[The following story appears in Will Willomon’s Stories from Willimon. When I read it, it struck a chord with me and I hope it does the same for you.]
He owned a hardware store, and he was a member of my church. Someone had warned me about him when I moved there. “He’s usually quiet,” they said, “but be careful.” People still recalled the Sunday in 1970 when, in the middle of the sermon (the previous preacher’s weekly diatribe against Nixon and the Vietnam War), he had stood up from where he was sitting, shook his head, and walked right out. So, I always preached with one eye on my notes and the other on him. He hadn’t walked out on a sermon in more than ten years. Still, a preacher can never be too safe.
You can imagine my fear when one Sunday, having waited until everyone had shaken my hand and left the narthex, he approached me, gritting his teeth and muttering, “I just don’t see things your way, preacher.”
I moved into my best mode of non-defensive defensiveness, assuring him that my sermon was just one way of looking at things, and that perhaps he had misinterpreted what I said, and even if he had not, I could very well be wrong and er, uh . . .
“Don’t you back off with me,” he snapped. “I just said that your sermon shook me up. I didn’t ask you to take it back. Stick by your guns—if you’re a real preacher.”
Then he said to me, with an almost desperate tone, “Preacher, I run a hardware store. Since you’ve never had a real job, let me explain it to you. Now, you can learn to run a hardware store in about six months. I’ve been there fifteen years. That means that all week, nobody talks to me like I know anything. I’m not like you, don’t get to sit around and read books and talk about important things. It’s just me and that hardware store. Sunday morning and your sermons are all I’ve got. Please, don’t you dare take it back.”
“The Unfettered Word,” sermon, Duke University Chapel, October 15, 1989
It was cool outside a few days ago and I wasn’t doing anything. I had nothing planned for the next couple of hours and I just wanted to spend some time with the Lord.
I’m not oblivious to my shortcomings when it comes to my personal prayer and devotional time so I thought I might go outside, sit in my lawn chair with my Bible and redeem the time a little. I played Bible roulette (which I don’t recommend), and I landed on Lamentations 3, and I just started reading. I know the context of Lamentations. It’s Jeremiah’s lament over the destruction and exile of Jerusalem during a time when they were acting rebellious agains the Lord, and it was their time reap what they had sown.
As I read, I could see the typical parallels between the sins of Jerusalem and the sins of our culture, and I got to epic passage where Jeremiah finally says, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23, NKJV)
This is the text everyone likes to cross stitch on a pillow and make a graphic of on their Bible and completely forget the fact that it comes from a place deep sorrow, anguish, and longing. Those verses have great meaning, but my eyes didn’t fully come to rest until I landed on verse 26.
“It good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:26, NKJV
I think sometimes we want this big emotional payoff when we pray. Maybe we want an “AHA” moment where something just clicks in our hearts and minds that we didn’t thinks of before. Maybe we want a heavenly pat on the back that for taking the time to pray. Maybe we want to walk around glowing so people know that we’ve been with God.
I think sometimes believe that the way prayer works is that we talk to God, and then He should talk to us whether through His Word or a thought that comes into our minds or whatever means He chooses, and we can walk away knowing that our prayer did something, but I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work.
We live in a time where everyone wants instant gratification. We want every post on social media to make an impact. We want the likes and comments. We want our 15 minutes of fame on TikTok after we just posted a stupid video of ourselves singing along to a dumb song. We are a people who love the microwave. Put a frozen brick of food in there, and in 5 minutes you have a meal. This whole way of thinking about gratification can bleed over into our spirituality if we’re not careful.
When we think of the spiritual disciplines we think of prayer, fasting, and Bible reading. Those are the main three that our minds wander to. I’ll even admit that when I preached a sermon series over the spiritual disciples a couple of years ago that those are the ones that I focused on. Don’t misunderstand me, those are important and we shouldn’t lose or even diminish the value of those disciplines, but they’re not the only ones available to us.
When my eyes landed on Lamentations 3:26 I was reminded that solitude is in fact a spiritual discipline. I don’t think we realize how valuable just being quiet is. We always have to noise. I often keep my television on for background noise. We’re always listening to music, a podcast, or some radio station in our car. Even when we sleep, we must have white noise from a fan or air conditioner or we can’t sleep. When my wife comes home from work she sometimes just wants to sit in the quiet for a few minutes and it drives me batty because I always have to have something going.
However, I’m not so sure that it’s entirely healthy to always be surrounded with noise. For some us, I think it’s almost a fear. We don’t want to be left alone with our thoughts. Maybe it’s not that dark for some of us. Maybe it’s that we feel like if we just sit in the quiet that we’re wasting time and not accomplishing anything, and we fear not getting anything done.
Whatever the reason is, I think we sometimes just have to push our issues aside for a few moments and allow ourselves to relax and connect with the Lord in solitude.
In his book, The Great Ommission, Dallas Willard actually argues that for some of us, having a Sabbath isn’t possible without solitude.
