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Leviticus

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If we printed red-letter Old Testaments, the pages of Leviticus would bleed redder than any of the gospels.

You cannot have King Jesus without also having his royal proclamations in the book of Leviticus.

Torah

Almost the entire book of Leviticus was dictated by Yahweh to Moses. Commentators and theologians widely agree that the appearances of Yahweh in the Old Testament are the pre-incarnate Jesus (consider John 1:18, 6:46 together with Exodus 33:11; consider also John 8:58). We cannot read Jesus into every single occurrence of Yahweh (Psalm 110:1 refers to the Father); but in Israel’s exodus it is even clearer than usual that Jesus was present, since some of the imagery surrounding Sinai portrays it as God’s marriage to his people.

Leviticus was and is meant to shape the consciousness, speech and life of God’s people. It is among the books that Moses commanded Israel’s kings to copy and meditate upon (Deut. 17:18-19). It is among the books that all Israel praised so highly in Psalm 119. It constitutes part of the torah-law which, if Israel obeyed, God promised to make the envy of the nations (Deut. 4:6-8, Micah 4:1-2).

In Leviticus, Jesus speaks of animal offerings, priestly service, food, leprosy, uncleanness, sex, feasts and more. Leviticus is not Jesus’s final word on these things, but it is his word, and — we must confess — a righteous word, on these things.

Typology

Jesus speaks Leviticus, but Leviticus speaks of Jesus. All of these things have a corresponding symbolic purpose relating to Jesus and his creation. And because Jesus means to transform creation and cause his people to mature into his likeness, some parts of Leviticus have a built-in obsolescence, while other parts grow intensified and transfigured. Acts 15:28-29 gives us a brief and helpful summary of what has gone and what remains. Gone are most of the laws of food and cleanness; remaining are laws concerning idolatry and sex.

God meant for forbidden foods to symbolize the Gentile nations. It would take some time to fully develop this imagery, but there are parallels visible in the law, and God makes it very explicit in Acts 10. Fifteen hundred years of practice at being strictly separate from the world have prepared God’s people to sacrificially conquer and inherit it (Rom. 4:18); and, by the Spirit, to handle the greater responsibilities of a greater unity (Eph. 2). So now that (you might say) Jesus eats all nations into his body (pace Rev. 3:16), we as the members of his body may also take unclean animals into ourselves. Just as the nations are God’s gifts to the church (consider Eph. 4:8), bacon and shrimp are God’s gifts to his people. If you reflect on the nature of maturing, the food laws’ coming to an end is not a great surprise. We know that God’s purpose in history is to grow his church from infancy to maturity (Gal. 4, Eph. 4), and infants and adults appropriately have very different diets and boundaries. Maturity brings mature food.

Sex has symbolic potency as well. It is meant to symbolize Jesus’s union with his bride, his body, his church (Eph. 5:32). Sex and marriage were designed to point to something bigger: the one and only marriage that will survive into eternity. Even strange laws like the jealousy inspection of Numbers 5 teach us how Jesus relates to his church down to this day (consider the jealousy inspections of 1 Cor. 10-11 and Rev. 2-3). From the first Pentecost at Sinai to the last Pentecost at Jerusalem, Jesus has always related to his people as husband to bride. This has enduring implications for human marriage and sex that stretch “from the beginning” (Matt. 19, Mark 10) to the end. So unlike the food laws, restrictions on sexual relations only grow more intensified in history.

Similarly, the laws of offering and sacrifice remain in the new covenant; however, they are transformed and intensified from animal sacrifice to human sacrifice in the death of Jesus. The laws of feasts remain, but are transformed into a single feast: the Lord’s supper. The feasting is intensified as well: instead of presenting ourselves only three times a year to God (Deut. 16:16), God now summons us to dine with him every week. Israel had three annual furloughs that were a great celebration and refreshment (consider the Psalms of ascent, 120-134); we have a weekly furlough from our labor, trials and suffering as we show glad faces to our king (Neh. 8:9-12).

Administration

Jesus is king of the nations and the husband of his church, but he has established separate administrations of his rule in these realms. In the church, his kingdom is tended and guarded by the judicial binding and loosing (Matt. 16:19) of baptism and excommunication. In the civil realm, the church does not carry out Jesus’s ministry of the sword, but she is called to disciple nations and kings in Jesus’s law (Matt. 28:19-20).

