Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Gates of Hell

Last Sunday I spoke on Matthew 16 and Peter's confession, the rock upon which the church is being built and the gates of Hell.  I had a number of comments that some had never heard my interpretation of what the reference to the gates of Hell was so I thought I would post it in case others were unfamiliar with it.  It is by no means original with me and I was surprised that some were unfamiliar with it as I have heard this for years.

I take the stance that the rock upon which Jesus is going to build his church to be referring basically to Christ who is presented as the rock in the OT and also in Matthew and elsewhere in the NT.  Two in Matthew include: Mat 7:24  "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock." and Mat 21:42  Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: "'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?"  Some have seen it as referring to Peter's confession of Christ but to me it is all the same and need not be separated.  Christ and the gospel of his work is the rock; we don't need to try to separate him from his work of redemption.  This is why in Eph. 2 the prophets and Apostles are seen to be the church's foundation because it is their witness of Christ in the Bible upon which the church is built. So the Lord is actively building the church and he builds it by the proclamation of his Word which is all about him.

So I think Jesus by stating the fact that Peter's name means rock and then referring to himself as a rock is using a pun of sorts, a play on words, to teach of the foundation of the church.  If he meant that he was going to build the church on Peter's authority as a pope then he said it in such a way that even the disciples didn't get it and it is clear from the rest of the NT that they never got it.  Even Peter in 1 Pet. 2 refers to Jesus as the rock and never mentions himself as having anything to do with someone's salvation either in Acts or in his epistles.

This brings us then to the statement about the gates of Hell.  The context is how the church is being built on the Rock and so it seems his next statement is making it clear that when someone takes a stand on Christ there is no worry of being shaken off.  In fact Christ is the only sure foundation there is for anyone to cast their soul upon.  I believe the context is all about the gospel of salvation in Christ which will help us understand this statement.

For some reason a popular interpretation has been that the church (God's people) will be able to withstand Satan's onslaughts and not be overcome by him.  While this certainly has biblical support I do not think this is what Jesus is referring to.  Gates are defensive weapons, not offensive ones.  Cities don't move around and cast their gates at other cities; they keep enemies out.  So whatever Jesus is saying he is suggesting that the church is attacking the gates of Hell and that it will be able to break through.  OK, so what does that mean?

The term "gates of Hell" was an ancient way of referring to death  When one died he was said to pass through the gates of Hell in that he went to the place of the dead.  Spiritually, of course, we are all born in the place of death and need to be delivered from it.  So as the church proclaim's Christ as witnessed in the Scriptures God delivers his people from the place of death.  All men are born in the bondage of sin and death and it is only through the gospel that they can be delivered.  So Jesus is proclaiming the victory of the cross even before he gets there.  Later as he sends his disciples into all the world to seek and to save that which is lost by preaching the gospel, they can go with confidence that God's Word will accomplish just what God wills it to because the gates of Hell cannot keep the Holy Spirit from breaking in and delivering the elect because our God is too powerful.

There are an amazing amount of passages in the NT alone that refer to this; here are but two: Heb 2:14  Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil. and 2Ti 1:10  and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  All this reminds me of the old hymn we sing, "Victory in Jesus"; at the end of the day I have to believe that Jesus is referring to himself in Matthew 16.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Redefining Christianity

I recently heard that a large percentage of supposedly Christian people under 30 are leaving their churches for taking a stand against homosexuality.  They argue that they have good friends in this community and they are tired of divisions and cultural wars and exclusivism, etc.  They are tired of Christians being narrow and judgmental an so on.  It is even more disturbing when real Christians buy into this type of reasoning.  One reason I find this disturbing is because they show that they have no idea what Christianity is.

Christianity is Christ dying to pay the price for our sins that would send us to Hell otherwise.  It is also those who have been redeemed now living for his honor and being sent by Christ himself to go into the world, read culture, and tell others who are lost in their sins that there is a way to find peace with God and the forgiveness of their sins.  These people have turned all that on its head.  Christ has already told us that this world will hate us for telling it that their sinfulness offends God and condemns them.  The early church was marginalized and considered fools and "narrow" because they dared to tell the prevailing culture that the things they were doing were not right but instead were sinful.

All of the sudden today so called Christians are telling us that we should not suggest that those living in sin are sinful but accept them and include them and, worst of all, do not make them feel inferior.  I am sorry, but evangelism at its heart is to tell people that there is something wrong with them.  I am also sorry if some Christians forget that they are also sinners saved by grace and so evangelize in a somewhat unloving way but that doesn't change the facts.  I am glad that at some point in my life someone didn't worry about offending me but told me plainly that if I didn't repent of my sins and turn to Christ I would suffer the wrath of God in Hell.  The gospel is by its definition offensive to sinners.  Yet today we are being told that the worst thing we can do is offend the world.  I am sorry that these people's parents didn't train them very well in the Faith and I am sorry that they and many Christians as well, don't love the Lord enough and care enough about their faith to study these things out and study the history of our Faith enough to realize that Christianity is always counter-cultural and confrontational to sinners.  Christians weren't massacred in ancient Rome because they went around reaffirming the goodness of man.  Just as Christ invaded a world of sinners to bring salvation so we are to invade our culture proclaiming him to all.  Why are we being told that our ministry should be accepted while his was not?  Was he a bad evangelist?

