Posts tagged ‘Propitiation’

ABC Extra – Being Subject to Judgment – Matthew 5:21-22

In Adult Bible Class this past weekend, we continued our “Fit for Life” series with a look at our relational health.  As with emotional health in last week’s ABC Extra, I thought some statistics might offer a telling aperture into the state of our relationships:

  • As of 2003, 43.7% of custodial mothers and 56.2% of custodial fathers were either separated or divorced, giving credence to the oft-quoted statistic that 50% of marriages will end in divorce.  Many marriages are broken.
  • According to The State of Our Unions 2005, only 63% of American children grow up with both biological parents – the lowest figure in the Western world.  Families are broken.
  • A 2006 study in the American Sociological Review found that Americans on average had only two close friends to confide in, down from an average of three in 1985. The percentage of people who noted having no such confidant rose from 10% to almost 25%.  Friendships are broken.

Between the breakdown in marriages, families, and friendships, it is clear that our relational health is on life support.

Jesus knew all about the disaster that results from relational sickness.  Divorces, grudges, and loneliness are devastating.  Indeed, from the very beginning, God spoke of the importance of relationships and relational health.  God says of Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  And so God makes Eve for Adam.  God desires that we be in relationship with each other and with him.

It is with this in mind that Jesus offers us a stark and sobering warning about the damage a fractured or fissured relationship can bring: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment’” (Matthew 5:21).  Notice that Jesus says those who murder are “subject to judgment.”  What judgment was rendered for murder?  Moses explains:

If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.  Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.  Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.  The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death.  If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him. (Numbers 35:16-21)

No matter what the means of murder, the judgment against it is the same:  murder invokes capital punishment.   But now, in Matthew 5, Jesus takes this dire judgment one step farther: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22).  In other words, those who are angry are subject to same judgment as those who murder.  Both anger and murder result in death.

As I mentioned in ABC, the Hebrew word for “murder” in the fifth commandment is rasach, a word that denotes murder in particular over and against killing in general.  Thus, this word describes not only the act of killing someone, but the intention behind that act. In other words, if you slay someone on a field of battle in self-defense, it is not rasach.  If you kill someone with malevolent intent, however, it is rasach.  Thus, when Jesus speaks against being angry with your brother, he is picking up on the intention behind the action in this commandment.  And so Jesus says, “Be it the action of rasach or the intention behind the action, the result is the same:  you will be ‘subject to judgment.’”

But can Jesus really be serious here?  After all, the judgment rendered against the act of murder is death.  Certainly the judgment rendered against the anger that accompanies the action can’t also be death!  Indeed, in first century Jewish communities, save the reclusive Essenes, there were no standardized punishments for anger.  How can Jesus now levy a punishment as harsh as death on a mere emotion?

Anger leads to death.  Sure, it may not lead to the kind of death that happens with capital punishment – a lethal injection or an electric chair or a noose – but it can certainly lead to its own kind of death.  Anger can lead to the death of a friendship, the death of community, the death of a marriage, the death of joy, and finally, if unchecked and unrighteous, the death of your soul.  This is why Jesus is so concerned about letting go of anger – because he knows the consequences for unrighteous and unrepentant anger can be devastating.

In truth, God has every right to be angry with us because of our sin.  And yet, because of Christ’s of propitiatory work on the cross, we can rejoice that “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).  God’s wrath at our sin was placed on Christ at the cross.  God let go of his anger on Christ.  And now, even as God’s wrath has been turned back at us, we are called to turn back our anger at others.  As Paul says:  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).  May it be so with us.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

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March 8, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment

ABC Preview – Righteous Anger – Matthew 5:21-22

This weekend in Adult Bible Class, we continue our “Fit for Life” series with a look at relational health.  Jesus addresses the perils of relational sickness in our text for this weekend: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).  Jesus says anger is antithetical to healthy relationships.  And yet, again and again, we read in the pages of Scripture of a God who gets angry.  Indeed, the Psalmist says: “God rebukes [the peoples] in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath” (Psalm 2:5).  God gets angry.  But Jesus cautions against anger.  So how can one who gets angry teach against anger?

The syntax of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 is instructive.  Jesus warns against being a person “who is angry.”  In Greek, this is a present tense participle, denoting not an incidental reaction to sin or injustice, but an ongoing temperament.  In other words, the person “who is angry” is continually angry, perhaps with no good reason at all.  Anger forms the core of this person’s character.

Our God does indeed get angry.  But his anger is always with good reason and as an incidental reaction to our sin.  Indeed, it would be an egregious miscarriage of his character if our holy God did not get angry at our ugly sin.  God’s anger is a righteous anger.

