Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Psalm 2: The Reign of Christ and the Rage of Kings

I. 3 ObservationsA. Psalm 2 has been Psalm 2 for a long time since Paul refers to it as “the second Psalm” in Acts 13.33.B. Psalm 2 has no title. But never fear, the believers in Acts 4.25 help us out by telling us that Psalm 2 was written by David.C. Psalm 2 is ultimately about Jesus [it’s Messianic] because, in the NT, whoever wrote the Book of Hebrews [1.5; 5.5] tells us that God is talking about his Son Jesus in Psalm 2.7. Not knowing that Psalm 2 is about Jesus until you read Acts 4 is like the child who during a temper tantrum throws her dad’s cell phone that he forgot when he went to work into her glass of milk. She might after she’s done it, have an idea of the trouble she’s in [that’s Psalm 2, a partial understanding], but when her mom comes in the kitchen later and tells her how “ticked” her dad is going to be, she really understands [that’s Acts 2 – a full understanding]. We really need Acts 2 [mom’s full explanation later] for Psalm 2 [the child’s incomplete idea of what she’s done] to fully make sense.II. Structure of the PsalmEqually divided into 4 separate parts [like acts of a play] each spoken by a different character.vv. 1-3 [Act I] The Narrator SpeaksHe introduces the heathen peoples and kings, and rulers of the earth, who like a troop of animals or a flight of locusts, rage and plot and set themselves and take council against YAHWEH and His Son, Jesus the Messiah. Acts 4.26-27 tells us that these people are people like Pilate and Herod who killed Jesus, and that the Messiah of Acts 2 is Jesus.vv. 4-6 [Acts II] God SpeaksWell, first he laughs with a derisive laugh which [the only time in the Bible we read Gold laughing.] And he speaks in wrath of His decree concerning His King whom He will set in Zion on His holy hill [v. 6].vv. 7-9 [Act III] Jesus Speaks[the “me” of v. 7 is the Son of v.7 who is Jesus according to Hebrews 1.5. And Jesus tells us what His Father has said about Him. “You are my Son.” [Baptism, Transfiguration]. Nations will be His heritage, the ends of the earth will be His possession, and He will rule with a rod of iron [Revelation 2. 27 quotes Psalm 2 telling us that Jesus will come back the 2nd time as a warrior King..vv. 10-12 [Act IV] The Narrator Speaks Again“Be Wise!” “Be warned!” Serve with fear not with self-sufficiency, Rejoice with trembling not in self-confidence. Don’t rage against Christ. Repent of your sins believe in the Lord Jesus Christ [who will come to judge the earth and you will be saved. Do what the final verse of the Psalm says to do: Find your happiness by finding refuge in Him.*See Psalms: An Expositional Commentary by James Montgomery Boice

Why We Don’t Display A National Flag When Our Church Meets (Part 3 of 4)

Displaying a national/state flag is an obstacle to Christian fellowship.According to Acts 2:42 fellowship was one of four foundational activities that the first church gave themselves to wholeheartedly. Many have come to understand fellowship as just a fancy name for “church-picnic”. There is however much more than that behind the idea of fellowship. The word which we translate as “fellowship” in English is the greek word that is better translated as “sharing”. To share is to hold something in common. When Wendy and I share a Starbuck drink we hold in common the drink, we share (literally:). Christian fellowship is simply Christians sharing and holding together what we have in common. Such things that all believers hold in common, and those which the church should promote among its members, are things like: the Bible, the Holy Spirit, salvation and the new birth, Christ, etc. All else is subsequent to and secondary to these purely Christian, gospel related, unifying, spiritual realities.Displaying a flag is introducing an element into our fellowship that is unrelated to the priorities and privileges already mentioned. The flag and what it stands for is extraneous to true Christian fellowship and many times it actively hinders fellowship among the faithful. What does the American flag have to do with Christ, the gospel, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, salvation, the cross, etc? How confusing it must be to those who are not American citizens but who visit our American churches and see the flag displayed front and center. Unknowingly the message we convey is that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Bible, and Christianity is somehow connected to and related to Americanism, and by logical extension our foreign policies, our culture, our laws. How it must incense those who have suffered unjustly because of our policies or the consequences of them.I wonder how American Christians would respond to attending a church where the communist Chinese flag was on display? Would it not rile our prejudiced patriotic passions into a heated fervor. Such passions rarely if ever produce the fruit of Christian unity, and facilitate the strengthening of the bonds of peace and love.For these reasons, and the others already mentioned, displaying a national flag is an unnecessary hindrance which the church of Jesus Christ should avoid for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of true Christian fellowship.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why We Don’t Display A National Flag When Our Church Meets. (Part 2)

