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Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

Love in the time of Chinese flu

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Now is a good time for the church to remember our call to unity. But we’ve all seen unity used as a cover to downgrade truth, righteousness, and genuine love. So it is equally a good time to be cautious about how that unity is urged and achieved.

As a practical example, I can show love for my brother Tom by standing six feet away from him and being charitable and gracious towards his reasons for wanting to exercise caution. But is there any situation whatsoever where my brotherly love for Tom restrains me from hugging Joe?

This article by Brett McCracken is typical of some of the poorly framed calls to unity nowadays. Ironically, you could say that Brett is insufficiently nuanced, or perhaps that his indecisive nuance is insufficiently masculine or fatherly.

Brett makes a simple but common category mistake: the man of weak conscience and the anxious man are not necessarily the same. As Friedman stresses, and as any good parent knows, our goal for the anxious is not to keep them from falling into sin, but to provide them enough firmness and exposure to mature. To be clear: I do not mean to imply that everyone taking precautions is anxious, nor do I mean to imply that that the best medicine is always to confront someone’s anxiety head-on.

However, anxiety is sin. And that leads us to another of Brett’s mistakes, which is to leave out almost entirely the category of the prophetic. He does want us to be faithful to the gospel, but there are many other points at which truth, righteousness, and beauty call for taking a loyal stand. Such a stand may appear to some to lack the humility and patience that Brett stresses. Brett himself makes the mistake of opposing confidence and humility; contrast this with Paul who exhorts us to be convinced about disputable matters, and we all remember Chesterton’s cutting insight on the true meaning of humility. And of course Brett himself is confident; we expect no less of someone writing to urge the church how to behave. Prophets know that their message can and must be grounded on a better sort of humility and patience and love. Every good parent knows that firmness is compatible with these things, and even Brett is exercising a kind of mollified firmness toward the prophet; the problem is that he is equating agreeable unity with true unity and thereby pointing his firmness in the wrong direction. It is easy to take a stand on yesterday’s issues, and for peace, but difficult and unpopular to take a stand on today’s issues.

Today’s issues are no small matter because they hinge on a number of points that do call for our loyalty: the priority of God’s call to worship in the heavenly assembly; truth; a biblical approach to quarantine, including a biblical value for livelihood and work; a biblical understanding of spheres of authority and their requirements and limits; and a wise, fatherly, and firm response to the truly infectious sin of anxiety. Surprisingly, these points all in fact involve a love for our neighbor, a placing “the interests of others above the self” as Brett rightly appeals but too narrowly applies. In addition to the more popular truths of humility and patience, the church has the solemn responsibility to proclaim these truths as well. With our childlike faith, we ought always to be in the vanguard of the children who expose the emperor’s lack of clothing.

We will surely be worshipping together in ten years’ time and with even closer bonds of unity in Jesus our king. Holding that anticipation over all is a good way to frame the great patience and love we exercise today even in our firmness. We are loyal to truth, righteousness, beauty, and to one another.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 16, 2020 at 10:24 am

Worship is warfare (5)

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National defense:

“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year. (Exodus 34:21–24 ESV)

See also: Worship is warfare (4), etc.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 10, 2020 at 1:40 pm

Semper reformanda

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Understand that the glory of God and the good of others are ever the twin purposes of moral action, and that the merely good or permissible must never be allowed to obstruct the quest for the best.

ESV Study Bible, “Biblical Ethics: An Overview”

Written by Scott Moonen

May 5, 2020 at 6:34 pm

Posted in Christ is Lord, Worship

Assembly

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But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22–24 ESV)

The church is not analogous to a movie theater or sporting event. The church is analogous to the general assembly. Where the general assembly can meet to conduct business, the church must also be meeting to conduct business with her king. The life of the world depends upon this.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 3, 2020 at 1:49 pm

Joy

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In every dimension the liturgy means joy. . . .

Joy is lively. Joy is active. When we rejoice, we don’t mumble or mutter. We shout and sing at the top of our lungs. When we rejoice, we move, clap, sway, dance. Joy doesn’t belong down down down down in my heart. Joy grips my body, my tongue and hands and feet. Clothed in the Spirit, my body rejoices. What should liturgy look like? Don’t think grim and proper Presbyterians. Think African Anglicans. Think Brazilian charismatics. Don’t quench the Spirit. Don’t bottle up the joy. . . .

