I were working through the alphabet on a theme of food, somehow coming to focus especially on fish. Asher pounced on G with the offering: ghoti. Ha!

My county library has Lewis’s space trilogy available in audiobook form. I’ve just finished listening to it after first reading the books eight years ago. I’m freshly encouraged in the task of Christian living (Lewis is quite the Kuyperian Chestertonian, isn’t he?), and also again amazed at Lewis’s Issacharian insight into our times in That Hideous Strength. I need to revisit these more often.

Mark Horne just published his reflections on Proverbs. It is outstanding; pick one up for yourself and for each of the young people in your life. Mark also reflects on current events and how wisdom takes some work and wrestling. You should follow Mark too.

Lord willing, Peter Leithart is coming to the Triangle in April to teach on worship. I’m looking forward to it; join me!

I’ve been appealing to Occam’s razor lately as a rule for evaluating architectural decisions and their tradeoffs. In particular, architectural decisions must take into account not only ideal considerations, but also a team’s capacity to develop, maintain, and support these decisions. Simplicity has its own rewards regardless of the size of your team, but the smaller the team, the more aggressively you must press for that simplicity. Don’t multiply entities unnecessarily!

My pastor touched on Hebrews 12 and shaking this past Sunday. A preterist reading of this and the wider context adds (but does not subtract) helpful insights. Certainly we are to cherish the hope that one day we will live in a fully realized and glorious city (ch. 11), and that one day all that can be shaken will be removed (ch. 12). But the original audience was also to take great hope in God’s breaking early into time and history, and so are we. We have come already to the mountain–city, Zion–Jerusalem (12:22), and especially in worship we stand together in this place with Jesus and the angels and the communion of the saints. The entire book of Hebrews is an exposition of this reality and an invitation to enter into it.

From this perspective, the great “once more” shaking announced in Hebrews (as well as Matthew, etc.) was the tearing down of the old covenant and its ways, the very persecution and mountain that was bearing down on God’s people and in which the author of Hebrews is trying to encourage them. These old ways ended forever in AD 70; no more sacrifices could be offered by the line of Aaron but only by the line of Melchizedek. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was both a vindication of Jesus against the old ways, and a deliverance for his church, his body.

Thus, we see both that God works in history, and also that this history is moving to a glorious conclusion. So we can hope for several visitations, several shakings, several days of the Lord: (1) Jesus visits his church weekly on the day of the Lord; (2) Jesus visits tribes and nations at various times in history in judgment and to deliver his people; (3) as proof of his resurrection and enthronement, and vindication of himself and his promises, Jesus visited the world in AD 70 to finish the inauguration of his new creation; (4) we have a glorious hope that after his present reign (and our reign with him) is complete, Jesus will visit the world and deliver it to his father (1 Cor 15, etc.).

AD 70 was thus the promised sign of the son of man’s entering into heaven.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 17, 2020 at 12:58 pm

Keep in step with the Spirit

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Paul makes an interesting sustained argument throughout Galatians 5 and 6. He pits circumcision against Christ, law against faith, flesh against Spirit, and flesh against cross.

By abandoning the way of the Spirit, the Judaizers gave way to the works of the flesh (5:16ff). In fact, they boasted in the flesh (6:12–13), which is a subtle sin that is not so shocking as Paul’s earlier list. We see from this that even what is good or appears to be good can become a source of pride and destroy us. We are to repent not only of our sins but also of our merits, of every seemingly commendable way that we try to find life apart from Jesus. “Seemingly” is of course the operative word. Ironically, circumcision signified the cutting off of the flesh, a confession of its impotence; the Judaizers turned it into its opposite. There is no more need for circumcision because the Seed signified by circumcision has come. His once and for all circumcision at the cross (Col. 2:11–12) has inaugurated the new creation (Gal. 6:15). We enter into this circumcision, this new creation, through our baptism into Jesus (Col. 2:11–12).

