Archive for November, 2012

The Exodus Belongs To Jesus

“The Israelites Leaving Egypt” by David Roberts (1830)

One of the things for which I am deeply grateful is the hard work of New Testament textual scholars who search out and study ancient copies of biblical manuscripts, comparing and contrasting their little differences, in order to try to discern what the oldest, best, and, hopefully, original reading of a biblical text may have been.  The standard for wading through the myriad of texts out there for pastors and scholars alike is the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.  Your English Bible, if it is of recent translation, is more than likely based on this Greek text.

When I was in seminary, Nestle-Aland’s Greek New Testament was on its twenty-seventh edition.  Recently, the twenty-eighth addition hit the presses.  And though there are many notable changes and improvements, one change rises above the rest.  It is in Jude 5.  The NIV translates the verse this way:  “I want to remind you that the Lord delivered His people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.”  Here, Jude hearkens back to God’s rescue of His people out of Egypt as well as their unfortunate subsequent destruction because of their rebellion.  He references the exodus to warn his readers against those “who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4).

Interestingly, there has been a fair amount of dispute over the text of Jude 5.  The NIV translates it according to the preferred reading of Nestle-Aland’s twenty-seventh edition.  But the twenty-eighth edition makes an important change:  “I want to remind you that Jesus delivered His people out of Egypt.”  Rather than having “the Lord,” a title for God generically, deliver His people out of Egypt as the NIV translates it, the twenty-eighth edition of Nestle-Aland says this verse should read that it was Jesus specifically who led the people out of Egypt.  Bruce Metzger, a world renowned textual scholar, notes that “critical principles seem to require the adoption of ‘Jesus,’ which admittedly is the best attested reading among Greek and versional witnesses.”[1]

The change from “the Lord” to “Jesus” is of inestimable significance, for it gives us an important window into the way first century Christians understood God’s work in Christ.  Christ was no one new when He was born in Bethlehem; rather, He was older than creation itself.  Indeed, He was active in creation itself (cf. John 1:1-3).  And He has been active throughout the course of redemptive history, long before His incarnation.

Thus, wherever there is rescue, wherever there is salvation, wherever there is freedom, wherever there is hope – be that in the Old Testament or in the New Testament – there is Christ.  Christ is present and active throughout all of Scripture.  Christ led the charge out of slavery in Egypt for the Israelites and He leads the charge out of slavery in sin for us.  Jude 5 says so.


[1] Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New Testament, 3rd ed. (New York:  United Bible Societies, 1971), 726.

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November 26, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Giving Thanks To The Lord

On this Thanksgiving Day, it is important to take some time and reflect not only on what we are thankful for, but on whom we are thankful to.  As Christians, we give thanks to the Lord, for apart from Him and His grace, we would be left destitute.  As James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).  Our heavenly Father provides us with not just some of the things we have, but with all of the things we have.  He gives us “every good and perfect gift.”

In an age where Thanksgiving Day is sometimes reduced to little more than a general and foggy sentiment of thankfulness, Abraham Lincoln, in his Thanksgiving Day proclamation of 1863, offers this helpful reflection on whom we should be thankful to:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.  To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.  They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.  It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.  I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.[1]

May we heed Lincoln’s warning and never be “prone to forget the source from which [our blessings] come.”  May we always remember and rejoice that our blessings come from God Almighty.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).


[1] Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” (October 3, 1863).

November 22, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Where is God in Natural Disasters?

Credit: Charles Sykes, Associated Press

$30 billion.  That’s the amount of damage that Superstorm Sandy inflicted on just the state of New York.  New Jersey is still tallying the cost of the storm for them.  Of course, that is only the price of Sandy in dollars.  The price of Sandy in human terms is much higher.  More than 110 people lost their lives to the storm.  There is also the suffering of the survivors.  There is still no power in some areas.  Gas, though no longer rationed, is still in short supply.  People are still scavenging for basic supplies like toiletries and food.  And residents are still picking up the pieces of their shattered homesteads.

Whenever a storm of such magnitude hits, many people begin to wax metaphysical and ask, “Why?”  Why did this storm do so much damage?  Why did this storm hit in the first place?  Why did this storm hit me and ruin my life?  Why?

