Month: June 2014

Mining the Parables – The Lost Sheep (Chapter 1a)

Lost sheep

This week will begin a series of interconnected parables that build upon each other. The series will start with Chapter 1a, The Parable of the Lost Sheep which is found in Luke 15:3-7. In the preceding text (Luke 15:1-2) Jesus finds himself preaching to sinners and tax collectors while the Pharisees looked on with scorn and ridicule as they attempt to condemn Jesus simply for ministering to these outcasts. Jesus, knowing the hearts of all men, begins to tell a series of parables that masterfully minister to both crowds simultaneously. The first parable he tells is that of the lost sheep.

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Addressing the full crowd, Jesus asks “What man of you…” This question sets the stage to be answered individually by all. The answer had to be “yes” from all in attendance as this was standard practice for those who owned sheep. It was common practice to leave the flock in an open field to find the one that strayed. Jesus’ implication is that as they do for lost sheep, how much greater is it that he does for lost men. Much ink has been spilled reading all sorts of theological ideas into this parable that simply are not present in the text. Many stories are told about an arduous journey that the shepherd makes through canyon and summit to find this poor little sheep. That idea is simply adding to the text. The better analogy is found in Genesis 3:9 where God calls to Adam “Where are you?” Equally so, it has often been suggested that the shepherd bears great pains and severe burden to carry the lost sheep back to the flock. This too is implied as the parable merely says that the shepherd lays the sheep on his shoulder, rejoicing, and thus carries him back to the flock. This parable makes a better case for the shepherds heart being more burdened by the realization that the sheep is lost than by the physical burden of carrying the sheep back to the flock. The parable ends by likening the straying sheep to a heart of unrepentance.

The most difficult part of the parable to understand is the phrase “99 righteous persons who need no repentance.” Precisely who is Jesus talking about here? Is he saying that the Pharisees are indeed righteous and need not repent? The key to understanding this is found in the beginning of his declaration.  Jesus says “…there will  be more joy…” This is important because it points to the fact that there is also celebration for the 99 that did not stray. As pointed out, straying is likened to unrepentance, and therefore staying is likened to repentance. Thus the 99 do not need repentance because they already have it. This declaration was directed at the hearts of the undesirables and Pharisees alike. The Pharisees sought righteousness by strict adherence to the law, but Jesus is calling that idea into question by saying that repentance is actually what delivers righteousness; not works. This picture would have cut the Pharisees to the quick.

This leads to the necessity of setting an objective definition of “repentance.” Repentance has two parts; contrition and faith. Webster defines contrition as “the state of feeling remorseful and penitent.”  Therefore, repentance begins with the realization of being lost without anyone else to blame.

It is God’s call to each of us as if we were Adam in the garden.

It is God saying “Jonathan, where are you?”

It is the reckoning of a righteous God.

It’s knowing that I messed up and that I am responsible.

Contrition prepares the heart to receive faith. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “… the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” True contrition cultivates the heart, plowing the way of salvation and planting faith. Faith always has an object and therefore looks to Jesus as the assurance that contrition hopes for. Thus faith is the passive hand of a beggar that passively accepts the gifts of Christ as a passive response to what contrition has wrought. John 1:13-14 says…

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Faith is a gift born from the will of God. Ephesians 2:8-9 carries this forward giving the reason “…so that no man may boast.” This all fits precisely within the parable. The sheep doesn’t realize that he is lost of his own accord, nor does the sheep desire to return to the flock on his own accord. The sheep is simply lost. The sheep’s owner finds the sheep and carries him back to the flock. The only role the sheep played was getting lost. All the work was done by the sheep’s owner and therefore what does the sheep have to boast about? If the sheep must boast, let him boast in his master (1 Corinthians 1:31).

The Greek word that is translated as repentance is μετάνοια (metanoia) which means “change of mind.” Repentance is simply that. Contrition forces realization of the dire circumstances of the soul and gifted faith grasps the promises of grace purchased by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sadly, our sin nature is ever present as long as we inhabit these earthen vessels. All of us are prone to wander and will continue to forsake our gracious heavenly Father each time that we give into our sinful flesh. It was by no coincidence that the first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses was “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Repentance is not a one time deal in the Ordo Salutis, but is exemplary of the new life in Christ. Thanks be to God that he calls each of us to repentance and by thus, restores us to his flock. Therefore let us look upon repentance as the great and gracious gift that it is.

Tune in next week for “The Lost Coin (Chapter 1b)”

 

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Introducing the Church Fathers – Isidore of Seville (Part 3)

Isadore of Seville

This is Part 3 of the series on Isidore of Seville. Today’s post, on “The Holy Spirit” was supposed to be the last in this series, however, I have decided to continue one week further by adding Part 4 which will include Isidore’s work on “The Trinity.” The selection for today, as is the case with the entire Isidore Series, is taken from his work “The Etymologies” and can be found in it’s entirety here. I highly encourage you all to invest some time to making your acquaintance with this vast and historically important work.

iii. The Holy Spirit (De Spiritu Sancto)

The Holy Spirit is proclaimed to be God because it proceeds from the Father and the Son, and has God’s substance, for no other thing could proceed from the Father than what is itself the Father. It is called the Spirit (spiritus, i.e. ‘breath’ or ‘spirit’) because when it is breathed (spirare, ppl. spiratus) it is transferred to something else; moreover, its action inspires with its breath, so to speak, and consequently it is called the Spirit. It is called the Holy Spirit for a certain appropriate reason, in that the term is related to the Father and the Son, because it is their spiritus. Now this name ‘Spirit’ is also conferred not because of what is imparted to something, but because of what signifies some kind of nature. Indeed, every incorporeal nature in Holy Scripture is called spirit, whence this term suits not only the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, but also every rational creature and soul. Therefore the Spirit of God is called Holy, because it is the holiness of the Father and Son. Although the Father is spirit and the Son is spirit, and the Father is holy and the Son is holy, properly nevertheless this one is called Holy (sanctus) Spirit, as the co-essential and consubstantial holiness (sanctitas) of both the others.

The Holy Spirit is not spoken of as begotten (genitus) lest it should be thought that there are two Sons in the Trinity. It is not proclaimed as unbegotten (ingenitus), lest it should be believed that there are two Fathers in that same Trinity. It is spoken of, however, as proceeding (procedere), by the testimony of the Lord’s saying (cf. John 16:12–15), “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot hear them now. But he, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, will come, and he shall receive of mine; he shall show everything to you.” This Spirit moreover proceeds not only by its nature, but it proceeds always in ceaselessly performing the works of the Trinity. Between the Son who is born and the Holy Spirit who proceeds is this distinction, that the Son is born from one, the Holy Spirit proceeds from both. Therefore the Apostle says (Romans 8:9), “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

In its work the Holy Spirit is also understood to be an angel, for it is said of it (John 16:13), “And the things that are to come, he shall announce (adnuntiare) to you” – and the Greek term‘angel’ means “messenger” (nuntius) in Latin. Hence also two angels appeared to Lot, and to these the name ‘Lord’ was given in the singular; we understand them to have been the Son and the Holy Spirit, for we never read that the Father is ‘sent.’

The Holy Spirit, because it is called the Paraclete, is named from‘consolation,’ for theGreek term!7  in Latin means “consolation.” Thus Christ sent the Spirit to the mourning apostles, after he ascended from their eyes to heaven. For it is sent as a consoler to those who grieve, and according to the saying of the same Lord (Matthew 5:5), “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be consoled.” Again he said (Matthew 9:15), “Then the children of the bridegroom shall mourn, when the bridegroom shall have been taken away from them.” Again, Paraclete, because it offers consolation to souls that have lost temporal joy. Others say that ‘Paraclete’ in Latin means “orator” or “advocate,” for one and the same Holy Spirit speaks; it teaches; through it are given words of wisdom; by it Holy Scripture has been inspired.

