Sunday, June 26, 2011

Male and Female in God's Image

Genesis 1:27 (NKJV)
27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Some of you may recall studying Plato’s doctrine of the forms when you were a student. For Plato the world we see about us, the world that we can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell is only a dim reflection of the truly significant world, the world of the forms. Corresponding to the actual pews in which you are now sitting is, in the abstract world of the forms, the ideal pew – the pew of which all our earthly pews are only dim reflections. The closer tangible objects get to their form, the nearer perfection they also get.

The ways in which Plato’s idea of the forms impacted Greek civilization are myriad, some good and some bad. In the latter category, by far one of the worst impact of Plato’s notion was on the way in which it impacted the Greek perception of humanity. For you see, there is only one perfect form for the myriad objects that have certain traits in common. There is one perfect circle to which all our circles approximate. There is one perfect chair, one perfect triangle, one perfect human. And it is this latter observation that got things going the wrong way. For the Greeks almost uniformly insisted that the human form was male – and the closer one gets to the form, the closer one gets to perfection.

The implications of this for Greek practice were many. First, the Greek acceptance of the perversion of sodomy and homosexuality was born out of this mistaken notion. After all, if the perfect form is male then why shouldn’t one male be attracted to the perfect form of another?

Second, women were degraded and viewed as a lesser form of human since they were further from the form. And the more like men women became the more human they became. So the legends of the Amazonians were spread by men who wanted women to be male. The ancient version of Angelina Jolie.

Notice the contrast between this ancient Greek fable, with its exaltation of perversion and denigration of women, and the revelation of God in Genesis. Here in Genesis we are told that God made man in His image, according to His likeness. But lest we start traveling down the Platonic sewer pipe, Moses informs us that by man he means male and female together. God created man, male and female, in His image after His likeness. It is not the male who is the image of God; nor is it the female who is the image of God; rather it is male and female together – unity and diversity in harmony – who bear the image of God.

So what does this mean? First, men, it means that the women whom God has placed in our lives – wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, etc. – have been put there to teach us about Him. They, in company with us, bear the image of God and so are to be not simply tolerated, not simply endured, but treasured, respected, honored, and listened to as women. God created them to be women and He intends to teach us about Himself through the women in our lives. So are you listening to the lessons God is intending to teach?

Second, women, it means that God has placed you here to teach men something about God. You have lessons to share, truths to embody, principles to articulate. You bear the image of God in a way that no man ever can or will. So have you considered if you’re teaching what you’re supposed to be teaching?

Reminded that as men we often fail to learn the lessons that we are supposed to learn from the women in our midst and that as women we forget that God has put us here on earth to teach some very specific things, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord. We will have a time of private confession after which I will lead us in a public confession.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday Meditation

John 4:21-24 (NKJV)
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”

On Trinity Sunday for the last couple years we have considered the words that Jesus speaks in this text and the way that they help us understand the Trinity. Unfortunately, this text is frequently misinterpreted. It is imagined that Jesus is contrasting the external, formal worship of the OT period with the heartfelt, internal worship of the New. At one time people worshiped externally, now all worship is “in spirit and truth” – that is, heartfelt and genuine.

The difficulty faced by this approach is not the insistence that worship must be heartfelt and genuine. That is most certainly true. The difficulty is that this was no less true in the OT than in the New. David declares in the psalter, “Sacrifice and burnt offering you did not desire, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Heartfelt, genuine worship was to characterize the OT no less than the New.

What then is the change Jesus is anticipating in His words to the Samaritan woman? There are actually two changes. First, Jesus insists that the corporate worship of the people of God would be decentralized. Remember that in the OT God’s people had a central sanctuary located at Jerusalem. Three times a year every male had to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to Mount Zion, and worship at the central sanctuary, offering sacrifices, feasting with God’s people, honoring the Lord. The Samaritans, for their part, refused to acknowledge the centrality of Jerusalem but likewise had a central sanctuary at Mount Gerizim. Here the Samaritans had their collective feasts. The woman asks Jesus – You’re a prophet; so which is it? Mount Zion or Mount Gerizim? Jesus responds, “Neither! In the Christian era, during My reign, God’s people are not required to gather for corporate worship at a central sanctuary – whether in Gerizim or Jerusalem or Rome. Rather, wherever the people of God gather together in My Name and lift My Name on high, there is Mount Zion, there is the City of God, there is the central sanctuary.” In other words, Jerusalem in Israel is no longer the center of God’s dealings with man; the heavenly Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the Church is the center.