For most of us, Sabbath will not become possible without extensive, regular practice of solitude. That is, we must practice time alone, out of contact with others, in a comfortable setting outdoors or indoors, doing no work. We must not take our work with us into solitude, or it will evade us—not even in the form of Bible study, prayer, or sermon preparation, for then we will not be alone. An afternoon walking by a stream or on the beach, in the mountains, or sitting in a comfortable room or yard is a good way to start. This should become a weekly practice. Then perhaps a day, or a day and a night, in a retreat center where we can be alone. Then perhaps a weekend or a week, as wisdom dictates.
This will be pretty scary at first for most of us. But we must not try to get God to “do something” to fill up our time. That will only throw us back into work. The command is “Do no work.” Just make space. Attend to what is around you. Learn that you don’t have to do to be. Accept the grace of doing nothing. Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming.
Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. You will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways. Joy and peace will begin to bubble up within you and arrive from things and events around you. Praise and prayer will come to you and from within you. With practice, the “soul anchor” established in solitude will remain solid when you return to your ordinary life with others.
Dallas Willard, The Great Ommission
If what Willard says is true (and I think it is), then it would do us well to sit and wait on the Lord in quiet solitude.
I think we tend to think of things like waiting, solitude, and silence as just things we have to endure until we get to what we want, but what if we saw them as opportunities to engage with the Lord? What if we even went out of our way to be quiet and step away from the noise? What kind of a difference could it make our lives if just agreed with God that it is good to hope and wait quietly for Him?
[This sermon was preached on December 27th, 2020 for the Mars Hill Cumberland Presbyterian Church broadcast on their Facebook page.]
Good morning, we’re going to read from the Gospel of Matthew, and we’re just going to read verses 13-23. We’re going to read the violent scene that takes place at the hands of Herod, and we’re going to see what an awful scene like this means for us today.
When you get to Matthew 2:13-23, go ahead and stand for the reading of God’s Word.
TEXT: Matthew 2:13-23, NKJV
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION:
Almighty and Everlasting God, we have a hard text before us. It looks bleak and we need help seeing the Gospel, the good news, in a text like this. So Father, would you come to us with the power of the Holy Spirit and open our hearts to hear what You have to say to us through this word? Father, send the Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts leave the other side of this message looking more and more to you than when it began. We ask these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Last week, I gave a brief history lesson over what was going on in Rome at the time of Jesus’ birth which made his arrival at that particular time all the more meaningful. Whenever we read the Scriptures, it’s important for us to consider the cultural and historical landscape of what’s going in the world around the writing of Scripture because Scripture wasn’t written in a vacuum apart from what was going on. Scripture was written by a particular people in a particular place in time and they assumed that their audience would know what was going on at the time because they didn’t expect the world to go on into this many future generations. They thought Jesus would have been back within a generation or two perhaps even in their own lifetimes, and a lot of information can be lost in 2000 years so it’s important for us to consider what was going on in the world that surrounds the writing of Scripture so we can see the full context of what we’re reading when we open the Bible.
This week we’re going to expound more on what’s going on in the world around the time of Jesus’ birth. So many times we prefer the more serene pictures of the nativity that we see on Christmas cards at Hallmark or Hobby Lobby, but I don’t think we consider the darkness of the circumstances surrounding such a holy event. So, this morning we will consider “Where the Light Shines in the Dark Side of Christmas.”
Romans 15:4 tells us that “whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” We apply that principle to stories in the Bible that might be hard to grasp for whatever reason because we’re trusting that by reading those things it will strengthen our hope.
So, the natural question is: where’s the hope? It seems like evil is running rampant, and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are on the run. The only good thing about it is that at the end, Herod dies, and Joseph and Family seem to have found a place to lay down roots in Nazareth. So, what does it all mean?
What I want to do this morning is I want us think about this passage under two headings, I want us to think about: The Suffering of the World, and The Savior of the World.
The circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth are interesting to begin with:
First, an angel appears to Zechariah and tells him that he and his wife will have a baby, and we know from last week’s Sunday School lesson that his child going to be John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ.
Then, an angel appears to Mary to tell her that she will give birth to Jesus.
Then, an angel appears to Joseph to confirm that Mary is in fact pregnant with the Son of God.
Then, angels appear to shepherds to tell them that a Savior had been born in the City of David. Now, shepherding was a working man’s job. Remember last week we said that it wasn’t exactly considered a noble profession and the testimony of shepherd weren’t even allowed to be heard in court. Shepherds aren’t the kind of people that anyone would expect to see the angels come to.
Then wise men are guided by a star in the East to the place where Jesus was born.
Then finally, in our passage, an angel appears to Joseph two more times to show him where to go and what to do.
THE SUFFERING OF THE WORLD
Meanwhile, in the midst of all this good news and celebration, Herod issues an edict that all male children two years old and younger should be put to death. Why? Because he’s insecure.