While it requires deep kingly wisdom to apply this law rightly, such wisdom begins with the fear of God (Prov. 1:7, etc.) and the love of his law (Psalm 119). While we do not understand it perfectly, we confess it to be holy, righteous and good (Rom. 7:12). As in times of old, we must allow Leviticus to shape our consciousness and speech. God’s word — all of it — is still meant to be the envy of the nations, and the church has the privilege of leading the way in treasuring and proclaiming it.

Written by Scott Moonen

January 1, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Son

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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)

Written by Scott Moonen

December 11, 2013 at 5:07 pm

New creation

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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.

Written by Scott Moonen

December 2, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Letter to the editor

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I submitted this letter to the editor of the News & Observer:

Dear Editor,

In every city, on any given week, the most important thing that happens is the meeting of King Jesus with his people in his house. The heavens stoop to earth for the king to hold court with his people, eat with them, and send them out as his servants for the life of the world.

This Sunday morning, a triathlon barricaded southern Wake County. Some travelers waited over 90 minutes before turning back. We left early, prepared to expect delays, but not this complete standstill.

Local leaders will answer to constituents for matters such as the interruption of family trips to the farmers’ market on a beautiful spring day. But many families were kept from church, and our leaders will answer to Jesus for the interruption of his worship. Jesus does not wish his people to be detained when he calls them together. I pray that our leaders would follow the example of Darius in Ezra rather than Sanballat and Tobiah in Nehemiah; that they would exert themselves to encourage and not obstruct the assembling of God’s people. Our cities will be blessed by God if they do so.

Respectfully yours,

Scott Moonen
304 Kite Dr.
Fuquay-Varina

Written by Scott Moonen

June 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Christ and Culture

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What follows are some thoughts on Klaas Schilder’s Christ and Culture (PDF).

I had been aware that there was some falling out between Schilder and followers of Kuyper, but wasn’t sure what the nature of the disagreements were. From this book, it seems at a minimum that there was disagreement over the possibility of common grace, and over the notion of presumptive regeneration of covenant children. Steven Wedgewords provides some additional background information.

I appreciate many of the points that Schilder stresses in this book. He reminds us that the work of individuals must be evaluated with respect to Jesus — our work is pleasing to God only to the degree that we receive things with thanksgiving and offer our work to him in faith and worship. There is a distinctively Christian way to eat a bowl of ice cream, paint a painting or mow the lawn. Or, to put it in other terms, even our working must undergo a sort of death and resurrection if it is to be pleasing to God. And by extension, if we are to speak with Kuyper of “spheres” of life, the church as the center of worship and the center of the Spirit’s out-breaking into the world, holds a central and formative position relative to all other spheres. Schilder offers all this as a criticism of Kuyper; I’m not familiar enough with Kuyper to know how well it sticks, but it is something with which I agree.

There are some areas where I disagree with Schilder. On the petty side, I disagree with some of his application of imagery from Revelation. More significantly, I question his suggestion that Christianity or that Calvinism should be expected to beget a single peculiar style. I don’t think this is a necessary consequence of his principles, although I do think that as Christianity develops in a nation one would expect to see the church and her worship fostering a more mature or “high” style throughout the culture. The kings who bring gifts to Jesus in Psalm 68, Revelation 21, etc. may be attired differently, but they will all be invested with glory of one sort or another.

My most significant area of disagreement is with Schilder’s deduction (primarily in chapter 18, but appearing throughout) that we cannot speak of a “common grace” in the sense that Kuyper and others would have. He deduces this in a very hyper-Calvinistic manner from God’s eternal decrees: since God intends to condemn the reprobate, everything that they enjoy and do, and even the very lengthening of their life, is fitted for the purpose of their destruction and is not fit to be called grace. But Scripture reveals that God is always doing more than one thing at once; it is false to say that, because God intends to condemn someone, that what he is giving them now is not a genuine gift or an expression of of genuine love. As Mark Horne chides:

So the question arises: Did God love Adam and Eve? Were His good gifts to them a revelation of His love for them, or were they snares meant to hurt them? The answer must be that, though God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and ultimately causes all things, God’s gifts and offers of future reward are all genuine expressions of a genuine love. It may be difficult to conceive of how this objective revelation in history is to be reconciled with God’s eternal decrees, yet it is perverse to use the decrees to deny that God’s gifts and promises are motivated by love. The fact is, just as without God’s love there is no ground for God’s jealousy, so without God’s good gifts there is no ground for holding ingrates accountable for how they abuse and pervert these gifts. It was Satan’s strategy, after all, to deny that God loved Adam and Eve. If our inferences from God’s decrees put us in Satan’s camp, we need to rethink our position.

