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Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Cup

The last few years I've been teaching mostly from the OT. One result has been an increasing understanding of NT allusions to OT concepts, allusions which would not have been difficult for 1st Century AD believers to understand, but which are often lost to modern believers, who don't tend to have their solid understanding of the OT.

I recently became aware of the OT significance of the term "this cup" in Mark 14:36 [cf. Mt.20:22], which Jesus refers to in His prayer at Gethsemane the night before His death. "And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will." I had always assumed He was speaking of His approaching suffering and death ... the scourging, the humiliation, the crucifixion. On a human level, those would be considered serious, painful events. Being human, we are quick to identify with such suffering. That is certainly the main viewpoint in Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of Christ".

But Jesus is actually speaking of something He had a very clear concept of, yet something which mankind has little understanding of ... God's wrath against sin. Christ is referring to "the cup of God's wrath", seen frequently in the OT as the just response of a holy God to sin. The reference appears frequently in the OT: look at Ps. 75:8, Isa. 51:17, Jer. 25:15-28, Ezek. 23:32-34 and Hab. 2:16. The NT also refers to the cup of God's wrath in Revelation 14:10, "the cup of His anger", and in Revelation 16:19, "the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath".

What brought our Lord to His knees that evening was His knowledge that He was about to take God's wrath upon Himself - wrath He did not deserve, but which our sin had earned. Any other suffering paled in comparison! Romans 8:1 tells us the result of His having done so, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Jesus willingly took God's deserved wrath for our sin upon Himself, with the result that it no longer lies upon those who have placed their trust in Christ and His perfect atonement. This is a truth so far beyond our wildest imaginations that I don't think we stop often enough to contemplate the significance of such a loving gift!

What is even MORE amazing is that knowing what was about to occur, Christ's over-riding, greater concern was that God's will would be done! Scripture is full of God's will for us, beginning with having a genuine sorrow for our sin against a holy God, a sorrow that leads to repentance: "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation..." 2 Corinthians 7:10. May we never take sin against a holy God lightly!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Therefore, Be Reconciled

I have had so many "aha" moments in Bible Study this week I'm dizzy! It never ceases to amaze me how long I can carry a wrong or incomplete understanding of a biblical passage in my head, until the day comes, praise God, the blinders come off! Something I thought I totally understood suddenly opens up to me.

Mt. 5:23-24 is a common counseling passage about being reconciled to a brother. Today I suddenly understood the passage in its greater context . First, I noticed an important word at the beginning of v.23, "Therefore". Hmm... Jesus is about to give a resulting conclusion based on previously given information. Aha....what comes just before this verse? He's teaching about a wider understanding of sin, going beyond the focus on outward actions, as taught by the rabbis, and expanding back into one's thought life (21-22). They had heard rabbis teach that murder is a sin. Jesus now expands upon that teaching to help them understand sinful anger in their thought life is equally worthy of God's judgment! That knowledge gives the worshiper in v.23 a MOTIVATION for being reconciled with a brother who is holding something against him. Love for your brother should motivate you to prevent him from suffering the consequences of sinful anger!

Secondly, I see the verb "be reconciled" is an Imperative of Command in the Greek. There is no personal choice in the matter. The Lord Himself directly gives this command.

Finally, the passage says absolutely nothing about the attitude of the worshiper. It matters not whether the worshiper believes a problem actually exists with his brother. What matters is that THE BROTHER thinks there's a breach. Which leads to an important additional point. The worshiper is commanded to be reconciled to his brother irrespective of the justice or injustice of the brother's judgment! How many of us refuse to take steps to be reconciled with a brother because we consider ourselves to be innocent of any wrongdoing? It's THEIR problem, we say. I haven't done anything wrong. According to this passage, our guilt or innocence doesn't matter. It's the brother's opinion that counts. Remember, Jesus' focus isn't on our guilt or innocence here, but on our brothers sinful anger.

The point is to love your brother enough that you are willing to do whatever is necessary to remove the ground of estrangement from between you, and thereby save him from sinful anger. That's what it means to "build up one another". It's not that believers go around saying, "Good job!"... "Atta boy!" to one another all the time, but that we help each other become increasingly Christ-like, and thereby glorify God!

And we have Christ's own example to follow. "But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." [Rom. 5:8] That's the selfless, loving attitude Jesus is looking for in His people!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Learning to Read Scripture in Context

"To read a passage of Scripture in context is simply to read it with a sense of its place in the whole. This is, on the one hand, one of the easiest of our hermeneutical principles and takes the least amount of time. But on the other hand, it takes a lifetime. This is true because the Bible is unfathomably rich. So rich that no one can master the Scripture in a lifetime. There is always something more to know, something more to learn from God's Word. And it is precisely from our knowledge of the whole that we must read the part." Tremper Longman III