Thursday, March 15, 2012

Horror of Bland Love

We have been meditating on Jesus in Gethsemane. We have seen that a horror assaulted him, and the assault was killing him then and there. The terror was none of the usual suspects. It was the attack of sin and wrath. By this we mean, sin and wrath themselves, not just their symptoms or consequences. We have seen that, as our Mediator, by sympathy, Jesus felt what it is like to be us, to be sinners, while himself remaining holy. To feel sin as if it were his was killing him.
 
In the last posting we considered sin at heart, which is the failure to love God. The assault of sin made Jesus feel what it is like to not love his Father and the Holy Spirit. The sin of failing to love can be hateful, but it also can be lukewarm and indifferent. In Gethsemane, Jesus felt this part of our sin also.
 
In this posting we look at a particular aspect of the attack of sin: to be out of taste for God, for God to be a tasteless cup, to have only a bland love for God.

Triune Delight

The Persons of the Trinity are fully engaged in loving one another. God is neither cold nor lukewarm. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. Jesus said in prayer to his Father, “You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24) Love is an eternal Triune flame.

See the glories and wonders, the pleasantness and comforts of such love. See from eternity the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, distinct persons, but One, one in the heavenliness of heaven. What made heaven heavenly was their union in love. Put that love anywhere and that place must be heaven!

What happiness to never have to wonder what the other person said behind one’s back, to never wonder what was meant by a comment, to never be unsure of the attitude behind a look of the eye, for an expression of the face to never be a riddle or an enigma, to trust, to believe all things, to bear all things, to hope all things, for there to be no wrongs or record of wrongs, no envy, no rivalry, no rudeness, no gossip, for every moment and every blink of consciousness to be all kindness and faith perfectly.

Pleasure in the Son

When John baptized Jesus, his Father said from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” God wanted us to know three things. Jesus is his Son. The Son is beloved. The Father experiences pleasure in his Son.

At the transfiguration, the Father repeated those things and added another. He said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” We should hear him, why? Because he is God’s Son. Because he is beloved of God. Because God is pleased in him.

Because Jesus is pleasing to his Father, it is pleasant for the Father to hear him speak. Had we more pleasure in Jesus, hearing him would be more pleasing.

Pleasure in the Father

These are the delights, the pleasures of love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus enjoyed all this from eternity. He still enjoyed it in his Incarnation. “Then I said, ‘Behold, I come; In the scroll of the Book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.’” (Psalm 40:7-8) “In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16.11)

Tongue of Grace

God invites us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8). Watson say, “Grace changes a Christian’s aims and delights.” To the lovers of God, he is a sweet cup.

The tongue of grace savors God. Jesus tasted the sweetness of his Father fully, for Jesus was “full of grace.” (John 1:14). Jesus had the grace to taste, the grace to see. He had the grace to love, the grace to delight, the grace to enjoy, the grace to take pleasure in God. Because he had a fullness of grace, he had a fullness of enjoyment in God. Jesus was a hedonist, being full of pleasure in his Father. He had the grace to be a holy hedonist.

Hedonism has a bad name, but that is only because our hedonism is lazy and settles too cheaply for trinket-and-trash pleasures. Our hedonism believes the lies that taste sweet on the graceless tongue but are bitter in the belly. But with God are pleasures forevermore, righteous and true, honest and self-giving, and this worthy pleasure Jesus sought and knew.

Out of Taste

But in Gethsemane, sympathetically, he felt in his heart and conscience as if our sin were his. Because lack of love sums up and fulfills sin, in a short time, Jesus experienced sympathetically all our sin by feeling our lack of love as if it were his lack of love.

Remember we saw that when Jesus was “sore amazed,” in an ekthambeo, there was something outside himself that he saw, that appeared suddenly, that approached him, that already was approaching him when first he saw it, that got the drop on him, that forced itself upon him, that was a menacing horror. Besides everything else it was, it was this: to be out of taste for God, to feel, because of his great sympathy for us, our sinful lack of taste for God.

A Tasteless Cup

To the lovers of God, He is a sweet cup. To the haters of God, he is a bitter cup. To the lukewarm, to the indifferent, God is a tasteless cup. Jesus groaned earnestly to see whether “this cup” might pass. Besides the cup of God’s judgment, God’s wrath on sin that he drank by dying on the cross, “this cup” was immediate in Gethsemane: a bitter cup of hating God, or worse, a tasteless cup of being indifferent to God.