The Holy Spirit is named the Sevenfold (septiformis) because of the gifts that all have a claim to attain from the fullness of its unity, one by one, according as they deserve. Thus it is the Spirit of wisdom and intellect, the Spirit of counsel and courage, the Spirit of knowledge and holiness, the Spirit of the fear of theLord(Isaiah 11:2– 3). 14. Further, we read of the ‘perfect Spirit’ (principalis Spiritus) in the fiftieth Psalm, where because spiritus is repeated thrice, some understand the Trinity, since it is written (John 4:24), “God is a spirit.” Indeed, because he is not a body, and yet he exists, it seems to remain that he is a spirit. Some understand that the Trinity is signified in Psalm 50: in the “perfect Spirit” (vs. 14) the Father, in the “right Spirit” (vs. 12) the Son, in the “holy spirit” (vs. 13) the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is called a Gift because it is given, for ‘gift’ (donum) takes its name from ‘giving’ (dare). Now it is very well known that our Lord Jesus Christ, when he had ascended into heaven after his resurrection from the dead, gave the Holy Spirit, and filled with this Spirit the believers spoke in the tongues of all nations. Moreover it is a gift of God to the extent that it is given to those who love God through the Spirit. In itself, it is God; with regard to us, it is a gift – but the Holy Spirit is forever a Gift, handing out the gifts of grace to individuals as it wishes. It imparts the gift of prophecy to whomever it wishes, and it forgives sins for whomever it wishes – for sins are not pardoned without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is appropriately named Charity (caritas) either because by its nature it joins with those from whom it proceeds and shows itself to be one with them, or because it brings it about in us that we remain in God and he in us. Whence among the gifts of God nothing is greater than charity, and there is no greater gift of God than the Holy Spirit. It is also Grace (gratia), and has this name because it is given freely (gratis) not according to our merits, but according to divine will.

Further, just as we speak of the unique Word of God properly by the name of Wisdom, although generally both the Holy Spirit and the Father himself are wisdom, so the Holy Spirit is properly named by the word Charity, although both the Father and the Son are in general charity.  The Holy Spirit is very clearly declared in the books of the Gospel to be the Finger (Digitus) of God, forwhen one Evangelist said (Luke 11:20), “I by the finger of God cast out devils,” another said the same thing in this way (Matthew 12:28), “I by the Spirit of God cast out devils.”Wherefore also the law was written by the finger of God, and it was granted on the fiftieth day after the slaughter of the lamb, and on the fiftieth day after the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ came the Holy Spirit. Moreover it is called the Finger of God to signify its operative power with the Father and the Son. Whence also Paul says (I Corinthians 12:11), “But all these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will.” Just as through Baptism we die and are reborn in Christ, so we are sealed by the Spirit,which is the Finger of God and a spiritual seal. The Holy Spirit is written to have come in the form of a dove (columba) in order that its nature might be expressed through a bird of simplicity and innocence.Whence the Lord said (Matthew 10:16), “Be ye simple as doves” – for this bird is without bile in its body, and has only innocence and love.

The Holy Spirit is referred to by the name of Fire (ignis) because it appeared as fire in the distribution of tongues in the Acts of the Apostles (2:3), and it settled on each of them. Moreover it gave the gift of diverse tongues to the apostles so that they might be made capable of instructing the faithful people. But the Holy Spirit is remembered as having settled upon each of them so that it may be understood not to have been divided into many, but to have remained whole with respect to each one, as is generally the way with fire. For a kindled fire has this nature, that however many should behold it, however many should behold that mane of purple splendor, to that same number would it impart the sight of its light, and offer the ministry of its gift, and still it would persist in its integrity. The Holy Spirit is referred to by the name Water (aqua) in the Gospel, as the Lord cries out and says (John 7:37–38), “If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth in me, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”Moreover, the Evangelist explained his words, for in the following sentence he says, “Now this he said of the Spirit which they should receive, who believed in him.” But the water of the sacrament (i.e. of Baptism) is one thing, and the water that signifies the Spirit of God is another, for the water of the sacrament is visible, the water of the Spirit is invisible. The former cleanses the body, and symbolizes what takes place in the soul; but through the latter, the Holy Spirit, the soul itself is purified and fed.

As the apostle John witnesses, the Holy Spirit is called Unction (unctio) because, just as oil floats above every liquid because of its physical weight, so in the beginning the Holy Spirit floated above the waters (Genesis 1:2). Whence we read that the Lord was anointed with the ‘oil of gladness’ (Hebrews 1:9, etc.), that is with the Holy Spirit. But the apostle John also calls the Holy Spirit ‘unction,’ saying (I John 2:27): “And as for you, let the unction, which you have received from him, abide in you. And you have no need that any man teach you; but as his unction teacheth you of all things.” Now that is the Holy Spirit, an invisible unction.

When the Fat Hits the Fire: Why Preaching Obedience is Cancerous to the Soul.

Types of Coal

I am a sinner.  Just ask my wife…or my family…my friends…or my pastor…

I may seem like I have it all together, but I can assure you that I do not.  It’s merely a facade to get through this life as best as I can and if you know me well enough, you’ll see glimpses, if not outright effects, of my own brand of sinfulness. I lust, covet, wish bad things upon people, gossip, get unrighteously angry and the list doesn’t stop there. You name it and I’ve at least thought about it. It was only about  a year ago when I truly began to figure things out. To best explain my discovery, I think it best to start with a little biographical information.

I’ve grown up in various Christian denominations over my 35 years of life.

I was born a Methodist and remained one until age 5.

My dad took a job transfer that moved us to the big city where we spent 8 years in a conservative nondenominational Christian church.

At age 13 my dad was once again transferred and we moved north. I spent the first 5 years, up north, in a Nazarene church before transitioning into a Christian & Missionary Alliance church for the following 16 years.

I guess one could say that I was an American Evangelical Mutt.

Each denomination had varying degrees of legalism, but ultimately all taught that in some sense obedience to the law is where one looks for assurance of continuing salvation for the Christian. The old question of “How’s your walk going?” Throughout my life I was taught to “trust and obey for there’s no other way.” The concept was sure enough easy to grasp. Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for my sins gifted me salvation, but continued obedience was what Jesus really wanted and if I obeyed I would not only stay in his good graces but continue to seal my salvation and ultimately end up in heaven.

It seemed legit.

The Gospels are full of lists of sin that should be avoided.  The Apostle Paul was also quite the list maker when it came to sin. This all seemed well and good even though something inside tugged hard in opposition to this idea. I was perplexed because even though I tried really hard to obey my parents, my teachers and Jesus, I always failed. When I was caught in sin I expressed remorse and was typically asked what would Jesus think if he was sitting next to me? I for sure let him down…again. He must really be frustrated with me! I was typically encouraged to just do better. Try harder. Make Jesus proud. The problem was me.  I just needed to let go of the wanton desires of my sinful flesh and really give it a go with Jesus. Next time will be better. Next time I will succeed.

Next time around I usually did succeed, for a time, only to eventually fail again.  A pattern was forming. I was aware of this paradigm at a rather early age. I remember realizing early in my childhood, around age 5 or 6, that obedience was really hard. I remember reasoning that if I try really hard to obey, but keep failing, I might not be good enough to make it to heaven.  That would result in me not only going to hell, but more than likely I’d end up being the lowest on hell’s totem pole (as if there was such a thing).  Human reason kicked in and I contemplated the thought of being really bad. I thought if I tried to be bad instead of good, that would ultimately be easier, and maybe then I could climb hell’s corporate ladder. I mean I didn’t like the thought of hell and any picture of the Devil, no matter how cartoonish, scared the crap out of me, but I was shooting for the best position within grasp; not my ultimate preference. I told myself that maybe, if I was just bad enough, the devil would take kindly to me resulting in better hellish amenities such as cooler flames, flesh eating worms that took work breaks and maybe even getting awarded regional supervisor of sector 6. That sure sounded easier than trying to be fully obedient only to constantly fail. This good versus evil struggle often crossed my mind. The bar of expectations was always so far out of my grasp that I could certainly relate to a rabbit chasing after a carrot on a treadmill. I was plagued with thoughts about whether I’d end up in heaven or hell.  I remember practicing basketball in my driveway as doubting thoughts reeked havoc in my mind. Thoughts like “if you make this next shot, you’ll go to heaven, but if you miss, then who knows?”  I was internally consumed with assurance and instead of church delivering the healing salve of the gospel that my soul so desperately needed, it became the catalyst for what troubled me most. Even though these thoughts attacked me like arrows from the quiver of Olympic archers, I knew that they weren’t rational. I never spoke of my issues to anyone. Maybe it was because they seemed insane. Or perhaps I didn’t want to let my parents down. Or possibly I feared my spiritual superiors and youth leaders might confirm my worst nightmare and condemn me or say that I had a demon or something.  So I kept quiet, continued to play the part of the normal, good kid while a battle raged within.