Dismissed from the liturgy, we go out in joy—to find joy in pots and pans, trees and flowers, mountains and sunsets, sleek cars and powerful smart phones, joy in a husband or a wife, children or siblings, friends and neighbors. We find joy in all God’s gifts, which means we find joy in everything because we have nothing we have not received (1 Cor 4:7).

We cannot find joy in abusing his gifts. There’s joy in sex, but no joy in adultery. There’s joy in a family feast, but no joy in a house full of bickering, back-biting, and strife. There’s joy in material goods, but no joy in greed or a life devoted to Mammon. . . .

We enter with joy, receive forgiveness with joy, ascend with joy, hear with joy, feast with joy, depart in joy. The liturgy welcomes the sad, sad world and leads it to the joy of God. The liturgy confronts the false and fruitless joys of the world and reorients them to the One in whom there is fullness of joy. Cultures always aim at joy but miss their target. Over decades and centuries, the liturgy redeems culture by redirecting its quest for bliss. Liturgy redeems because it’s a culture of joy.

Peter Leithart, Theopolitan Liturgy, 106-109

Written by Scott Moonen

January 25, 2020 at 9:20 am

Posted in Quotations, Worship

Worship is warfare (4)

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Music is a militant art. In preparation for the temple, David and the leaders of the army establish a permanent orchestra and choir (1 Chr 25:1). The military’s involvement is noteworthy, a signal that temple music is part of Israel’s arsenal.

Peter Leithart, Theoopolitan Liturgy, 75

See also:

Written by Scott Moonen

January 25, 2020 at 7:26 am

Posted in Quotations, Worship

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

Leisure

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No, the contrary of acedia is not the spirit of work in the sense of the work of every day, of earning one’s living; it is man’s happy and cheerful affirmation of his own being, his acquiescence in the world and in God—which is to say love. Love that certainly brings a particular freshness and readiness to work along with it, but that no one with the least experience could conceivably confuse with the tense activity of the fanatical “worker.”

Who would guess, unless he were expressly told so, that Aquinas regarded acedia as a sin against the third commandment? He was in fact so far from considering idleness as the opposite of the ethos of work that he simply interprets it as an offense against the commandment in which we are called upon to have “the peace of the mind of God.” . . .

Idleness, in the old sense of the word, so far from being synonymous with leisure, is more nearly the inner prerequisite which renders leisure impossible: it might be described as the utter absence of leisure, or the very opposite of leisure. Leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself, when he acquiesces in his own being, whereas the essence of acedia is the refusal to acquiesce in one’s own being. Idleness and the incapacity for leisure correspond with one another. Leisure is the contrary of both.

Leisure, it must be clearly understood, is a mental and spiritual attitude—it is not simply the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation. It is, in the first place, an attitude of mind, a condition of the soul, and as such utterly contrary to the ideal of “worker” . . . .

In the foregoing sections leisure was tentatively defined and outlined in its ideal form. It now remains to consider the problem of realizing its “hopes,” of its latent powers of gaining acceptance, and its possible impetus in history. The practical problem involved might be stated thus: Is it possible, from now on, to maintain and defend, or even to reconquer, the right and claims of leisure, in face of the claims of “total labor” that are invading every sphere of life? Leisure, it must be remembered, is not a Sunday afternoon idyll, but the preserve of freedom, of education and culture, and of that undiminished humanity which views the world as a whole. In other words, is it going to be possible to save men from becoming officials and functionaries and “workers” to the exclusion of all else? Can that possibly be done, and if so in what circumstances? There is no doubt of one thing: the world of the “worker” is taking shape with dynamic force—with such a velocity that, rightly or wrongly, one is tempted to speak of demonic force in history. . . .

There is, however, a fact which from the vantage-point we have now reached must be strikingly clear and significant, and it is this: whereas the “total work” State declares all un-useful work “undesirable,” and even expropriates free time in the service of work, there is one Institution in the world which forbids useful activity, and servile work, on particular days, and in this way prepares, as it were, a sphere for a non-proletarian existence.

Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Written by Scott Moonen

January 5, 2020 at 5:15 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

Worship

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We all worship, every one of us, gentlemen, where he does something for nothing, you see. And we serve the Devil where we want to get something for nothing, which most of you try to get all the time.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Comparative Religion, 1954

Written by Scott Moonen

September 21, 2019 at 11:32 am

Posted in Quotations, Worship