In his mind, he’s the King of the Jews. Afterall, he’s the one who went before the Roman Senate petitioned to have that title. He’s going to kill anyone who threatens his place in society, including children, and not just children, but his own children as well.
Herod had three sons, and one of them framed the other two in a conspiracy to have Herod assassinated, and so Herod, feeling threatened, didn’t hesitate to have his own sons put to death.
This kind of evil that Herod perpetuates isn’t like a tornado or a hurricane that comes through and kills people, and damages property. Natural disasters like that are impersonal, but the death of these children is an active and decisive act of someone who is evil and bent on retaining control and power.
If modern day psychologists were to peer into his mind they would probably deem him a deranged sociopath.
But this is the world that Jesus is born into.
“Perhaps no event in the gospel more determinatively challenges the sentimental depiction of Christmas than the death of these children. Jesus is born into a world in which children are killed, and continue to be killed, to protect the power of tyrants…
The Herods of this world begin by hating the child, Jesus, … [they] end up hurting and murdering children. That is… the politics of murder to which the Church is called to be the alternative.” – Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew
So, this is where we begin to learn about Jesus, the savior of the world.
THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD
Jesus is born into a world of suffering. Jesus is born into a world of pain. Jesus is born into a world where children are murdered and where people are fighting each other for control of a world that they only have a few years to live on.
And the reason Jesus is born into this world is so the world can be transformed and renewed, and in order for that to happen, Jesus has to be better.
First, Jesus has to be the better Adam.
God’s plan for the world was to create a dwelling place for himself, and He gave Adam a responsibility, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it…” (Gen. 1:28) He also tells him that there’s a tree that he can’t partake of. It’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
Adam fails in his obedience to God, he partakes of the tree with wife, and they are kicked out of the garden.
Jesus has to be the more obedient Adam. He doesn’t disobey God in any way, instead He fulfills the law in every aspect.
Secondly, Jesus has to be the better Moses.
Have you noticed that the beginning of Moses’ life, and the beginning of Jesus’ life are very similar? At the beginning of Moses’ life there’s a Pharaoh who feared God’s people. He feared that the Jewish population would get so big that there would be an uprising to Egyptian government, and he would lose his power. So, he sets out to murder their male children, and Moses’ life was spared because Exodus 1 tells us that the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them. (Exodus 1:17)
At the beginning of Jesus’ life there’s a king who also fears losing his power, and now he’s hearing about this baby who is supposed to be the king of Jews so he sets out to kill all the male children in his region. Do you see how Moses’ life and Jesus’ life are running parallel?
In Exodus 2, Moses kills an Egyptian soldier and takes refuge in Midian because Pharaoh is out to kill him. In Exodus 3, Moses see the burning bush, and God tells him that it’s time to go to Egypt. When we come to Exodus 4, God tells Moses that he can finally go back to Egypt.
“Now the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt; for all the men who sought your life are dead.” – Exodus 4:19, NKJV
Does that sound familiar? It’s the almost exact same phrase from our passage in Matthew 2:20 where the angel appears to Joseph and says, “…go to the land of Israel for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Like Moses, his life is being sought after, and like Moses, God makes a way for him to go back to where He is to lead God’s people.
According to Matthew 2:15, this all took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”
When you’re reading your Bible in the New Testament, and you notice that the text says, “this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” or “as it is written…” go back in your Old Testament and see what’s being said in context. If you do that, I promise the Bible will open up to you.
So, when Matthew says that this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, we need to see where it comes from. Most your Bibles have cross references, and if you follow your cross-references it should take you back to Hosea 11.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.
2 As they called them, so they went from them; they sacrificed to the Baals, and burned incense to carved images. 3 “I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them.” – Hosea 11:1-4, NKJV
What God is describing here, is how he pulled Israel from the dust, and he set them on their own two feet, and then in verse 2 it says they sacrificed to Baals. So, what happened was that God brought them out of Egypt (“out of Egypt I have called my Son”), He establishes them as a nation (“I taught [them] how to walk, taking them by their arms”), and then they turn away from God and turn to idols.
Matthew is assuming that when he quotes from the Old Testament we’re going to know what he’s talking about it. So, when he quotes Hosea passage here, he’s communicating to us that the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is a type and shadow of Jesus’ return to Israel from Egypt.
This leads us to our third point about the Savior of the World, he has to be the better Israel. If the world is going to be made right, then Jesus has to lead the charge obediently and faithfully, better than Adam, better than Moses, and more faithfully than Israel.
Going back to the quote from Hosea 11, think about the whole book of Hosea. We have a story where God tells a prophet to go marry a prostitute, and have children with her because this is how God was loving His people.
And what happens is that even after being married to a prophet and having children with him, this woman goes back to street corner and returns to prostitution and God tells Hosea to go back and buy her. The cycle continues, and the rest of the book Hosea is God calling out Israel’s idolatry, and promising judgement, but finally the end of the book takes a different turn. The final chapter in Hosea is chapter 14, and it’s there where God calls them to turn back to Him.
