When you come to the Communion Table, make sure you’ve left Egypt

In God’s covenant with Israel in the Torah, he provided the people with liberation, societal structure, laws and a calendar, all for the ordering of their new lives of freedom. In this calendar, God designated three major feasts: Passover, Weeks and Booths. While all three have instructions for celebration, Passover (פֶּסַח) receives the largest and most detailed treatment.  Passover’s importance appears immediately God’s arrangement of their new calendar around it, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you,”[6] and the language designating its repeated observance, “you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.[7] Unlike the other two feasts, God included a prohibition against anyone outside of the covenant community celebrating it, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it. . . A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it.”[8] These items provide sacramental status to Passover.[9] “These sacramental signs served as covenantal markers to define the people of God, remind them of their relationship to him and each other, and focus them on their duty to live as a peculiar people among the nations.” [10]

Appreciating Passover as sacrament helps us understand the instructions for its celebration. As a means of grace given by God for the communication of his love, Passover connects the people to God via the tangible. As a sacrament, the instructions for its observance would be known theologically as Words of Institution. These Words explain the meaning of the rite, the way God acts in it for the people, and instructions for repeated observance. For Passover, Exodus 12:12-17 contains these words. Furthermore, because Jesus forever united Passover to his passion, death and resurrection in the Eucharist, a proper understanding of the later Eucharistic Words of Institution[11] begins not in the Gospels, but in Exodus 12. As Pitre writes, “If we are going to be able to see Jesus’ actions through ancient Jewish eyes, we first need to study the meaning of the Passover itself, both in Jewish Scripture and in Jewish tradition.”[12]

Exodus 12:12-17 is the center of the longer discussion of Passover. What Exodus 12 describes is Israel’s memorialization of their redemption by God, with specific attention God’s actions in the tenth plague, the slaying of the firstborn. Also, it provides the foundational commands for its continued ritualistic memorial.  The received text of Exodus 12 provides the context for understanding the feast.

Thus, with this background in mind, we move toward the specific group of verses for study.  I’ve provided them with my new translations.

Verse 12

For on that night, I will pass through (from one side to the other) the land of Egypt, and I will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human and animal, and on all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgment. For, I am The Lord.

This verse contains the one of Passover’s key themes for study: judgment. Here, the writer links the killing of the firstborn to God executing judgment, specifically judgment on Egypt’s gods. Pictured here, as the climax in this battle to redeem Israel from Egypt, is the idea that God asserts his supremacy. While the ultimate outcome is Israel’s freedom, the objective seems the vindication of God himself. In this assertion, God states his divine name, as if his own character is the reason for this enterprise. God now reveals himself to the world through his action of deliverance. Through the plagues, God brings judgment on Egypt’s pantheon of gods, and specifically on Pharaoh, who is god on earth, punishing him for his brutality of God’s people.

Verse 13

And the blood on the houses where you are will be a sign for you. For I will see the blood, and I will pass by (spare) you, and there will not be any plague to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This verse details the purpose and meaning of the blood which God instructed the Hebrews to put on the lintels and doorposts of their houses. The blood will be a sign. This word, usually translated “sign,” carries multiple meanings: “mark,” “token” or “signal” in the secular sense, and “miracle,” “omen” or “reminder” in the religious. In this verse, all the meanings may mingle, especially because it is paired with the application of blood and sacrifice.  Nahum Sarna uses sacramental language as he comments, “the blood was simply to function as an outward, visible sign . . . an identity symbol; the entrance to the house with such a symbol is now a portal of freedom.”[22] The blood (and the sacrificial lamb) served as the mechanism by which God would spare or pass by the house. Because of the blood on the door, the plague of death will not come to the house.

Verse 14

Thus it will be a day for you to remember, and you shall celebrate it as a festival to The Lord for your generations; you will keep it as a perpetual statute.

