A Church History Meditation for Holy Week

John 3(16) image (Christ slain for sin)

For a number of years, I have been reading early church history and looking for particular summaries of the gospel. One year I found this beautiful statement of who Jesus is and what He did in Christian History Magazine. May it draw your heart to Christ, as we move closer to Easter.

[The image above was found on the Grace Lutheran Church of Dyer, Indiana website. I don’t know who its creator or what its title is. I think of it as an image of “Christ, slain for the sins of the world.” Distasteful and upsetting as it might be to some,

to those who read the Scripture and believe,
to those who through the quickening work of the Holy Spirit have come to see “that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22),
who believe that Christ, the lamb of God who takes away our sins, once and for all time put away the need for blood sacrifices,
……… this picture is a testimony of God’s love and commitment to redeem out of the world all those who place their hope in Him.]

Melito of Sardis
(died c. 190)

Keeper of the Christian calendar

In the late second century, Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus wrote about “Melito the Eunuch” who “lived entirely in the Holy Spirit” and is among “the greatest luminaries who lie at rest in Asia and will rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming.” Melito traveled to Palestine to visit the Holy Places. Virtually nothing else is known of his life.

Melito’s importance lies in the topic of his most popular work, Homily on the Pasch, and in his role in the controversy over the proper date on which to celebrate Easter.

In Melito’s day, some Eastern churches (especially in Asia Minor) followed Jewish custom and celebrated Easter at the same time as Jewish Passover. This “Christian Passover” marked not only the Lord’s resurrection but also his sufferings as the Passover Lamb.

Other churches (e.g., the Roman Christians under Victor) celebrated Easter on the Sunday after Passover, marking the vital importance of the resurrection, which occurred on the first day of the week.

As bishop of Sardis, Melito defended the former position, termed quartodeciman (meaning “fourteenth”). He believed it dated from the apostle John’s stay in Ephesus. Ultimately, however, the Easter Sunday position triumphed. The Council of Nicea (in 325) rejected Quartodeciman practice.

This decision, along with decisions to commemorate Christmas, Epiphany, and Pentecost, as well as days for martyrs, shows the increasing importance of the Christian calendar, a means for Christians to mark sacred time. Melito’s Homily on the Pasch not only shows some of these developments, it is one of the most beautiful meditations ever written on the work of Christ. The word Pasch evoked for early Christians a number of themes: the Jewish Passover, the Passover meal, the lamb sacrificed and eaten at Passover, Holy Week, and Easter—sometimes all at once. In this sermon, the rhythmic prose declares this mystery:

The mystery of the Pasch
is new and old,
eternal and temporal,
corruptible and incorruptible,
mortal and immortal …

Born as Son,
led like a lamb,
sacrificed like a sheep,
buried as a man,
he rises from the dead as God,
being by nature both God and man.

He is all things:
when he judges, he is law,
when he teaches, word,
when he saves, grace,
when he begets, father,
when he is begotten, son,
when he suffers, lamb,
when he is buried, man,
when he arises, God.

Such is Jesus Christ!
To him be glory forever! Amen.
[1]

[1]Christian History: Worship in the Early Church. electronic ed. Carol Stream IL: Christianity Today, 1993; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996.

Not All Walls are Literal


russian-icon-of-ezekiel-holing-a-scroll-of-his-prophecyThe following article is from Kairos Journal. It is so timely, I felt I had to pass it on. Few Christians and even fewer Americans read the book of Ezekiel. Its images and metaphors are not always easy to understand. But the discerning and determined reader will gain much from meditating on its message and will find a warning for our present political and cultural situation. This brief exposition is a great place to start a renewed interest and application of God’s word through Ezekiel.

Set your heart to study, teach, and apply Ezekiel’s message. 

I Searched for a Man

“And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.”

Ezekiel 22:30 (ESV)

Not all men are true men—at least not in the eyes of God. True men lead, speak out, and stand firm. They “stand in the gap” in times of crisis. They build great cities and organizations, but at their best, they build up the Church. In the counsels of heaven, a search committee of One looks for those who have the courage and moral fiber to do what is right. Because God is God, He does not need experts, technicians, or skilled orators to accomplish His work. He simply needs men.

During the time of the rise of [the] Babylonian empire, God looked for a man to warn the wicked people of Judah and its leaders of their impending doom. Judah’s breathtaking wickedness prompted God’s swift and righteous judgment on the inhabitants of Zion. The many dark deeds of Judah included bloodshed and murder (vv. 22:1-5), government corruption (v. 6), a hatred of parents (vv. 7a, 10), extortion (vv. 7, 12), sexual immorality (vv. 10-11), and greed (v. 13). For these and like actions, God promised decisive punishment. Although the Babylonian captivity certainly involved physical removal from Jerusalem, the penalty in full meant the complete undoing of an unfaithful people—“I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it” (v. 21).

