To His Own Master/Palm Sunday 2009

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We have many times addressed how much we need to learn how to define our days in Christian terms. The salvation that Jesus Christ brought to the world was a public salvation. He was crucified in the public square, and His resurrection was not done in secret. Connected to this, we have to recognize that one of the most public aspects of any culture is the calendar they use. The secular state’s attempts to define time in secular terms is simply a desire to seize control of time, within which you may worship your private god . . . on the weekends. We have been resisting this peculiar form of encroachment for many years. But there is another important aspect to all of this. If we wanted to build a Christian library, a good place to start would be with biblical shelves, biblical forms, biblical containers. But we also need to be careful to fill those shelves up with biblical books. We must also be concerned with biblical content for a biblical calendar.


“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh” (Col 2:16-23)


This is Palm Sunday 2009, and next Lord’s Day is our celebration of Easter. We are finishing the season of Lent, a time of historic preparation for Easter. Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost—these are the bookshelves. What kind of books shall we place there? In our text, note that there is a type of calendar observance concerning which Christians should beware of trouble. There is a type of old calendar observance which ought not to be brought over into the era of Christ (v. 16). The old Judaic calendar was a shadow of Christ, but we now have Christ Himself (v. 17). There is a beguiling attraction to “voluntary humility,” but it is only attractive to those with a puffed up fleshly mind (v. 18). This kind of thing does not hold fast to the Head, and does not grow into the body of Christ as it ought to do (v. 19). If you are dead with Christ to the “rudiments” of the world (v. 20), then why do you submit to decrees that say “Don’t, don’t don’t” (v. 21)? These things perish with the using, and are in line with the commandments and ordinances of men (v. 22). And indeed, there is an appearance of wisdom in the aeceticism here, but this kind of thing is of no value in actually checking the indulgence of the flesh (v. 23).


If the text says, in the first place, not to let anyone judge you with regard to food or drink, or with regard to holy days, then surely it should be a dubious application for you to begin your application of this text by judging somebody else for their food or drink, or their celebration of a holy day. Surely our application here should be in accordance with the apostle’s instructions—”One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it” (Rom. 14:5-6). Paul does not say what particular days were in view here, but surely if it applied to old covenant days that were carried by some over into the time of Christ, it would include observances like Lent. If somebody else observes the calendar differently than you do, then the best thing to do would be to follow the Pauline policy of letting them.


So as you and your family mark your days in the light of Christ’s coming, and at this time of year, in the light of His resurrection, what sorts of things should you be concentrating on? When it comes to observances like this, what should you be careful to remember? First, there are two kinds of observances. One remembers Christ and focuses on Him; the other obscures Him. We live after the Incarnation, which certainly allows for commemoration, but ought not to allow for commemorative shadows. Secondly, cling to anything that knits you more tightly to the Head, and not every bright religious idea does that. The discipline that is good for you is discipline that “increaseth with the increase of God.” God is not the one who specializes in taking away, decreasing. Third, discipline is good and necessary, and ascetism is not—which leads to the next point.


Note this translation of verse 23. “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col 2:23, ESV). They are of no value in stopping fleshly indulgence because, at bottom, they are fleshly indulgence. There is a very common religious turn of mind that supposes godliness consists of giving things up. As Paul says here, there is an appearance of wisdom in it, and I want to argue it is because there is an element of truth in it. A wise mother says no to a bunch of candy half an hour before dinner—a no that makes way for the yes. God says no to drunkenness because He wants to pour out His Spirit (Eph. 5: 18). An athlete in training says no to a number of lawful things so that he may obtain the yes of the trophy. If you havea friend giving things up for Lent, don’t accuse him of doing it the wrong way. Whether he is or not, you are judging him with regard to food and drink the wrong way.

But consider your own case. The counterfeit of godly, balanced discipline lurks nearby, and for conservative Bible believers, it is always right at the elbow, plucking at the sleeve. This is the notion that God is somehow pleased with no in its own right, for its own sake. It is this mentality that has destroyed sabbath keeping in the lives of many. “God says no because . . . because, well, because He just likes to! And He is God, so you have to let Him be like that.” This is a vision of God that lies deep in our bones, and we must learn to mortify it. For those who consider each day alike, God bless you. Keep after it, unto the Lord. Those who want to mark your days and months in terms of the Lord’s coming, His death and resurrection, as we as a congregation have been doing, should lean into it this way. Next year for Lent . . . add something. Read the New Testament. Visit the sick. Give money to famine relief. Memorize three psalms. No doubt you would have to give something up to accomplish such things, but if you did it right, you might not even know what it was.

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