A tasteless cup. Contrast that to the blessedness of the eternal Trinity. Without the Trinity, we cannot know what riches Jesus stood to lose. This cup was a loss of riches. It was the loss of pleasure in his Father. From eternity, for him to live was to love, delight in, and take pleasure in his Father and the Holy Spirit, and to be loved, delighted in, and pleasing to his Father and the Holy Spirit.

Attack of Blandness

To see coming at him the blandness of our sense of God was a sudden and horrifying alarm at a terrific object. To see with our colorless eyes threatened to rend His nerves. To sympathize with our lackluster view of God threatened to freeze the blood in His veins.

When, by sympathy for us, he saw God dulled through our eyes, when he felt the carrying flame of love snuffed by his sympathy for our listless apathy toward his Father, he was troubled, disabled, feeble, astonished, dazed, having no soundness within. The ademoneo of Gethsemane was his being glutted into a severe depression by overfilling his mind with our boredom in God and feeling as if it were his boredom. The perilupos of Gethsemane was our lukewarmness passing over, under, around, and through Jesus’ conscience. As he was dying in ekthambeo, ademoneo, and perilupos, the angel strengthened him to suffer our distracted disinterest more. The angel strengthened him so that he could enter an agonia of our languid indolence to his Father.

To Jesus, the intemperate, holy hedonist whose whole life was to seek the pleasure of and pleasure in God, our tastelessness was a cause of immediate, precipitous death. For the experience of our sinful abstinence from God, our unholy temperance in love, our iniquitous moderation in delight, Jesus said to his three closest disciples, “I’m dying here.”

The disciples, who are the best of men, and the best of believers, lay asleep. Jesus tells them, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation." Watch against the nightmare of bland love.

 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sin at Heart

In Gethsemane, Jesus as our Mediator, by sympathy for us, felt what it is like to be as we are, sinners. He felt our sin as if it were his, while himself remaining holy. This assault of sin was killing him then and there.

We carry on as though we are adjusted to our lives of sin. What is it about sin that, when Jesus felt sin for us, it shocked him to the point of death?

Law and Love

“Sin is the transgression of the law,”[1] or “Sin is lawlessness.”[2] Anything that transgresses the law is a sin, and lawlessness is sin. All of the law hangs on two commandments, to love God and our neighbor.

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”[3]

Not only is the law “summed up” in love,[4] the law is fulfilled by love. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”[5]

A Carrying Flame

Thomas Watson says love “is a holy fire kindled in the affections, whereby a Christian is carried out strongly after God as the supreme good.”[6] That 1692 English might sound stuffy to us, but consider it carefully in its parts, and it is anything but stuffy.

Love is a fire. See it kindled. The fire is holy. This kindling of fire is in our affections. Steel strikes flint. Sparks fall into tinder. Flames alight in our heart. As the fire burns, we are carried out. Today we say love is moving, and Watson’s language says that more vigorously. He says we are carried out strongly. The fire carries us after God. Affections are like that. They are carrying flames. Burning affection has eyes. It sees God as the supreme good.

Knowledge, Beauty, Affection

Affection beholds God for his loveliness, his righteousness, his justice, his mercy, his generosity. God has many attributes. A. W. Tozer says a divine attribute is something true about God.[7] Because, as Watson says, “The antecedent of love is knowledge,”[8] we need to know about God, we need to know his attributes, so that fire is kindled. Knowledge acknowledges truth about God, but love is rapturous in God. Love is taken by Beauty.

Delight

Aquinas said, Complacentia amatis in amato: “The lover’s delight is in his beloved.” Watson says, “This is loving God, to take delight in him.”[9] Many Christians are trusting the Lord for salvation, they are trusting the Lord for guidance, and they are walking in his ways. The Psalmist refers to this in Psalm 37:3, “Trust in the Lord, and do good.” In the next verse he says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord.” In addition to trusting and obeying, he urges us also to delight in the Lord, for in sin, essentially what is wrong with us is that we don’t love God.

A Word Too Strong

Delight is a strong word. We use it, but in an odd way because it is too powerful for us. When we buy a greeting card for an amorous occasion, such as a wedding anniversary, the card might use the word. We don’t mind so much letting the card use that word, and we would like our beloved to feel touched by the words on the card. But that word, delight, somewhat remains there, on the card. It remains there, on a page of the Bible.