I continued contemplating these thoughts through my teenage years and into my adult life.  In scripture, I was always drawn to the book of Revelation. It seemed so veiled and mysterious. I also reveled in the fact that my parents nor leaders at church could really explain it with any certainty. I enjoyed the salvivic images and overtones strewn throughout the book and I began to search for assurance there. This indeed would have been a fine plan had the churches that I attended not been premillennial dispensationalists. This led me to always be on guard for the rapture. If my parents were supposed to be home and didn’t answer the phone…maybe the rapture got them and I was left behind. If my mom ran to the store without telling me and I couldn’t find anyone home…maybe the rapture took them. You can see how this supposedly comforting doctrine of the rapture is really anything but. It was even reinforced when my mom would catch me watching something on TV in which she didn’t approve. I remember once while watching the Simpsons, my mom exclaimed “Is that what you want to be watching when Jesus comes back?” Once again, assurance was questioned. The excruciating part was not being able to honestly talk with anyone about these fears. Not because my parents were bad people, they are in fact great parents. Neither was it because my youth leaders, or pastors were especially terrible either, they were generally nice folk who cared for their flock (some much more than others). The issue from my perspective was that if I told them that I feared I didn’t make the rapture cut, then that would spark their curiosity about what kind of sins I was involved in. The microscope of failure would be zooming in on me with its lights on highest magnification. This added a new dimension to lack of assurance because now I only confessed to sins in which I was caught in.  Anything else was left for internal deliberation as to not let anyone down or avoid damnation talk. Therefore, I was constantly looking inward to see if I was meeting the requirements and for the better part of my life I knew that I was triumphantly missing the mark but didn’t really know what to do about it. All of the youth conferences that I attended just tried to answer my questions with endless lists and sermons about detaching from society, being a world changer and a light to those in darkness. This was all well and good, but how do I become a light to others when I know my own heart is as black as coal?

There were several times that I almost hung it up.  I was tired of putting on the mask and playing the role of the prototypical conservative Christian evangelical…Mr. Everyday Goodfellow. But something wouldn’t let me go through with it.  That something was the word of God. There were months upon months that I failed to read my bible and there were also months that I read it every day.  Every time that I tried to give up on Christianity, scripture always reeled me back. Each time that I willingly entered into sin, my conscience would toss scripture my way and leave me with overwhelming guilt. While this was ultimately good, the only tool that I thought I possessed in my spiritual quiver was obedience. Thus, the old try harder next time, read your bible more, pray more, go to church more, volunteer more attitude was the same old snake oil that failed to fix me every time.  I ultimately discovered that I wasn’t fed up with Christianity after all, but was merely tired of the snake oil that obedience was selling me in the name of Christianity.

I was about 30 when things truly started to change. After a couple trying years dealing with financial problems and job loss, I had a new job and thanks to my wife, finances were in much better order. My new job had a 50 minute commute each way. I began to use that time to listen to sermons and podcasts. This lead to a desire to search out theology with a great fervor. Questions began to arise deep within my soul.

What did I truly believe?

Could I defend my faith?

What would I teach my kids (if and when I had kids)?

My prayer life began to change. I stopped asking God for favors and temporal desires and began asking him to strengthen my faith and to help me fight against the sin that was entrenching my life. I asked him to cut away all of the junk-pop-theology and help me figure out what his word truly says as revealed instead of just taking my parents, pastors, and pseudo-Christian teachers word for it. I was beginning to see progress in all areas of my life, but still continued to struggle with obedience and sin. I remember thinking that God is helping me to clean up my life, my prayer life is better, my scripture reading is better, I have a desire to study like never before, but…I still struggle with obedience and sin. Every time that I read Romans or Corinthians, I saw myself in the lists of sin that Paul called out by name. How could I truly be improving if I still identify with the worst of sinners?

As I continued to read my bible alongside many notable theologians I began to realize that while obedience is found in the Christian life, it is not where I was supposed to be looking for assurance. Obedience has an object, which is God’s law. God’s law can be simplified into two commands.  Love God and love people. This was the heart of the problem. In church, Sunday school and small group I was commanded to love God and people as if that was the gospel message.  It was the imperative that supposedly defined the Christian life.  It was the litmus test to determine whether one was truly a Christian or not.

I would often hear the question “Are you loving God and people?”

The answer, more times than not, was an emphatic no. I heard many lessons and sermons throughout my life encouraging me to do more, pray harder, read more, serve more, love more.  The problem is that none of these “actions” are the gospel message. This confusion was at the heart of all of my problems. The gospel message is not an action at all. It is simply good news. One cannot “do” good news. One can only receive good news. This was the message that I desperately needed, not just once at my conversion, but constantly. I needed to hear it not only in my personal study, but on Sunday mornings from the lips of the pastor. Week in and week out I needed to hear the ridiculously good news that “All have sinned (Romans 3:23), and the sin of all has accrued a debt that no mere man could ever pay (Matthew 18:21-35). God, in his great mercy and love, sent his willing Son to take on flesh (John 1:14), live a sinless life in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21), die on the cross and rise again for our justification (Romans 4:24-25) and that all of this is secured by gifted faith alone (Ephesians 2:8 & Romans 3:28). That is the gospel. There is nothing that I must do in any of that. God has even taken care of gifting the faith necessary so that no man may boast. It is totally and exclusively God’s grace apart from my works. The command to Love God and people is merely condensed law that Jesus uses in Luke 10:25-29 to show that we are completely incapable of fulfilling! That is why he fulfilled it in our place. Therefore, since Christ has fulfilled the law, it is no longer a burden to us, but a joy. It allows for order in the world through the rule of law, exposes our sin which produces the fruit of repentance, and gives us a target to shoot for. The great blessing here is that our assurance is not tied to how many times we miss the target or fall short, but to Christ’s objective work on the cross. The best way to remember the three uses of the law is…

Curb – 1st use – The general revelation of rule of law that is written on the hearts of man and dispensed through civil and governing bodies. This is how sin is curbed in the world (Romans 2:15).

Mirror – 2nd use – The law mirrors Christ’s will for each of our lives. It shows us all the places that we each fall short. This is blessing as it leads us to repentance (Romans 1:18-32 & 3:23).

Guide – 3rd use – The law gives us a guide to strive toward in Christian living. The striving is fueled by the gospel message, not by a meritorious method of obedience. This is also a blessing because it shows us what God desires, but deals no condemnation to those in Christ (Romans 8:1).

This means that we can, as King David says, delight in the law (Psalm 1:22).  By it, God gave us a picture of his perfect will and thus we should strive for it solely because of the grace he  has dispensed to us. The spiderweb that often catches us is when we attempt to look to our obedience (or lack there of) for assurance. For those in Christ, meaning those with faith in Christ, the law is a guide alone, not a means to salvation. This can be said confidently because Christ fulfilled the law for us, in our place, and therefore we have been freed from the burden of the law. The law no longer has condemning power for those in Christ Jesus. Therefore the gospel, not the law, gives us the desire to strive forward.

This is where the legalistic majority will retort “So you’re saying that we can do what ever we want and retain salvation!?! You’re an antinomian!” Although logical, this is a false dilemma. The person asking this question isn’t someone who believes the gospel too much, but sadly someone who doesn’t have any grasp on the gospel message at all. Paul is asked the same question in Romans 6 and what was his response? He preached more gospel. He pressed the gospel message in further as the fuel to fire the new gifted desire of obedience. If someone thinks that the gospel gives them a free pass to sin, they really don’t realize the unfathomable debt their sin has charged to their account. They don’t fully understand the weight of the law. They don’t see their sin as really that bad. They don’t understand that every single seemingly microscopic sin was fuel for the arm that pounded the nails into the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. They don’t understand the full ramifications of the sermon on the mount. They don’t truly see their lust as adultery. They refuse to see their anger as murder. They don’t see their parking ticket as damning. They don’t see their A+ as justification for Pharisaical self righteousness and people pleasing or their F as slothful laziness. Until a person comes to grips with the full weight of their motives and sin, they will never understand the magnificence of the grace of God.

