Sermon Leftovers

In my studies last week I came across a wonderful quote from Martin Luther on how Christ has turned the Law, sin, and death upside down.

Thus with the sweetest names Christ is called my Law, my sin, and my death, in opposition to the Law, sin, and death, even though in fact He is nothing but sheer liberty, righteousness, life, and eternal salvation.  Therefore, He became Law to the Law, sin to sin, and death to death, in order that He might redeem me from the curse of the Law, justify me, and make me alive.  And so Christ is both: While He is the Law, He is liberty; while He is sin, He is righteousness; and while He is death, He is life.  For by the very fact that He permitted the Law to accuse Him, sin to damn Him, and death to devour Him He abrogated the Law, damned sin, destroyed death, and justified and saved me.  Thus Christ is a poison against the Law, sin, and death, and simultaneously a remedy to regain liberty, righteousness, and eternal life.

Martin Luther, Luther's Works

Out of Nothing, Something

INTRODUCTION

Many modern approaches to Genesis begin with the length of the days and the age of the earth as a foundational principle of interpretation or as the main interpretative point of the passage. In other words, the modern interpreter, using a scientific presupposition, declares that Genesis 1-2 is primarily a scientific text. However, the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3 does not particularly highlight issues regarding length of days or the age of the earth. Rather, the emphasis is on the Lord God as the Creator of all things visible and invisible. It is apparent on a cursory reading of the text that it emphasizes God the Creator who is distinct from creation. In addition, and beyond a cursory reading, the text acts as a polemic against scientism, pantheism, Gnosticism, eternal matter, and meaninglessness. God introduces and identifies Himself as the only Creator and the One to whom all glory, honor, and worship should be given. Thus, this chapter calls us to know the Lord in order to glorify and worship the Creator who made all things from nothing by the Word of His mouth. This type of praise is frequent through the Scriptures (e.g., Ps. 33:6-9; 148:5-6; Rev. 4:11). In the context of refuting St. Augustine’s instantaneous creation view, John Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis, writes, “We slightingly pass over the infinite glory of God, which here shines forth; whence arises this but from our excessive dulness [sic.] in considering his greatness? In the meantime, the vanity of our minds carries us away elsewhere” (Commentary Upon the Book of Genesis, 78).

 God is the Primary Interest

To read Genesis 1:1-2:3 with a primary interest other than God is to misread this chapter. The term God (Hebrew, Elohim) is used thirty-five times, averaging about one time per verse. The literary pattern woven throughout also emphasizes God: And God said…and God made or called…and God saw. Since God was at the beginning, the reader must acknowledge that God existed prior to any created thing and that He is not part of the creation; He is the sovereign ruler over it. Although there is a debate as to the use of Elohim (a Hebrew plural noun), I believe it is safe to identify a veiled reference to the Triune God. It is apparent in the text that God the Father is acting in conjunction with God the Spirit (v.2); moreover, the New Testament is plain in identifying Jesus Christ as active in, even the instrument of, as well as the sustainer of creation (John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:15-17, and Hebrews 1:1-4).

Furthermore, God creates all invisible and visible things. In this account, two Hebrew words are used: asa, which is usually rendered ‘make’ and bara, which is usually rendered ‘create, especially from nothing by God’. In two of the Hebrew verb constructions (called stems, here Qal and Niphil), bara is usually used of God only in relation to His creation (e.g., Isa. 40:26, 28), where bara connotes either the creation of things (most instances) or situations (Isa. 45:7-8). First, God creates or makes all things visible: the earth and all things on or above it. Thus, God’s creative act rules out a pantheistic worldview since God is neither a part of the creation nor is creation an emanation of God. This distinctness between God and creation is important to make and keep as we will see in a future post.

Although it is not apparent in the text, the Bible is clear that God created all invisible things as well (Col. 1:15-17). A look at a few other Scripture passages indicates that the ‘heavens’ mentioned in Genesis 1:1 and 2:1 is the invisible realm where the angelic host reside. Nehemiah 9:5-6 (and Proverbs 8; 2 Chronicles 18:18; Psalm 103:20-21; 148:2) makes this distinction – “heaven of heavens, with their entire host and the earth.” That God made invisible and visible things, declaring them good (Gen. 1:31), strikes against Gnosticism which seeks for separation of spirit and matter and considers matter inherently evil.