Imagine if a man were to say, “I delight in my socket wrench set” or “I am delighted with my ¾ ton diesel pickup.” He probably is, but he won’t use that word. He will say he loves football. He will say he loves his wife. He will not say he is delighted in his wife. He will not say he is delighted in God. Delight is a strong word, and he knows the word claims more than he can honestly say about his feelings for God.

Delight is a high degree of gratification of mind, a high-wrought state of pleasurable feeling, an extreme satisfaction, an affect of great pleasure as when a beautiful landscape delights the eye or harmony delights the ear.

The God Called Blessing

Watson says,

We must love God propter se, for himself, for his own intrinsic excellencies. We must love him for his lovelieness. Meretricius est amor plus annulum quam sponsum amare: “It is a harlot’s love to love the portion more than the person.” Hypocrites love God because he gives them corn and wine: we must love God for himself; for those shining perfections which are in him.[10]

Too often we are corn-and-wine Christians. My pastor years ago, Craig Strawser, preached a sermon titled, “The God Called Blessing.” He spoke of an idol in our hearts, the blessings of God. We bow down and worship his blessings, not Him. We don’t love him. We have delight in his provision, his benefits, but not in Him. We relate to God providentially, but not personally, not intimately, not with kindled, carrying flames. Craig said, “We make God our butler.” A. W. Tozer said,

Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where he is when we need Him.[11]

We make God a rich uncle, an addiction counselor, an auto mechanic, a plumber, an insurance adjuster. My pastor, Paul Turek, in a sermon on prayer said, "So often we relate to God as if, I hate to say it, he were some cosmic EMT.” A. B. Simpson writes in his hymn, Himself, “Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord.” In the fourth stanza, he makes the piercingly plain confession, “Once I tried to use Him.”

Lukewarm

Love sums up and fulfills the law. Lack of love sums up and fulfills sin. We usually think of a lack of love as hate. In the First Commandment, God speaks of generations who hate him. Hate certainly is sin, but so is indifference. In Jesus says to the church at Laodicea,

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth.[12]

Indifference is a lack of love. God is more nauseated by indifference towards him than he is by hatred. Not the cold but the lukewarm he vomits.

Sympathy for Lukewarm Exploiters

From eternity and through his incarnate life until Gethsemane, Christ loved the Father and the Holy Spirit with delight. Love for the Father and the Spirit was a carrying flame. In his knowledge of the Father and the Spirit, He was taken in his affections by their beauty. He loved them for themselves, not for how He might use them. That was health and life.

But in Gethsemane, to save us, He volunteered to feel by sympathy as if He were a lukewarm exploiter. That was killing him, as it might us, if only we could feel it ourselves. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He took this on, so that on the cross, this sin of ours would be fully punished in him, giving us a covering under his blood, and reconciling us to God. When we hear his two Words to us, the Law of sin and wrath, and the Gospel of forgiveness in Jesus, and receive them as the truth, we are born again, and love to God and neighbor are kindled with our new life. These are the works of God, and because they are his works, we can be confident in them.

________________________

1.  1 John 3:4, KJV.
2.  1 John 3:4, NKJV, ESV.
3.  Matthew 22:35-40.
4.  Romans 13:9.
5.  Galatians 5:14.
6.  Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1981 reprint, first published 1692), p. 6.
7.  A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1961), p. 20.
8.  Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1981 reprint, first published 1692), p. 6.
9.  Ibid., p. 7.
10.  Ibid.
11.  A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1961), p. 16.
12.  Revelation 3:15-16.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wrath: Jesus, Paul, and Beyond

R.V.G. Tasker, Professor of New Testament Exegesis in the University of London, said:

The view advocated so persistently and so thoroughly by Marcion in the second century, and consciously or unconsciously echoed in much so-called 'Christian' teaching in recent years, that the Old Testament reveals solely a God of wrath and the New Testament solely a God of love, is completely erroneous. It can easily be disproved by anyone who is prepared to give more than superficial attention to the text of the Bible.[1]

John the Baptizer: Wrath to Come

When John the Baptizer "saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?'" (Matt 3:7) He said the same thing to the crowds. "He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?'" (Luke 3:7)

John is the last Old Testament prophet.[2] He speaks of the wrath "to come." So we can't confine the wrath of God to the Old Testament.

