Friday, June 22, 2018

Perspectives on Pentecost (9)

As a previous post suggested, the Day of Pentecost provides us with an interpretive lens for what we call the Old Testament - that lens is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ in His People; it is a Trinitarian lens in that we see the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit living in and working through the Temple, the Body, the Bride, the Flock, etc. Peter’s Pentecost message is Trinitarian - the Spirit has come to live in the Temple, the Son has fulfilled the Father’s plan - having “accomplished the work” which the Father gave Him to do (John 17). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit witnesses to the Ascension of Jesus Christ - Peter’s message is rich, it is deep, it is high, and it continues to our own day and time - it is ever-broadening.

Just as we see the Trinity in the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan, so we see the Trinity on the Day of Pentecost when the Church is baptized in the Holy Spirit.

I don’t think that we can make too much of Peter’s quotation of Joel in Acts 2:15 - 21, rather than explain it away or gloss over it, it ought to challenge us to reconsider how we see the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (the Old Testament). It also ought to challenge us in terms of how we see prophecy - is prophecy primarily linear and predictive or is it an unveiling of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit? Are we touching the eternals when we touch prophecy or are we simply reading tomorrow’s headlines? We don’t need the Holy Spirit to necessarily read tomorrow’s headlines, but we do need the Spirit of God to touch the Eternal One.

The merchandising of prophecy does not require that we see past the visible, it simply requires that we buy into a system of interpretation - a somewhat (or totally) rational and naturalistic system at that. Could it be that prophetic merchandising is a child of the rationalistic Enlightenment?

Just as Peter used an interpretive lens to transpose Joel and David’s psalms upward into the Trinity in his Pentecost message; James uses an interpretive lens to transpose the prophet Amos upward into the Trinity and the Church in Acts 15:13 - 19. How could someone reading Amos 9:11ff possibly relate it to the Gentiles coming to know Jesus Christ?  Consider the context of Amos Chapter 9, how is this possible with our naturalistic methods of exegesis and interpretation? In effect it is as if we read Acts Chapter 10, the account of Cornelius and Peter and all that surrounds it, and then, without having Acts 15, we were to say, “Oh, of course, this is the fulfillment of Amos Chapter 9.” How likely is this in our current mindset? How likely is it that we would have incorporated Joel’s prophecy into an explanation of the Holy Spirit coming on the believers on the Day of Pentecost? And if we did incorporate Joel’s prophecy, would we be prepared to really say, “This is that” and not project Joel far into the future so that it is out-of-reach for us and our hearers?

Could it be that a reason the Old Testament is a closed book for much of the Church is because we’ve made it a closed book? We have pulled the Old Testament downward and imprisoned it in time and space, in a time long long ago and in a galaxy far far away. We do not look for Christ. We do not do what Jesus Himself did in Luke Chapter 24 when He revealed Himself through the Old Testament.

And could it be that our propensity to look at the prophets in a linear fashion has robbed us of our spiritual vision to see beyond the visible into the invisible? James reads Amos Chapter 9 and he sees the Church; Peter reads David in the Psalms and he sees Jesus; Peter surveys the fire and wind and tongues and he sees Joel. What do we see?

Paul reads Genesis and he sees the Light of Christ coming into our lives (2 Corinthians 4:6). Paul reads about Hagar and Sarah in Genesis and he sees (Galatians 4:21 - 31) two cities, two mothers, one of the flesh and one of the Spirit, one of the natural and one of the supernatural - and yet many of us want to pull the heavenly city, the heavenly mother, down to earth and find our prophetic fulfillment not in Christ in the heavens but in tomorrow’s headlines. Paul reads Old Testament “history” and he sees present-day instruction (1 Corinthians 10:11). Paul sees through the “shadows” (Colossians 2:17) to the substance.