Religious leaders led the parade of infidelity and hatred of God. The Lord described the prophets as co-conspirators with evil (v. 25). By approving the sin of Judah’s princes or staying silent, the prophets themselves betrayed the innocent. By refusing to speak out against the immorality of their day and by covering up for sins of political leaders, the prophets “smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them” (v. 28). In doing so, these supposed servants of God dipped their hands in blood unjustly shed. Those responsible for leading worship did the same. By failing to distinguish between “the holy and the common” (e.g., corrupting reverence toward God in worship), the priests made the sovereign God into a public laughingstock.

In the midst of such abomination, God “sought a man to build up a wall and stand in the breach” (v. 30). Such a man preaches sin and judgment—and the blessings of repentance—without fear or favor. But in all of Israel, God could not find this man. It takes courage, after all, to stand alone for God. Due to the shortage, God called Ezekiel, who informed Judah that they had not been forgiven. For this message, Ezekiel was mocked (cf. vv. 20:49; 33:30-32). Those who follow Ezekiel’s model should expect the same.

Could the Lord find a man in today’s multitude of preachers and teachers? Could He find a prophet who spoke the truth to cultural power and a priest who resolved to keep the holy things of God holy? Men act upon conviction and virtue. Cowards wait for poll results and position themselves in the middle. Godly men act out of confidence in the Word of God. False prophets say what people want to hear. True prophets embark upon a narrow way, a path not for the faint of heart.

Two lines I want to underscore:

  1. “Ezekiel was mocked (cf. vv. 20:49; 33:30-32). Those who follow Ezekiel’s model should expect the same.”
  2. “True prophets embark upon a narrow way, a path not for the faint of heart.”

Pray for preachers and your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to be bold in proclaiming the truth. Pray that we would follow Ezekiel’s model and not be faint of heart.

There is No God.

Read Psalm 14 (esp. 1-3)

Another offering from THE POETRY PROJECT

humility word in metal typeThere is a raw quality to some of the psalms of David, a brutal non-political, non-politically correct confidence in the total dependability of God that progressive thought despises and David and other biblical writers could not care less about. Psalm 14 is one of those psalms that breathes those vapors.

Far wiser to say “I have doubts” than to say “I know that there is no God.” Far wiser and nobler to be an agnostic than to declare the religious dogma of atheism. Pray that your atheist friends would be wise and declare for agnosticism. It would be a step away from foolishness and toward wisdom. Pray that they would be humble.

Blunt Truth

No God
There is no god.
I know that there is no god.
So I will organize my life as if he is not, 
because there is no one above.
I will be the master of my time.
I will be the lord of my moments.
I will be the commander of my conscience.

No god will rule me.
No god will condemn me.
No god will stand in my way.

I will not bow my knee.
I will be the master of my destiny.

I will not follow his path.
I will not listen for his voice.
I will ridicule his followers.
I will despise his precepts.
I will seek other devotions and pursue other joys.
I will not delight in a god I don’t see 
or a path that restricts my inclination.
I will turn aside to what his followers label corruption.
and glory in my freedom and progress.

And when worm-food I become.
I will feel nothing,
know nothing,
and regret nothing.

I will simply be gone.

“Alright then,” said the God you will not acknowledge, 
“Have it your way. Fool.”

But there was a tear in the Son of God’s eye.

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they become fools,”

Romans 1:20-22

Go to Psalm 15

A Haunting Question from My New Church

dad-and-son

We had just approved our next budget with a unanimous vote and voted on our new elders. The pot-luck supper was in full swing and the Q and A with the new pastor (that would be me) was drawing to a close. There was time for just a few more questions.

Then it came.

“What would your children want us to know about you?”

Now that’s an interesting question. 

And I didn’t know what the answer would be.

I didn’t even know what I wanted the answer to be!

But it did get me thinking.

And so I said,

“That is a very good question. I think I want to know the answer to that question myself. I’m going to ask them.”

I’ve been thinking about it for two days.

What would my children say? What would I want them to say? Would I be embarrassed by what they said? Would I be pleased? Would it bring shame? Would it bring honor? Would their answer reduce me to weeping regret or exalting joy? 

I don’t know.

And I’m haunted by that. Maybe I should be. Maybe we all should be haunted by what our adult children would say about us to others who wanted to know what made us tick and what we are living for.

Circumcision of the Heart

jeremiahIsrael was instructed to circumcise all males as a symbol of their covenant with God. But that’s all it was—a symbol (cf. Lev. 26:41) . It was always designed to point to an internal reality. It was always designed to reflect a heart that delighted in being in covenant with the creator, a heart that delighted in being the friend of God.