The Judaizers were offended by the cross (Gal. 5:11) and ashamed of it (6:12). Paul boasted in the cross instead (6:14). Paul’s opposition of flesh to both Spirit (5:16ff) and cross (6:12ff) leads us to look for links between Spirit and cross. Paul himself directly links the fruit of the Spirit to the cross worked out in the life of the Christian: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24 ESV). Part of our boasting in the cross should be to see and delight in how Jesus exhibits the fruit of the Spirit. Such love and kindness (John 15:13), joy (Heb. 12:2), peace and patience (1 Pet. 2:23), etc.! Beyond this, the cross is not only our great example, but also the very foundation of our own walking in the fruit of the Spirit.

Boasting in law–keeping is of course not the only possible kind of fleshly boasting. Just as circumcision was turned on its head, we can be tempted to turn the fruit of the Spirit to fleshly purposes. Consider how we do this by exaggerating the virtues of love, of winsomeness, and humility. It has become easy to wield these as fleshly weapons and thereby to mistake other virtues, such as godly confidence and courage, for fleshly boasting. Rene Girard has insight into how this humility competition is its own form of fleshly vaunting, and how it undermines the faith.

This is one reason why it is important to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in totality rather than in isolation. We guard best against the flesh when we use all of our weapons; we need both a faithful love and a loving faithfulness; both a joyful self–control and a self–controlled joy.

Written by Scott Moonen

February 20, 2020 at 1:52 pm

Appetite

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In Galatians 5, Paul presents a list of the “works of the flesh” followed, and contrasted, by the “fruit of the Spirit.”

Underlying the works of the flesh are fleshly appetites and fleshly strength, what you might call an “arm of flesh” (2 Chron 32:8). Consider how anger functions: we desire personal glory or vindication, and we go to war for it.

The fruit of the Spirit does not exist in a sphere apart from appetite or apart from strength. Rather, it grows out of spiritual appetite and spiritual strength. Spiritual appetite desires what is simultaneously true, beautiful, and good (e.g., Philippians 4:8). Spiritual strength is the strength to govern ourselves (self-control) and to die to our selves. Spiritual appetite is superior to fleshly appetite, and spiritual strength is greater than the arm of the flesh (Proverbs 16:32).

Although a spiritual appetite requires us to die to ourselves, we find that it is not just a rejection of our fleshly appetites, but instead is the fulfillment or perfection of what we were seeking. As Lewis says, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Thus, in God, we find not a deprivation of pleasure and glory, but eternal pleasure (Psalm 16:11) and glory. In Jesus, we do not lose our opportunity for vindication, nor do we experience shame; but we find true justification and eradication of shame, so much so that God is proud for us to carry his name (as in Job 1:8) and pledges himself as our own redeemer-avenger (e.g., Romans 12:19).

Written by Scott Moonen

January 27, 2020 at 6:48 pm

Posted in Biblical Theology

Worship is warfare (3)

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Let’s consider seven reasons that worship and warfare go together. By the end I hope you’ll agree with me that worship is manly and worship is warfare. As I tell my kids, we need to “sing like soldiers.” (By the way, I think that usually means loud and fast.)

Joshua

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.”

(Joshua 5:13–6:5 ESV)

This man who spoke to Joshua, this commander of the LORD’s army, was the LORD himelf: Jesus. Jesus’s plan was to begin the battle with trumpets and a great shout, and he would bring down the walls for his people. So there you go: God’s battle begins with men making music.

But this isn’t the only time in Israel’s history where the Levitical worshippers marched before the army.

Jehoshaphat

“O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

Meanwhile all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”

Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD. And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.

And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say,

“Give thanks to the LORD,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”

And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another.

(2 Chronicles 20:12–23 ESV)

Jehoshaphat learned well from the example of Jericho what to do when God promises to fight for you. So he set the men in God’s service to sing, and God fought for them! God’s battle begins with men making music and song.

Babies

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”

(Matthew 21:15–16 ESV)

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

(Psalm 8:2 ESV)

Jesus is quoting the Psalms but reshaping it as only the living Word can. If we put these two verses together, we see that God uses even the worship of babies as a weapon to silence his enemies!

