Christmas: Night and Day

Introduction:

And the evening and the morning were the eighth day. We should not be surprised at the pattern of darkness and then light, a pattern which we see not only in the creation of the world, but also in the re-creation of all things.

The Text:

I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16).

The Setting at Night:

A number of the events of the first Christmas occurred at night. The angels announced the good news to the shepherds as they watched their flocks by night (Luke 2:18). The wise men followed the star to Jerusalem, and then to Bethlehem, which meant that they were observing it at night (Matt. 2:9). Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, and he did so at night (Matt. 2:14). And one of the most obvious things about Christmas, when we step back and look at it, is that the first Christmas happened in the world’s dark night. Evening, then morning, the eighth day.

It is not for nothing that our Christmas carols have picked up on this theme—“it came upon a midnight clear,” “wake, awake, for night is flying,” “how lovely shines the morning star,” “as the Light of light descendeth from the realms of endless day, that the pow’rs of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away,” “amid the cold of winter when half-spent was the night,” and “disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.”

The Sun Rises Slowly:

When the sun rises, it does not happen the way a light comes on in a room when you flip the switch. The sun rises slowly. First you do not know if anything has happened or not. It may be just as dark as it was a moment ago, but maybe not. And some time later, you notice that the eastern sky is not what it was. There is some kind of light there. The stars that have been visible all night begin to disappear. Soon there is just one left—the morning star, the planet Venus, the last indication that day is coming. The next event is for the sun to actually rise, for the day to come.

To Be Played Well

“In such exercises it is necessary to remember that on a low key it is best to speak slowly, and swiftly on a higher key. The difference is clearly seen in comparing the lower and upper tones of a piano or violin, and the human voice is also a stringed instrument” (Broadus, Preparation and Delivery, p. 454).

Not a Flat Prohibition

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #172

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” (1 Cor. 14:34–36).

Paul has been addressing the use of spiritual gifts in the church, but his real subject was the need for decorum and order in their worship services. And so here, when he shifts to the question of how their women are to behave in church, he is not really changing the subject.

The prohibition of v. 34 appears to be a flat prohibition, but this is only if we forget what was laid out a few chapters earlier. There Paul required any women in the service who prayed or who prophesied to do so in a manner that showed tangible respect to their husbands (1 Cor. 11:5, 10). Now in order to be able to show respect to your husband by how you pray or prophesy in church, it is necessary to be allowed to pray or prophesy there. It further means that this prohibition here is contextualized—women are to be “under obedience,” as the law required. An instance of what a disorderly speaking might look like is then given—an impromptu Q&A is out, for example.

If anyone is prepared to dispute any of this—and we have lots of people like that in our day—Paul wants to know if they are the source of the Word of God, or if they were the only ones who received it. Since the answer to both rhetorical questions is no, then we see the Pauline refutation of modern feminism long before it arose.

And Not Just Be-Bop Either

“It is on many other accounts also very desirable that a minister should be able to sing, and to sing by note; and young ministers, and those preparing for the ministry, should take much pains to learn to sing” (Broadus, Preparation and Delivery, p. 452).

Christmas Dawn

Introduction:

When Christians are discouraged by the corruptions of our time, it is like complaining about a day that is dark gray and drizzly, wet and soggy. It is in fact a day just like that, but it is not a day like that at midnight.

Because Jesus Christ lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, the world and its history have been completely transformed. It was midnight, but the day has dawned. Think about it. Billions of people identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ. All over the world people take Sunday off because Jesus rose from the dead on this day. And as much as the secularists don’t like it, our whole dating system is divided in two by the man from Nazareth. This is in fact 2014, the year of our Lord. He was the man who split history in two.

But while it is no longer midnight, we are not anywhere close to midday either. What must we do to understand our time?

The Text:

“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; And all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: And the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; And ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet

in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal 4:1-4).

Summary of the Text:

In the previous chapter, Malachi had compared the Lord’s work to a refiner’s fire. All the dross was consumed. This chapter begins in a similar way. A day is coming that will burn like an oven. The proud and the wicked will be consumed like stubble, and with nothing left for them (v. 1). But for those who looked forward to the Lord’s promised deliverance, the sun of righteousness will rise. A ball of flaming righteousness will come up, and healing will extend all along the horizon (v. 2). Those are the healing wings, stretched out to embrace the world. The response of God’s people will be to gambol out into the meadow like calves just released from the stall (v. 3). Our response is not at all dignified. When this all comes to pass, the wicked will be trampled underfoot (v. 4).

Surveying the Text: Judges

Introduction:

The book of Joshua is linear. God supplied a faithful leader to Israel, and he took them into the land, conquering it, and they all moved from left to right. The book of Judges is quite different—it is a book of cycles, a book of ups and downs. It is a book that contains astonishing heroism and appalling grotesqueries both.

The Text:

“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions . . .” (Heb. 11:32–33).

Summary of the Text:

The verses following our text go on to itemize some of the great works of faith that the great heroes of the faith performed. We all know that the Bible describes the flaws of most of these heroes—but the Bible describes them in heroic terms nonetheless. Some of these exploits were acts of triumph and conquest, and others were acts of sacrifice and martyrdom, but all of them were empowered by faith. The point of selecting this text is that it tells us that Gideon, and Barak, and Samson, and Jephthah, were all men of faith. Because the book of Judges is so grim, and because there is so much unfaithfulness in it, we sometimes fail to recognize how much actual success was achieved in the book. Ehud gave the people peace for eighty years (Judg. 3:30). Gideon gave them peace for forty years (Judg. 8:28).

