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Question authority?

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The fool says in his heart, “No God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
None who does good. (Psalm 14:1)

Note that God here is Elohim rather than Lord-Yahweh. So its semantic range potentially encompasses rulers and judges; that is, authority (consider the well-known Psalm 82:6). The rest of the Psalm seems compatible with this possibility.

Thus, the range of foolishness extends to an knee-jerk rejection of authority. Automatic suspicion of authority is itself suspicious. Rather, both the ruler and the subject are accountable to a higher authority to whom appeals should be made: the God of gods and Lord of lords (Deuteronomy 10:17, Psalm 136:2-3).

Neither ruler nor subject should say in his heart, “no authority, no God.”

Written by Scott Moonen

October 15, 2018 at 9:08 pm

Interruption

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The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination. — C. S. Lewis

HT: Mark Horne

See also: Christ is Lord of our time

Written by Scott Moonen

September 29, 2018 at 3:18 pm

Judgment

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Preterism is interesting to me not only in how it makes sense of prophecy and history, but also in how it shapes our applying that prophecy to ourselves.

There is no question that there will be a future worldwide judgment (1 Corinthians 15). But a flat view of future worldwide judgment as the focus of prophecy (bypassing the extended comings of Jesus in the 1st century AD) leads us to a flattened application. It leads us to stress the world’s and even the Christian’s deserving of judgment (“none is righteous, no, not one;” “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”), and stress the magnitude of God’s undeserved mercy to escape this judgment. This is a right and true perspective. But if we recognize that very much prophecy also focuses on the faithlessness and failure and judgment of Israel, then there are deeper qualities to this story that spring to life.

Preterism helps us to reckon with the fact that the Christian is truly righteous, that judgment for God’s people is only in the past. At the same time, it also helps us to reckon with the fact that the church will be judged more strictly and severely (1 Peter 4:17), not only at the end of time but also throughout history.

Neither David (Psalm 14:1-3) nor Paul (Romans 3:10-11) is making a universal statement about the absence of righteousness. David is speaking of the enemies of God’s people (the righteous actually show up immediately afterwards in Psalm 14:4ff!). Paul is speaking of God’s people rusted through: turned unrighteous with only a fake veneer of pretended righteousness, yet with a righteous remnant actually remaining in the newly established church. Isaiah (64:6) is speaking in a similar context; he does not assume the impossibility of righteousness, but rather recognizes that Israel’s former and now pretended righteousness really had become degenerate and polluted; they had presumed upon God’s grace and mercy.

So we see first of all that it is really possible to be righteous (Psalm 14:5), by the obedience of faith that brings justification. There is no future judgment for the Christian, only an evaluation as sons and daughters. Yet we also see that God holds his people to strict account; it is really possible to presume upon God’s mercy (Romans 2:4), and our justification requires our faith to be living and obedient (James 1-2). And this serves as a particular warning to the church to remain faithful, for while there is now a greater outpouring of the Spirit to ensure the life of the church (Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8, 10; etc.), we have concrete historical reminders of the apostasy and presumption and judgment of God’s people throughout the Bible and culminating in AD 70. Churches and movements and denominations can fall even while Jesus strengthens and grows the greater church worldwide. Consider the greatness of the falls of the church in Rome in spite of Paul’s own personal warning to them:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Romans 11:17-22 ESV)

And recall that Babylon in Revelation is not a symbol of the world, but a symbol of Jerusalem’s good worship gone bad.

Preterism does not at all prevent us from applying prophecy and the reality of God’s judgment to the end of time and history. It simply helps us not to fast forward to that day without pausing to reflect on God’s judgments within time and history (especially the great twin reckonings of AD 30 and AD 70), and how God’s people experience these judgments. Jesus is both the one who truly and perfectly justifies (Romans 3:26), and also the one who walks among the lampstands (Revelation 1:13).

Written by Scott Moonen

January 7, 2018 at 4:01 pm

A god too great for the sky

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This weekend our small group enjoyed our second annual caroling in downtown Fuquay.

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Merry Christmas!

Written by Scott Moonen

December 24, 2017 at 9:31 pm

Courtroom

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It is common to think of the Christian’s future—either when we die or when we are resurrected—as commencing with a solemn and fearful judgment before God’s throne, a moment when we stand in the dock before God. For example, we may sing of Satan’s recurring accusation and God’s judgment, reminding ourselves that Jesus is “my only hope, my only plea.” It is commonly thought that we will have to verbalize this plea some future day when we stand before God’s throne as a sort of ticket to entry. This is not without good reason: confession and repentance and faith is indeed the attitude with which we as Christians, as so many Mephibosheths and Esthers, must approach God at all times. And it is not without scriptural justification: consider the great white throne judgment of Revelation 20, or Satan’s heavenly accusations of the righteous Job. We must give an account to God (Hebrews 4:13).