Not only does this chapter call the reader to give praise, glory and honor to the Creator and Sovereign Lord of all things visible and invisible, but also it stands as a polemic against pagan philosophies. Paul tells the Colossians to not be captured by philosophy or empty deceit (Col. 2:8). Considering this chapter as scientific in nature, the reader misses the point the polemic against pagan philosophies. The chapter serves as polemic (an argument against something) against scientism (science can explain all phenomena), pantheism (god is all things or all things emanate from god), Gnosticism/dualism (matter is inherently evil while spirit is inherently good), and that matter is eternal. Both ancient and modern people hold to these philosophies which Genesis 1 seeks to refute.

Lastly, the Creator gives meaning to history and a consummation to the future. The passing of time and events has meaning for all of creation. Time and history are moving toward a consummation. Even non-believers seem to understand this as they often remark that everything has a purpose. Inherently, man understands that life has meaning. This movement with meaning is illustrated by the prophet Isaiah in the last part of his book (40-66). Isaiah moves the reader from God’s creative acts (46:10; 48:12) to His redemptive acts (e.g., 53) to the final re-creative acts of a new heavens and earth (65-66). Truly we can say of the Creator that He works all things together for our good.

Conclusion

Genesis 1:1-2:3 magnifies the Lord God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, of things visible and invisible. Glorify the Creator who has done this and confess with the Church, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible (Nicene Creed, paragraph 1).

Introducing Genesis in Blog Posts

This is the genesis of what I hope to be a long-running, continuous series of posts. To correspond with my current Sunday evening sermon series in Genesis, I would like to make a series of blog posts. My aim is to post a summary of the sermon with appropriate application, go deeper into issues not covered in the sermon, and explore people and actions in a deeper manner. By doing these things, I can explore the history of redemption as it unfolds in Genesis both in word and print. The task of preaching or teaching through a book like Genesis is daunting given the hot-button issues of creation as well as some of the strange behavior by the patriarchs. The blog posts will aid me in this task so that I can further elucidate passages by going a bit deeper in explanation or pointing to further reading. I will attempt to answer legitimate questions to the best of my ability. I hope that this undertaking will help you as you seek to hear and apply the Word of God. So, feel free to comment or ask questions in response to the posts.

Jonathan Edwards on "Pressing into the Kingdom of God"

Last Sunday I preached on Luke 16:16.

The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.

There is a wide-ranging debate over what this passage means, but the most literal interpretation seems to be the best.  That is, everyone who enters the kingdom of God forces his way into it.

To our Reformed ears, with our emphasis on grace alone, this may sound strange.  If God saves, how is it that we must force our way into the kingdom?  The answer is that although we are saved by nothing that we do, no one is saved who does nothing.

Take John the Baptist for example.  Jesus mentions him as one who "forces his way into it."  Indeed, John was saved by the grace of God alone - not by anything he had done.  In fact, John is the one who points out that it is Jesus who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  Yet the knowledge of the kingdom of God and the saving work of Christ didn't lead John to do nothing.  Instead, John was a wild man, zealous in his message of repentance, forceful in his spiritual application of kingdom truths to the very end of his life.  John was saved by grace, not by any work that he did, but that didn't mean he did nothing.  Instead John spent his life (and death) forcing his way into the kingdom.

Here, some may object that if they are earnest and zealous and forceful and take a great deal of pains in doing their Christian duties that they may then fall into the temptation of trusting in their own works or righteousness.