Perhaps the best description that I have read concerning God’s righteous anger comes from J.I. Packer:

What manner of thing is the wrath of God?…It is not the capricious, arbitrary, bad-tempered, and conceited anger that pagans attribute to their gods.  It is not the sinful, resentful, malicious, infantile anger that we find among humans.  It is a function of that holiness which is expressed in the demands of God’s moral law (“be holy, because I am holy” [1 Peter 1:16]), and of that righteousness which is expressed in God’s acts of judgment and reward…God’s wrath is “the holy revulsions of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of his holiness”; it issues in “a positive outgoing of the divine displeasure.”  And this is righteous anger – the right reaction of moral perfection in the Creator toward moral perversity in the creature.  So far from the manifestation of God’s wrath in punishing sin being morally doubtful, the thing that would be morally doubtful would be for him not to show his wrath in this way.  God is not just – that is, he does not act in the way that is right, he does not do what is proper to a judge – unless he inflicts upon all sin and wrongdoing the penalty it deserves. (J.I. Packer, In My Place Condemned He Stood, 35)

Blessedly, as Packer goes on to note, God makes provision for his holy anger in the cross of his Son, Jesus Christ.  As Paul writes:  “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by [Christ’s] blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9).  God’s righteous anger at our sin is put on his righteous Son on the cross.  In theological parlance, we call this propitiation.

Thus, there is a place for anger.  But it must be the right kind of anger.  It must be righteous anger.  So confess the times that you have fallen prey to the “sinful, resentful, malicious, infantile anger that we find among humans,” as Packer says.  And thank God for his righteous anger.  For sin deserves and even demands wrath from a righteous God.  But praise be to God that he poured out his wrath not on us, but on his Son.  Why does God do a thing so terrible as pouring out his wrath on his Son?  Because God’s anger never stands alone.  It is always coupled with his love for you and me.

March 4, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – The Cup of James and John – Mark 10:35-45

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  These words constitute the heart and soul of service.  For service begins with Jesus and his service to us on the cross.

In worship and Adult Bible Class this past weekend, we talked about service and how Christ served us in an utterly unique way which can never repeated or recapitulated: he suffered God’s wrath at our sin in our place on the cross so that we wouldn’t have suffer God’s wrath at our sin for ourselves in hell.  This is known as the doctrine of propitiation – that Christ turned back God’s wrath through his suffering and death.  And only Christ can suffer in this propitiatory manner.  This is why when Jesus asks James and John in Mark 10:38, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” their answer should have been, “No.” For Jesus is speaking figuratively of his impending death, even as he spoke of it explicitly just verses earlier: “The Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise” (Mark 10:33-35).  James and John cannot fulfill this mission of suffering, dying, and rising.  Thus, they should not presume to be able to drink Jesus’ cup of the cross.

And yet, James and John respond to Jesus’ question with shocking egotism.  “We can,” they boisterously announce (Mark 10:39)!  “We can drink your cup of the cross!”  James and John declare themselves to be saviors!  But even in the face of such distasteful egotism, Jesus responds with grace and love: “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with” (Mark 10:39).  To what is Jesus referring?  After all, James and John certainly cannot die the propitiatory death that Jesus dies!  They cannot turn back God’s wrath from humanity!

Jesus is referring to the suffering that James and John will soon have to endure for the sake of their faith in Christ.  And although their deaths cannot do what Jesus’ death for humanity, their deaths can mirror how Jesus died.  And indeed their deaths do just this.  James, we are told in Acts 12:1-2, is arrested by Herod who puts him to death by the sword.  John, history tells us, is thrown into the cauldron of boiling oil by Emperor Domitian.  But when John miraculously escapes, the emperor opts to exile him to the Aegean island of Patmos.  And John and James are not the only ones who suffer for the cause of Christ.  Thousands of Christians in the first century suffered at and were martyred by enemies of the faith.  Indeed, even a secular historian of Rome from the first century named Tacitus is called to recount some of the horrors to which these early Christians were subjected at the hand of the emperor Nero:

Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted…of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed. (Tacitus, Annals XV)

A couple of things are especially notable about Nero’s passage.  First, Tacitus believes that the Christians were guilty of “hatred against mankind.”  That is, he asserts that the Christian faith is so foreign and ridiculous that it as a grave peril to the social order.  Thus, he seems to support a punishment and even the death penalty against Christians.  However, Nero’s treatment of these “criminals,” as Tacitus calls the Christians, is so brutal that it turns even the Roman historian’s stomach.  “There arose a feeling of compassion,” Tacitus says.  And indeed there did, even as the apostle Peter tells us:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:15-17)

Peter says that those who brutally persecute Christians are eventually ashamed of their senseless acts of violence.  And thus, the public’s compassion is aroused.

Though we may never be called to suffer under the deranged delusions of an insane despot as so many of the early Christians were called to do under Nero, we are still persecuted for our faith.  People still speak ill of us.  They still try to discount or disparage our beliefs.  Suffering for faith is alive and well.  And we drink the cup of wrath:  not the cup of God’s wrath against man, but the cup of man’s wrath against God and his followers.  And yet, because Jesus drank the propitiatory cup of salvation, even in the midst of our suffering, we can still “rejoice and be glad, because great is our reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).

So this week, don’t be surprised if the world hands you a cup of suffering for the cause of Christ.  But if you do suffer, remember the one who has suffered in your place. For with him, there is no suffering you can’t face.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

February 1, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment


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