Monday, April 23, 2018

Worship vs. Speculation

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).

The first sentence in the Bible introduces us to God. The remarkable thing about the Hebrew word used for God here is that is it plural: Elohim. We are not sure what the singular word el implies. Some scholars have suggested “strength,” others “primacy,” along with other suggestions as well. We are certain, however, that while God is sometimes called “El” in the Old Testament, He is more often called “Elohim,” and the “-im” suffix indicates plurality.

Why would the name of God appear in a plural form in a religion that is distinctively monotheistic? As Deuteronomy 6:4 puts it: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” Some have suggested that the plural here is a hint of the fact that God is Three and One, alluding to the doctrine of the Trinity.

There may be some truth to that idea, but we are more confident that the Hebrew language sometimes uses a grammatical construction called the “plural of intensity.” Such a plural form ascribes greatness to God, without specifying any particular implication of that greatness.

Secular philosophers and liberal theologians of the nineteenth century were convinced that the word Elohim implied a primitive view of God. These men were all committed to an evolutionary view of the universe and of human history. They held that all world religions were basically the same, and that as human culture has “evolved,” religious sophistication has also evolved.

Originally, they said, men worshiped the spirits of water, stones, trees, and the like. Later on, they said, men became polytheists, worshiping several personal gods. After a while, one of these gods became supreme, and finally men became sophisticated enough to be monotheists. A plural word like elohim, they said, is a holdover from more primitive times. There is, however, no historical evidence for this supposed evolution of thought.

The Bible confronts us with the One True God in its opening statement. Secular humanism asserts that man’s religions are simply the product of his own speculations. Think of elements of Christianity which preclude the possibility that our faith is the product of our imagination.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Lord Sabaoth is His Name

Christians thrill to Luther’s stirring lines based on Psalm 46:7: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; were not the right Man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He, Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle.” But what does His name, “Lord Sabaoth,” mean?
Sabaoth is a transliteration of the Hebrew; that is, it is merely changing the letters of the Hebrew word into the corresponding characters of the English alphabet without translating the word. Most English versions translate it “hosts” so that when combined with Lord (Hebrew YHWH, normalized as Yahweh) and/or God (Hebrew Elohim), the combined expression becomes “Lord of hosts” or “Lord God of hosts” or “God of hosts.” The NIV translators, according to the preface of this English version, thought the phrases “the Lord of hosts” and “God of hosts” had little meaning, and so rendered them “the Lord Almighty” and “God Almighty.”
Who or what are the Lord’s hosts? Sometimes they are the armies on the battlefield. Faithful David taunted the blaspheming Goliath: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Samuel 17:45). Psalm 68:12 says, “Kings of armies (Hebrew sabaoth) flee in haste” (see also Exodus 7:4; Psalm 44:9). Angelic hosts also make up the Lord’s armies. The inspired psalmist enjoins: “Praise the Lord, all His heavenly hosts, you His servants who do His will” (Psalm 103:21; see also Joshua 5:14; 1 Kings 22:19). These, in turn, are associated with the stellar hosts, the army of stars that fight for Him (see Joshua 10:12–14; Judges 5:20). Isaiah encouraged the distraught Jewish exiles in Babylon to look up: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name” (Isaiah 40:26; see also Genesis 2:1; Deuteronomy 4:19). The hosts of heavenly beings and bodies are associated in Psalm 148:2–3: “Praise Him, all His angels, praise Him, all His heavenly hosts. Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, all you shining stars.”
In the title “The Lord of hosts,” first used in 1 Samuel 1:3, Sabaoth designates the Lord’s sovereign kingship over all forces, without distinguishing them. Eichrodt in his Theology of the Old Testament (Volume 1, pp. 193–94), wrote that Sabaoth in this title “does not refer to any particular ‘hosts,’ but to all bodies, multitudes, masses in general, the content of all that exists in heaven and in earth … [a] name expressive of the divine sovereignty.” Hartley, writing in the layman’s Theological Word-book of the Old Testament (Volume 2, pp. 750–751), concurs: “It affirms His universal rulership that encompasses every force or army, heavenly, cosmic and earth.… [Psalm 24:10] clearly shows that Yahweh of hosts conveys the concept of glorious king. Yahweh is King of the world (cf. Zechariah 14:16) and over all the kingdoms of the earth (Isaiah 37:16).… Although the title has military overtones, it points directly to Yahweh’s rulership over the entire universe.… Special attention is given to the majestic splendor of Yahweh’s rule in this title.”
The Greek translators commonly render Sabaoth by pantokrator, “the almighty,” “the ruler of all things” (see 2 Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 4:8; 19:6). In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Michaelis summarized the meaning of this Greek term: “The reference is not so much to God’s activity in creation as to His supremacy over all things.”
In the Intertestamental period, the Jews providentially ceased using the name YHWH and substituted “Lord” (Greek kurios). This change both prepared the way for God’s new revelation of Himself in the name, the Lord Jesus Christ (see Mark 16:17; John 14:13; 20:31), and facilitated identifying Jesus Christ with Israel’s God. Where the Hebrew Scriptures used YHWH, the Greek translators used “Lord” (kurios), and the New Testament appropriated this name to Jesus Christ. For example, the promise, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [with reference to Jesus Christ] will be saved” (Acts 2:21, 38; Romans 10:13) is based on Joel 2:32, which in the Hebrew text has “Yahweh” instead of “Lord.” Luther with theological acumen hymned: “Christ Jesus it is He, Lord Sabaoth His name”!
May this title of our Lord Jesus Christ, revealing that He musters all the powers of heaven and earth to accomplish His will, in a new way succor us in sorrow, restrain us in temptation, and nerve us to fidelity in testing. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ's Kingdom