The argument can be reduced to a proper understanding of love. Pastor Tullian Tchividjian gets is exactly right when he says “It is forgiveness that motivates and generates love. It is love that begets love.  The law cannot beget love. Nowhere, and I challenge anybody out there to find a place in the bible that actually says the law, in and of itself, has the power to produce love. Preachers and parents make a huge mistake when they assume that simply telling people what to do will change their heart and make them want to do it. Nowhere does the bible say that!” Only the gospel can change the desires of our heart and give us the motivation to strive toward obedience. Pointing out our complete inability to adhere to the imperatives of the New Testament does not imply that the imperatives lack importance or should be ignored – all Christians should be encouraged to good works – but let’s not make the mistake of believing that simply telling someone what to do instills the power for them to do it. Even worse, don’t insinuate that failure to meet the demands reduces ones favor in God’s eyes. The law shows us our sin and gives us a guide to strive after. The gospel is the news of forgiveness that instills both the means to strive and a heart of repentance. I had this backwards for 34 years and it nearly made me walk away from the faith altogether.

There is a dialogue in the third novella of Bo Giertz’s “The Hammer of God” that has been very helpful to me. It’s between young Pastor Torvik who resides in Odesjo, Sweden and old Pastor Bengtsson from Ravelunda, Sweden. Pastor Torvik experiences an intense awakening to his sinful nature through a dream and thus he begins to make amends with those in his congregation whom he has wronged. This realization of sin results in legalistic preaching that is void of the gospel. His church sees a moral revival take place, but soon after everything begins to fall apart. In the midst of trying to discover what went wrong, Torvik receives a visit from Pastor Bengtsson. Pastor Bengtsson questions Torvik on the current condition of his congregation. Torvik honestly replies that things are not going well at all. Pastor Bengtsson’s response is invaluable.

“Let me teach you what you ought to have known long before you stepped into the pulpit. When an individual has been called through the power of the word – in other words, the very thing that has been happening in this congregation of yours – that person is first enlightened by the law. He understands that there is something called sin that he must be careful to avoid. He becomes obedient, you see. That is the first awakening. Thus far it has perhaps come here and there in Odesjo by now. But then comes the second awakening by the law, when one sees the miserable condition of one’s heart. I am going to preach about that tonight. Then one understands that, with all one’s best deeds, one is and remains black as a chimney sweep. Then the danger is really serious. A person will the say, either, ‘If my condition is so terrible, I may as well wallow in the dirt,’ and go away and sin again. Or he will say, ‘I am after all not as black as Karlsson or Lundstrom and their card playing cronies, since I do not sin intentionally, and surely the Lord must make some distinctions on the last day,’ and he goes away and becomes a self righteous Pharisee, and all is lost. Or his eyes are turned from his own miserable condition and he catches sight of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for such black rascals as himself. And he hears that it is faith that makes righteous, and not works. That is the enlightenment through the gospel. Therefore everything here in Odesjo depends on whether you can rightly preach the gospel and guide souls to the redeemer.

Looking back, I am thankful for God’s protection from apostasy as well as his grace along my path. I’m eternally thankful that I didn’t pursue evil just because because I was clever foolish enough to convince myself of false hope in hell’s corporate ladder. God has always sustained me through both tumultuous and simplistic times. It was never a mystical reading of the tea leaves type journey, but simply a remembrance of scripture when I needed it most. I am ever grateful for the upbringing that my parents gave me and even though we don’t necessarily see eye to eye on all things theological, the biblical foundation they gave me was strong enough to persevere against the rocky seas of life. At age 35 I can certainly relate with Pastor Torvik as he is representative of how much of my life was spent. The counsel that Pastor Bengtsson gave him also pulled at my heart. I had experienced both of the negative paths that my awakening to the law had yielded. I was internally miserable and defeated by sin as I secretly wallowed in the dirt while externally playing the part of the Pharisee as I tried to obey my way into temporal favor as I attempted to secure my standing before a righteous God. The motivation was all wrong. I didn’t try to obey out of love for Christ, but out of fear of the law and a perverse desire for approval. I am eternally grateful that through word and sacrament, God has brought me to the place, through his Son, that I can freely confess…

Most merciful God, I confess that I am by nature sinful and unclean. I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Forgive me, renew me, and lead me, so that I may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of your Holy Name. Amen.

 Praise be to God!

Mining the Parables – The Unforgiving Servant

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The parable this week is “The Unforgiving Servant” and is taken from Matthew 18:21-35. Chapter 18 primarily deals with the issues of repentance and forgiveness. The preceding text for this parable (Matthew 18:15-20) sets the context necessary to decode the parable. The text reads…

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Thus Peter responds in verse 21.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Peter’s response is more astute than many modern teachers give him credit for. The typical commentary puts forth the the idea that Peter is attempting to tie Jesus down to a particular number of times forgiveness can be given. Peter’s question concerning forgiving someone 7 times speaks volumes to this when understood in Jewish context. Jewish tradition taught that forgiveness for an offense could only be extended 3 times. After that, the requirement to absolve another had expired. This idea was taken from Amos 1:3, 2:6 & Job 33:29-30. Therefore Peter is more than doubling the grace previously offered. This is solid evidence that Peter does have an initial grasp on what Jesus is teaching.

Jesus’ response further proves this idea in verse 22…

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

If Peter was on the wrong track or his heart was in the wrong place, Jesus would have most certainly rebuked him, instead Jesus’ response is one of magnified agreeance. Jesus, in effect, is saying that Peter is right and urging him to not stop at 7 times, but proceed to a number so large that one loses count. Peter is picking up the grace talk that Jesus is laying down. He just failed to realize how unfathomable God’s grace truly is.

To help Peter and the other disciples understand this, Jesus tells a parable.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

In the parable, Jesus begins his picture by likening an earthly king and his kingdom to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is revealed that this King has servants who are indebted to him. The King at this time wishes to settle these debts. The king is not shown to be unreasonable but instead is both just (in that he wishes to settle what is owed him) and gracious (in that he had previously extended time to pay). A servant was brought to him that owed 10,000 talents. This would be equivalent about $165,017,300 today. $165 million dollars. The servant, of course, cannot pay. Therefore the King demands all that the servant has as payment, not because it will equal the debt, but because it’s all that he has. This means that the man and his family would be sold into slavery along with all of his possessions. This was a culturally common means of debt restitution in first century AD (precedence can be found in Leviticus 25:39 & 47, Exodus 22:3, 2 Kings 4:1, Nehemiah 5:5, Isaiah 50:1, Amos 2:6 & 8:6).

In response to this the servant falls to his knees at the feet of the king and begs the King to be patient with him. He says that he will do what ever he can to pay the king back. Luther writes…

“Before the king drew him to account, he had no conscience does not feel the debt and cared nothing about it. But now that the king reckons with him, he begins to feel the debt. So it is with us. The greater part does not concern itself about sin, goes on securely, fears not the wrath of God. Such people cannot come to the forgiveness of sin, for they do not realize that they have sins. they say indeed, with the mouth, that they have sin; but if they were serious about it they would speak far otherwise. This servant, too, says, before the king reckons with him, so much I owe to my lord, namely ten thousand talents; but he goes ahead and laughs. But now that the reckoning is held, and his lord orders him, his wife, his children and everything to be sold, now he feels it. So, too, we feel in earnest when our sins are revealed in the heart., when the record of our debts is held before us, then the laughter stops. Then we exclaim: I am the most miserable man, there is none as unfortunate as I on the earth. Such knowledge makes me a real humble man, works contrition, so that one can come to the forgiveness of sins.”

Luther, as usual, is correct. Even though the servant knew he had accrued a sizable debt, he didn’t care. It was not until the king summoned him to collect the debt that servant because cognizant of staggering gravity of his situation. It was at this point that the servant begged and pleaded for patience. The response of the servant to fall down and petition the king was initiated by the King’s verdict, not by the servant. The servant didn’t enter into the kings presence petitioning on his knees, nor did he initiate the petition,but the petition flowed from the dire realization of his situation. It hit him like a ton of bricks. Notice that the man doesn’t argue with the king. He doesn’t place the blame on the king. He accepts his sentence as just, but asks for short-term clemency in the form of patience. The king, knowing full well that no amount of time could be granted that would allow this man to make arrangements to pay off his enormous debt, has pity on the servant. This picture is the perfect example of us when we come to a realization of our sin. R.C.H. Lenski writes…

It is correct psychology when Jesus lets this debtor beg for time and promise to pay the vast debt. This is the first though that comes to the sinner. He does not at once realize the enormity of his guilt and, as Luther says, cannot actually think that God will actually forgive it all but imagines he must pay it off and in his fright promises to do it. The law at once does not produce its full effect…God is just and must confront us with our sin; but he is equally compassionate and full of grace and ready to remit our sins. Now the moment the sinner realizes his sin, confesses it and turns to God, God pardons the guilt.

