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Ingratitude and Isolation

5526Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Peter Leithart give an informal lecture related to his latest book, Gratitude: An Intellectual History. During his overview of Shakespeare’s play, Coriolanus (which is referenced in the book), Dr. Leithart made the point that ingratitude creates isolation. This struck me as especially profound given that Adam’s fall in the garden can rightfully be traced to his ingratitude, which immediately resulted in isolation.  Isolation from God.  Isolation from Eve.  Isolation from the creation that he was called to rule over and serve. Granted, the isolation was not absolute, but the isolating barrier of sin significantly complicated his relationships and calling.  Ingratitude resulted in isolation for Adam, and it results in isolation for you and me today.  How much of our sin is fundamentally a result of ingratitude?

The Scriptures are replete with admonitions to thanksgiving.  Heavy doses are given in the Psalms and Epistles.  Paul exhorts the Ephesians to be giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (5:20).  This is not Paul calling believers to an unrealistic spirituality, but to the essence of spirituality. Thanksgiving is the most basic particle of the spiritual air that we are to breathe, and as it fills our lungs and readily falls from our mouths, it will keep us from a host of sins. If you find yourself in a constant state of frustration and irritability with your spouse and children, and you just want to be “alone” (read: “isolated”), then there is a good chance that you need to give thanks to the Lord for the spouse and children He has given you. What event or circumstance (for which you should be thankful, according to Paul) would you blame for your anger?   When your child is ungrateful, or refuses to say “Thank you” to their sibling that has just done them a kindness, he or she is isolating themselves. Ingratitude creates isolation.  Gratitude creates true fellowship and community. Take some time to examine your sins, and trace them to their core.  You will likely find ingratitude at the root.

Jesus, The Greater Abel

Pretty cool. A student’s answer in relation to John 10:15: “I lay down my life for the sheep” referenced Abel as tending flocks.  I don’t think I’ve ever thought about Abel in Good Shepherd terms before, but it certainly makes sense.  He was also a shepherd who laid down his life, though not willingly. Jesus is the Greater Abel, and not only in the terms conveyed in Hebrews 12:24. Cain murders Abel his brother.  Jesus is put to death by his “brothers,” the Jews, via the Romans. BUT the significant difference is articulated by Jesus in John 10:17-18: For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.

Incarnation and Resurrection

Stumbled across some interesting parallels in Luke’s birth and resurrection narratives:

A. An angel of the Lord appears to announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, and they are filled with fear (2:8-11).
A’ Two men (angels) appear to the women at the tomb (announcing the resurrection) and the women are afraid (24 5-7).

B. The shepherds are given a sign of “a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (2:12).
B’ Peter sees the ‘sign’ of the “linen cloths by themselves” (24:12).

C. After the angel host departs, the shepherds go Bethlehem to “see this thing that has happened” (2:15), “with haste” (2:16).
C’ After hearing the women’s report, Peter runs to the tomb and sees the linen cloths by themselves (24:12).

D. The shepherds make known the saying that had been told them concerning the child (2:17).
D’ The women told the eleven and all the rest “all these things” (24:9).

E. The people who heard the shepherds “marveled” (2:18).
E’ Peter goes home “marveling at what had happened” (24:12).

You also have Mary specifically mentioned as treasuring up all these things and pondering them in her heart (2:19), and two Marys specifically mentioned as among those who announced the resurrection to the apostles (24:10).

The parallels and overlap of language are hardly accidental.  Theologically, these parallels seem to indicate that the incarnation of Jesus foreshadows His resurrection.  His first birth from the womb points forward to His second birth from the grave.  This also means that you cannot have the Jesus of Christmas without the Jesus of Easter.

Confessing Christ as King

180px-Schmemann“To confess Christ as King means that the Kingdom He revealed and inaugurated is not only a Kingdom of some distant future, of the ‘beyond’ and thus never conflicting with or contradicting all our other earthly ‘kingdoms’ and loyalties.  We belong to this Kingdom here and now, and we belong to it and serve it before all other ‘kingdoms.’  Our belonging, our loyalty to anything in ‘this world’ – be it State, nation, family, culture or any other ‘value’ – is valid only inasmuch as it does not contradict or mutilate our primary loyalty and ‘syntaxis’ to the Kingdom of Christ.  In the light of that Kingdom no other loyalty is absolute, none can claim our unconditional obedience, none is the ‘lord’ of our life.  To remember this is especially important now when not only the ‘world’ but even Christians themselves so often absolutize their earthly values – national, ethnic, political, cultural – making them the criterion of their Christian faith, rather than subordinating them to the only absolute oath: the one they took on the day of their Baptism, of their ‘enrollment’ in the ranks of those for whom Christ is the only King and Lord.”

– Alexander Schmemann, Of Water & The Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism, 32.

What Comes Out of Tombs?

This past Sunday’s sermon was on the death of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 27:45-56.  As I mentioned, there are things that we cannot fully understand about the death of Jesus, but Matthew even includes those puzzling verses, “The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the holy ones who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (52-53).  For more specifics about what Matthew is talking about, you will have to listen to the sermon, but I am convinced that Matthew wants us to compare this episode with an earlier one in his gospel.

In Matthew 8, after Jesus calmed the storm, we read in v. 28: “And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs….”  What’s the implication?  Before Jesus’ death, the only thing that comes out of tombs are demons, but now, with the death and resurrection of Jesus, saints, holy ones come out of tombs, because death can no longer contain them.

As this imagery settled in, I was immediately reminded of the account in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Aslan explains to Lucy how he can be alive again.  She asks, “But what does it all mean?”  “It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.  Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time.  But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Tim dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.  She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

Indeed, and as Matthew would have us to see, because of the death of Jesus, because He willingly yielded up His spirit (27:50), the tombs that once produced demons, now produce saints.   “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  Matthew is giving us a picture, a foretaste of the greater resurrection yet to come, when all of the holy ones will be raised to enter into the holy city at last.