2. Displaying a national/state flag contradicts the true nature of the ChurchThe purpose of a flag is to represent a set of beliefs, ideas, and purposes that characterize the organizational entity for which it stands. It is far more than just decorative, it is declarative. It serves as the standard around which people who hold similar beliefs and convictions form and unite in one mind and heart. If you were sympathetic to the cause and purposes of the KKK you would have no problem flying (identifying with) their flag. Displaying the American flag at a Christian gathering is asking those present to identify and unite around what the flag represents - a nation, a set of laws, policies, and system of government, all of which have little to nothing to do with the cause and purposes of Christ and His church. Displaying the flag sends a contradictory, confusing message to those who are not “American” by birth or by conviction, but who are born again. By displaying the flag in our Christian gatherings we are tacitly saying that the American system and Christianity go hand in hand and nothing is farther from biblical truth.Those who have been made part of the church by the unseen baptizing work of the Holy Spirit are no longer identified by race, nationality or color, but by who they are in Christ. According to Eph 2:11-22 those who are in Christ have been “brought near”, we have been made into one “new man”, “reconciled into one body”, have been made “fellow citizens”, and are now one “household”, each descriptions of what it means to be in Christ and part of the church. No state or national flag is able to accurately represent such profound spiritual truth, instead, any state or national flag actually contradicts the true spiritual nature of the church. The wonderful mystery now made known to us, and made possible through Christ alone, is that both Jew and Gentile are now one body without distinction. Therefore when the church gathers together as one body, no consideration is to be given or taken of Jew or Gentile (or American, Iranian, etc) and any and all barriers that would divide us from Christ and from each other must never be permitted to be raised.Displaying a state flag however does establish a barrier that does not and should not exist in the church. It is an invitation to have unholy, devilish sectarian passions unleashed into the church leading only to schism and division. There is a proper place and time to display the state flag, just not when the church gathers as one body in Christ.When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, (Eph 3:4-11 ESV)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why We Don’t Display A National Flag When Our Church Meets.

The common and widely accepted practice of displaying the national/state flag in our American Christian assemblies is a custom not seen in the rest of the world. Most American Christians however have grown up with the flag prominently on display in the church and few have ever really pondered the numerous implications of doing so – myself included. Over the next few days we will be giving biblical reasons arguing against this practice. There are at least four reasons why we have as a church chosen not to display the American flag during the time when our church gathers. Our decision to do so is based not upon custom, tradition, or driven by “patriotism”, but upon what we believe to be consistent with what we see in Scripture. We have chosen not to display a national flag when our church meets because:1. Displaying a national/state flag vies for the preeminence that belongs to Christ alone in His church.According to the stated rules of our government regarding the flag and its’ proper use and treatment (see the American flag is to be given the highest place of preeminence whenever flown or displayed in country. According to the U.S flag code the flag must always be placed on the speakers right hand – the place of highest honor.Article 7, section K of the flag code states the following: “ When used on a speaker's platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman's or speaker's right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.”
The clear implication of this law is that all other organizational entities are subservient to the American flag (by extension our laws, customs, and policies) when it is displayed. One could legitimately understand that the state has the ultimate, final authority – ultimate honor- in the church. For Christians this is an intolerable demand requiring what Christians cannot give: honor and preeminence to a state, a nation, over and above Christ (Acts 4:19)- and that in His own church! The rules of our own flag place it at direct odds with Christ and Scripture when displayed in His church.
As Christians we believe in and honor the divinely ordained role of the state (Rm 13:1-7). We believe that we are to be good citizens and fulfill our responsibilities as such to the state. However when it comes to authority in the church Scripture is clear about who is to have the final and ultimate honor.He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col 1:15-18 ESV)Over the next few days we will post additional arguments for not displaying a national flag…stay tuned.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Great joy because they had understood: A meditation on the public reading of scripture