There is a kind of fear of God we are to have at all times (Deuteronomy 6:13, etc.), and there is a kind of judgment-evaluation that all men will experience (e.g., Psalm 96), and which will come as a surprise to some (Matthew 7:21-23). But it is worth considering God’s own situation and attitude as his people approach him, especially since Jesus has been raised for our justification and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. This will help us to better understand the kind of fear we are to have and the kind of judgment we are to expect.

The first thing we must recognize is that the Western courtroom, where we stand in the dock and where there is judge and witness and accuser and advocate, does not fit the heavenly model. God is a judge, to be sure, but he is a judge by virtue of his being king. A kingly courtroom is a place not only for passing judgment, but also for receiving audience, receiving honor and tribute, hearing petition, giving instruction and reward and commission, and feasting. We see this confirmed in the arrangement of the tabernacle, the arrangement of the temple, the types of Christ such as David and Solomon and Ahasuerus, and in the churchly-heavenly models of approaching God (Hebrews, Revelation) that are given to us in the new creation. So the mental picture that we have of a contemporary Western courtroom does not adequately represent the setting and atmosphere that we will experience with God.

More importantly, as we approach God in his heavenly court, we must remember that the Christian has already been justified by faith in Jesus (Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16, etc.). Not only that, but our justification-adoption has been publicly announced by God through his church by our baptism, which symbolically identifies us with Jesus (Romans 6, Colossians 2:12-13, Titus 3:4-7) so that we very clearly share in the Father’s baptismal declaration over him that he is “well pleased” with us (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). There is no need for us to be re-justified before God in this sense.

We must also remember that the Christian’s accuser has already been cast down from the heavenly court (Revelation 12:10-12). There is quite simply no accusation lodged against us in the heavenly court, nor can there be for those who have been justified (Romans 8:31-39) and adopted as sons. Taken together, this completely changes the tone of our appearances before God. It is true that those who are only masquerading as sons will be readily discovered and dealt with in their meeting with God. False sons experience a judgment unto wrath. But it is not true that the Christian’s meeting with God begins with the tone of what is essentially yet another paternity test to verify we are still sons. We stand tall as true sons, returned from a mission, to be evaluated and then praised or even chided and disciplined, yet with the actual purpose not of being evaluated but of being received in fellowship. Even in discipline God is, in the best sense, for us and not against us. God is inseparably both judge and Father, but there is much more the Father than the judge as we enter the heavenly court. “There’s my son; isn’t he a fine son?” (Matthew 3:17, Job 1, etc.) Note well: we have this standing only in Jesus. But, praise God, we really and truly have it!

We see a clear picture of this in how the prodigal son returns to the prodigal father (Luke 15). The son does rightly to walk in humility, confessing and repenting. But how glorious the father’s response: both sonship and repentance play into the exuberant reception, but far more the sonship. Repentance is simply one of the things that sons do; you could say that it is in one sense a kind of test or proof of sonship, but it is not at all a kind of admission exam to the feasting table.

This is important for us to keep in mind not only as we look ahead to our death and resurrection, but also day in and day out. To petition God in prayer at any time is to come before his throne. We do this “in Jesus’s name,” and we may come bold and confident (Hebrews 4:16) to a Father who is eager to see us and to hear our requests. In an even more heightened sense, the Lord’s day corporate worship of the church is an audience with king Jesus, where we stand and sit before him at his throne and at his table. Here it is quite proper to begin with confession of our sin. And our confession and repentance must never become perfunctory. But neither must it be a terror, and we need not imagine it to be a terror to keep it from being perfunctory.

Our confession on entrance into Jesus’s presence follows his own invitation to assemble before him, and we may be confident from his invitation, disposition, and promises that he receives us in the spirit of a king holding feast far more than a king sitting in judgment over criminal cases. Our confession and repentance are a way of keeping a short account with our Father and King, a sort of washing our hands before we join him at the table. It is to his glory that we stand tall wearing his robes of righteousness rather than sackcloth and ashes as we gather around him (Matthew 22:11-13, Proverbs 14:28), and in fact we are commanded to stand before him with joyful hearts and faces rather than grieving over our sin (Nehemiah 8:9-12). The prodigal son changed clothes as he sat to feast with his father. And that feast is telling of the father’s heart; our weekly invitation from and feast with Jesus is another proof that he is already favorably disposed toward us.