Over the years, Christians have had no shortage of answers – some good and some not-so-good – to the question, “Why?”  In Puritan New England, earthquakes were quite common.  In 1727, an earthquake of 5.5 on the Richter scale struck the Boston area.  In 1755, an even stronger earthquake of 6.2 struck.  The pastors of that day took these earthquakes signs of God’s judgment and called people to repent of their sins, specifically the sin of greed.  For these clergy, the answer to the “Why?” of natural disasters was quite:  God was angry at unrepentant Puritans.[1]

Blessedly, the theological answers given today are usually more nuanced and biblically sensitive, though this is not always the case.  (One thinks of Pat Robertson’s theologically inept comments following the Haiti earthquake of 2010 when he claimed the disaster specifically and Haiti’s poverty generally was the result of a pact that Haitians made the with the devil back in 1791.)[2]  Generally, however, Christians do not subscribe to such a tit for tat theory of divine retribution. After all, the story of Job unmistakably undermines such a crassly simplistic and moralistic view of retribution.

So what is the answer to the “Why?” of natural disasters, at least as far as God’s involvement is concerned?  Two points that will help us gain clarity concerning this question, even it is not fully answerable, are in order.

First, though it is treacherous to point to specific sins as causes of natural disasters, we can point to sin in general as playing a role in natural disasters.  This much is clear simply by turning the story of history’s first sin.  After Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God says to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you…It will produce thorns and thistles for you” (Genesis 3:17-18).  Thorns and thistles, hurricanes and tornados, earthquakes and blizzards are all due to the sinfulness of this world.  Before the Fall, such things were of no concern.  In this way, natural disasters are not natural at all, but unnatural results of sin.

Second, we must remember that our Lord is concerned about and helps those who suffer the devastating effects of natural disasters.  I cannot help but think of the short, but poignant, story of Jesus’ disciples when they were caught in a violent storm:

Then Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed Him.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke Him, saying, “Lord, save us!  We’re going to drown!”  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey Him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)

Jesus’ peaceful sleep while the waves are breaking over the bow of the disciples’ boat is a picture that grips me.  For, on the one hand, such a picture encapsulates the feeling of many when a natural disaster devastates their lives.  “Where was Jesus when this disaster hit?  Why didn’t He stop it?  It feels like He was sleeping on the job!”  The disciples of the first century, just like us disciples of the twenty-first century, wrestled with such quandaries.  But on the other hand, Jesus’ peaceful sleep can be of great comfort.  For it reminds us that Jesus is not rattled or roused by the storms and disasters of this world because such storms and disasters have no power over Him.  Quite the contrary.  He has power over them!  This is why, with one little word of rebuke, He can calm the raging wind and waves.

Because Jesus has prevailing sovereignty over creation, we can take refuge in Him, for we know that, even when natural disasters strike, Jesus has everything under control.  As the Psalmist reminds us:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  (Psalm 46:1-3)

The earth may give way, the mountains may fall, the storms may come, but this is still our Father’s world.  He has it under His control and, even more importantly, He has it under His care.

Do not be afraid.


[1] For a brief history of the Puritan response to natural disasters, see John Fea, “Seeing the Hand of God in Natural Disasters,” Patheos Evangelical (8.31.2011).

[2] For Pat Robertson’s comments, see Ryan Smith, Pat Robertson: “Haiti ‘Cursed’ After ‘Pact to the Devil,’” CBS News (1.13.2010).

November 19, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Nation Divided

The headline I saw the day after last Tuesday’s election says it all:  “The Divided States of America.”  It’s true.  We are a nation deeply divided.  For evidence of this, I simply had to peruse my Facebook news feed.  Wednesday morning, some people were ecstatic and even gloating.  Other people were somber and even angry.  What made the difference as to how these people felt?  Two letters:  “R” and “D.”  The “D’s” won.  And they were happy.  The “R’s” lost.  And they were, well, you get the picture.

The division in our nation unsettles me.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Remember e pluribus unum?  Before 1956, when “In God we trust” was adopted, this was the de facto motto of our country.  If only the Latin rang true.  But it doesn’t.  Partisanship prevails.  When I survey our country’s political landscape, I see not e pluribus unum, but e pluribus plures.  “Out of many, many.”  We are many.  And we act like it.  We can’t seem to agree on much of anything.