“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. 5 I will be like the dew to Israel; He shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. 6 His branches shall spread; His beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 “Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do anymore with idols?’ I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; your fruit is found in Me.” 9 Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right; The righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” – Hosea 14:5-9, NKJV
That’s how the book ends.
Everything that Israel went through, all their trials, all their judgements, everything they would face would point forward to a deliverer better than Moses.
Israel was not true to its identity and was finally cast out of the land. But Hosea saw that God’s anger against His people would not last forever; He would provide a renewed Israel who would serve the Lord faithfully (vv. 2–12; see 2:14–23).
That hope for a new Israel—a true Israel that would embody all that God called Israel to be—persisted all across redemptive history. This hope was finally fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ. Matthew tells us that Jesus fulfills Hosea 11 (Matt. 2:13–15). He is the true Israel, the faithful Israel who succeeds where old covenant Israel failed.
Like ancient Israel, He came up out of Egypt, passed through the waters, and was tested in the wilderness. In Matthew 4 and in Luke 4, both of those authors recall Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. He was tempted with the same kinds of things that they were tempted with, and He was tempted with the same kinds of things that we are tempted with, but the difference is that Jesus passed the test where Israel failed. Jesus passed the test in the same areas of our lives where many of us have failed.
Because of that, we look to Jesus as the true and better Israel, we look at Jesus as the true and better Adam, we look to see Jesus as the true and better Moses who brings us into the fulfillment of everything that God has promised to us.
The good news of the gospel is that when we are in Christ we are made members of the new Israel. If we are in Christ, we share in the privileges and relationship He enjoys as God’s true Son… As such, we inherit all of the promises given to old covenant Israel. Those promises of God that Israel would rule over her enemies and enjoy abundant covenant blessings (for example, Isa. 14:1–2)—those promises are for all of God’s people united to Christ by faith alone. In Him we are the true Israel of God, heirs of the destiny promised to God’s old covenant people (Zeph. 3:14–20).
The question I want us to ask ourselves this morning is: where are we?
Are we trying to serve God on our own terms or are we resting in the fact that our lives are hidden in Christ?
This is what Paul has to say about his relationship to Christ, and hopefully we all can say this as well.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20, NKJV
Then Paul challenges us even farther in Colossians 3.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” – Colossians 3:1-3, NKJV
Now, I’ll ask again, are you in Christ? Are you resting in Him, trusting in Him, pursuing Him? Or are you on the outside? Are you wondering why everyone else is so excited, why everyone else takes their faith so seriously, wondering why other people are experiencing a deep joy that goes beyond surface-level happiness? Look to Jesus.
[Preface: This was originally written in a Facebook by Mr. Martin. I got his permission to post it here for your reading pleasure.]
The Gentile Shame
The Greeks, the Romans, and everyone nation since Babel has balked at the idea of the biblical God. Some were dissatisfied with His mercy. Others were dissatisfied with His justice. It has become the longstanding human tradition to transform the God of the universe into the God of our backyard. So it was with the Romans. Their gods were decadent and sinful as their own culture. Fickle and driven by whims. They also rarely had the consequences of their actions catch up to them. Now the Greek world is supposed to accept the claim that God’s chosen champion came and died on a cross and that he is the only way to salvation? Even if you do come to a true faith, what of the instrument of death?
The cross is taboo. Let’s try to illustrate it with modern ideas. We know that there are very few labels worst than ‘fascist.’ No one wants to be associated with the death machine that was Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Let’s say that we instituted crucifixion for fascists. Now you expect me to believe that God’s Messiah died a fascist’s death? It’s a little harder to believe. It’s very hard to rally around. The Gentile shame of the Gospel robs God of majesty.
The Jewish Shame
Now on the other hand, let us pretend that we are in the place of the Jew. We expected a conquering king. But to your unbelieving blood brothers it appears that we received, instead of a conquering king, a conquered blasphemer. This so called ‘son of God’ who would inherit the nations was, by the testimony of the Sanhedrin, a damnable offender of the law. And rumors of the resurrection – a doctrine going out of style – are a lot harder to believe when you’re in Rome and not in Jerusalem. The Jewish shame of the Gospel robs God of credibility.
The Theological Shame
There is also the very shame that this ‘Gospel’ is the foundation of the church. Where is the inheritance of the Son of God? Where is the justice in this? How can you accept the murder of an innocent man to be the will of God? Furthermore, will the son be vindicated? How can the church follow a disgraced and dishonored incarnate God? Where is the honor of God in this affair? Where is the glory due Christ’s name? Paul is approaching the church in Rome, trying to unite them so that they can fund a missionary journey to the edge of the Earth in Spain, and yet how can a church that does not understand the incarnation pursue Christ? The theological shame of the Gospel robs God of all honor.