Therefore, our response is the same. When confronted with the vastness of our sin, our natural reaction is to try to pay it off ourselves. We make lists and seek help from those touting books on “5 steps to this” or “10 steps to do that.”  The simple answer is that there is nothing that we could ever do to begin to pay of our debt. It is simply insurmountable. However, the king, in his great mercy, forgives the debt. Take a few minutes and consider the weight of that verdict. Could you imagine owing 165 million dollars to a king and since you could not pay, all of your family and possessions are sold. Everything you know will be gone, including your freedom. Then, mercifully, the king, completely forgives the debt. What unspeakable joy. What a burden lifted.

An important point here is that although the debt is forgiven from the man, the king still took the hit. He was justly owed that money. Pardoning the servant doesn’t end with the king getting 10,000 talents. This is where Jesus shows up in the story. This is the picture of the cross. The servant was only pardoned because the merciful king took the debt upon himself. The guilt of the debt was removed from the servant and placed upon Christ. This was just one servant. Imagine every human to ever be conceived. Imagine that each owes 165 billion dollars. Try to fathom the weight that Christ took upon himself on the cross. Do you begin to see how triumphant, impenetrable and perfectly merciful our God is? He bore the sins of the world in our place. For us. We were indebted to him because of our sin. He forgave the debt and paid for it himself upon the cross. The resurrection is the assurance that our collective debt was paid in full.

So this servant, now debt free, goes off singing and thanking the king right?!?

Absolutely not. As soon as he is pardoned, he goes down to a brother that owes him 100 denarii (1 denarii is equivalent to a days pay at US minimum wage ($60) so we are talking about $6000) and grabs him by the neck demanding his money in full! When the man pleaded with him in similar fashion, he had him thrown in jail until he could pay! What an outrage! This man who was just forgiven a debt he could never pay, goes directly out and violently demands immediate payment on the relatively small sum owed to him and has him thrown into prison until he can pay in full. This is not mercy. This is not grace. This is not love. However, sadly this is the picture of us and our brothers more times than not. God has forgiven each of us an insurmountable debt in which we could never pay.  We are free from the burden and guilt of sin. However, when our brothers sin against us we are quick to act similarly by demanding they pay for their actions as we continue to hold grudges against them. We want justice! We want recompense! We want exonerated! How quickly we forget the debt in which we were forgiven. This is gravely serious to our God. When Jesus teaches us how to pray in Matthew 6, verse 12 specifically points to this.

“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

You see, if we are unwilling to forgive those who have sinned against us, then the Father in heaven will be unwilling to forgive us of our sins. And that is precisely how this parable ends. The king is told of the wretched behavior of the servant who was forgiven much and he is once again brought before the king. This time the king hands him over to the jailors until he can pay in full. Jesus closes by saying that our heavenly Father will do likewise to those who do not forgive their brother from their heart. My friends, this is a serious offense. We have each been forgiven much and therefore we should forgive much. However you have been hurt by a brother, the amount you are owed is infinitely less than the amount in which God the Father has forgiven you through his Son Jesus Christ. In Luke 7:47, a woman of ill repute anoints the feet of Jesus with nard. The Pharisees are amazed at this seemingly wasteful act. Jesus’ reply echoes the theme of this parable when he says “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” It is my encouragement for you to forgive as you have been forgiven.

Introducing the Church Fathers – Isidore of Seville (Part 2)

Isadore of Seville

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting Isidore of Seville and a selection from his massive work called Etymologies on the many names of God the Father. I decided to carry Isidore of Seville forward two more weeks to allow him the space to cover the names of both God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, this week will function as Part 2 and deal with the many names of God the Son. Next week will function as Part 3 and will cover the many names of the God the Holy Spirit.  His work is so fantastically in depth that it would be a tragedy not to release them as a series.  And now with no further adieu, Part 2, the many names of God the Son…

ii. The Son of God (De Filio Dei)

In the divine writings Christ is also found to be named in many ways, for he, the only-begotten Son of God the Father, although he was the equal of the Father, took the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7) for our salvation. Whence some names are given to him with regard to the substance of his divinity, and some with regard to the dispensation of his assumed humanity.

He is named ‘Christ’ (Christus) from ‘chrism’ (chrisma), that is, ‘anointed one,’ for it was a precept among the Jews that they would confect a sacred ointment by which those who were called to the priesthood or the kingship might be anointed. Just as nowadays for kings to be clothed in the purple is the mark of royal dignity, so for them anointing with sacred ointment would confer the royal title and power. Hence they are called ‘anointed ones’ (christus) from chrism, which is unction, for the Greek chrisma is ‘unction’ (unctio) in Latin. When this anointing was done spiritually, it accommodated the name ‘Christ’ to the Lord, because he was anointed by the Spirit from God the Father, as in Acts (4:27): “For there assembled together in this city against thy holy child . . . whom thou hast anointed” – by no means with visible oil, but by the gift of grace, for which visible ointment is a sign. ‘Christ’ is not, however, a proper name of the Savior, but a common-noun designation of his power. When he is called ‘Christ,’ it is a common designation of his importance, but when he is called ‘Jesus Christ’ it is the proper name of the Savior. Further, the name of Christ never occurred at all elsewhere in any nation except in that kingdom alone where Christ was prophesied, and whence he was to come. Again, in Hebrew he is called ‘Messiah’ (Messias), in Greek ‘Christ,’ in Latin ‘the anointed’ (unctus).

The Hebrew ‘Jesus’ is translated σωτήρ in Greek, and “healer” (salutaris) or “savior” (salvator) in Latin, because he has comefor all nations as the ‘bearer of salvation’ (salutifer). The Evangelist renders the etymology of his name, saying (Matthew 1:21), “And thou shalt call his name Savior (salvator ; cf. Vulgate Iesus), for he shall save his people.” Just as ‘Christ’ signifies a king, so ‘Jesus’ signifies a savior. Not every kind of king saves us, but a savior king. The Latin language did not have this word salvator before, but it could have had it, seeing that it was able to when it wanted. The Hebrew Emmanuel in Latin means “God is with us,” undoubtedly because, born of a Virgin, God has appeared to humans in mortal flesh, that he might open the way of salvation to heaven for the inhabitants of earth.

Christ’s names that pertain to the substance of his divinity are as follows: God (Deus), Lord (Dominus). He is called God because of his unity of substance with the Father, and Lord because of the creation subservient to him. And he is God and man, for he is Word and flesh.Whence he is called the Doubly-Begotten (bis genitus), because the Father begot (gignere, ppl. genitus) him without amotherin eternity,andbecause amotherbegot him without a father in the temporal world. But he is called the Only-Begotten (unigenitus) according to the peerless quality of his divinity, for he is without brothers; he is called the First-Begotten (primogenitus) with regard to his assuming of human nature, in which he deigned through the grace of adoption to have brothers, among whom he was the first begotten.

He is called ‘of one substance’ (homousion, i.e. ὁμοούσιος ) with the Father because of their unity of substance, because in Greek substance or essence is called ὄνομα and ὁμο – means “one.” The two joined together therefore denote ‘one substance.’ For this reason he is called Homousion, that is (John 10:30), “I and the Father are one” – that is, of the same substance with the Father. Although this name is not written in Sacred Scripture, nevertheless it is supported in the formal naming of the whole Trinity because an account is offered according to which it is shown to be spoken correctly, just as in those books we never read that the Father is the Unbegotten (Ingenitus), yetwe have no doubt that he should be spoken of and believed to be that.2 Homoeusion (i.e. ὁμοιούσιος ), that is “similar in substance,” because as God is, so also is God’s image. Invisible is God, and invisible his image (i.e. the divinity latent in Jesus).