Work and keep

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15 ESV)

They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. (Numbers 3:7 ESV)

These verses sound similar: work and keep, minister and guard. They are actually the same root words in Hebrew. The first words are God’s instructions to Adam in the garden. The second are God’s instruction to the Levites and priests who served in his house.

We see from the Numbers passage that keep means to keep guard. (Think of the keep, which is the safest part of the castle.)

Adam’s job, and the job of the priests and Levites, was to work and guard, to tend and keep. Working and ministering include cultivating and beautifying things. For the Levites especially after the time of David this meant music and singing in God’s house. David set up an entire Levitical orchestra and choir, all of whom were men.

But guarding is closely attached to this. And what were the things that Adam and the Levites were supposed to guard against? Sin, and Satan.

So, we see that worshippers also have the job of being guards. Levites stand ready with spears!

But: not just the Levites were called to do this. All of Israel was.

Mustering the host

“Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.

“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD.

(Exodus 23:13–17 ESV)

Feasting and worship are connected.

Why do you think in particular God required the men to come? This was a mustering of God’s militia!

God was calling his army to a dress review before the commander. God’s warriors are mustered . . . to a worship feast!

David

David is the great man of God that we associate with both warfare and worship. He is such a great example of both of these; he is the warrior poet. He was both a great warrior and a great worshipper.

The Psalms cover the whole range of worship; this includes Psalms of war. Here are a couple of Psalms that mention both worship and warfare:

Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
. . .
I will sing a new song to you, O God;
upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you,

(Psalm 144:1, 9 ESV)

Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,

(Psalm 149:6 ESV)

We also see clearly in the Psalms that David recognizes that we may do battle, but it is really God fighting through us and for us. He talks again and again about the hand of God to save. Worship is a big part of this because it is our songs and our prayers that call on God to save us.

Another part of worship is the victory feast. After the battle Jesus ascends to his throne in victory and his people worship and feast once again. When we talk about entering God’s gates and courts, part of what we mean is that we are celebrating his victory!

Now

All of these things are repeated over again in the New Testament and the new covenant. We have a worship feast: the Lord’s Supper! All God’s people are now ministers, called on to minister and to guard. Men and women and adults and children and even babies are warriors.

We even carry a sword with which to carry out spiritual warfare:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:13–18 ESV)

This sword divides even ourselves (Hebrews 4:12), but it is also the speech and prayer and song that God uses to conquer the world.

We don’t have time to look closely at the book of Revelation, but one way to think of it is as a great worship service taking place on the Lord’s day. Revelation shows us what God does when his people pray and sing to him. He goes to battle for us!

So every time we gather to pray and sing, we are gathering before our commander, calling on him to help; and he rides forth to battle for us on the praises of his people.

Conclusion

This is our conclusion: Warriors sing. They sing while they slay. And God slays while they sing. Listen to how J. R. R. Tolkien talked about the men of Rohan singing on two different occasions in battle. First, when Merry and Pippin see them on a mission:

Merry and Pippin heard, clear in the cold air, the neighing of war–horses, and the sudden singing of many men. The Sun’s limb was lifted, an arc of fire, above the margin of the world. Then with a great cry the Riders charged from the East; the red light gleamed on mail and spear.

Later, he writes of the Rohirrim joining the fight on the fields of Pelennor before Minas Tirith:

And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of the battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.

Isn’t that thrilling? Brothers, let us hurry to be at church every week to meet the commander. And let us sing like the men of Rohan: fair and terrible, and so loud that it brings news of the king to the city around us!

See also:

Written by Scott Moonen

January 19, 2020 at 2:45 pm

Magi, did you know?

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Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
        are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
        who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1–12 ESV)

This is the word of the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, this story is true.

I wish we had time to reflect on everything interesting here. I don’t know what it means for a star to stoop to earth, although I think C. S. Lewis came close to the truth. However, tonight let’s focus our attention on the greater miracle of God’s stooping to earth.