The Universal Shame
Now let us step away from the immediate and theological context and look at the anthropological context. As a result of the fall, the heart of man is infested with the deadly sin of self-justification. Absorb that word – justification. It will become the keyword for this entire passage. The self-justification of man shields him from the truth about his state. But now as the Gospel message is proclaimed, God’s word – when His Spirit wills it – pierces the mental shield of self-justification and lets the mind lay naked before the truth of the Gospel. Who cannot become overwhelmed with such mental anguish when they know a perfect God died for them? Who cannot be ashamed of a Gospel that uncovers your wickedness? The universal shame of the Gospel robs man of his self-justification.
Today, I started doing an in-depth read through Embracing Exile by T. Scott Daniels. In this short, but edifying volume, Rev. Dr. Daniels gives us an over of the texts of Scripture that speak of God’s people living in the face of exile. Daniels then uses these narratives to explain how God’s people today experience exile as it seems that we’re losing influence and power within the western world.
To open the first chapter, Daniels shares a brief quote from Ezekiel 12:11.
They shall go into exile, into captivity.
Ezekiel 12:11, NRSV
To see the verse in context for myself, I opened up my Bible and read the entire chapter, and I can’t really explain what happened while I was reading it other than I felt the way someone might feel if they were reading a good novel and they can’t seem to bring themselves to put the book down.
I read Ezekiel 12, and I then I went back and read it again and again and again. It’s almost as if I could visualize the prophet Ezekiel packing his bags and leaving the city mourning over the sin that will lead to the people’s exile. Unfortunately, Ezekiel seems to be one of the few (possibly the only one) mourning in this way. While the people of God live complacently, God is making plans to “scatter them among the nations and disperse them throughout the countries.” (Ezekiel 12:15, NKJV)
However, the people are skeptical. According to Ezekiel 12:22, the people have heard all of the visions and words from many prophets before who were false and just want the give the people what they wanted to hear, and if those flattering visions and prophecies didn’t come to pass, what made the people believe that Ezekiel’s legitimate message from Yahweh was going to be true?
However, the Lord speaks again to Ezekiel and says:
For I am the Lord. I speak, and the word which I speak will come to pass; it will no more be postponed; for in your days, O rebellious house, I will say the word and perform it,” says the Lord God.’ ” 26 “Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 27 “Son of man, look, the house of Israel is saying, ‘The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off.’ 28 Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “None of My words will be postponed any more, but the word which I speak will be done,” says the Lord God.’ ”
Ezekiel 12:25-28, NKJV
The damage had already been done by false prophets and wicked leaders. The people had been led astray to live complacent in the muck and mire of their rebellion without recognizing anything was wrong. All of their sin and rebellion was going to come to a head when they get taken into exile.
However, not all hope is lost. In the midst of exile, even while the children are growing up in the midst of foreign nations and comforming to pagan standards of life, God spares for Himself a people who remember Zion, a people who still honor God, a people who long for worship in the temple once again.
While the world around us changes and the Church seems to be pushed to the margins of society, Jesus is still on His throne. While God’s people may have longed to return to Zion, we the Messiah-following Israel of God, have been brought to Zion and our position is secure. We are citizens of kingdom that cannot be shaken, and we long with great anticipation for that day when everything that can be shaken will be shaken so that only that which of God’s kingdom may remain. (Hebrews 12:25-29)
Introduction – Offending Most of You Before We Get Started
I was talking to someone the other day about the opportunity that I have from Zondervan to review this unique Bible. Of course, the conversation moved to politics since Jimmy Carter in a former President of the United States. The person that I was talking to said that they didn’t understand why Carter was chosen for this project.
I said that I didn’t know the specific reason why, but I would have to assume that it’s probably because he’s the only President in recent history who claims to be a Christian and has actually shown any fruit of the Spirit in his dealings and decision-making.
His responded with a dismissal and some generic comment about the ineffectiveness of Carter’s administration. This wasn’t the first comment that I’ve heard like that about Carter’s presidency and it won’t be the last. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not under any grand delusion about President Carter’s administration, but I also feel that there was a legitimate reason for Carter’s limitations as a leader. The reason is simple – He’s a Christian.
What does it say about us as a nation when someone can’t be seen as an effective President simply because being seen as such would compromise their commitment to follow and live like Christ would have them to live? It’s no coincidence that the same people who frown upon Jimmy Carter’s effectiveness as a President applaud and revere the way our current administration bullies others and “tells it like it is.”
However, the primary purpose of this post isn’t to wax political or to expose what is clearly a giant hypocrisy within the conservative evangelical movement at large.
Why I’ve Gathered You All Here in the First Place
Zondervan was kind enough to send me a Leathertouch copy of the Simple Faith Bible and upon opening the box a certain smell hit me in the face. You know the one. The smell of a brand new Bible. That’s the smell that I want to capture in an aerosol can and spray into the air any time I need a quick aroma therapy boost.
When I turned the pages, I heard the distinct light popping and cracking of the golden guilding breaking up. Just like with any new Bible I hold in my hands, I was excited from the very beginning.