Spies, espionage, and state secrets seem to be prominent in the news once more. China is so exercised about foreign espionage that this week it launched a website encouraging people to report national security threats. Sometimes we get a glimpse of the extent of the hidden world of intelligence agencies in gathering information about foreign countries. The controversy surrounding Facebook and the covert use of data is another dimension of how far attempts to obtain prized information may go. What do we know of the secrets of Christ’s kingdom? It’s a different matter altogether of course. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world and therefore those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. But are governments and organizations more diligent in gathering their secret information than we are in searching into the mysteries of Christ’s kingdom?

Alexander Henderson says it is our necessary duty to make this our study. If this sounds a little strange, consider that Christ says that the secrets or mysteries of His kingdom are given to His disciples to know (Matthew 13:11). The matters of the kingdom of heaven are mysteries which none can understand until this is given to them from God. There are also those to whom God does not purpose to give an understanding of His mysteries. Henderson opens this up in a sermon which he preached before the House of Lords in 1645 on John 18:36-37.

1. Understanding Christ’s Kingdom

(a) The Greater Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Since the kingdom of Christ is not of this world but is a spiritual kingdom, it is a necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom. The kingdom of Satan and sin have many depths and secrets. The kingdoms of the world have their secrets of politics and government. The kingdom of Christ has greater secrets and more hidden mysteries.

Those who are great in the world know many things about the mystery of iniquity and the secrets of the kingdoms and states of the world. Yet, the truth is that many of them are ignorant of the mysteries of the kingdom of Christ. The princes of this world (whether princes in knowledge or in power and greatness) do not know those mysteries. Had they known them they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). When the apostle Paul says that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man understood the things that God has prepared for them that love Him, he is speaking of the kingdom of grace in this world (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

(b) The Secret Means Used in Christ’s Kingdom

Natural reason requires the right means and well-prepared materials for every work. But the apostles were neither noble nor learned, but poor and simple.  The world altogether unprepared to receive them, it was at that time (as much as at any time before or since) full of learning, power, and politics. Yet they went on, subduing, conquering and bringing everything to the obedience of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(c) The Secret Laws of Christ’s Kingdom

The laws of this kingdom were:

instead of revenge – love your enemies;
instead of lust – do not look on a woman to lust after her;
instead of covetousness – forsake all;
instead of ambition – deny yourselves.

Yet these supernatural laws, by the Spirit and power of the great law-giver, were established and written in the tables of men’s hearts. The promises of reward were not worldly pleasures or ease, but let everyone take up their cross and follow me.

(d) The Secret Wisdom of Christ’s Kingdom

Everything in this kingdom is above the reach of natural reason. The spiritual man, however, by a new faculty created by God, knows the deep things of God and judges all things (1 Corinthians 2:14-15).

Some theologians have observed seven things in the sufferings of Christ that are altogether contrary to the reason of the natural man:

the greatest impotence and weakness in Him who was omnipotent;
the greatest suffering in Him that was impassible [incapable of suffering]
the greatest foolishness (according to the judgment of men) in the deepest wisdom;
the greatest poverty in the God of all riches;
the greatest shame in the greatest glory and majesty;
the greatest forsaking in the most perfect union;
the greatest severity of the Father against His Son in the greatest love of the Father to the Son, in the very time of His suffering.

Many more things might be added in the administration of the kingdom of Christ after His ascension into heaven. This might be observed both at the first planting of the gospel in the earliest times and in the time of the Reformation of religion in various kingdoms and nations.