The Beginning (Principium), because all things are from him, and before him nothing was. The End (Finis), either because he deigned at the end (finis) of time to be born and to die humbly in the flesh and to undertake the Last Judgment, or because whatever we do we refer to him, and when we have come to him we have nothing further to seek. He is the ‘Mouth of God’ (Os Dei) because he is hisWord, for just as we often say ‘this tongue’ and ‘that tongue’ for ‘words,’ which are made by the tongue, so ‘Mouth’ is substituted for the ‘Word of God,’ because words are normally formed by the mouth. Further, he is called the Word (Verbum) because through him the Father established or commanded all things. Truth (Veritas), because he does not deceive, but gave what he promised. Life (Vita) because he created. He is called the Image (Imago) because of his equivalent likeness to the Father. He is the Figure (Figura) because although he took on the formof a slave, he portrayed in himself the Father’s image and immeasurable greatness by his likeness to the Father in his works and powers.

He is the ‘Hand of God’ (Manus Dei) because all things were made through him. Hence also the ‘Right Hand’ (Dextera) because of his accomplishment of the work of all creation, which was formed by him. The Arm (Brachium), because all things are embraced by him. The Power (Virtus), because he contains in himself all the authority of the Father, and governs, holds, and rules thewhole creation of heaven and earth. Wisdom (Sapientia), because he himself reveals the mysteries of knowledge and the secrets of wisdom. But although the Father and the Holy Spirit may be ‘Wisdom’ and ‘Power’ and ‘Lamp’ and ‘Light,’ nevertheless strictly speaking it is the Son who is designated by these names. Again, he is called Clarity (Splendor) because of what he plainly reveals. Lamp (Lumen), because he illuminates (illuminare). Light (Lux), because he unlocks the eyes of the heart for gazing at the truth. Sun (Sol), because he is the illuminator. The Orient (Oriens, i.e. “East,” “Sunrising”) because he is the source of light and the brightener of things, and because he makes us rise (oriri) to eternal life. The Fount (Fons), because he is the origin of things, or because he satisfies those who thirst.

He is also the Α and Ω. He is Alpha because no letter precedes it, for it is the first of the letters, just as the Son of God is first, for he answered the Jews interrogating him that he was the beginning (John 8:25). Whence John in the Apocalypse, properly putting down the letter itself, says (22:13), “I am Α and Ω, first and last.” First, because before him nothing is. Last, because he has undertaken the Last Judgment. Mediator (Mediator), because he has been constituted a mean (medius) between God and humanity, so that he might lead humanity through to God – whence the Greeks also call him μεσίτης (“mediator”). Paraclete, that is, advocate, because he intercedes for us with the Father, as John says of him (I John 2:1), “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just.” For Paraclete (Paracletus) is a Greek word that means “advocate” in Latin. This name is ascribed to both the Son and the Holy Spirit, as the Lord says in the Gospel (John 14:16), “I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete.”

Also the Son is called Intercessor (Intercessor), because he devotes care to remove our sins, and he exerts effort to wash away our crimes. Bridegroom (Sponsus), because descending from heaven he cleaves to the Church, so that by the grace of the New Covenant they might be two in one flesh. He is called an Angel (Angelus, i.e. ‘messenger’) because of his announcing of his Father’s and his own will. Whence it is read in the Prophet (cf. Isaiah 9:6), “Angel of great counsel,” although he is God and Lord of the angels. He is called the ‘One Sent’ (Missus) because he appeared to this world as the Word made flesh, whence also he says (John 16:28), “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world.” He is also called the ‘Human Being’ (Homo)because hewas born. Prophet (Propheta), because he revealed future things. Priest (Sacerdos), because he offered himself as a sacrifice for us. Shepherd (Pastor), because he is a guardian. Teacher (Magister), because he shows the way. Nazarene (Nazarenus) from his region, but Nazarite (Nazareus) is an earned title meaning “holy” or “clean,” because he did no sin.

Further, Christ attracts to himself types of names from other lesser things so that he might more easily be understood. For he is called Bread (Panis) because he is flesh. Vine (Vitis), because we are redeemed by his blood. Flower (Flos), because he was picked. The Way (Via), because by means of him we come to God. The Portal (Ostium), because through him we make our approach to God. Mount (Mons), because he is mighty. Rock (Petra), because he is the strength of believers. Cornerstone (Lapis angularis), because he joins two walls coming from different directions, that is from the circumcised and the uncircumcised, into the one fabric of the Church, or because he makes peace in himself for angels (angelus) and humans. The Stumbling-stone (Lapis offensionis), because when he came in humility unbelievers stumbled (offendere) against him and he became a ‘rock of scandal’ (Romans 9:33), as the Apostle says (I Corinthians 1:23), “Unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block (scandalum).”

Further he is called the Foundation (Fundamentum) because faith on him is most firm, or because the Catholic Church was built upon him. Now Christ is the Lamb (Agnus) for his innocence, and the Sheep (Ovis) for his submissiveness, and the Ram (Aries) for his leadership, and Goat (Haedus) for his likeness to sinful flesh, and the Calf (Vitulus) because he was made a sacrificial victim for us, and Lion (Leo) for his kingdom and strength, and Serpent (Serpens) for his death and his sapience (sapientia), and again Worm (Vermis) because he rose again, Eagle (Aquila) because after his resurrection he returned to the stars.

Nor is it a wonder that he should be figured forth by means of lowly signs, he who is known to have descended even to the indignities of our passions or of the flesh. For although he is coeternal with God the Father before worldly time, when the fullness of time arrived, the Son for our salvation took the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7), and the Son of God became a son of humankind. For this reason some things are said of him in Scripture according to the form of God, some according to the form of a slave. Two of these should be kept in mind for an example, so that particular instances may severally be connected with these particular forms. So, he spoke of himself according to the formof God (John 10:30), “I and the Father are one”; according to the formof a slave (John 14:28), “For the Father is greater than I.”

But people who little understand how one thing may be said for another wish to transfer to the Son’s character as God what has been said with regard to his character as a slave. Again, they want what has been said relating the Persons to one another to be names for God’s nature and substance, and they make an error in their faith. For human nature was so conjoined to the Son of God that one Person was made from two substances. Only the man endured the cross, but because of the unity of Person, the God also is said to have endured it. Hence we find it written (I Corinthians 2:8), “For if they had known it, they never would have crucified the Lord of glory.” Therefore we speak of the Son of God as crucified, not in the power of his divinity but in the weakness of his humanity, not in his persistence in his own nature but in his acceptance of ours.

Mining the Parables: The Barren Fig Tree – Luke 13:1-9

barren fig

The Hammer of God is a little known classic within Christian literature and the fact that it flies under the radar is indeed sad.  The book consists of three novellas, all which paint the picture of church life from a pastoral perspective.  In the first novella, titled “The Hammer of God”, Giertz introduces the reader to a young curate named Savonius.  Savonius preaches the law with great ferocity, but fails to ever comfort souls with the healing salve of the gospel.  This results in a reduction of sinful living within the community, but also begins to breed an air of self righteousness in many congregants and an internal sense of overwhelming desperation within Savonius as he begins to realize the depths of his own depravity.  One day a cobbler named Anders visits Savonius to seek counsel about his brother who lives with him.  Anders is angry that his brother is drinking whiskey in his home and desires Pastor Savonius to give advice on how to coerce his brother to stop.  Savonius asks if his brother is in the habit of being a drunkard. Anders says no,  but expresses anger that his brother has the audacity to openly drink in front of him. Sovonius replies by asking if Anders would prefer his brother to drink alone where temptation could more easily overtake him?  Anders, frustrated that he isn’t getting anywhere with the pastor, abruptly storms out.  Savonius’ questions were purposefully pointed to show Anders that the true problem didn’t lie with his brother or the whiskey, but with himself.  Self righteousness is synonymous with unrepentance and this is what Savonius attempted to help Anders realize. Todays biblical text is Luke 13:6-9, “The parable of the barren fig tree.”  The contextual setup for the parable is found in Luke 13:1-5 and is remarkably similar to the dialogue between Savonius and Anders.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