To help us, let’s consider what brought these men here. Our translation calls them wise men; you may also know them as magi, or as three kings “of Orient” (even though the number three is a complete guess). The scope of their wisdom could well extend to dreams, magic, astrology, and sorcery. They come from the east, from Persian lands. All of this may remind you of the Old Testament prophet Daniel and his run–ins five hundred years earlier with Babylonian magicians, enchanters, and astrologers over the matter of dreams and worship—these were the Babylonian magi. Daniel went on to serve the kings of Media and Persia who conquered Babylon. Wise men are record–keepers; they do not forget. It seems likely that Matthew’s wise men had a connection with Daniel the wise man. Were they taught by him to look for and hope in a king of the Jews? Let’s see what they might have learned from Daniel.

The wise men were seeking the king of the Jews. Jew literally means someone from Judah. Since the tribes of Israel returned from their exile in Babylon, they all carried the name of this one tribe from which the great king David came. Daniel knew that God promised Judah would be first among his brothers and would have an unending kingship. From Genesis 49:

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
        your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
        your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s cub;
        from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
        and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
        nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
        and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Genesis 49:8–10 ESV)

Daniel might also have taught the wise men of Babylon the prophecy of Balaam, who declared in Numbers 24 that a victorious star would come out of Judah’s father Jacob:

“I see him, but not now;
        I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
        and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
        and break down all the sons of Sheth.” (Numbers 24:17 ESV)

God’s sending a star is a fitting announcement of the coming of the king of the Jews.

Interestingly, even though the prophet Micah came before Daniel, the wise men do not seem to have had his prophecy or did not connect it with their mission. Matthew makes Micah’s prophecy the centerpiece of this little story; it is a second witness that confirms the words of the wise men. A ruler and shepherd will be born for Israel in Bethlehem of Judah. This is just what the wise men are seeking: the king of the Jews.

The prophet Isaiah lived about the same time as Micah, and Daniel was much more likely aware of his writings. Isaiah says that the nations will stream to Israel and her king. He has such a rich set of passages to choose from, but here is one where he shows the nations bringing gold and frankincense, so that Matthew’s wise men are perhaps very deliberately walking right into this prophecy!

Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
        they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
        and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
        your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
        the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
        the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
        all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
        and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
        the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
        and I will beautify my beautiful house. (Isaiah 60:4–7 ESV)

This sounds wonderful for the people of Israel, but why should Persians gladly go out of their way to honor and serve the king of the Jews? These are not even the first Persians to show such interest; emperors Cyrus and Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes showed great interest in Israel and Jerusalem and in God’s temple. What would they have learned from the wise man Daniel, the man who also taught Nebuchadnezzar the ways of God? Could it be that these promises are for us too?

Yes! Daniel knew that God’s promises are for the world and not just for Israel. God’s first promise of salvation from sin and evil was to Adam and Eve, long before the founding of Israel. At the very beginning of Genesis, God cursed the evil serpent, declaring that someone was coming who would wound him. Later, God promised to Abraham that through him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” What’s good for Israel is good for the world. We see an early example of this in Genesis when God gave Joseph the Hebrew insight and wisdom to feed “all the earth” during a famine.

Daniel first served the great emperor Nebuchadnezzar, and so Daniel became another blessing to the families of the earth at that time. Nebuchadnezzar had a vision of a great king and kingdom to come that would shatter the kingdoms that came before, that would cover the earth and “never be destroyed.” Later Daniel himself had a vision that this great change would begin in about 500 years. So, the wise men were prepared to wait for just this moment. It seems that little Israel is going to become pretty important.

