Thursday, April 29, 2010

Party Crashers (3 of 3)

If the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14)describes those who refuse the king's invitation as Party Poopers, and those who attend under the king's terms as Party Animals, then the one who attends but gets kicked out is the Party Crasher.

This guy, like the rest of the Party Animals, was apparently willing to attend the wedding feast at the king's invitation on short notice, and as the "scabs" of the social order: they were, after all, the king's second choice.

But the king spotted a problem. This guy was not wearing the right clothes. Instead of letting him go outside and change, or providing a tie for him to wear like the best restaurants do, the king ordered him bound and removed. And, not only that, he was cast to the outer darkness where there is a weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Hollywood starlets -- left off the invite list for the must-see party -- might feel like weeping and gnashing, but I suspect that the fate suffered by this Crasher is much worse.

In response to the king's actions we immediately cry "Not fair!" and suggest that the king was a clothing bigot or woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

But this was likely the situation in which the host provided the proper garments, and the Crasher preferred to wear his own. Even if not, the Crasher chose to attend the party on his own terms, not on conditions set by the host.

We tend to believe that invitation to God's kingdom eliminates any further conditions. But as the parable demonstrates, even those invited cannot come in contradiction to the conditions set by God. That is, we cannot enter the kingdom wearing our own clothes. God provides everything for our participation in the banquet: food, entertainment, drink...even the very clothes that we wear.

Jesus dealt with Party Crashers when he told those who claimed to have done great things in his name "Depart from me, I never knew you" (Matthew 7). He encountered the same attitudes when he told one would-be party-er to sell his possessions and give all to the poor, when he told another to "let the dead bury the dead", and yet another that "no one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

When we prefer our own accomplishments (like the Party Poopers), or prefer our own covering (like the Party Crasher), we have no place in the king's banquet.

Monday, April 26, 2010

On Seeking God's WIll

"When believers talk about seeking God's will, we often say, 'We will wait and see if God will open a door or close a door.' Perhaps. But this story [of the paralytic, Luke 5:17-26] suggests that sometimes the door is open, sometimes the door is closed, and sometimes we have to tear the door off its hinges, whether by ourselves or with the help of friends."

-- Daniel M. Doriani, Putting the Truth to Work.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Party Animals (2 of 3)

Previously I discussed the attitudes of the Party Poopers to the king's invitation in the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14). Rather than enjoy the king and enjoy the bounty of his provision, Poopers prefer that the attention -- even if it is only their own -- be focused on their work, their labor, their accomplishments.

Once the original guest list no-showed for the king's party, he took a different approach and sent his servants to the street corners to bring in everyone they could find, both "good and bad."

There was apparently no problem in filling the banquet hall with this second group. Always up for a good time, willing to party any time, any where, this second group are the Party Animals.

There will be some holding to orthodox Christianity who suppose it anathema to be considered a "party animal." For many, buttoned-up, straight-laced, reserved, respectable faith avoids any appearance of having fun. Any appearance, that is, except for exuberance of the golf course, football stadium, tree stand, or stock ticker. Yet the Party Animals attending the king's banquet seemed more attuned to the "Christian hedonism" of John Piper than to the stuffed-shirt religion that reserves expressions of joy for socially acceptable occasions.

The Party Animals are actually the least described of the three kinds of people in the parable, and most of what we know about them comes from comparing them to the other two. In contrast to those invited first -- who were "not worthy" -- the Party Animals consisted of those both "good and bad": their "worth" was established by being in the king's presence when called. In contrast to the third group, the Party Animals came to and attended the king's party on his terms, not their own.

Yet no words of approval or praise were afforded the Party Animals. No attention was called to their superior wisdom in attending the banquet rather than roaming the streets. No praise was given their superior intellect in recognizing the value of the offer. No accolades were given for their obedience, or for exercising their will.

In fact, the manner in which Jesus treated this group almost seemed as if he assumed that the duty of those hearing the king's offer was to heed the call. No attention, praise, or accolade was even needed, because for Party Animals the reward is not to be recognized for the excellence of their choice, but the reward is being in the presence of the king.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Party Poopers (1 of 3)

In the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14),Jesus describes three kinds of people in relation to the king's invitation to party.

The first group -- which had already been invited -- refused to come. Various translations describe their reaction as being indifferent, as going their own way, to their own farm, to their own business. Like the guys who always had a test to study for, and the ladies who were always washing their hair, they were the Party Poopers.

Why would they decline? Everybody wants to go to parties thrown by the prominent, the wealthy, the powerful, if only to see whether the groom's cake or bride's cake is better, and how high the champaign fountain is (non-alcoholic, of course).