In these opening verses, Jesus finds himself in the midst those reporting the atrocity of Pilate desecrating the temple sacrifices.  At this time Pilate was fighting against the Galilean zealots.  These zealots were top priority for Pilate as their motivation was to promote unrest in gaining support to rally the Jews toward insurrection against Rome in an effort to ultimately gain full independance. Pilate was consumed with ridding these zealots from his territory at any cost.  In seeking shelter from Pilate, some zealots sought safe haven in the Jerusalem temple, a place they assumed Pilate would not dare go out of reverence for Jewish religious laws.  Not only did Pilate pursue the zealots into the temple, but also slew them in the temple, thus mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices (which were for atonement from sin).  This was a terrible act of desecration which nullified the sacrifices that were tainted with human blood.  Jesus’ response to the report is very insightful.  Throughout the gospel accounts, Jesus knows the heart of his questioners.  His questions are motivated by a desire to aid the questioner in their understanding, not because he is looking for the answer.  Jesus knows that these reporters are telling him this story out of self righteousness instead of remorse.  This is why he responds by asking them if they thought those slaughtered by Pilate in the temple were worse than all other Galileans.  He knows their heart and thus calls them to repentance saying that apart from repentance, they will die in like manner.  This statement is fascinating when understood in the context of what happened concerning Pilates desecration of the sacrifices.  Self righteousness always looks both inward, to prove that we are checking things off of our list, and downward, at others when their sin is exposed.  Repentance comes through the realization of our sinful state by resting in the person and work of Jesus.  Thus, if these reporters reject repentance and cling to self righteousness instead, they are ultimately choosing to rely on their work rather than on Jesus’ salvivic work alone thus desecrating the sacrifice that Jesus will earn for them by his death and resurrection.  Jesus continues to press this issue further by speaking of a tragedy that killed 18 people when the tower fell at Siloam.  Jesus is saying that it is not the manner in which one dies that matters, only the condition of their heart.  Whether a person dies in a car crash, is murdered or succumbs to cancer is spiritually immaterial.  The only thing that matters is where their faith rests.  Saving faith always rests in the person and work of Jesus and always bears the fruit of repentance.  Saving faith is the antithesis self righteousness.

To further paint this picture to the reporters, Jesus tells them a parable in verses 6-9.

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Some theologians attempt to divorce this parable from the previous 5 verses because on the surface, the narrative in verses 1-5 seems detached from the theme of the parable.  However,  a careful study will prove their theories incorrect.  The parable begins with a man who owns a vineyard and plants a fig tree in the vineyard.  The owner planted the tree with the purpose of bearing fruit, but each time he checks on the tree, he sees that it fails to bear fruit.  The owner then contacts the vinedresser, explains the situation and tells him to cut the tree down as it is merely wasting profitable space. The vinedresser petitions the owner to wait it out the rest of the year so he can once more give the tree the best opportunity to bear fruit, but that if tree continues to be barren, he will then cut it down.  With this understood, it is now time to reveal the parable cast.

The Man…..God the Father
The Vineyard…..Israel
The Fig Tree…..Jerusalem
The Fruit…..Repentance
The Vinedresser…..Jesus Christ
The 3 Years…..The collective ministry of the preparatory work John the Baptist and the fulfillment in Jesus Christ
The current year…..Extension of grace that carried through from the time of this parable through Jesus’ death and glorification.

God the Father owns a vineyard.  This vineyard was initiated by God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15 and realized through Jacob and his 12 sons in Genesis 32 when God changed his name from Jacob to Israel.  After many generations of nomadic living and temporal instability, God then plants his presence, through the building of his temple in Jerusalem which makes it the spiritual center of the Jewish faith.  Eventually through sin, Israel breaks into two kingdoms and only a remnant is faithful.  The remnant is taken into Babylonian exile with God’s promise of rescue after 70 years.  After 70 years, God keeps his promise and rescues the remnant, however, their spiritual exile continues until the Messiah comes.  This prophecy is consumated in the preparatory work of John the Baptist and completely fulfilled in the redemptive office of Jesus Christ.  John comes preaching repentance, and Christ, at his Baptism, engulfs John’s ministry and propagates it.  Christ continues to preach repentance.  This means that the vinedresser (or the one who cares for, nurtures and inspects both the condition of the tree/vine and its fruit) is Jesus Christ and the fruit that both he and The Father are looking for is repentance.  The collective ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ was 3 years up to the point of this parable and the remaining year carries forth until Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.  In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus is most concerned with the unrepentant hearts of these Jewish reporters.  He is seeking the fruit of repentance, but they are yielding none.  Jesus will continue to preach repentance to them until his time comes.  This understanding adds all the more meaning to Matthew 23:37 where Jesus says ““O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” This is the picture of the vinedresser talking to the fig tree at the end of the final year saying that he cared for and nourished it as much as he was given time to do, but that it ultimately refused to produce fruit and thus must be cut down.  Ultimately, this picture is not reserved just for Jerusalem alone, but is a picture of our sinful, hardened, self righteous hearts.  Repentance is the fruit that Jesus looks for in each of us. Repentance is not self righteous, but instead is naked agreement with our righteous God as we turn from sin and admit His ways alone are right and true.  Repentance also is not something that is done once, but is continual in the life of the Christian.  Just as the fig tree continues to bear fruit until death, so too will the Christian.  This fruit is not something that is forced, but comes out of our new nature which was gifted to us.  Therefore repentance is ultimately a gift.

As the first novella in “Hammer of God” comes to a close, the reader is never told what becomes of Anders.  Did he eventually recognize his self righteousness and repent or did he continue down the road that leads to  hardness of heart?  I suppose we will never know and while Anders is merely a fictional character in a book written long ago, the hardened heart he displayed is alive and well in each of us from Adam forward.  Each time the sun breaks the plane of a new day, the battle once again rages.  Self righteousness is our natural, fleshly preset. So although Anders may have never existed, his attitude is all too familiar. The call to repent is not only to the Galilean reporters, Jerusalem or to Anders.  The call to repent is directed to each of us as we go forth in this life. The first of Luther’s 95 Theses says it best. “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent” (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” In 1 John 1:8-10 the Apostle writes…

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 

Let us therefore confess our sins daily with great eagerness. This is the perfect picture of a fig tree that is no longer barren.

Introducing the Church Fathers – Isidore of Seville (Part 1)

Isadore of Seville

Isidore of Seville was born in 560AD in Cartagena, Spain and served as the Archbishop of Seville for over 30 years.  He is typically regarded as the “last scholar of the ancient world.”  He was born into a wealthy family of high social rank and thus received a proper education. Many of his works have survived antiquity with the largest and most popular being “Etymologiae.” Etymologiae was the first attempt to develop a collection of universal knowledge from a Christian worldview.  The work is 448 chapters in 20 volumes and deals with language, math science, theology, grammar, medicine, laws, architecture, space, etc. It is a fascinatingly detailed work. Isidore died in 636AD in Seville, Spain. The selection from today is taken from “Etymologiae” Book 7 on “God, angels and saints” and excavates the meanings behind the many names of God. Jerome also wrote an exhaustive piece on this very topic that Isidore both acknowledges and utilizes in this work.  Today’s selection is taken from the 2006 Cambridge University Press release found here.

i. God(Dedeo)

The most blessed Jerome, a most erudite man and skilled in many languages, first rendered the meaning of Hebrew names in the Latin language. I have taken pains to include some of these in this work along with their interpretations, though I have omitted many for the sake of brevity. Indeed, exposition of words often enough reveals what they mean, for some hold the rationale of their names in their own derivations.

First, then, we present the ten names by which God is spoken of in Hebrew. The first name of God in Hebrew is El. Some translate this as “God,” and others as ἰσχυρός, that is, “strong” (fortis), expressing its etymology, because he is overcome by no infirmity but is strong and capable of accomplishing anything. The second name is Eloi (i.e. Elohim), and the third Eloe, either of which in Latin is ‘God’ (Deus). The name Deus in Latin has been transliterated from a Greek term, for Deus is from θεός in Greek, which means φόβος, that is, “fear,” whence is derived Deus because those worshipping him have fear. Moreover ‘God’ is properly the name of the Trinity, referring to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. To this Trinity are referred the remaining terms posited below of God.