The book of Judges spans approximately three centuries (from roughly 1382 BC to 1065 BC). Although it is unattributed, the most likely author for the book is Samuel.

Six Oppressions:

The history of Judges gives us an account of six periods of oppression. The first was from the Hittite portion of Mesopotamia (Judg. 3:7-11). The second was the oppression of Moab, under their king Eglon (Judg. 3:12-31). The third was the oppression of some local Canaanites, from which Deborah and Barak delivered them (Judg. 4:1-5:31). The fourth was from the Midianites, and Gideon was their deliverer (Judg. 6:1-8:32). The fifth was the only home-grown oppression, that of Abimelech (Judg. 8:33-10:5). The sixth round came from the Ammonites to the east and the Philistines to the west, and the people were delivered by Jephthah (Judg. 10:6-16:31). Samson was also used to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

To this outline of this period of Israel’s history, we see the author added an appendix outlining two stories in greater detail. One of them concerns a Levite named Jonathan, who was hired by a man named Micah as a priestly hireling. This Jonathan was, according to some manuscripts, a direct descendant of Moses (Judg. 18:30). The next story concerns the Benjamite outrage, and we have to say the behavior of an unnamed Levite with his concubine was scarcely any better.

Despite the name judges, the only one of them we see actually discharging that particular function of the office was Deborah (Judg. 4:5). Overwhelmingly, we see these judges functioning as Spirit-anointed deliverers or saviors (Judg. 2:16). We would be better off to render this office as that of warrior-ruler. These were charismatically appointed saviors (Judg. 3:9).

The Deuteronomic Pattern:

The predominant motif in this book is that of the cycle. There is a consistent pattern to it, and it is as follows: First, the Israelites do evil in the eyes of the Lord (e.g. Judg. 2:11). Second, God disciplines Israel by bringing in (usually) foreign oppressors (e.g. Judg. 2:14). Third, the Israelites cry out to God in their repentance (e.g. Judg. 3:9). Fourth, God shows mercy and raises up a deliverer (e.g. Judg. 2:16). Fifth, a period of peace follows until the death of the deliverer, after which the people fall again (e.g. Judg. 3:10-11).

Right In Their Own Eyes:

A tagline for the book of Judges could be “when every man did what was right in his own eyes.” “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). The fact that there was no king introduces the two appalling stories in the appendix (Judg. 18:1; 19:1). And then the same line is used to conclude the book. “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). Right after everyone says yikes, the observation is made that everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

So this is not an idyllic utopia; this was no libertarian paradise. The political chaos meant that heroism was possible (and frequently necessary). The political chaos also meant that atrocities were just around the corner.

The Libertarian Temptation:

When you are ruled by Eglons, as we are, it is very easy to see where the problem is. That being the case, it is too easy to yearn for an ideological “solution,” that of no government at all. Given what the Bible says about it, why would anyone want to live under such conditions? When you live in a time of chaos and anarchy, it is almost impossible to assign responsibility—and this is one of the great attractions of pure libertarianism, which is profoundly anti-Christian. Beware of systems that have universal explanatory power, like hyper-preterism and libertarianism.

Inexorable Mercy:

When we read the book of Judges, we should be mindful of three fundamental realities. The first is that God judges sin (Judg. 2:11,14). The second is that God is extraordinarily merciful to people who manifestly do not deserve it (Judg. 2:16). And the last is the sinfulness and ingratitude of the heart of man. After each deliverance, once the judge in question was dead, they veered back and behaved more corruptly than their fathers had done (Judg. 2:19).

But God is full of tender mercy, and Christ has died and risen in such a way as to deal with the treacherous hearts of men forever. We can therefore concentrate on His mercy. “Nevertheless the Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them” (Judg. 2:16).

Even the trials that God sent them were motivated by His grace:

“Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; Only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof; Namely, five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baal-hermon unto the entering in of Hamath. And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the Lord, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses” (Judg. 3:1–4).

The Lord Jesus fights for us, and He is our ultimate Judge. And this is what it means for God to judge—He delivers us. When God intervenes to judge, this is good news. “Let the floods clap their hands: Let the hills be joyful together Before the Lord; for he cometh to judge the earth: With righteousness shall he judge the world, And the people with equity” (Ps. 98:8–9).

The outline to the message for the first service can be found here.

When the Spirit Says to Put a Sock in It

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #172

“Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Cor. 14:29–33).

Paul has already taught us that no more than two or three people can speak in tongues in the course of a worship service, and, if they do, then the words they spoke must be interpreted. This implies that they need to go one at a time so that the words can be made out distinctly, and translated for the congregation. Some might want to represent this as a view of mine, in which I am seeking to quench the Spirit. It is actually the view of the Spirit, working through Paul, in order to quench us. Quenching ego-babbling is not the same thing as quenching the Spirit.

The same principle applies to any words of prophesy that are given. Two, or at the most three, may speak words that the Spirit inspires. The first principle noted here is that the prophets must be accountable for what they say. The others sit to judge and review what is said. No one gets to speak for God on their own authority. The second principle is that courtesy and deference apply even here. When a word comes to another prophet, the first prophet gives way. Spiritual inspiration does not bring in bedlam. One at a time, with three messages as the most. The result is that everyone learns, everyone profits. The result is that all are comforted. If any are tempted to resist this word because “inspiration cannot be denied,” Paul says no. That’s not right. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, meaning that it possible to put a sock in it. Consider that each prophet is capable of restraining himself, and each prophet is to be subject to the other prophets. The alternative to this is disobedience, which would result in confusion instead of peace. And the Spirit’s work is to create order and peace, as in all the churches of the saints, and not disorder and chaos.