If we will acquaint ourselves with the secrets of the gospel and the way the kingdom of Christ progresses, we seem to be transported and carried to another world.  We are forced to acknowledge and confess to the glory of God, that flesh and blood cannot reveal these things to us.

2. Join Christ’s Kingdom

When the Lord has opened the eyes of our understanding to behold something of the secrets of this spiritual kingdom, we are to join ourselves to it and become the subjects of Jesus Christ.

(a) Acknowledge Your Natural State

We must first know our condition by nature, we are all by nature subjects (slaves indeed) to the kingdom of sin and Satan.

(b) Acknowledge Christ as King

Acknowledge Christ to be king and Lord of His people, putting our confidence in Him because He has all sufficiency for life, liberty, salvation and every good thing. We ought to seek to feel the kingdom of God within us and His scepter set up in our souls which were formerly tyrannized over by strange lords.

(c) Submit to Christ’s Will

We must submit ourselves in all humility and obedience to do His will. His subjects are a willing people or a people of willingness (Psalm 110:3). If every one of us had many wills, we ought to sacrifice them all in a willingness to serve Him. If we would consider what we are without Him, what we may be through Him we would willingly offer ourselves in this day of His power.

3. Advance Christ’s Kingdom

We must all be zealous in using all good means (according to our abilities) to advance and establish the kingdom of Christ. Beware of selfishness, indifference, division, procrastination, discouragements, imprudence, and inconstancy. Give yourselves to sincerity, zeal, unity, diligence, selflessness, prudence, and perseverance. Thus you may be the choice and blessed means used by God to establish the kingdom of His Son, our Saviour in the land.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Our Sovereign Lord

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:1).

As we consider the God we worship, let us turn our attention today to His majestic lordship. In Psalm 8:1 we see the word 'Lord' used twice. The first time the word is in all capital letters, and translates the personal name of God: “Yahweh.” The second time, the word translates a different term: Adonai.

The word adon originally meant “administrator or steward,” according to Hebrew scholars. It was a title given to a person in a position of authority. An “adoni” held the position of lord over a house or manor, or over some other group of people.

What happens when the suffix “ai” is added to “adon” to form the word adonai? The majority of scholars believe that the suffix intensifies the meaning of the word, so that adonai means “high lord, supreme lord, lord of all.” From this, we see that Adonai is the title of God that calls attention to His sovereignty.

In the New Testament, the most frequently used title for Jesus is Christ, which means “Messiah.” The second most frequently used title is Kurios, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Adonai: the Lord. The New Testament writers consciously applied to Jesus a title that they knew was reserved only for God. Notice how Paul puts it in Philippians 2:9–11: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

God is a person, and we have a personal relationship with Him. He is also, however, the sovereign Lord of all. When we go to church on Sunday, we say to Almighty God, “You are the Lord, and I am Your servant.”

A political phrase of colonial America read, “We serve no sovereign here.” Somehow this attitude has pervaded American Christianity as well. Examine your faith today for areas where you are unwilling to submit to our sovereign Lord. Consider also what ways you should be more dependent upon Christ.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Personal God

"God is also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers … has sent me to you.’ ” (Exodus 3:15a).

God not only incomprehensible and wonderful, He is also personal. He names Himself, and He gives us names for Himself. The God who created heaven and earth is a person, and we are persons. That’s what makes it possible for us to have a personal relationship with God.

In fact, a personal relationship with God is inescapable. Often we hear Christians give their testimony of how they were born again, and they say, “Now I have a personal relationship with Christ.” We understand what people mean by this. But what is often overlooked is this question: What kind of relationship did that person have with God before he was born again?

You see, we always have a personal relationship with God because we are persons and He is a person. That relationship is established in creation between God and us. I can deny the existence of God, but all that does is put me in an estranged relationship with God. It is a relationship now of hostility and denial, but it is still a relationship.

So the question is not whether there is a personal relationship, but rather what is the “quality” of that relationship. Is it a healthy or an unhealthy one? It is a redeemed or an estranged one? Is it a relationship of love or of hate?

Notice something else about this personal relationship. When God revealed Himself to Moses, He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). God was personally known by the saints of the Old Covenant, and He spoke to them. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament.

This fact brings up the following question regarding the God we worship: Do we come to worship on Sunday, do we tend to bring with us only the New Testament? Are we guilty of overlooking God’s personal self-revelation in the pages of the Old Testament?

One of the reasons our worship is often so meager today is that we tend to lose sight of the historical continuity of God’s family. Over the next few days—in your times of devotion and worship of the God of Abraham and the Patriarchs, of Paul and the Apostles, and of the Reformers—consciously thank Him for your great spiritual heritage.