The fourth name of God is Sabaoth, which is rendered in Latin “of armies” or “of hosts,” of whom the angels speak in the Psalm (23:10 Vulgate): “Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts.” Now there are in the ordination of this world many hosts, such as angels, archangels, principalities, and powers, and all the orders of the celestial militia, of whom nevertheless he is Lord,for all are under him and are subject to his lordship. Fifth, Elion, which in Latin means “lofty” (excelsus), because he is above the heavens (caelum), as was written of him (Psalm 112:4 Vulgate): “The Lord is high (excelsus). . . his glory above the heavens (caelus).” Further, excelsus is so called from‘very lofty’ (valde celsus), for ex is put for valde, as in eximius (“exceptional”), as it were valde eminens (“very eminent”).

Sixth, Eie, that is, ‘He who is.’ For only God, because he is eternal, that is, because he has no origin, truly holds the name of Being. Now this name was reported to the holy Moses by an angel, for when Moses asked what was the name of the one who was
commanding him to proceed with the liberation of his people from Egypt, he answered him (Exodus 3:14): “I am who I am: and thou shalt say to the children of Israel: ‘He who is’ hath sentmeto you.” It is just as if in comparison with him, who truly ‘is’ because he is immutable, those things that aremutable become as if theywere not. That of which it is said, “it was,” ‘is’ not, and that of which it is said, “it will be,” ‘is’ not yet. Further, God has known only ‘is’, and does not know‘was’ and ‘will be.’ For only the Father, with the Son and Holy Spirit, truly ‘is.’ Compared with his being, our being is not being. And for this reason we say in conversation, “God lives,”
because his Being lives with a life that death has no hold over.

Seventh, Adonai, which broadly means “Lord” (Dominus), because he has dominion (dominari) over every creature, or because every creature is subservient to his lordship (dominatus). Lord, therefore, and God, either because he has dominion over all things, or because he is feared by all things. Eighth, Ia (i.e. Yah), which is only applied to God, and which sounds as the last syllable of ‘alleluia.’ Ninth, the Tetragrammaton, that is, the ‘four letters’ that in Hebrew are properly applied to God – iod, he, iod, he – that is, ‘Ia’ twice, which when doubled forms that ineffable and glorious name of God. The Tetragrammaton is called ‘ineffable’ not because it cannot be spoken, but because in no way can it be bounded by human sense and intellect; therefore,because nothing can be saidworthy of it, it is ineffable. Tenth, Shaddai, that is, “Almighty.” He is called Almighty (omnipotens) because he can do all things (omnia potest), but by doing what he will, not by suffering what he does not will. If that were to happen to him, in no way would he be Almighty – for he does whatever he wishes, and therein he is Almighty. Again, ‘Almighty’ because all things in every place are his, for he alone has dominion over the whole world.

Certain other names are also said for God substantively, as immortal, incorruptible, immutable, eternal. Whence deservedly he is  placed before every creature. Immortal, as was written of him (I Timothy 6:16): “Who only hath immortality,” because in his nature
there is no change, for every sort of mutability not improperly is called mortality. From this it follows that the soul also is said to die, not because it is changed and turned into body or into some other substance, but because everything is considered mortal that in its very substance is now, or once was, of a different sort, in that it leaves off being what it once was. And by this reasoning only God is called immortal, because he alone is immutable. He is called incorruptible (incorruptibilis) because he cannot be broken up (corrumpere,
ppl. corruptus) and dissolved or divided.Whatever undergoes division also undergoes passing away, but he can neither be divided nor pass away; hence he is incorruptible.

He is immutable (incommutabilis)because he remains forever and does not change (mutare). He neither advances, because he is perfect, nor recedes, because he is eternal. He is eternal because he is without time, for he has neither beginning nor end. And hence he is ‘forever’ (sempiternus), because he is ‘always eternal’ (semper aeternus). Some think that ‘eternal’ (aeternus) is so called from ‘ether’ (aether), for heaven is held to be his abode.Whence the phrase (Psalm 113:16 Vulgate), “The heaven of heaven is the Lord’s.” And these four terms signify one thing, for one and the same thing is meant, whether God is called eternal or immortal or
incorruptible or immutable.

‘Invisible,’ because the Trinity never appears in its substance to the eyes of mortals unless through the form of a subject corporeal creature. Indeed, no one can see the very manifestation of the essence of God and live, as it was told toMoses (Exodus 33:20), whence the Lord says in the Gospel (John 1:18), “No man hath seen God at any time.” Indeed, he is an invisible thing,
and therefore should be sought not with the eye, but with the heart. ‘Impassible,’ because he is affected by none of the disturbances to which human fragility succumbs, for none of the passions touch him, not desire, wrath, greed, fear, grief, envy, and the other things with which the human mind is troubled. But when it is said that God is angry or jealous or sorrowful, it is said from the human point of view, for with God, in whom is utmost tranquillity, there is no disturbance.

Further he is called ‘single’ (simplex), either from not letting go of what he has, or because what he is and what is in him are not distinct, in the way that being and knowing are distinct for a human. A human can be, and at the same time not have knowledge.God has being, and he also has knowledge; but what God has he also is, and it is all one. He is ‘single’ because there is nothing accidental in him, but both what he is and what is in him are of his essence, except for what refers to each of the three persons. He is the ‘ultimately good’ (summe bonus) because he is immutable.What is created is good, to be sure, but it is not consummately good because it is mutable. And although it may indeed be good, it still cannot be the highest good. God is called ‘disembodied’ (incorporeus) or ‘incorporeal’ (incorporalis) because he is believed or understood to exist as spirit, not body (corpus, gen. corporis). When he is called spirit, his substance is signified.

‘Immeasurable’ (immensus) because he encompasses all things and is encompassed by nothing, but all things are confined within his omnipotence. He is called ‘perfect’ (perfectus) because nothing can be added to him. However, ‘perfection’ is said of the completion of some making; how then is God, who is not made (factus), perfect (perfectus)? But human poverty of diction has taken up this termfrom our usage, and likewise for the remaining terms, insofar as what is ineffable can be spoken of in any way – for human speech says nothing suitable about God – so the other terms are also deficient. He is called ‘creator’ because of the matter of the whole world created by him, for there is nothing that has not taken its origin from God. And he is ‘one’ (unus) because he cannot be divided, or because there can be no other thing that may take on so much power. Therefore what things are said of God pertain to the whole Trinity because of its one (unus) and coeternal substance, whether in the Father,or in his only begotten Son in the form of God, or in the Holy Spirit, which is the one (unus) Spirit of God the Father and of his only-begotten Son.

There are certain terms applied to God from human usage, taken from our body parts or from lesser things, and because in his own nature he is invisible and incorporeal, nevertheless appearances of things, as the effects of causes, are ascribed to him, so that he might more easily make himself known to us by way of the usage of our speech. For example, because he sees all things, we may speak of his eye; because he hears all, we may speak of his ear; because he turns aside, he walks; because he observes, he stands. In this way and in other ways like these a likeness from human minds is applied to God, for instance that he is forgetful ormindful.
Hence it is that the prophet says (Jeremiah 51:14), “The Lord of hosts hath sworn by his soul” – not that God has a soul, but he speaks in this way as from our viewpoint. Likewise the ‘face’ of God in Holy Scripture is understood not as flesh, but as divine recognition, in the same way in which someone is recognized when his face is seen. Thus, this is said in a prayer to God (Psalm 79:4 Vulgate), “Shew us thy face,” as if he were to say, “Grant us thy recognition.”

Thus the ‘traces’ of God are spoken of, because now God is known through a mirror (I Corinthians 13:12), but he is recognized as the Almighty at the culmination, when in the future he becomes present face to face for each of the elect, so that they behold his appearance, whose traces they now try to comprehend, that is, him whom it is said they see through a mirror. For in relation to God, position and vesture and place and time are spoken of not properly, but metaphorically, by way of analogy. For instance (Psalm 98:1 Vulgate), “He that sitteth on the cherubims” is saidwith reference to position; and (Psalm 103:6 Vulgate) “The deep like a garment is its clothing,” referring to vesture; and (Psalm 101:28 Vulgate) “Thy years shall not fail,” which pertains to time; and (Psalm 138:8 Vulgate) “If I ascend into heaven, thou art there,” referring to place. Again, in the prophet (Amos 2:13), “As a wain laden with hay,” an image is used of God. All these refer to God figuratively, because nothing of these things refers properly to his underlying being.