But something interesting happened to Daniel. An angel told him that part of his vision was to be shut up and sealed: a mystery. Daniel’s mystery is the same mystery that we see ripped wide open much later in the New Testament. The mystery is this: Jesus is not just taking the old ways and the old Israel and setting up Israel in charge of everyone else. Instead, Jesus is making a new kingdom out of and over all nations: his church. The apostle Paul says that Jesus is making a “new man” of the church by uniting Jew and Gentile. He calls the church the “Israel of God,” and the author of Hebrews calls the church the “heavenly Jerusalem.” Paul says that God counts someone a son of Abraham not by genealogy but by faith. The king of the Jews turns out to be the king of kings. What’s good for the church is now good for the world.

Matthew’s wise men may not have understood this mystery of Jesus making a new kind of kingdom, but they did understand from Daniel that Jesus would be king of the world, that the world owes its allegiance to him, and that the world can only find happiness in him. The great irony here is that Herod and all Jerusalem, especially God’s priests, should have known this; in fact, Matthew shows us that they did know it without acknowledging it. In a strange mix of fear and pride, they rejected the king and his blessings and his warnings, clutching their current way of life.

But this baby Jesus, this king Jesus, must have our complete allegiance. Everything is his, so anything that we treasure more than him or apart from him is not ours to have and keep. Herod lost what he tried to keep.

Jesus himself says that everyone who is not against him is for him, and everyone who is not for him is against him. It is not possible to be neutral or indifferent; we are always walking in allegiance or defiance of him. Psalm 2 underscores this test that is set before all of us:

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
        be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
        and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
        lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
        for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:10–12 ESV)

There is a high cost but also a rich blessing set before us. We give our very lives to Jesus, day after day after day; he gives us the real blessings of Psalm 2 and Isaiah 60 and so many other passages. The first and greatest blessing is that he forgives all our rebellion. This is why the Christmas angels announce to the shepherds the good news that Jesus is a Savior. And this salvation is the foundation of all his other blessings. All the best Advent and Christmas carols are true! We begin to taste them now through Jesus and his church, and we will eventually receive them in totality. God does not promise bread to his children and give us stones.

It is an open secret that this king is right now sitting on his throne and has infiltrated his enemies’ dominions from the highest to the lowest places. His people enjoy constant communication with him in prayer and by the presence of his Holy Spirit; and we have a special audience with him every week. He has us on a special mission which includes suffering and sacrifice, and this is why we do not yet see all the promises coming true. It is because, through us, he wants to flash his light into every possible darkness, to win more people to himself, and to share his blessings more widely.

It is good to belong to Jesus!

If you do not yet belong to him, I promise you will not regret giving your allegiance to him.

If you do belong to him, then let the great faith of the wise men remind and encourage you that it is good to give your allegiance to Jesus. Your allegiance will be tested, but you will not regret serving him wholeheartedly and unashamedly. Daniel and the wise men show us that we can still serve earthly kingdoms, but Herod is a lesson to us not to make our homes there. Your home is in the house of God.

It is good to belong to Jesus!

Let’s pray.

Father, you gave your only–begotten Son to take our nature upon him. You caused us to be born again and made us your children by adoption and grace. Renew and refresh us by your Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Lord. To you and Jesus and the Holy Spirit be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

Written by Scott Moonen

December 25, 2019 at 2:43 pm

A new house

with one comment

In his lectures on the book of Acts, James Jordan argues that in Acts 27, Luke is deliberately portraying a picture of the transfer of God’s kingdom from Israel to the church. The ship is a kind of Roman ark that has carried God’s people, but in order to survive and enjoy the fulfillment of God’s promises, everyone must now follow the man appointed by God (v. 24) on an exodus. Thus Luke is urging his readers: Rome and especially the temple in Jerusalem are both sinking; Rome’s protection for Israel and the church is ending; salvation is now found only in the church.

Obviously the parallels to Jonah‘s ship (and whale) and the ark are significant. In some ways this is an extension of those cases, as we must now abandon the ship-whale for salvation and instead follow Paul.

Jordan notes in support of his reading that midnight on the 14th day of the month is the same time as Passover (v. 27), there is a kind of communion (v. 35), and being without food is a kind of wilderness experience in which God must provide (v. 21). Furthering the Passover imagery, everyone must remain in the house (v. 31). Then in Acts 28 Paul seems to be saying that the special transition era of ministering the gospel to the Jew first is coming to an end.