With verse 14, the context shifts from the first Passover to instructions for the nation to observe a yearly festival devoted to the remembrance of God’s actions on their behalf that day. Passover is a feast of remembrance. Sarna writes, “The Hebrew stem of z-k-r connotes much more than the recall of things past. It means, rather, to be mindful, to pay heed, signifying a sharp focusing of attention upon someone or something. It embraces concern and involvement as is active not passive, so that it eventuates into action.”[26] Here, God’s instructions for future observance have a particular participatory feel. The celebrant becomes not only a part of the later festival, but somehow also invested in the action the festival memorializes. The traditional text of the Haggadah of Passover describes it well, “In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he personally had gone forth from Egypt.” Thus, each person through history has a connection to every generation before and after, i.e., “for your generations.”

Verse 15

Seven days, you will eat only matzoth (unleavened bread). On the first day, you will remove leaven from your houses; indeed, you shall exclude from Israel anyone eating khametz (leavening) from the first day until the seventh day.

Here begins the detailed information about the use of unleavened bread in the observance of the festivals. While the bread appears in the detailed observance of the first Passover (vs. 8), the commands for the perpetual observance contain specific prohibitions against eating anything leavened for the length of the holiday. Coupled with verse 17, “observe and keep the matzoth” these strict rules about leaven add an authoritative atmosphere to celebration. What is it about using unleavened bread that requires such regulation? Khametz carries a meaning of fermentation and leavening. Sarna explains the significance:

Because the prohibition on leaven has wider application than that of the Passover, it is likely that the process of fermentation was associated with decomposition and putrefaction, and so it became emblematic of corruption. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate to associate such a symbol with a sacrificial ritual whose function was to effect conciliation between man and God and to raise man to a higher level of spirituality.[33] In other words, leavening implies sin. To remove leavening from the house during the feast could be understood as a command to holiness, a practical reminder of the later commands in the Levitical Laws.[34]

Verse 16

The first day shall be a holy assembly, and the seventh day shall be a holy assembly. You will do no work on those days. Indeed, you will only make that (food) which everyone will eat (for that day).

What does it mean to be an Israelite? Those who mark themselves according to the covenant claim that status. In the previous argument that Passover carried sacramental status, we noted that a sacrament defines and separates a group that observes it. This verse connects these words in Exodus 12 with specific language in Leviticus 23:4-7. There, the writer focuses on the distinction of Israel from the rest of the world: holiness. This word appears eleven times in chapter 23 and 69 times in the entire book, the most in any book of the Hebrew Scriptures: sanctification matters. To make this sanctification a reality, God commands no work be done except that which is necessary to eat. Only Sabbath and Yom Kippur have more stringent laws about work. For a culture enslaved for over 400 years, the idea of days of rest is very foreign. God forges something dramatically new in the life of a people newly liberated.

Verse 17

Thus, you will observe and keep the matzoth; for indeed, in that very day, I brought your multitudes forth from the land of Egypt, and you will guard the very day permanently, forever.

This final verse forms a neat closure to the discussion, providing the full rationale for the observance of the festivals. The key word in this verse, the verb, translated here as “observe and keep,” has a very active meaning. Strong’s defines it “to hedge about (as with thorns)”[36] Similar uses appear all over the Torah regarding keeping of all the ordinances, and regulations of the Mosaic Law. God is insistent that Israel keep this festival to remember it.

So what?  Why does this matter to Christians and their observance of the Lord’s Supper.  We’re not Jews after all.  Not so fast.  There are three themes for study: perpetual remembrance, sacrifice and judgment.