We know from passages like Romans 1:21 that unbelievers no less than believers have an obligation to give thanks to God for all they have. More than that, there is a history in the reformed tradition of recognizing that these gifts from God are in fact a spillover from the cross. While this is not saving grace, it is a gift none the less. This explains passages such as 1 Tim. 4:10. Consider Charles Hodge:

Augustinians do not deny that Christ died for all men. What they deny is that he died equally, and with the same design, for all men. He died for all, that He might arrest the immediate execution of the penalty of the law upon the whole of our apostate race; that He might secure for men the innumnerable blessings attending their state on earth, which, in one important sense, is a state of probation; and that He might lay the foundation for the offer of pardon and reconciliation with God, on condition of faith and repentance.

These are the universally admitted consequences of his satisfaction, and therefore they all come within its design. By this dispensation it is rendered manifest to every intelligent mind in heaven and upon earth, and to the finally impenitent themselves, that the perdition of those that perish is their own fault. They will not come to Christ that they may have life. They refuse to have Him to reign over them. He calls but they will not answer. He says, “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Every human being who does come is saved.

This is what is meant when it is said, or implied in Scripture, that Christ gave Himself as a propitiation, not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. . . .

While I believe Schilder is wrong in saying that we cannot regard the abilities and work of unbelievers as a genuine gift from God, he is right to remind us that no working is neutral with respect to God. So there are multiple layers we must wrestle with — not only the permissibility of our enjoying the work, but also how we are to regard the worker. And yet there are a great many works of unbelievers that we can receive and enjoy with thanksgiving, and even offer to God in worship.

See also: Common grace.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 27, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Tragic

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A friend pointed me to a commentary on contemporary worship by Carl Trueman. Trueman suggests that “Christian worship should immerse people in the reality of the tragedy of the human fall and of all subsequent human life.” He commends the Scottish tradition and its “somber tempos of the psalter, the haunting calls of lament, and the mortal frailty of the unaccompanied human voice.”

I’m not a fan of happy-clappy worship, but I believe that Trueman errs on the wrong side. To be fair, Trueman wants tragedy to be woven together with joy and triumph. I agree that we should cover the whole emotional and experiental palette of the Psalms (I would suggest covering all the Psalms themselves). But I raise my eyebrows at “somber” and think that we should err on the side of being outright Pentecostal.

Here’s why: Whatever balance we strike, death cannot become a primary emphasis; it needs to fit properly in a broader story arc that exults, “O death, where is your sting?” History itself is a comedy (in the technical sense) rather than a tragedy, and if we want the worship service to tell the gospel story, then it may have a sense of agon-contest, but will always move towards and culminate in an exuberant, matrimonial, comedic denouement. We worship on Sunday rather than Friday or Saturday: every Lord’s day is a miniature Easter. Also, if our Lord’s-day worship is an assembly and meal in the very presence and house of our king and husband, then something like Nehemiah 8:9-12 should apply (“do not mourn or weep . . . do not be grieved”), at least for the vast majority of worship services. Consider, too, the ratio of feasts to fasts in the old covenants. To mention but one important precedent, the Sabbath was a weekly feast (Lev. 23:1-3).

While a rock band might not be appropriately majestic for the king (compare the bizarre and unbecoming James Bond sequence in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony), neither is a dirge:

So David and the elders of Israel and the commanders of thousands went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the house of Obed-edom with rejoicing. And because God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord, they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams. David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the music of the singers. And David wore a linen ephod. So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.

And as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came to the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David dancing and celebrating, and she despised him in her heart. — 1 Chronicles 15:25-29

We should take notes from David and not Michal on how we are to behave when we have an audience and meal with the king of kings.

See also: Ascent.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 17, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Ascension

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Today is Ascension Sunday. Psalm 97 exults:

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and burns up his adversaries all around.
His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.

The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!

Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O Lord.
For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.

O you who love the Lord, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!

Written by Scott Moonen

May 12, 2013 at 8:25 am

Posted in Christ is Lord