With this in mind, we can venture a guess as to what Luke is underscoring by taking the time to tell us that 276 persons were saved (v. 37). If Jordan is correct, we should not be surprised to find some references that are related to God’s house or to exile and exodus patterns. There are no other occurrences of the number 276 so we need to look at a couple of ways of breaking it down.

276 is a triangular number: it is the sum of 23 + 22 + … + 1. It is also 23×12. Twelve is certainly significant for God’s house and kingdom. Twenty-three has a couple points of significance related to God’s house: (1) in 2 Kings 12:6ff, God’s house is repaired beginning in the twenty-third year of King Jehoash; and (2) in 2 Chronicles 7:10, the people return rejoicing from the consecration of God’s house on the twenty-third of the month.

There are also a few references that relate to defeat and exile and captivity, which is suggestive that those who do not escape the Roman-Jewish ship will have no further opportunity of repentance (as Hebrews 10:26 warns, there “no longer remains a sacrifice” in the old temple): (1) in 2 Chronicles 36:2, Jehoahaz begins his brief and plundered reign at the age of twenty-three; (2) in Jeremiah 25:3, Jeremiah prophesies seventy years of captivity after twenty-three years of ignored prophecy; (3) in Jeremiah 52:30, Nebuchadnezzar makes his final plundering of Israel in the twenty-third year of his reign.

There is a final reference to 46 = 23×2 in John 2:20, which is the length of time to build Herod’s temple. All of these references lend credence to Jordan’s interpretation of the underlying message and application that Luke is giving: escape to the church, the new house of God.

You may find this approach unfamiliar or uncomfortable. There are certainly many attempts at Biblical numerology out there that are pure flights of fancy. However, in this case we are not linking numbers to abstract ideas but rather using them to link together texts that have a related theme (in this case the establishment or destruction of God’s house), and to identify possible ways in which this connection reinforces or enriches the theme of those texts.

We can consider other examples of this approach to show that it is reasonable. Obviously the significance of the numbers seven (creation or new creation) and twelve (God’s people) is well known. The number seventy is less well known, but it occurs quite often in a way that symbolizes the nations, since it is the number of names populating the earth after the flood in Genesis 10. You can see some clear examples of this in Exodus 1:5 (the nations were already and will again be saved through Jacob and his family) and Exodus 15:7.

There is a case to be made that 17 is somewhat interchangeable with 70 in that it is 7+10 rather than 7×10. There are many groupings of 17 that occur in the Psalms, and it is at just this time where there is an explosion of Gentile involvement in God’s house. And this likely also explains the significance of John’s taking care to mention 153 fish in John 21:11, since 153 is the triangle of 17 + 16 + … + 1. The Holy Spirit through John is encouraging the church that, by Jesus’s word, we fishers of men will capture the nations!

Another interesting triangular number is the 666 of Revelation 13:18, the number of the beast, the number of a man. This is the triangle of 36 + 35 + … + 1. Thirty-six in turn is 6×6. So many sixes! The sixth day of creation is the day on which man was created, so it is the number of an Adam. The first Adam failed in his ministry precisely by giving the creation over to a beast. This number is also the number of another Adam who turned away from God: Solomon, who disobeyed the laws of kingship (Deuteronomy 17) and gathered 666 talents of gold per year (1 Kings 10:14, 2 Chronicles 9:13). With Jordan, I believe all of this points towards the land beast’s representing unfaithful Jewish leadership rather than Rome or Nero (which I believe corresponds to the sea beast, but we can explore that at another time). We have already considered that Revelation’s Babylon is Jerusalem rather than Rome.

It is possible to have an approach to numerology which is grounded in Scripture itself, and which enriches the message of the priority of God’s kingdom and the certainty of the Holy Spirit’s victorious work in and through the church.

Written by Scott Moonen

August 13, 2019 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Biblical Theology