Jesus: Wrath Remains

Jesus said, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:36) The wrath of God remains. It is not confined to the Old Testament.

Paul: Day of Wrath Coming

Paul begins his explanation of the Gospel to the Romans, saying, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Rom 1:18) He says we "were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Eph 2:3)

Paul speaks of God's wrath as something to be revealed on a great and terrible day in the future. He says, "But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. " (Rom 2:5) He says, "There will be wrath and fury." (Rom 2:8) "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things [sin] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." (Eph 5:6) "On account of these [sin] the wrath of God is coming." (Col 3:6)

The future wrath is the reason for the shedding of Christ's blood. "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." (Rom 5:9) We "wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." (1 Thess 1:10)

John: Wrath of the Lamb

In the last book of the New Testament, John sees a future time with people "calling to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'" (Rev 6:16-17) The Lamb is Christ. He is the Lamb of God, the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of sacrifice and atonement.[3]

Angels bring the future wrath of God. (Rev 14:19; 16:1) Then Jesus, himself, brings it. "From his [Jesus'] mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty." (Rev 19:15)

Wrath: Endless Destruction

God's wrath destroys body and soul, but this destruction is not an annihilation. The torment goes on and on, day and night, without rest forever.

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Rev 14:9-11)

Who Revealed Hell?

That scene suggests "hell fire" that we like to relegate to the Old Testament and to outmoded tent revival preaching somewhere in the Bible Belt decades ago. But get this: Jesus is the revealer of hell and hell fire.

The Old Testament hardly develops the idea of hell. It talks about Sheol and hardly describes it. Sheol is shadowy. It might be bad, but it does not appear hellish.

Jesus uses the word geenna for hell. This was the valley of Hinnom, a valley of Jerusalem. It was the open town dump that burned and smelled continually. This is Jesus' chosen picture of hell. This tells in one word more about hell than does the whole Old Testament.

It won't do any good to flee from Moses to Jesus if we are trying to avoid talk of hell and hell fire. Frankly, we'd do better running the other direction, if we could. Jesus reveals hell and hell fire in Matt 5:22, 5:29, 5:30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 23:33; Mark 9:43, 9:45, 9:47; Luke 12:5. To ignore hell, one practically must ignore Jesus.

Day of Atonement

On the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16, the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, to make atonement for sin. Inside the Ark were the two Tables of the Law, the writing of condemnation against us. The blood covered that condemnation and turned away the wrath of God.

This is not outmoded history. The ark existed first in the Holy of Holies in the heavenly realm, and then a shadow or copy of it was made on earth in the days of Moses to give us some notion of sin, sacrifice, and salvation. Christ, our eternal High Priest, entered the Holy of Holies in the heavenly realm and, through the Spirit, offered his sacrifice to God. (Heb 9:11-14) The Ark goes on forever in heaven. "Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple." (Rev 11:19) Wrath is excluded from heaven only because the blood of Jesus covers it.

Who Knows about Wrath?

Jesus knows about wrath. He suffered it for us.

The denial of wrath begs the question, why did Jesus make such a project of turning away from us what did not exist? Why did the Father provide in Christ a solution looking for a problem. If there is no sin, wrath, or salvation, what were Gethsemane, the cross, and the Day of Atonement about? Why do the temple, the ark, the covenant, and the blood of Jesus go on and on in heaven, if wrath is nothing?

Magnificare peccatum -- to make sin great -- was, according to Luther's lecture on Romans of 1515-16, the sum of this Pauline epistle. Luther's entire doctrine of justification hinges on a person's existential [existenziell] experience of himself as a sinner without the possibility of coming to God. Luther's doctrine of justification was among Bonhoeffer's basic theological convictions, and thus taking sin seriously was a crucial theme for him. ... The function of the law is to reveal sin to the sinner who wishes to conceal it. This happens when the law drives the sinner to despair, from which only God's pronouncement of freedom in the gospel can deliver him. ... [Bonhoeffer] says, "Where there is no law, there is no sin. Where there is no sin, there is no forgiveness. Where there is no forgiveness, Christ came into the world and died in vain."4

Admit wrath, and receive the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. Do not be deceived and ruined by the spirit of the age in which nothing is sin and nothing is forgiven.