As you open the first page, you immediately see a guide to the features of this piece.
Two features of note are the Bible in Life and the Bible in Focus pieces. These brief articles are excerpts from Jimmy Carter’s own personal devotions. These pieces provide insight and personal application into the text at hand.
The 9.5 size of the font is great for people who ordinarily have to strain to read, and while I’m not a fan of Zondervan’s ComfortPrint, they could’ve done worse with their font choice.
All of that being said, this is not a study bible for ivory tower theologians. If that’s what you’re expecting, you’ll be disappointed. However, if you’re looking for a light everyday carry and you’re a fan of the NRSV, then this is definitely for you. As a matter of fact, I would say that this would be great if you’re looking for a decent preaching Bible on a budget. It feels great in your hand and the the Leathertouch feels just like real leather. The paste down paper liner kind of gives it away that it’s not real leather, but the illusion is very good upon first opening the box.
This is a great Bible for devotional reading, carrying to church, or as I said, preaching. The guilding is actually very good for a Bible that isn’t typically considered ‘premium.’ I could actually see my reflection in the gold until I got my fingerprints all over it from reading through it.
The price on the back of the box is $59.99. Honestly, I think this is kind of steep for what it is, but you could easily get this for much cheaper on christianbook.com.
In conclusion, this would actually be a really good Bible for someone who needs a Bible for devotional purposes, but doesn’t want to be bogged down with a lot of extra study materials that they could easily find on biblegateway.com or studylight.org.
[A Necessary Preface: This article is not my own. It was originally written by J. Brandon Meeks about 5 years ago over at his blog, The High Church Puritan. For whatever reason, this particular article keeps disappearing from the internet so I am taking it upon myself to post the article here where it is not in any immediate danger of disappearing. However, if the author were to see this and request that I take it down, I will do so.]
Olympus has fallen. The old gods are dead. Poseidon has drowned in the sea of forgetfulness and Zeus has been plucked from the heavens. Like Dagon before them, they have all bowed at the feet of the Living God and lost their heads in the process.
The resurrected Christ has vanquished them all and plundered their ancient shrines and temples. He spoiled the principalities and powers that stood behind these demonic deities, and by virtue of a empty tomb and occupied throne, He chained them to His chariot wheels as a demonstration of His triumph (Col. 2:15).
The names of these deposed deities are now little more than distant memories, if they come to memory at all. No one thinks of the Viking lords when they speak of Monday, Tuesdays, and Wednesday anymore. But even the most recalcitrant secularist is reminded that Sunday is regarded by multiplied millions as the Lord’s Day—for on Sunday the Son rose.
In the beginning, God created dates and days, separated times and seasons, and then pronounced them good and blessed. Pagans, with their pygmy gods, usurped these days that God claimed for Himself. They sought to fill them with significance but ultimately failed because they were already full of it. Then, in a dramatic turn of events, God turned the world upside down, shook them loose, and claimed them for Himself once again. Sunday belongs to Him again. But what about all of the other days?
When Jesus died and rose again He conquered sin and death, but He also conquered the calendar. In His ascension gi from His Father there is nothing le outside the domain of His lordship. His redemption effected a cosmic restoration that would envelop matter, and space, and even time. When we say that Jesus “won the day,” we mean it most literally. There is nothing in the entire universe that He has declined to rest His resurrected foot upon.
Among other things, this means that the devil has no days. The Strong Man has entered into his house and plundered his goods. Death and hell are no longer under his purview. Satan doesn’t even have the keys to his own domain! They were stripped from his serpentine hands by the Alpha and Omega—the One who has even claimed the alphabet for Himself.
Our “times are in His hands” because time is in His hands. Time is in His hands because all things are in His hands. And everything that is now in His hands will eventually be under His feet. This is the victory of God. This is the good news. This is the promise of the gospel. Behold, He is making all things new.
For Christians, this is both a cause to rejoice and a call to respond. We rejoice because our God reigns. We respond in faith by joining with our King in taking back lost territory. This is the mission of the Church. So we have set up an outpost at the gates of hell and we are beating down its high walls. Eventually, those walls will be battered down and those gates will crumble. Hell’s gates cannot long prevail.
This happens every time that a person comes to faith in Christ. We see man who is a slave to sin but has not been made aware of the great “emancipation proclamation” of the gospel so we go and tell. When he responds in faith what has happened? The gates of hell have taken a hit. One square foot of enemy territory has now been possessed for the King of Glory. Onward, Christian soldier…
Though we seem to understand this principle as it pertains to personal evangelism, we seem to forget that it pertains to everything else as well. Even days. If the name of Christ is to be sanctified at all times and in all places, then we have to declare it at all times and in all places. This includes days that we have formerly written off as belonging to the opposition.