We must also consider that our own role in God’s heavenly court is not to serve as the subject of the court’s deliberation, but to participate as junior judicial members of the court. We are seated with Jesus (Ephesians 2:6). We will participate in judging the world (1 Corinthians 6:2), and will even judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). The new creation brings about what we might call the prophethood of all believers (Acts 2:17), which places us in God’s heavenly council (Amos 3:7). Just as Abraham, Moses, Habakkuk, Amos, and other prophets pleaded with God in council to shape his plans, the church may now participate in God’s evaluations and judgments.

All this—our settled adoption and our participation in God’s judgments—means that, amazingly, we may freely call upon God to judge us: not on the basis of any kind of perfection or righteousness or deserving in ourselves, but because we have already been judged and found to be sons. The sons are free (Matthew 17:26), both in the heavenly court and in the world at large, except as God calls us to special missions of sacrifice and deprivation for the sake of our growth and for the sake of his kingdom.

Another way to put this is to say that the evaluations and judgments and justifications that we have yet to experience—each time we meet for worship or on the last day—have nothing to do with the kind of justification whereby we receive righteousness from Jesus and have perfect standing before God. That is finished, in the past, a permanent change of status. Instead, what we experience in part each week, and will one day experience in full, is a judgment, a declaration, even a species of justification, that publicly vindicates us rather than changing our status. We are not waiting to hear whether God will accept us; that is sure. We are waiting for all the world to see that we were right to trust in Jesus and his promises, that it was not, after all, a fool’s errand, but that through our patience and faith and suffering we have inherited the world.

It is true that some will be surprised at God’s evaluation on the last day (Matthew 7:21-23). But the Christian need not fear this, and must instead look forward to being publicly vindicated before the world for trusting in Jesus. The great white throne judgment is from one perspective a kind of judgment. But much more it is the cotillion ball at which the débutante church is set apart to be admired by all as she joins the society of the king and prince.

Christian, it is true that you need not fear God’s judgment because of your union with Jesus. But more than that, you do not even have in your future to stand in the dock in a kind of judicial courtroom, again because of Jesus. All such courtrooms exist only for those who reject the king, and the only courts you have to look forward to are audiences and meals with the king. Be sure that you continue to approach with humility and repentance, but be equally sure that you approach with faith and confidence in your rightful place at God’s table.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 4, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Childermas

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Today marks Childermas, the remembrance of Herod the Great’s massacre of the male babies of Bethlehem:

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)

This was not the first massacre of Hebrew boys; Herod hearkens back to the Pharaoh of the Exodus:

Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” (Exodus 1:15-16)

And as we have previously considered, Matthew’s linking this to Hosea 11:1 is a subtle accusation that Herod has in fact become Pharaoh, and Israel has become Egypt.

Both Herod and Pharaoh were serpents trying to cut off the promised seed of Genesis 3:15. Blood shed unjustly calls for a blood avenger, and in each case God brought a redeemer (Moses, Jesus) through this shadow of death, and through that redeemer brought about the end of the tyrant who had sought a blood sacrifice for himself (through the ruin of Egypt, and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70). While Jesus himself is the sacrifice that gives us life, it is interesting to consider that there were babies who were a kind of sacrifice that gave Jesus life. It is reassuring that God is not blind to the wrath of tyrants. He hears spilled blood crying from the ground, and he hears the patient prayers of his church for deliverance from the tyrant, and he answers: Pharaoh and the Herods were brought low.

Herod and Pharaoh were right to fear the coming seed, who “visit[s] the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18). Jesus truly reigns here and now, and not just over the time to come. It is deeply reassuring to know that no suffering, no cry for help, is unseen or unheard by him, nor does it go to waste. Rightly does the church proclaim to kings and rulers:

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve Yahweh 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)

This of course has application for the church today experiencing various kinds of tyranny and persecution around the world, a world that has murdered more than a billion babies over the past generation. In spite of all this, because of all this, Jesus is coming. Make ready by taking refuge in him.

Written by Scott Moonen

December 28, 2015 at 5:47 am

Invest

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The first principle of investing is to put all your eggs in one basket.

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'” (Mark 12:29-30)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

And of course, Psalm 2:

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

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.

Written by Scott Moonen

April 10, 2014 at 6:28 am

Posted in Christ is Lord