________________________

1.  R.V.G. Tasker, "The Biblical Doctrine of the Wrath of God," The Tyndale Lecture in Biblical Theology for 1951, (London: The Tyndale Press, 1951), p. 27.
2.  Matt 11:13-14; and Luke 16:16.
3.  John 1:29; 1:36; Acts 8:32; 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19; Rev 5:6-13; 6:1, 16; Rev 7:9-10, 14, 17; 8:1; 12:11; 13:8, 11; 14:1, 4, 10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22-23, 27; 22:1, 3.
4.  Wolf Krotke, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther" in Peter Frick, ed., Bonhoeffer's Intellectual Formation: Theology and Philosophy in His Thought, (Tubingen: Dulde-Druck, 1961) p. 65.

 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Wrath Words

In Gethsemane, Jesus began to suffer the wrath of God on our sin for us. This is part of his turning the wrath of God away from us. It is part of Jesus being our propitiation for sin.
 
Today, many scholars teach that God cannot really have wrath. He is, they say, only love and mercy. But, in Gethsemane, was Jesus only pretending? Was his suffering a sham?

Jesus is the Word.[1] To follow the Word (Jesus), we might consider the Word (Scripture) and the words[2] Jesus uses there for wrath. His words, the words of the one who suffered wrath for us, the one in Gethsemane, not those of scholars who suffer little or nothing for us, must be the accurate basis for understanding Jesus in Gethsemane.

In Hebrew, the words Jesus uses for God's "wrath" are:
  • charown (khaw-rone'), burning anger, from the primitive root charah (khaw-raw'), to glow or grow warm, and figuratively (usually) to blaze up, of anger, zeal, jealousy.

  • `aph (af), (properly) a nose or nostrils, and also (from the rapid breathing in passion) ire, from the primitive root 'anaph (aw-naf'), to breathe hard or be enraged.

  • qatsaph (kaw-tsaf'), to crack off, i.e., (figuratively) to burst out in rage; or as a noun, qetseph (keh'-tsef), a splinter (as chipped off), and (figuratively) rage or strife.

  • chemah (khay-maw'), heat, and (figuratively) anger, poison (from its fever).
  • `ebrah (eb-raw'), an outburst of passion.

  • ka`ac (kaw-as'), to trouble, and (by implication) to grieve, rage, be indignant.

  • rogez (ro'-ghez), commotion, restlessness (of a horse), crash (of thunder), disquiet, anger.

In Greek, the words Jesus uses for God's "wrath" are:
  • orge (or-gay'), (properly) desire (as a reaching forth or excitement of the mind), and (by analogy) violent passion (ire or (justifiable) abhorrence), and (by implication) punishment.

  • thumos (thoo-mos'), passion (as if breathing hard). The root of this word is thuo (thoo'-o), (properly) to rush (breathe hard, blow, smoke), and (by implication) to sacrifice, and (implication, genitive case) to sacrifice by fire, and (by extension) to give up to destruction (for any purpose).
Some scholars say these words make God petty. Who can say that another is small but one who is supposedly greater? Are we greater than God to accuse him of pettiness, or to say He made a mistake in choosing the words to describe himself? Of course it would be us sinners who accuse the Holy One of pettiness. Sin causes us to believe ourselves great, our sins small, and God petty.

I give no apology for these words other than that they are the words of Jesus. We have a vision problem that Jesus calls blindness.[3] Jesus came to restore sight to the blind,[4] to shine light into the darkness.[5] The light of God's wrath is the light of Jesus' humiliation and suffering, the light of his suffering for us, the light of God's grace, mercy, and forgiveness in Jesus, the light of our salvation in him.

________________________
1.  John 1:1, 14.
2.  Jesus gets his words from the Father, He gives the words to us, and when we receive them, they make us clean. John 3:34; 6:63, 68; 8:45-47; 12:48; 14:10, 24; 17:8.
3.  Matt 15:14; 23:16-26; Luke 6:39; John 9:39-41; 2 Cor 4:4; 2 Pet 1:9; 1 John 2:11; Rev 3:17.
4.  Matt 11:5; Luke 4:18; 7:22; John 9:39.
5.  Matt 4:16; Luke 1:79; 2:32; John 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35-36; 12:46; Acts 26:18; 26:23; 2 Cor 4:4-6; Eph 1:18; 5:8; Col 1:12-14; 1 Thes 5:4-5; James 1:17; 1 Pet 2:9; 1 John 1:7; 2:8-11; Rev 21:23-24; 22:5.