Of course it doesn't help when our President says that some Christians have a narrow definition of marriage.  It should be obvious that this is a direct attack against the Bible and so our Faith.  Christ made is crystal clear that marriage is defined as between a man and woman.  He was not narrowing the definition, he was restating the view our Creator established for all men and women.  President Obama and those whose world view is like his are trying to redefine marriage but biblically all this does is to make it something other than marriage.

If I define my bicycle as having two wheels and someone comes along and criticizes me for being too narrow in my definition and says that they have broadened their view of a bicycle to have as many wheels as they want, all they have done is to make it into something that is no longer a bicycle.  His criticism is an attempt to make me look narrow for defining reality the way God has made it.  But Christians do not have a narrow definition of marriage, we simply are stating the definition that God has given us.  To go beyond this is to openly rebel against God's rule and that is exactly why they need the gospel.

To refuse to tell people that they are sinning is to remove any need of the gospel itself which another thing Christians are being criticized for because it is clear that to call upon someone of another faith to repent and believe in Christ is suggesting that their faith is wrong and this is the worst of all sins in our culture today.  Satan has cleverly made the very act of evangelism a taboo in western society.  We should not be surprised by this but we also must be aware of what is going on and not be intimidated by this world's godless way of thinking.

1Co 1:23  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.  The idea that Christians can minister to this world by not offending but instead coddle them in their sin is the opposite of what it is to be a Christian.  If you are not ready to suffer the consequences of this then you are not following Christ.  The use of the words "narrow" and "broad" in the cultural conversations today give me a fresh understanding of what Jesus was speaking of when he said, "narrow is the way that leads to life and broad is the way that leads to destruction".  God has laid down the parameters of what pleases him and what does not.  When mankind decides that anything goes, they attempt to broaden the way but it is our job to tell them where such a lifestyle is leading them, not to make them feel good about the choice they have made.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Writing Our Lament

The first chapter of 2 Samuel gives the account of David hearing the news that Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle.  What strikes me about David's reaction is that there are two aspects of his mourning.  The very first thing he does is grieve until evening.  We know that Jonathan was his best friend and that Saul was his avowed enemy but the text makes it clear he grieves for both of them.  This is remarkable in itself because most people would celebrate the fact that Saul was dead because it meant they were about to become king.

But David doesn't do this but instead is sincerely sad that Saul was dead because he has a bigger picture of his life than just immediate gratification.  The king of God's people had been slain by their enemies and God's reputation was in question while his people appear in disarray.  He grieves for the Lord's work and for himself and so we learn that there are times to grieve as well as times to rejoice.  We aren't to dance through life as if nothing matters other than having a good time but we aren't to spend all our time being sad just because this life is full of sadness.

I was raised with Charley Brown and perhaps that is why I use the expression "good grief" some times.  But what we find in this account is that a Christian is called on to grieve well.  I think David does this.  He is deeply saddened at these deaths but his grief does not stop him from taking care of business.  That evening he executes the Amalekite for supposedly killing Saul.  His grief might last all his life but his desire to serve the Lord over rules his grief from paralyzing him.  So Paul says that we should not grieve as the world grieves.

But there is another part of his grieving process that I believe we should be careful to incorporate into our own experiences.  In vs. 17 & 18 we read, "And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son", " and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar."  17 and 18 tell us a couple of things.  First of all this is an official lament; it is written down and so expected that others should read it and thus it would be beneficial for them to think about it.  A lament is a formal expression of grief and sorrow as opposed to spontaneous outpouring of emotions, 11-12.  There is nothing wrong with spontaneity in such things of course, but David sees this as an opportunity to instruct God's people about the Lord. 

Often in spontaneous grief words are poured out in emotion but not much thought; it is not unusual for one to say things that if he was thinking clearly he knows isn’t actually truth.  The same thing can be said of when calamities come upon us suddenly; our initial thoughts are words that are emotionally driven rather than biblically thought through.  But this lament is done later when words can be carefully chosen so others can be instructed.  The intensity of emotion and sorrow unites with the discipline of one’s mind as it meditates on truth and we are given insight into how a child of God deals with grief.  It is coherent, careful and honed to express the experience for others to see.

The point to be made here is that it would be profitable, and perhaps we are being instructed here that it is the duty of all saints, to get to a point where they can use such things as a way to help others and glorify the Lord.  Why not write down a lament and offer it up to God and if so led offer it up to others as well?  We know that difficult times aren’t miraculously healed by God after a short time.  It takes time to reflect on truth.  A lament assumes that grief is ongoing and invites us to enter into the process.

One thing we see here is that David is concerned with God and his children’s reputation.  The death, especially of Saul, was going to be a reason for the heathen to say and think ungodly things and dishonor the Lord; like many funerals today.  How many of us have been to a funeral of a lost family where all sorts of things were said that didn't reflect reality at all?  Part of his mourning was over the spiritual outcome not just his loss.  Grief as all things in life is sent for us to use for the Lord not for us to use only for self.

And I don't think this applies only to the times we experience the death of a loved one.  Many of the trials of life cause us to go through traumatic times in which God has much to teach us about himself.  These also can be times in which we openly express what we have learned from the Lord so we can encourage others.  As John Piper's popular book title suggests, "Don't Waste Your Life".  Can we not apply this to seizing the opportunity to glorify the name of the Lord by the experiences he brings us through?  To grieve as the world grieves is to waste your grief.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dan Savage

Here is a link to James White's podcast where he deals with the Dan Savage debacle and he makes some good cases for how Christians should approach the voting booth.  It is definitely recommended and profitable.  Click on the "here's the program" link.