“Thus it will be a day for you to remember, and you shall celebrate it . . . for your generations; you will keep it as a perpetual statute . . . you will guard the very day permanently, forever.” Verses 14 & 17 indicate that the Israelites should keep Passover in perpetuity to remember the miraculous redemption from Egypt. God wants to guarantee that Israel forever understands the remarkable way he redeemed them.  Jesus and the disciples participated in this event at the Last Supper. Jesus took the full measure of meaning found in the Exodus, connected it to his passion, and spoke these words, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”[38]  Here appears, the fusion of Passover language with the words of institution for the Eucharist. Christ commands the disciples to forever connect the memorial of the redemption of Exodus with the memorial of the redemption of Calvary. To “observe and keep the matzoth,” now reaches fullest expression in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist. Paul’s language in Corinthians completes the full range of meaning when he comments, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”[39]

God’s interest in connecting the perpetual memorial of the Exodus with the perpetual memorial of the Passion necessitates celebrating the Eucharist properly fusing both. It seems that Christians, gentile or Jew, should also celebrate Passover, in a fashion that memorializes the Exodus in the context of its fulfillment in Christ. In fact, the earliest Christians understood the feast this way. “The celebration of [Easter] began life as the Christian version of the Passover, observed on the same day as its Jewish antecedent and focused upon Christ as the paschal lamb who had been sacrificed for the sins of the world . . . set within the context of the whole of the Christ-event, from his birth to his expected second coming.”[40]

Passover is about sacrifice.  The lamb, sacrificed, eaten with blood smeared becomes the vehicle through which the Israelites receive redemption. Through the ritual, God wants his people to tangibly unite themselves to his actions on their behalf.  This gives wider meaning to Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 5, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival,”[42] as well as his words in chapter 10, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”[43]  Passover is a festival about redemption through sacrifice and blood.  The Eucharist’s enactment should focus on Christ’s atonement through blood in light of God’s miraculous rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt.

Passover is also celebration, a joyous festival! While solemnity certainly has its place (Ex. 12:16), God has redeemed with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Celebration of the Eucharist should not be overloaded with heavy penitential attitudes, but instead be a joyous occasion because God has overthrown and judged the evil of the world in Christ. God’s character means that he cares about oppression, evil and false gods: “on all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgment. For, I am The Lord.” Passover displays in vivid clarity that God will be supreme. Christ displays this as vividly as the Exodus, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”[45]  This is the classic Christus Victor view of Jesus’ atonement.

Therefore, to celebrate the Eucharist in light of the Passover, imbues it with a sense that Christ has conquered all the evil and false gods (Jn. 12:31).  Furthermore, the Eucharist must envision eschatological hope, so that when the Passover yearns for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Eucharist answers with, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”[47]  In this way Exodus 12:17, “on this day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt,”[48] becomes the fulfillment, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”[49]

Exodus 12:12-17 provides not only a vision of God’s work to redeem Israel, but a foundation for how Christians should see the ultimate redemption in Jesus Christ. For Christians to “unite themselves to God’s redemptive history, and consequently to the nation of Israel,”[50] they should understand the roots of the sacrament given to them, and how to celebrate it in a way that honors the fullness of redemption in the Jewish Messiah given as the Passover Lamb that takes away the sins of the world.[51]  The words of institution of the Passover provide the basis necessary to celebrate the richness of the Eucharist.  To understand the character of God in the redemption of Christ, one should begin with the character of God in the redemption of the Exodus.

 

 

 

END NOTES

[1] Num. 9:1-14

[2] Deut. 16:1-8

[3] Josh. 5:10-12

[4] 2 Kgs. 23:21-27/2 Chr. 35, Passover was restored under Josiah, where the chronicler wrote, “None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah” (ESV). In 2 Chr. 30 Hezekiah celebrated Passover as a two week festival to emphasize its importance in Israel.

[5] Ezra 6:19-22

[6] Exod. 12:2, NASB

[7] Exod. 12:14 & 17, NASB, emphasis added.

[8] Exod. 12:43 & 45, NASB.

[9] For a detailed treatment of how Old Covenant ceremony constitutes Old Covenant sacrament, see Matthew Sichel, “Sacraments Reimagined: Fulfillment, Continuity and the New Israel,” Evangelical Journal 34, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 1-17.

[10] Ibid., 10.

[11] Generally understood as Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 11:17-34, but echoing instructions from Jesus in the synoptic Gospels.

[12] Brant James Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (New York: Doubleday, 2011), 50.