The Scriptures are sacramental in that God’s grace and life are communicated through them to us, they are the “living and enduring Word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). We, God’s People, are a “dwelling of God in the Spirit”. If this is so, ought not our experience of the Bible to be one of illumination, revelation, of the Spirit, and ought not the unveiling of Jesus Christ to be the focus of our experience? “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Do we really need the Holy Spirit to understand the things of God, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians Chapter 2, or are we doing our ministry and teaching and Bible study on our own?

Are we “seeing” as the Church in Acts saw? Are we building on the foundation of the apostles and prophets - using their interpretive lens? Or are we building on the foundation of naturalism, rationalism, and the Enlightenment?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Perspectives on Pentecost (8)

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”  (Acts 2:22 - 23).

Note that the fact that God has a “predetermined plan” does not absolve Peter’s listeners from guilt and sin, nor does the fact that the Romans were the executioners - the Romans, while having their own guilt and accountability, were but the tools that Peter’s audience used to execute Jesus Christ.

Peter drives their guilt home again in verse 36:

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”

In Peter’s second sermon we read (Acts 3:17 - 19a):

“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away…”

Ignorance does not mean that we do not repent, it does not absolve us of guilt or sin. When God brings to light our ignorance it is an expression of His mercy as He opens a door for repentance and forgiveness. Then note the stern warning Peter uses (Acts 3:22 - 23):

Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’

Then, as Peter appeals to the covenantal heritage of his listeners (Acts 3:25) “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers…” he is interrupted by the temple authorities (Acts 4:1ff) and thrown in jail - so we don’t know where Peter was going in his message. However, we do see an appeal to Biblical witness; “all the prophets” from Samuel onward have spoken of Jesus, (in verse 22 Peter had already incorporated Moses in the witness). We also see the mercy of pointing out “you acted in ignorance”. Then there is the clear call to repentance and the clear warning that those who do not repent will be judged, “utterly destroyed”.

Peter would have done his audiences no good had he refrained from calling them to repentance, pointing out their guilt, and in warning them of coming judgment and of the “crooked generation” (Acts 2:40) from which they needed to escape.

As with Peter, so with us; to not call people to repentance, to refrain from pointing out the guilt of our generation, to not inform people of the judgment of God - is irresponsible, it is an abdication of Gospel ministry, it is akin to a physician telling a cancer patient that he only has a headache, or a meteorologist telling a population that the strange skies are a passing anomaly when he knows that a Class 5 hurricane is about to come ashore.  

As Paul points out (1 Thess. 1:10), Jesus “rescues us from the wrath to come.”

By ministers not faithfully proclaiming God’s Word our generation has lost an ear to hear Biblical accountability, Biblical guilt, Biblical confession, and Biblical repentance. Or perhaps I should write, our generation has lost the opportunity to “have an ear to hear”; for certainly Jeremiah’s generation rejected God’s Word, saying “Peace, peace, where there is no peace.” Jesus’ generation rejected Him. Many of the Apostles’ generation rejected them. But then there were those who “had ears to hear” the Apostles, Jesus, and Jeremiah - shall we not give those few the opportunity to come into the Ark of Jesus Christ?

As Ezekiel Chapter 33 points out, those who fail to warn others will be accountable to God for their failure to speak God’s Word.

There are entire congregations in our land who have lost an “ear to hear” the Word of God - they cannot abide a call to repentance, they cannot stand to confront sin, they have been convinced that they have nothing to confess...and so what do we have? Do we even have a church? Do we have an assembly of Biblical Christians? Or do we have hundreds and thousands of cancer patients gathered who all think they have indigestion or a headache that will shortly disappear?

One of the travesties of a failure to preach repentance is that to know the depth of the love of God we must know the abyss of our sin and death, and to purport to preach the love of God without communicating an awareness of the sin and death from which we need deliverance is to substitute our shallow idea of love for the unfathomable love of God - the Love Story of the Ages.

If we love people we will tell them the Truth. If we love Jesus Christ we will speak His Truth.