Pairs at the Death of Jesus

Matthew 27:45-56 recounts the death of Jesus.  Going through the text, Matthew seems to make an intentional use of pairs, whether of words or themes.  I am not entirely sure what Matthew’s underlying purpose might be for this, though my first guess is that it acts as a symbolic “double” witness, establishing the veracity of the event.  Hard to know for sure, and perhaps further reading will give some other clues, but here it is for the time being.  Sadly, some of the pairings get lost in English translations (including the ESV, referenced below), but I’ll do my best to make them clear.

land/earth – ge in Gk.  (45, 51)
ninth hour (45, 46)
Jesus cried out with a loud voice (46, 50)
wait,yielded – aphiemi in Gk.  (49, 50)
torn/split –
σχίζω (v. 51, 2x – veil and rocks)
the earth shook – verb form / the earthquake – noun form (51, 54)
tombs (52, 53)
holy ones (saints)/holy city (52, 53)
raised – verb form /resurrection – noun form (52, 53)
soldiers keeping watch close by (54) versus women looking from afar (55) – different verbs are used.
2 Marys: Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph.
2 Mothers with two sons: Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee (James and John).

One other possible pair could be Jesus crying out in Aramaic/Hebrew, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” followed by the translation in the Greek, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Chiastic Structure of Matthew 27:27-31

In preparing for Sunday’s sermon on Matthew 27:27-44, the following structure for the first section of the text emerged:

A. The soldiers took Jesus into the governor's headquarters (27).
  B. Jesus stripped of his garments and clothed in a scarlet robe (28).
    C. Jesus' head crowned with thorns (29a).
      D. The reed given (29b).
        E. The soldiers' mock obeisance: "Hail, King of the Jews!" (29d).
      D'. The reed taken (30b).
    C'. Jesus' head struck with the reed (30c).
  B'. Jesus stripped of the scarlet robe and clothed in his garments (31b,c).
A'. The soldiers led Jesus away to be crucified (31d).

Clearly the mock bowing and declaration of the soldiers is at the center of the text, and ironically declares the truth.  The title “King of the Jews” is used three other  times in Matthew’s Gospel.  In 27:11, Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Placarded over Jesus on the cross was the sign which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (27:37).  The other use of the title, interestingly enough, is found on the lips of the visiting Magi in Matthew 2, who arrive in Jerusalem asking, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (2:2).  At the beginning and end of Matthew’s Gospel, it is the Gentiles who are declaring Jesus as the “King of the Jews.”  Also, whereas the soldiers bow down in mock worship, the Magi bow down in true worship.  Further, the word translated “Hail” in 27:29 is the imperative form for the word “rejoice.”  The wise men, upon departing from Jerusalem to go Bethlehem, “rejoiced greatly” when they saw the star (2:10).  The same verb is used.  These thematic and literary ties hint at a chiastic structure for all of Matthew’s Gospel, which others have explored, and certainly evidence the excellent manner in which Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, penned the first gospel.  Jesus is “the son of David” (1:1), He is the King of the Jews, even if it takes the Gentiles to proclaim it.  And, subtly, Matthew would have us to imitate the Magi, and obey the solders’ command: “Rejoice!  The King of the Jews.”

The Substance Is Come, and the Shadow Has Gone

Isaiah 65:17-19: For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.

Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon on the above text, stated, “Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, or anyone of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews?  Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedications?  No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned.  The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do no remember it.”

The Sign of the Seventh Day

I am teaching a Bible class at The Classical Academy in Franklin, and we are presently engaged in a study of Genesis.  The students are keeping reading journals to coincide with their studies, and I encouraged them to look for repetitions of words or phrases; rhythms in the text, or changes in rhythm to the text.  A common refrain over the first six days of creation as recorded in Genesis 1 is, “And there was evening and there was morning….”  While we typically think of a day as moving from morning to evening, the biblical text (and Hebrew mind) reverses it.  This order of evening to morning pictures the movement from darkness to light.  This is hardly accidental, signifying the movement from Old Creation to New Creation.  Israel was governed by a lunar calendar, which symbolically means the Old Covenant took place “at night.”  Since Christ has come, that has changed.  Paul mentions in Colossians 2:16-17: Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Jesus is the “light of the world” (Jn. 1:4-5, 9; 8:12); the bright morning star (Rev. 22:16);the sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2), and was resurrected at the dawning of the day.  We have moved from darkness to light.  Paul exhorts the Thessalonian church, For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation (1 Thess. 5:5-8).  As Christians living in the New Covenant we live in “the day.”

Now, back to my original point to my students about refrains and rhythms in the text.  When we come to the seventh day of creation, notice what is said and what is not said: Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation (Gen. 2:1-3).  What is missing in this recounting of the seventh day?  The refrain of the previous six days, “And there was evening and there was morning….”  There is no mention of evening or darkness.  In other words, the seventh day, the Sabbath, is perpetually day.  This points forward to the reality that has dawned in Christ, and to the future reality of the fullness of the New Heavens and the New Earth.  The writer to the Hebrews instructs, “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (4:9).  This Sabbath is the Eternal Day when the glory of God and the Lamb are the source of light, and there will be no night (Rev. 21:23,25).  It is when we will see His face, and night will be no more, and and we will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be our light, and we will reign forever and ever (Rev. 22:4-5).  In that Day our work will be finished, the fullness of communion with our God and Savior will be realized, and we will enter into the royal rest with our King.

The Bible You Never Read

This looks like it is going to be fun.

The Bible You Never Read