[13] See, for example, Eckart Otto, “Pasah,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 12:9-19.

[14] Ibid., 9-10.

[15] Hendrik L. Bosman, “Pesah,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 3:643.

[16] John E. Hartley, “massa,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 2:1067-1068.

[17] Donald E. Gowan, Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 134.

[18] Exod. 5:2, CJB.

[19] Richard Schultz, “spt,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 4:219.

[20] Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus =: [shemot], The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 56

[21] Nahum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus: the Origins of Biblical Israel (New York: Schocken, 1996), 97.

[22] Ibid., 96.

[23] Bosman, 642; Otto, 2-7.

[24] Cf. uses outside of the context of Passover, Isa. 31:5, 2 Sam. 4:4, 1 Kgs. 18:21, 26.

[25] Otto, 5-6.

[26] Sarna, Exodus, 13.

[27] All quotations from the Haggadah come from the English translation in Joseph Loewy and Joseph Guens, Service for the First Nights of Passover (Vienna: Jos. Schlesinger, 1927), 28.

[28] Leslie C. Allen, “zkr,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 1:1102.

[29] Otto, 21.

[30] Loewy, 3 & 27.

[31] Isa. 1:17, CJB, emphasis added.

[32] Ps. 71:4, CJB, emphasis added.

[33] Sarna, Exploring, 90, again notice the sacramental language Sarna uses here.

[34] See Lev. 17-26.

[35] Sarna, Exploring, 81.

[36] James Strong, ed., The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), s.v. “8104. shamar.”

[37] Sichel, 15.

[38] Lk. 22:19 & 1 Cor. 11:25, NASB, emphasis added.

[39] I Cor. 10:16 & 11:26, NIV, emphasis added.

[40] Paul F. Bradshaw, “Easter in Christian Tradition,” in Two Liturgical Traditions, ed. Paul F. Bradshaw, vol. 5, Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 1.

[41] Otto, 18.

[42] 1 Cor. 7b-8a, NIV.

[43] 1 Cor. 11:25, NIV.

[44] Loewy, 29.

[45] Col. 2:15, NIV.

[46] Jn. 12:31, NIV.

[47] Rev. 21:2, NIV.

[48] Exod. 12:17b, JPS.

[49] Rev. 21:3, ESV.

[50] Ibid., 15, see also Rom. 10 and Paul’s discussion of grafting.

[51] Cf. John 1:29 & 1 Cor. 5:7

The Host and the Servant of the New Creation: A Homily

This is a sermon I preached on Maundy Thursday 2016, which Joel graciously let me share with you via his blog.


Gospel Text: John 13.1-17; 31b-35

Please pray with me as I pray a prayer written by St. Anselm of Canterbury:

“O my God teach my heart where and how to seek you,

where and how to find you…

You are my God and you are my All and I have never seen you.

You have made me and remade me,

You have bestowed on me all the good things I possess,

Still I do not know you…

I have not yet done that for which I was made….

Teach me to seek you…

I cannot seek you unless you teach me

or find you unless you show yourself to me.

Let me seek you in my desire, let me desire you in my seeking.

Let me find you by loving you, let me love you when I find you.”

Amen.


I don’t know about anyone else, but I grew up a little turned off by the idea of washing someone else’s feet. In our culture we just do not practice these sorts of things—largely because there are no conventional reasons to. However, in the historical context of tonight’s Gospel lesson there were a few reasons for the washing of feet, and, after exploring these reasons, I promise that the idea of foot washing will make a little more sense.

First, feet were primarily washed for hygienic reasons. Proper hygiene in the form of foot washing was imperative to societies that primarily relied on foot traffic along dusty roads. After all, first century Palestine was essentially a desert location, and therefore washing the dust that had been accumulated from travel off of one’s feet would have been as essential then as washing one’s hands is in today’s society. This is often overlooked by us today as there are socks and shoes, while back then there were only sandals.