But God is holy and man is not. And that meant and will always mean a heart that is committed to examining the soul with a surgical precision. As Luther said, “when God calls a man, he calls him to a life of repentance.” A Christian, a growing, Christ-exalting, joy-filled, follower of Christ is a person who learns from the biblical record that God delights in hearts that take repentance seriously. But it is hard work to take repentance seriously.

“Rooting out weeds from the fields of the heart is the most difficult part of repentance.”

(Peter Lange, A Commentary on the Holy Scripture)

Here’s how Jeremiah, the mouthpiece for God, puts it in the fourth chapter, the last half of first 3 and the first two lines of verse 4:

“Break up your fallow ground,
And do not sow among thorns.
“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord
And remove the foreskins of your heart,

Breaking up fallow ground is work. Circumcision is painful. And while both of these are metaphors they are “metaphors of difficulty.” And that is the point. It isn’t automatic. It isn’t easy. It isn’t without tears. It is rarely without pain and usually involves public confession as well as private prayer.

We are called to be brutally honest with the introspection of our hearts. To dig and mine, and pick our way through the dross of our sin and as  the writer of Hebrews says,

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,      (Hebrews 12:1)

Running with endurance is hard. Taking sin seriously is hard. Repenting of sin is hard. Circumcising the heart is hard.

But if we want Him, if we want more of Him, if we want Him to be glorified in our lives, if we want the “nations to bless themselves in Him” (Jeremiah 4:2), then we will get serious about repentance.

They Were Made of Sterner Stuff

adonirum-judson

On the way to his first mission assignment, a fellow team member suffered the loss of his wife and child. Shortly after arriving, a European nurse died and his own wife gave birth to a still-born child while still en route to Burma (present-day Myanmar). Two years later, another child, their first son, died.

Three years later, another co-worker died. Two years after that the teammate whose wife and child had died at sea nine years before also died. Five years later, his own wife of 15 years died. Less than six months later, their daughter, Maria, died at the age of 2 years and 3 months old. For over a year, Adonirum Judson fought a dark depression.

Understandable.

Seven years later, Judson married a widow (Sarah Boardman), seven more years pass and she gave birth to a still-born son and another son, dies at 1 year 7 months of age. Four years later, his second wife dies as does yet another son at 1 year 6 months. In 1848, 36 years after leaving for the mission field, he returns to the United States at the age of 60 and married his third wife, Emily, who would die three years later of tuberculosis. Another son, by Emily, also dies in infancy. 

Through all of these losses, Judson labored on his translation of the Bible and of a Burmese-English Dictionary and completes his work in 1849. A year later, he dies of the tuberculosis (he has been fighting  it for years) aboard a ship while sailing on the Indian Ocean. Doctors had recommended the trip in hopes of clearing his lungs with the salt air. He was buried at sea in 1850, 11 years before the war between the States ravaged his home country.

“When Judson began his mission in Burma, he set a goal of translating the Bible and founding a church of 100 members before his death. By the time of his death, he had accomplished those goals and more: leaving the translated Bible as well as a half-completed Burmese-English dictionary, 100 churches, and over 8,000 believers. In large part due to his influence, Myanmar has the third largest number of Baptists worldwide, behind the United States and India.” (Wikipedia)

I wonder how long Christians missionaries from the United States in our age would fare under similar circumstances? I wonder how long the pastors of America would fare? I wonder how long I would last given such soul-shaking losses? And the five paragraphs summarizing his life in this short post don’t come anywhere near to describing all of the difficulties and challenges Judson faced.

I am in awe.

I am in awe, not only of Judson but also of his Lord who sustained him and allowed him to complete his work and finish well. He who sustained Judson is the same God who can sustain you and me through all that we might endure before he takes us to be with Him.

“Lord, Rambo has nothing on this guy! Thank you for creating such men with such passion to endure for the gospel of the Kingdom. Would you raise up a new generation of such men from the soils of our churches? Lord,would you raise up men and women to follow in Judson’s footsteps and take the gospel to the world from Manchester Creek (Rock Hill, SC), and Trinity Church (Watseka/Ashkum, IL), and New Song/Compass Church (Bolingbrook) and all the churches it planted? Would You make me effective as a leader for Your glory and the joy of all people? For the glory of Your name. Amen.”

Why So Many Celebrity Pastors?

In this video, Skye Jethani draws an analogy between President Eisenhower warning about the growing “Military Industrial Complex” and the growing and troubling phenomenon of the “Celebrity Pastor.”

I think he is spot on. Listen and see what you think. And then, spend some time praying for pastors in America to seek Jesus, not fame; to seek integrity and passion for justice, not applause and comfort. Pray that they would seek to be faithful expositors of the Gospel commending all men and women everywhere to repent and believe in Christ.