For the Christian then, Halloween (as well as other dates and days) becomes a satirical pageant; a mockery of long defeated foes. Every day that the sun rises we are reminded that Christ has ascended having finished His work, but we have not yet finished ours. Christ has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian Faith rolls back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. In the spirit of Elijah, we mock the dead gods and the defeated demons. They have no rightful claims upon anything in this world.
Similarly, our fathers used this same tactic when they dedicated sacred spaces such as churches and cathedrals. The gargoyles that were placed on those imposing structures were meant to be taunts. They symbolized the Church ridiculing the enemy. They stick out their tongues and make faces at those who would assault the Church. Gargoyles are not demonic; they are believers ridiculing the defeated demonic army. Just as with spaces and places, we take dominion over times and seasons. What once may have been regarded as festivals of fear and wickedness now become celebrations of joy and gladness.
Some might object and say, “But Halloween was a day that was filled with evil superstitions.” To which we might reply, “But who has the right to fill it? And with what?”
When October 31 dawns I can dress up like the Pope and laugh because I know that my costume is no more a farce than his own own robes are. I can paint my face like a ghoulish creature and giggle because I know that Christ has “unhaunted” the world through grace. Jesus has defanged the vampires, dehorned the dragons, and displaced all principalities and powers. When we send our kids to a neighbor’s door to say, “Trick or treat,” we can smile knowing that the joke is on the devil. This is deep comedy.
What will I do on Halloween? I honestly don’t know. But I will probably get up and say what I say every other day that God allows me to live: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24).
According to Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, “the lectionary is the reason why, if you’re a preacher, you’re bored to tears, and if you’re a layperson, you have a sneaking suspicion you’ve heard this one before.”
Most preachers that I interact with on a regular basis don’t typically use the lectionary to plan out their sermons. I will typically look at it for seasons like Advent or Lent, but I usually preach through a book of the Bible or systematically preach through a topic. However, I know some preachers who are attached to the lectionary to the point that they are getting bored with it.
They have sermons for every text over the course of the three year cycle, and they need something else so they can keep flexing their sermon prep muscles. According to Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, “the lectionary is the reason why, if you’re a preacher, you’re bored to tears, and if you’re a layperson, you have a sneaking suspicion you’ve heard this one before.” If that resonates with you, then I have good news for you! There are other lectionaries that you can borrow from!
Typically, when one thinks of the lectionary, they think of the Revised Common Lectionary since that is the most common one in use among mainline evangelical Protestants (and we will cover that one for our low church friends). However, did you know that there are actually handful out there that you can use?
Getting the Lingo Down
For those of you who may be eavesdropping into the conversation you may be wondering, “What in the heck is a lectionary anyway?”
A lectionary is a systematic reading of selected Scriptures throughout the Christian year (Advent through Christ the King Sunday). The tradition of using a lectionary goes back to at least first century Judaism (maybe even farther back than that) where there would be assigned readings from the Old Testament to address where the people of God were in the Jewish calendar. (You can read Leon Morris’ extensive work on the Jewish lectionaries here.)
Even in Luke 4, when Jesus teaches in his hometown, the text tells us that they handed the scroll of Isaiah to Him so He could read from it. From this, we can infer that when Jesus read Isaiah 61 and said, “Today, this has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:17-21) it was because Isaiah 61 was the assigned text for that Sabbath day.
So, if the Jews used a lectionary to remind them of the significance of where they were in the Jewish calendar then it’s only natural that Christians would do the same with the Christian calendar.
So, if the Jews used a lectionary to remind them of the significance of where they were in the Jewish calendar then it’s only natural that Christians would do the same with the Christian calendar.
Let’s look at some lectionaries at our disposal. This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are just some that I’ve found helpful.
The Revised Common Lectionary
The Common Lectionary was published in 1983 out of an ecumenical effort by both American and Canadian denominations to have a common experience of the story of Scripture throughout the Church year . There were some various problems with its trial run so the same people who brought us the Common Lectionary went back to the ol’ drawing board and brought us the Revised Common Lectionary which you can peruse at this link. The Revised Common Lectionary, published in 1992, takes into account constructive criticism of the Common Lectionary. It is a three-year cycle of Sunday Eucharistic readings in which Matthew, Mark, and Luke are read in successive years with some material from John read in each year.
When a mainline church uses the lectionary this is typically their go-to. Many PCUSA, Cumberland Presbyterian, United Methodist, and American Baptist congregations walk through this lectionary every three years.*
LCMS One Year Lectionary
The Missouri Synod Lutheran Church developed the one year lectionary which you can view here. Admittedly, I don’t know much about this lectionary, but from what I’ve seen it could be handy for pastors who want to introduce the Christian calendar to congregations that have historically been low church.
At this link you can read a talk given by Rev. Randy Asburry where he gives some compelling reasons for using this lectionary.
The Narrative Lectionary
I have become quite familar with the Narrative Lectionary over the last year or so. Basically, this lectionary operates on a four year cycle where you focus on the story of one of the four gospels every year from Advent until Pentecost Sunday, and then there are various readings of Scripture throughout the rest of the church year that help us in examining other books of the Bible or systematically addressing different themes from Scripture.