Second, feet were often washed as a gesture of hospitality. What this means is that upon entering one’s residence, the service of foot washing would be offered as a gesture of good faith that was extended for the hygienic practices mentioned above. Sort of like our efforts to make a sink and bathroom available for guests to freshen up in today’s culture. We’ll talk more about this in a moment.

The third reason for foot washing in John’s cultural context would have been cult activity. There are some cases in which foot washing was enacted for cultic worship, though it’s worth noting that never would these cult leaders or deities ever be depicted washing the feet of their followers.

Considering each of these options, it seems most likely that John’s Jesus is washing his disciples’ feet for the sake of hospitality—not only that, but representing the unique portrait of a God that serves his disciples and not the other way around. So, let’s dive into the intricacies of hospitable foot washing in John’s culture.

The host of a gathering would typically make foot washing available for their guests, especially if the gathering was a meal—think hygiene—and the host’s servants were usually the ones who carried out this service. In other words, it was highly unlikely that the host of a gathering would have washed the feet of his guests himself. This is where the novelty lies in John’s account of this gesture. Not only is Jesus hospitably providing the means by which his disciples are to be cleansed and cared for, as any good host would have done; but he is performing this service himself, as any good servant would have done.

In this passage of Scripture we are confronted by Jesus as both the host and servant, the one who invites us and delivers us—who serves us as he leads us. Notice how that Jesus’ identity as teacher and Lord is directly tied in with his actions of self-emptying love and servant leadership. He even asks his disciples to imitate this gesture toward one another—a suggestion that is directly paralleled with the commandment to love one another as we have been loved by God. What can this mean? There are a few things to consider.

First, this isn’t just an ethical formula for living into one’s faith. In other words, one cannot simply reduce this text to yet another rule that the Christian is to follow. It’s not that we must simply wash feet once a year, even as when we don’t want to, even if we are repulsed by feet, or even as we might find this particular, liturgical expression obtuse and awkward. For us to assume such a conclusion would be almost as clumsy as Peter’s insistent misunderstanding in tonight’s Gospel lesson, refusing to have his feet cleansed by the Lord. This isn’t just a suggestion; this is an opportunity to be transformed by the acts of love carried out by and through Jesus Christ. This act serves as an expression of our transformation in Christ. How are we transformed? When we dine with Christ! When we receive God’s sacramental grace, we are transformed and renewed in such a way that we can performs acts of hospitality, such as the washing off of our neighbor’s feet.

Second, there is more going on in this text than the act of foot washing itself, as alluded to above. While this specific gesture was culturally relevant at the time, and the water can be seen as symbolic for a whole slew of other elements in the Christian faith, it must not be forgotten that this scene is unfolding in the shadow of a meal—and not just any meal! The washing of the feet is just a liturgical act unfolding in the context of the bread that is broken, the wine that is poured and ingested, the feasting upon Christ’s broken body and shed blood.

The sacrament of Holy Communion is the meal in which we are invited to attend—the meal that Christ is hosting for us, into which he invites us so that we may receive the ultimate fulfillment for which we long. It is in the imitation of our teacher who accomplished for us what we cannot accomplish ourselves that we are able to see the revelation of God’s nature, and we are able to find a deep love for one another through our abiding love of God’s presence.

So while I want you to see this liturgical act, this tradition of washing feet, as something essential in John’s Gospel for revealing the character of God through Jesus Christ, it is insurmountably more important that you realize that through this act you are being invited into something so much more profound! Namely, the presence of Jesus Christ and the grace of the Father, as it dwells among the elements of this table before us, calling us into deeper union and intimacy with both God and each other.

The host that serves you in everyday life—by washing your feet, by suffering even until his death on the cross—is throwing a banquet in which heaven and earth fuse together, and the glory of God is shown forth from within the self-emptying love of Jesus Christ.

May God’s Holy Spirit call us into a deep meditation on the nature of Jesus’ ministry—his sacrifice and his self-emptying hospitality.

May we participate in and imitate the inconceivable hospitality of our host as we serve one another by the washing of our feet and the cleansing of our hearts.