Second, Jesus informs us that not only would corporate worship be decentralized, it would be explicitly Trinitarian. When Jesus rose from the dead and sent forth His Spirit, the worship of God’s people was forever transformed. It became explicitly Trinitarian – worshiping the Father in Spirit – the very Spirit whom Jesus promised would come and lead His people into all righteousness – and in Truth – the very Truth who took on human flesh and declared to His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday the Church has historically emphasized the Triune nature of God. It is this that Jesus does in our text. Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth is not an exhortation to heartfelt, genuine worship – that exhortation had been given throughout the OT. Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth is to worship the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it was this transformation that Jesus anticipated and announced to the Samaritan woman. “The time is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.”

So what does this mean for us? It means that this morning as we gather together to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, as we gather to worship the Triune God, we are approaching the central sanctuary of God, the place where God dwells. Mount Zion is His dwelling place and it is this place to which we draw near every time we gather to worship the Lord together. Hebrews tells us, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are registered in heaven…” (Heb 12:22-23) And, like Isaiah, who entered into the presence of God in the Temple, the first thing that should strike us is our own unworthiness – in ourselves, we are not worthy to be here. And so let us kneel and seek His forgiveness through Christ.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost and Responding to God's Law

One of the ancient associations of Pentecost is with the giving of God’s Law on Mt. Sinai. While the feast of Passover was associated with the deliverance from Egypt, Pentecost 50 days later came to be associated with the giving of the Law. It is important as we approach Pentecost and celebrate the giving of the Spirit, that we not drive a wedge between God’s Law and His Spirit – for it was the very Spirit who was poured out upon our fathers on Pentecost that had given Moses the Law on Mt. Sinai. So this morning we open our celebration of Pentecost with a responsive reading of God’s law – I will be reading each of the Ten Commandments and you will respond with passages from the New Testament which parallel these commandments.

Responsive Reading of the Law of God (Exodus 20:1-17)

Minister: Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.”

People: For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. (1 Corinthians 8:6)

M: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

P: Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

M: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”

P: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.’” (Matthew 6:9)

M: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

P: And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

M: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”

P: Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. (Colossians 3:20)

M: “You shall not murder.”

P: Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:8, 9)

M: “You shall not commit adultery.”

P: Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4)

M: “You shall not steal.”

P: Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need. (Ephesians 4:28)

M: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

P: Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25)

M: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

P: Do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints. (Ephesians 5:3)

All: Amen!

Reminded of God’s law, let us kneel together and confess that we often fail to implement it in our lives.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ascension Sunday

Daniel 7:13-14 (NKJV)
13 “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. 14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.

Today is Ascension Sunday. On this day we celebrate the moment when our Lord Jesus Christ, having taught the disciples for 40 days following his resurrection, ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. Ascension Day was actually last Thursday – 40 days since Easter. However, we haven’t yet reached the point of celebrating Ascension Day during the week and so celebrate it on the Sunday following.

But why celebrate this event? What’s so important about the Ascension? Daniel answers these questions for us. In chapter 7 Daniel has a vision of various animals who would rule the kingdoms of the earth in the years and centuries to come. He sees Babylon as a lion with eagle’s wings; then comes Medo-Persia, a bear with three ribs in its mouth; next comes Alexander the Great and Macedonia symbolized by the speed and agility of a leopard with four wings; finally comes Rome, a great beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong, having iron teeth with which it devoured all other kingdoms.

As Daniel was meditating on these visions and wondering what they might mean – for from his vantage point in history he didn’t know what we know of the rise of these kingdoms – as he was wondering what this might mean, something even more startling happened. Suddenly a Son of Man, a Son of Adam, appeared – not a beast but a man. And this Son of Man came up to the Ancient of Days, the Ruler and Judge of all, the one who raises up one kingdom and puts down another. Note that the Son of Man is not here coming down to earth but up to the Ancient of Days – this is not a reference to the Second Coming, in other words, but to the Ascension. The Son of Man came up to the Ancient of Days and what happened? The Ancient of Days gave the Son of Man dominion, glory, and a kingdom – in other words, He made the Son of Man King, Ruler.

And here’s the question: Ruler over what? Over just the land of Israel? Over just the people of God? No. Ruler over all the nations of the earth – listen to Daniel: “Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.” The dominion that the animal kingdoms had for a time exercised over the earth is replaced with the rule of the Son of Adam. In the Ascension Jesus enters upon His duties as the King of kings and Lord of Lords. He begins to reign from the right hand of God and the first thing He does, on the day of Pentecost, is pour out His Spirit upon His people to enable them to carry the message of His reign throughout the earth.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus reigns, let the earth be glad! Jesus reigns, let the nations rejoice! The rule of the beasts of the earth, the governmental principle that might makes right, has come to an end to be replaced by the rule of the Son of Adam and the exaltation of justice. “His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.”

Reminded that Jesus is Lord of all, Ruler of all, and that it is Him that all men, nations, and languages are to serve, that it is Him we are to proclaim as King of kings and Lord of lords, let us confess that our nation refuses to honor Him and that we Christians frequently fail to bear witness to Him. Let us kneel as we confess.