In those days, the host at such significant events provided everything, including the clothes that the guests wore. So people attending were paying tribute to the king's guest of honor, eating the king's food, using the king's china and flatware, enjoying the king's entertainment, wearing the king's clothes, and admiring the king's (non-alcoholic) champaign fountain.

It would be poor form for invitees to draw attention to themselves, their farms, their businesses while sipping the king's (non-alcoholic) champaign and dancing to the king's rock band. In other words, the invitees would have to forget themselves, their accomplishments, their work, and instead enjoy the king's bounty.

For some, this is impossible, and they prefer to piddle in their own pitiful worlds than rejoice in the banquet of the true king.

For others, an invitation to focus attention on the wealth of the king is too much, the suggestion that their own accomplishments don't really amount to anything and are nothing anyone would want to party about, anyway, is too humiliating, and the deflation of their pride leads to anger in their heart and to murder on their hands.

Little has changed. Men still decline the king's invitation because they can't accept acknowledging the superior value of his bounty.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Doriani on Boring Preaching

"In too many churches, people hear the same applications, in much the same words, week after week. Week by week they hear that they should pray more, evangelize more, serve more; be more holy, more faithful, more committed. Contaminated by traces of legalism, such messages grow dull and predictable. If the preacher's ultimate crime is to promote heresy, the penultimate crime is to make the faith seem boring."

-- Daniel M. Doriani, Putting the Truth to Work

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ecclesiological Nobodies, or Spiritual Somebodies?

Paul, the author of Romans, who was imminently qualified and inspired by God to write of the realities of God's initiative for us through the person and work of Christ (Chapters 1-11), and what that meant for our relation to the kingdom of God and to each other (Chapters 12-16), was somebody.

Other than for a few directed greetings in Chapter 16, Paul does not name a single person to whom he is actually writing. The audience in Rome, those called of God to belong to Christ, those called to be saints, are nobodies.

Yet the imminent author of Romans, intimately acquainted with the truth of God, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit, says something radical about who these nobodies really are.

"For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you -- that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine" (Romans 1:11-12).

He is not saying that he is going to provide them some gift of the Spirit that isn't already manifested in them. The Holy Spirit does that. What he is saying is that this somebody and the nobodies to whom he writes will be "mutually encouraged" by the respective manifestations of the Spirit that they possess through faith in Christ.

These nobodies, then, aren't nobodies at all, but are the called, the saints, the "belongers" to Christ (verse 6) through whom the Spirit himself works. They are somebody because God had promised the gospel, because Christ secured grace, and because the Spirit demonstrated power in his resurrection (verses 2-5).

Paul and his Roman readers would strengthen each other and edify the body of Christ by manifesting the Holy Spirit to each other.

Do our gatherings for worship, for Bible study, for discipleship exhibit this same expectation? Are the dividing lines of race, class, wealth obliterated by mutual reliance on the Spirit and the realization that we are all the worse spiritually without true fellowship with other believers, regardless of their "importance" in the eyes of the world?

Like Paul we should "long to see" other believers so that the Spirit will do his sanctifying work of edification through us.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Acts 1:8 versus the Great Commission

Jerry Rankin recently posed the proposition that Acts 1:8 has been distorted in our evangelistic efforts. This passage, in which the risen Christ tells his disciples “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”, is referenced by Rankin in light of the Acts 1:8 Challenge.

Acts 1:8 is employed by some as a directive for evangelistic efforts, urging churches to concentrate their evangelistic efforts in all of the “spheres” of missions cited in the passage: each church should be engaged in missions in its Jerusalem, in its Judea, in its Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Rankin proposes that some churches consider this to be a sequential directive, causing them to engage in “their Jerusalem” and stop there. The idea that a church accomplishes evangelism in one “sphere,” then works on the next, is the distortion Rankin decries.

This emphasis and the chatter surrounding it is indicative of an apparent shift of focus in evangelism and missions. It seems relatively recent that Acts 1:8 has been adopted as a rallying cry of world missions, almost supplanting its long-time predecessor, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20.

Some will respond that there is no such “shift,” but that Acts 1:8 is simply a continuation of the charge given in the Great Commission, adding vital instructions for disciples hoping to accomplish the witness of the gospel to the nations.

However, there is a huge difference between Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8. The Great Commission is directive, while Acts 1:8 is descriptive. That is, Matthew 28:18-20 lays out the command and Acts 1:8 lays out the consequence. Acts 1:8 is a results passage: it is, in effect, the Great Conclusion to the Great Commission.