And, while we imitate and embody our Lord’s hospitality, may we realize the invitation to behold the New Creation that’s unfolding within our midst.

Behold, God is making all things new; let us embody the example of Jesus and rinse off the dust that we have accumulated while walking down the roads of our lives—welcoming and serving each other as we have been served through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and his ongoing work in our lives through Holy Communion.

Let us serve those gathered, seeing this expression of faith in the shadow of such a seismic meal. Let us see Christ as our example—our host and servant—upon whom we feast and feast with.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Amen!

2 Samuel 7: Is It About Jesus?

Hello, good readers of Unsettled Christianity. This is Abram K-J of Words on the Word. Joel made the mistake kind move of inviting me to contribute to his fine blog… so here I am!

I begin simply with a cross-post, because I’ve already seen some incisive responses in the comments to a post at WotW: Is 2 Samuel 7 About Jesus?

I suggest that 2 Samuel 7:14b can’t apply to Jesus:

When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings.

But all the “forever” language in that passage clearly seems to be about more than just the next generation, and even messianic.

What do you think? How do you make sense of the passage? Feel free to comment at the original post, or right here in the comments section.

A Muslim protecting Christian doctrine; Unknowingly!

Read here

nj-easter-egg-huntI said it once and I will say it again! Those who devise non bibilically prescribed customs and feasts to the Christian faith are the ones who are “doing the work of the devil” reducing Christianity into a “fairy tale” with Santa Claus, Eastern Bunny and, of course, egg hunts, and certainly a few other childish parties.

Oh, of course these are such innocent things that they will hardly affect anyone, or any child’s forming faith, right? Wrong! You talk to your children about the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, along with teaching them about Jesus, then you expect that they will grow up and filter off the childish things and realize that none of these characters are real and for some miraculous reason, you hope that they will keep Jesus as a “truthful” character… What a hope!

Before you say it, as an avowed Calvinist I shouldn’t worry because after all God will preserve his own. It is right there in the “P” of T.U.L.I.P, or, “perseverance, (also preservation) of the saints, right? Wrong again! Yes, God will preserve His own but that doesn’t relieve you of your parent responsibility in raising your child in the most pure form of Christian faith!

Oh, I am all in favor of enjoying our liberty in Christ and I am all against legalism in any subtle or conspicuous form it rears its ugly head (and legalism’s head is in the rear), so, I am not talking about turning your child into an outcast, devoid of contact with society, and not participating in some “innocent” play, although such an “innocence” is debatable. What I am talking about is this militant stance in defending these types of activities not prescribed in the Bible as if they were somehow to be revered as something directly from heaven’s throne room! And how some do that? Answer: by calling anyone who opposes to such celebration a “anti-Christian” waging a “war on Christianity”, especially if one is not a Christian.

I said it before and I will say it again: God has used anyone to speak for Him, including a donkey, and God will also use those who are currently the enemies of His Gospel if that is what it takes to remove the attention from a stupid egg hunt that, in my view, a Church should not be promoting, and make the Church really turn their attention to what we are celebrating that day, that is, if we indeed celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. When a Muslim is outraged because of something that he was told is a Christian thing, read that outrage as perhaps God speaking through a donkey preventing us from turning the Gospel into a fairy tale sort of nursery rhyme, devoid of its meaningful and sacred and eternal meaning, and the ever changing power that it has been through the ages. Think about it!

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Matt Chandler and Bull Balls

My church has bought something a lot of churches are buying— videos that teach so you don’t have to.

I’m sure you can tell I’m not too excited about the proposition, but I understand the need. Most folks aren’t scholars so having good, introductory-level educational resources is a must. And if you can stream it to your iPhone, all the better.

So my church is using RightNow Media, which allows users to stream “discipleship” videos from folks like Chip Ingram, Tommy Nelson, Margaret Feinberg, and Francis Chan. Already I’m nervous cause this has potential to continue the turning-leaders-into-celebrities syndrome that Derek Webb has sung ad nauseum about.