The great joy that results from the necessary public reading of the scripture [Nehemiah 8.3; I Timothy 4.13] is the joy of the people of God clearly understanding the publicly read Word of God. In Nehemiah 8, God's people heard God's priests read and explain God's Word clearly [the doctrine of perspicuity], and the result was "great rejoicing" [v. 12].Ezra stood on a wooden platform as his priestly brothers helped the people understand the Law as it was being read. Wouldn't that be cool if, during the public reading of the scripture, our deacons at Grace moved around the building teaching the Bible to us while Colin T., Luke L., Dave S., or David B. stood on a wooden platform reading the Bible to us. That would be wild!I think we often concentrate on Nehemiah 8.10 which reads, "for the joy of the LORD is your strength," and fail to grasp that the objective foundation for their joy was their clear understanding of the Word of God publicly read. Verse 12 says that the people of God made "great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them." What began with weeping [v. 9] ended in joy [v. 12].The fullest and final joy, however, is not to be found in Nehemiah. The movie isn't over. There's still more popcorn to eat. The story isn't fully told. The child should remain awake a few moments longer to hear the story's end.The joy of Nehemiah 8.12 is an incomplete joy, awaitng its future fullest and final expression found in the person and work of Christ. As the Reformation Study Bible notes, "Israel's failure to merit life in the land testifies to the universal need for a Substitute thorough whom the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met on behalf of those who could not meet these terms on their own."Gospel joy is Nehemiah's joy fully realized. "Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised--who indeed is interceding for us" [Romans 8.34].So Grace Baptist Church, rejoice that we devote ourselves to the public reading of Scripture [I Timothy 4. 13]. Rejoice that every week our brothers in Christ carefully give us a sense of and clearly read God's Word at our Lord's Day service [Nehemiah 8.8]. And rejoice that the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" [John 1.14].

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Forget about "rethinking the Church"

As the 21st century Church becomes increasingly unchurched because of a kind of preaching that makes legalists of saints and consumers [shoppers] of the lost, [thanks Pastor Ben for your comment on Sunday that if we want to quench the Spirit, just turn the Bible into a self-help manual rather than a God-glorifying book that changes lives by putting on display with all of its implications the staggering beauty of the person and work of Christ] perhaps we need to forget about rethinking the Church since it wasn't our idea in the first place. The Church is "the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth" [I Timothy 3.15]. As the note on this verse in the 1599 Geneva Bible puts it, "the Church is the preserver of truth, but not the mother." What the Church is is a "body" of brothers and sisters who are saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ "whereby He took our sin, bore God's judgment in our place, and now clothes us in His righteousness." At the end of his book, The Courage to Be Protestant [2008], David Wells helps us see the folly of rethinking the visible [those we see saved and lost in our pews or "chairs"] Church:"Everything about the church must be [is being] rethought! We must rethink how it becomes successful! We must rethink it all because this is what businesses have to do. Their products are all the time dying as new niches and needs arise. So it is in the church! Rethink or die! For the multitude of pragmatists who are leading churches in America today . . . the church is nothing but its performance. There is nothing to be said about the church that cannot be reduced to how it is doing, and that is a matter for constant inventories, poll taking, daily calculations and strategizing. I beg to differ . . . The church is not our creation. It is not a business. The church, in fact, was never our idea in the first place. No, it is not the church we need to rethink. Rather, it is our thoughts about the church that need to be rethought. It's the church's faithfulness that needs to be reexamined. It is its faithfulness to who it is in Christ, its faithfulness in living out its life in the world, that should be occupying us. The church, after all, is not under our management but under God's sovereign care, and what he sees as health is very often different from what we imagine its health to be . . . God has given us the blueprint for its life in Scripture. What we need to do, then, first and foremost, is to think God's thoughts after him, think about the church in a way that replicates his thoughts about it" [pp. 222-223].