Note, for instance, the direction of action in Acts 1:1-11. Christ presented himself alive to the disciples, appearing to them and speaking to them (1:3). Jesus ordered the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise: they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (1:4-5). The disciples would receive power, the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and they would be his witnesses (1:8).

All the action is being done to the disciples. The focus is on what the Holy Spirit will do. In other words, the action in Acts 1:8 is passive. The disciples are told what they will receive and what they will be. In contrast, Jesus’ charge to disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 is active: go, make disciples, baptize, teach.

Acts 1:8 is a great promise of what will happen when the Holy Spirit empowers and works through followers of Christ. But using the promise of what we will be (witnesses) as the instruction on what we should do may be less helpful than is supposed. For example, what does it mean to “be a witness”? Neither Acts 1:8 nor the passage in which is sits tells us, so for that we must turn to the gospels and other commands issued by Christ (Acts 1:2 refers to these “commands”). In those, we are told to go, make disciples, baptize, teach (Matthew 28:18-20), proclaim the gospel (Mark 16:15), proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47), and “feed my lambs” (John 21:15-17).

There is certainly a direct, unequivocal command from Jesus himself to be about the business of proclaiming the gospel to all nations until he returns. But that command is in the Great Commission. The danger of using the Great Conclusion as our missions and evangelism strategy is that it omits these other positive commands, most significantly, the command to “make disciples.” It is, after all, much easier to “be a witness” than to “make a disciple.”

Taking the natural import of these passages together, we find that when we act under the authority of Christ and in his abiding presence through the Holy Spirit, we receive power to proclaim the gospel, make disciples, and baptize and teach those disciples. As the Spirit works this increase of the Word through us, we serve as a testimony to the nations that Jesus has risen in power, that his work on earth continues through his disciples, and the authority and power for this work is through the Holy Spirit and the word.

The significant thing for Christ-followers is not that we are to engage in certain “spheres” – because invariably the spheres don’t cover all areas – but that we, empowered by the Holy Spirit that Christ gives, are to make disciples of all nations.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Our Hands are on the Head of the Lamb

“He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting” (Leviticus 1:4-5).

It is no wonder that not many of us relish that portion of our read-the-Bible-in-one-year plan that takes us through Leviticus. How morbidly gory. And this description of sacrificial events is not merely the introduction, after which we get to the ‘good stuff.’

Repeatedly we are told how we are to treat peace offerings, either from the herd or the flock, lamb or goat. We are instructed how to treat offering for unintentional sins, intentional sins, sins of the congregation, sins of leaders. We are instructed how to deal with the uncleanness of childbirth, of nocturnal emissions, of leprosy – even of leprous houses.

And for each of these offenses and offerings, an animal dies. The perpetrator brings his lamb to the priest, lays his hands on its head, and turns it over to the priest for slaughter, its blood spilled and flesh torn.

Over and over, offense after offense, animal after animal God gives us the picture of the guilty laying his hand on an innocent substitute. Over and over, day after day, year after year, the picture of symbolic transfer is played out in the scene of temple life for Israel, and as a result of the magnitude of sin, the bleating of sheep fills the ears and the running of blood is ever before the eyes.

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11).

We no longer have the picture of temple sacrifice in the style of Leviticus. Instead, we have the Lord’s Supper, with its otherwise mundane elements and repeated words “this is my body, this is my blood.” And rather than depicting a repeated event, these pictures themselves are reminders of a single event, an accomplished act, the final Levitical sacrifice.

It is now Christ who is the sacrificial Lamb, led to the slaughter, his blood spilled and body torn. And it is my offense that requires his presence on the altar, my hand placed on his head, my guilt transferred to the one who was innocent.

When we commemorate the Last Supper in Maundy Thursday celebrations, the crucifixion in Good Friday services, when we claim that we have trusted Christ, we are saying to the priest, to our neighbor, to our fellow offender that we have sin for which blood needs to be shed, and that we have placed our hands on the head of the spotless Lamb. We are proclaiming that it should have be us on the cross.

And when we join together for sunrise services on Resurrection Day, we are acknowledging as obsolete the Levitical system which required that once an animal was slaughtered and new offenses committed, new life was required, new blood had to be spilled.

Instead, in the New Covenant, in which “this is my body, this is my blood,” this Lamb is not forever silenced, his heart not forever stopped, because he was Begotten of the Father and was able to bear the punishment for sin in our stead, God providing proof that he was satisfied with the Lamb by raising him from the dead.

It should have been the offender’s own blood in Leviticus, it should have been our own body on the cross, but praise God that it was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.