But you gotta try it before you knock it, right? So I see Matt Chandler has a new video series up called “Apologetics”. Matt Chandler has been the speaker at more than one youth camp I went to as a kid, so his was a recognizable face. I’ve also gone from reading Norman Geisler to Mark Noll, so I’m familiar with apologetics and what its proper place is.

Chandler’s first video in the series is called “Why Does God Allow Suffering and Tragedy?”. Some of the things Chandler says are helpful. Some things he says are stupid mistakes from the best of intentions. But some things he says are scary and dangerous, I think.

Good things– Chandler takes suffering seriously. He shares some of his own medical history and how it debilitated him for a time. He honestly shares that Scripture in the face of that pain seems trite and even rude to the person suffering. He also reminds victims of abuse that “no one gets away with injustice”. Its a confession Christians must repeat and remind ourselves of.

Not so good things – Chandler also makes some stupid mistakes that are easily fixed by doing your homework before you open your mouth. The first happens a few minutes. Chandler says,

“When he (God) created the world we live in, he created it good. The Hebrew word is shalom. He created it at peace, or really, in rhythm.”

Actually, the Hebrew word is טוב tov (good). In fact, the Hebrew word שלום shalom doesn’t happen in the Bible until Genesis 15. I’m not sure what source says that God created the world in shalom/rhythm, but it isn’t the Bible. Sounds like Chandler needs a Hebrew refresher before he preaches from the OT publicly. (He and 1,000 others here in North Texas. But you’d figure folks who put this up on the internet would know to check it with the biblioblogging community first. Sheesh.)

Sadly, Chandler builds a theology from this mistake and claims that God’s shalom was fractured when sin entered the world. But shalom doesn’t just mean peace in the shallow way we Americans talk about it. Shalom means wholeness, completeness. So to say that God’s shalom has been fractured is to say that God is not whole. But you’d have to read the Bible to get that. And who has time? Isn’t that why we need to stream these videos?

Another item that shows OT ignorance is a statement that Chandler makes that I hear a lot of people make. In fact, my old systematics prof said it too and he said it started with Augustine. The statement is “God uses, he does not cause, he uses suffering”. Well the Bible says the opposite. In Isaiah 45:7 Yahweh tells Cyrus and the prophet that there is none like him who creates light and dark, peace and violence. That word for violence (רע) is the same word that gets translated “evil” often times in King James style Bibles. No matter how you translate it, Isaiah says that God causes pain. (I’d like Chandler to answer the question “Why did God make the snake?”)

Okay, now the scary dangerous part– Chandler turns to Romans 8:18-22 to find encouragement in the face of suffering. He, like Paul, admits that the world is still waiting to be fixed. So how do we live in the midst of this suffering? Chandler says,

“If we can get our minds on 10,000 years from now, when Jesus Christ has made all things new, and everything has been redeemed, and restored, and put back into that Shalom— if we keep our minds there, our hope there, then we have hope for tomorrow.”

This is a common answer to people who suffer: One day, you won’t suffer anymore, so try to focus on that time to come. But this is cheap comfort. This is a back without a spine. This is scary in the face of suffering. And it is not the gospel.

Chandler should finish reading chapter 8 of Romans (v37 is a doozy!), because Paul certainly does not tell Roman Christians (some of whom were slaves) to focus on a liberating day 10,00 years down the road. Instead, Paul tells us to hope in what Jesus has already done. Jesus’ faithfulness  is evidence that God keeps his promises. And since we share in his death, we also share in his resurrection (which has already happened! Ya’ know— Easter!). Because God makes good on his promises, we are more than conquerers even while we suffer in slavery. Paul raises Christian tolerance for pain, rather than convince us to focus on something else (or somewhen else) that is not painful. In this regard, Chandler’s ethic is more Buddhist than Christian or Jewish.

So, my church… This is level of education and excellence we expect from our preachers and teachers and its lower than a bull’s balls are to the floor. WTF.

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