Not necessarily so, says Jonathan Edwards.  Here's his response to this objection in his sermon on Luke 16:16:

There is ordinarily no kind of seekers that trust so much to what they do, as slack and dull seekers....  A more awakened conscience will not rest so quietly in moral and religious duties, as one that is less awakened.  A dull seeker's conscience will be in a great measure satisfied and quited with his own works and performances; but one that is thoroughly awakened cannot be stilled or pacified with such things as these.  In this way persons gain much more knowledge of themselves, and acquantiance with their own hearts, than in a negligent, slight way of seeking; for they have a gread deal more experience of themselves.  It is experience of ourselves, and finding what we are, that God commonly makes use of as the means of bringing us off from all dependence on ourselves.  But men never get acquantance with themselves so fast, as in the most earnest way of seeking.  They that are in this way have more to engage them to think of their sins, and strictly to observe themselves, and have much more to do with their own hearts, than others.  Such a one has much more experience of his own weakness, than another that does not put forth aand try his strength; and will therefore sooner see himself dead in sin....  It is therefore quite a wrong notion that some entertain, that the more they do, the more they shall depend on it.  Whereas the reverse is true; the more they do, or the more thorough they are in seeking, the less will they be likely to rest in their doings, and the sooner will they see the vanity of all they do....  Those that go on in a more slight way, trust a gread deal more securely to their dull services, than he that is pressing into the kingdom of God does to his earnestness.  Men's slackness in religion, and their trust in their own righteousness, strengthen and establish one another.

Edwards is suggesting that the harder we strive to force our way into the kingdom of heaven, the more we will then naturally despair of our own righteousness and works, and trust only in the righteousness of Christ.  Therefore, may we continue to force our way in, and while doing so learn to rest in Christ all the more.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

We've come to Luke 11:1-4 in our AM sermon series.  In light of the disciples' request, "Lord, teach us to pray," we're going to pause here for the next 5 Sundays and consider some of the biblical models of prayer that reflect the main petitions in the prayer model Jesus gives to his disciples. October 12 -Lord, Teach Us to Pray

  • This Sunday we'll consider some of Jesus' general teachings on prayer found in Luke 11:1-13 and in other places of Scripture.

October 19 - Father, Hallowed Be Your Name

  • On this Sunday we'll look at David's great prayer of 2 Samuel 7:18-29.  There God has just established his covenant with David and promised to make his name great, but now David prays that God's name would be great.  As "hallowed" means "to be set apart as holy," David makes this clear in his prayer saying, "You are great, O LORD God.  For there is none like you..." (2 Sam. 7:22).

October 26 - Your Kingdom Come

  • Here we'll consider Solomon's prayer and the events of 2 Chronicles 6:41-7:3.  This is the great high point in Israel's history.  The temple is completed, the ark of the covenant is brought into the Most Holy Place, and Solomon prays for God to "arise... and go to your resting place" (2 Chron. 6:41).  God answers this prayer in a resounding way, establishing his throne and presence in Jerusalem's temple with fire and glory, in essence bringing his kingly reign to earth.  This passage has profound implications for how we ought to pray for God's kingdom to come today.

November 2 - Missions Week

  • We'll take a break this week as Derek Bates, RUF minister at the University of Pittsburgh, preaches for our Missions Week.

November 9 - Give Us Each Day Our Daily Bread

  • On this Sunday we'll consider the simple statement that Jesus gave thanks as he broke bread and gave it to his disciples during his last meal with them (Luke 22:19).  Through that thanksgiving prayer Jesus acknowledged God's provision of our daily needs in the form of physical bread, but obviously there was something more to this prayer, for Jesus himself is the "bread of life" and he was about to be broken.

November 16 - Forgive Us Our Sins, For We Ourselves Forgive Everyone Who Is Indebted to Us

  • In Ezra 9:1-10:5 the prophet, appalled at the great sin of God's people, tears his garment, pulls the hair from his head, and falls on his knees in repentance before the Lord.  Ezra's firm grasp of the atrocious nature of their sin fuels his prayer and he admits to God, "I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you" (9:6).  Ezra's prayer reminds us of the atrocious nature of our own sin and thankfully, the merciful nature of our God.

November 23 - Lead Us Not Into Temptation

  • This is a petition of sanctification asking God to lead us away from temptation so that we may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.  In light of this petition we'll examine Paul's prayer of sanctification for the Colossian church (Colossians 1:9-10) as he longs to see them forsake sin and become a people "fully pleasing to [the Lord]."