I should add that one of the reasons I admire this particular lectionary is that it’s convenient to take a break from during Ordinary Time so that you can preach on other topics or books of the Bible that the lectionary doesn’t cover.
You can read all about the Narrative Lectionary here.
Lectionary from Christ Church – Moscow, Idaho
Even though I follow Christ Church and Douglas Wilson, I haven’t heard much about their lectionary. From what I understand this lectionary is strictly used for readings in the Sunday morning worship services at Christ Church (as opposed to being used for selections for sermon texts). However, when I began filling the pulpit at variousCumberland Presbyterian Churches in my presbytery, I found this lectionary helpful for selecting sermon texts.
Because of the limited readings in a two year cycles, this might be perfect for any preacher that wants a personal challenge. You can find their lectionary here.
If you’re a lectionary preacher, I hope you found this article helpful. Contact me if there are other lectionaries that I can address in future articles! Thanks!
_________ * There are too many denominations to list that actually use the Revised Common Lectionary.
[Disclaimer: Though we share a last name, I do not think I am related to think extraordinary couple.]
Kuling, China. August 1922.
His wife had been sick for nearly a week now, but she seemed to be showing signs of recovery up until the evening of Saturday, August 6th when she slipped into unconsciousness. The next morning the Rev. A.C. was going to stay home with his wife and let someone else preach for the Chinese congregation in Kuling that morning, but the attending physician insisted that he should go. He went knowing that his ailing wife would want him to go.
As 11:00 approached, A.C. Dixon reported that in the middle of his sermon, in mid-sentence no less, that he felt a strange awareness of his wife’s presence.
During my sermon I had at one time such a consciousness of her presence that for a few moments my mind could rest only upon her, and I had to struggle back to the line of thought I was pursuing.
A. C. Dixon, Mary Faison Dixon: The Wife Who Always Helped and Never Hindered
He knew at that moment that she had gone to be with her Savior whom she loved and longed to see face to face.
The next day the funeral service for Mary Faison Dixon commenced. The platform was covered with flowers, and the congregation from the Kuling Church sang “In the Sweet By and By” in their native Chinese language. A. C Dixon sat there listening to the beautiful voices sing the songs of Zion, waiting for his turn to speak, and wishing intently that the Lord would return right there to establish His kingdom and reunite the Rev. Dixon to his wife.
When it was his turn to take the pulpit, Dixon spoke of his wife’s upbringing, her college education, and how they had met during his first pastorate at Village Baptist Church.
The day was hot, and a company of us were on a stage-coach rattling over a rather rough road. The question was raised among the passengers as to whether women ought to speak in public, suggested by the fact that a noted woman lecturer from New York was to be among the teachers of the normal training school. Among the debaters of this question was a young woman, whose quiet, yet vivacious manner and intelligent reasons attracted my attention. She seemed to have a mind of her own with the courage of her convictions; and, when I looked into her face, there was a beauty with a charm of personality that fascinated me. As I cultivated her acquaintance during the weeks that followed, I found that she was more conversant than I with the best literature, and her ideals of life were deeply spiritual. She loved Christ, the Bible, and the church.
It did not take me long to decide that she was just the one I needed for a wife…
A. C. Dixon, Mary Faison Dixon: The Wife Who Always Helped and Never Hindered
He spoke of her love for literature, her constant encouragement to him in the work of the Lord. She went with him wherever he went. In Chicago as he went to pastor the Moody Church, she was there. In London, when he was asked to take the helm of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle, she was there. Finally, when when they were called to China as full time missionaries, she was there.
Now, she wasn’t. She had gone to be with her Lord. It is reported that A.C. Dixon left China and went to Baltimore in 1923 to pastor at University Baptist Church. It is not said why he made this move, but I can only imagine that it was because he felt that he could no longer face the daunting task of missionary work without the love of his life by his side.
On June 14th, 1925, A.C. Dixon had a heart attack and entered into the presence of the Lord, to be reunited with his wife, Mary.
The guillotines of fundamentalism tend to make life hard for preachers too…
“A Hasidic proverb says, “We need a coat with two pockets. In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold.” We need a coat with two pockets to remind us who we are. Knowing, teaching, and learning under the grace of great things will come from teachers who own such a coat and wear it to class every day…
I happened to come to the seminary to teach during some rough years of denominational struggles. Some fundamentalist conservatives were making it hard for every professor to find out how to wear the coats with two pockets. Everything taught had to be scrutinized very closely, and it had to match the thinking of the powers in charge. Any number of professors were fired for being liberal, and within our school it was often the case that a student from a conservative church would smuggle a tape recorder into class to try and catch a professor saying something that might be interpreted as heresy. Then the student might take the heretical tape to a conservative trustee and it was either “ouch” or “off with his head.” The guillotines of fundamentalism always make teaching a nightmare.”