I suppose it was bound to happen.  Trying to unify disparate constituencies with such dissimilar ideologies is no small feat.  And even if such a conglomerate of communities is unified for a time, such unity never lasts.  For humans, thanks to sin, have a proclivity to fracture from each other rather than to walk with each other.

There is an old story about a man who is marooned on a desert island for nearly a decade. One day, mercifully, some rescuers finally come along.  Upon arriving, the rescuers find two shacks.  Thinking there is another castaway on the island, they ask the man, “Why are there two shacks?  Is someone else with you?”  “No,” replies the man.  “I sleep under the stars.  The shack is where I go to church.”  “What about the other shack?” inquire the rescuers.  “What’s that for?”  “Oh,” replies the man with an edge of indignation, “That’s where I used to go to church.”  E pluribus plures.  It seems humans will always find a way to fracture from each other – even when there’s only one human.

Our nation wants unity.  Our unofficial motto preaches it.  But it continually eludes us.  So what do we do?  Where do we go from here?

As Christians, we go to Scripture.  For like our nation, the authors of Scripture held unity in high regard.  Consider the apostle Paul’s admonition:  “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  Paul wants us to have unity.  The difference between Scripture’s call to unity and our nation’s motto of unity, however, is that whereas our nation takes the many and in vain tries to make them one, Scripture begins with One – God – and looks to Him to unify many.  Paul continues in Ephesians:

There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Paul uses the word “one” seven times in these verses.  For Paul knows that God’s dream and desire for us is that we would be “one” – that we would be unified.  But rather than taking disparate, dissident factions and striving to unify them by human effort, Paul knows that God unifies people by beginning with Himself – the perfectly unified Godhead who can bring even the most dis-unified people together.  True unity is found not in politics, but in our Lord.

Rally around Him.

November 12, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Election Day 2012 – It’s Almost Here

Election Day is tomorrow.  I am, as I’m sure you are, praying for our country and for her leaders.  I am also praying that much of the fear that surrounds this election will be calmed by the peace of God that transcends all human understanding (cf. Philippians 4:7).

This week, my blog is a simple one.  Yesterday in Adult Bible Class, I talked about Mark 12:13-17 with a special emphasis on what Jesus says about paying taxes and honoring God in verse 17:  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  I wanted to put into transcript form (with some slight editing for the sake of readability) my conclusion from Adult Bible Class.  For as we head into voting booths across our land, I think it’s important to reiterate what we talked about – that no matter who occupies the Oval Office, there is only one Occupant on the throne of heaven.  And that alone should be enough to quell our fears and give us hope.  Here is what I said:

I’m going to go on the record today and say that I think it’s time for us to have a smaller government.  But when I say that – before you get too excited or too angry depending on your political persuasion – I’m not talking about tax policy and how we’re going to pay for this or that government program.  I’m not talking about what social programs we should or should not keep.  I’m not talking about whether we should be for or against the Affordable Health Care Act.  I’m not talking about the size of government in Washington at all.  I’m talking about the size of government in our imaginations.  For government – and its attendant greatness or ghoulishness – has captured far too large a place in our hearts and minds.

Here’s what’s happened:  whether Republican or Democrat, many people have bought into this myth that if the wrong guy makes it into office – which always happens to be the guy they’re not voting for – that’s the end of the line.  That’s the demise of our nation.  That’s the disintegration of everything good and moral and noble and righteous in our world.  And people get all revved up and riled up, determined to save what is most important to them by getting their guy into office.

Folks, when this happens, you’re not voting for a president, you’re seeking a Messiah.  And that job has already been filled.

I love what a New York Times columnist named Ross Douthat writes about this:

The party in power claims to be restoring American greatness; the party out of power insists that the current administration is actually deeply un-American – heretics in the holy temple of the U.S.A., you might say – and promises to take our country back…And the country keeps cycling through savior figures, hoping each time that this one will be the One that we’ve been waiting for.[1]

Folks, the One we’ve been waiting for has already come.  And His name is not Barack Obama.  His name is not Mitt Romney.  His name is Jesus Christ.  And, by the way, not only has He come, He’ll come again.

So cast your vote. Be a good citizen.  But remember that even if Caesar gets the coins, Jesus holds your heart.

And that’s what matters most.


[1] Ross Douthat, Bad Religion:  How We Became a Nation of Heretics (New York:  Free Press, 2012), 269.

November 5, 2012 at 5:15 am 3 comments


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