“The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book written about the redemptive work of Christ for his people…”

Alright, I admit the original version is catchier. I’m no songwriter.

Last week I mentioned that my convictions about the meaning of Scripture can be summed up in one phrase: Everything written is about Christ and for the church. To be more accurate, I should have said that my convictions about the apostolic method of Scriptural interpretation can be summed up in the above phrase. I believe that these two statements, “Scripture is written about Christ” and “Scripture is written for the church,” function as two great guiding lights which Christ and his apostles used in their Spirit-inspired interpretation of the Old Testament.  I’d like to unpack that a little bit.

Everything is written about Christ. In Luke 24:13-27, the Emmaus road account, the incognito risen Christ gives what must have been the most edifying sermon ever: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Later the same day, he appeared in the midst of his disciples and reminded them of his teaching: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). He then opened their minds to understand the Scripture, and this is the summary of their understanding: “‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise of the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem'” (24:46-47).

Everything is written for the church. Paul says in Romans 15 that “whatever was written in former times was written for our instruction, that through the endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). He says in 1 Corinthians of the Jewish exodus that “these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). This is what allows Paul to relate the Jews’ eating of manna and drinking water from a rock to the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10), to apply laws concerning oxen to the rights of a gospel minister (1 Corinthians 9), to call the church Isaac and the unbelieving world Ishmael (Galatians 4); it’s what allows Peter to give the Jew-Gentile church the designation given to Israel in the Old Testament, that we are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9).

This matters now– have you ever started in on a one-year reading plan for your Bible and gotten bogged down in Leviticus, or Samuel, or Jeremiah, because it feels alien and draining rather than life-giving? Have you ever felt that a particular passage couldn’t possibly fit the rubric given in 1 Timothy, not profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, or training in righteousness? The truth is, the whole Bible exalts Christ for the benefit of the church. Therefore, it is our duty and delight to read the Old Testament in such a way that Christ is exalted and we are edified. This is not reading into the text; this is reading the entire text.

There is more to say here, but I’ve exhausted my word limit.

 

February’s Book of the Month: The Loveliness of Christ

At the end of 2014, I decided to read a short (~100 pages), spiritually nourishing book each month during 2015. About half of the books I lined up are ones I have read before, but they’re the sort of books that a man ought to come back to again and again throughout his life.

Being as I was on a blogging hiatus in January, I didn’t record my thoughts from January’s book of the month (Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle– it’s one of my all-time favorites), but I’d like to do so from here on out– “and this will we do, if God permit.”

February’s book was one I hadn’t read before: The Loveliness of Christ, by Samuel Rutherford. It’s a collection of excerpts from his Letters, and most of them are only a line or two (the excerpts, not the letters). It’s very encouraging. Rutherford seems to have suffered much in his life, or been around people who suffered much, because most of the saying in this little book concern trials, crosses, scourges, deep waters, and the like.

I see two prominent themes from these pages: Christ’s nearness to his people in their sufferings, and the strange and wonderful ever-newness of Christ to those who seek him.

The way Rutherford talks about Christ’s nearness to his people in their sufferings is so comforting and so encouraging. Consider these gems:

He delighteth to take up fallen bairns [children] and to mend broken brows: binding up of wounds is his office.

There is no sweeter fellowship with Christ than to bring our wounds and our sores to him.

He taketh the bairns in his arms when they come to a deep water; at least, when they lose ground, and are put to swim, then his hand is under their chin.

It is our heaven to lay many weights and burdens upon Christ. Let him find much employment for his calling with you; for he is such a Friend as delighteth to be burdened with suits and employments; and the more homely ye be with him, the more welcome.

I could go on– there is so much in these brief pages of the sweetness of Christ, his tender healing hand, his eagerness to take the sorrows of sinners up into himself and to soothe them!

Equally, Rutherford’s descriptions of how new Christ is every day and how fathomless is the knowledge of Christ awakens wonder and worship in my soul. Him again:

Every day we may see some new thing in Christ. His love hath neither brim nor bottom.

There are infinite plies [folds] in his love that the saints will never win to unfold.

I think I see more of Christ than ever I saw; and yet I see but little of what may be seen.

I am sure that the saints at their best are but strangers to the weight and worth and the incomparable sweetness of Christ. He is so new, so fresh in excellency, every day of new, to these that search more and more in him, as if heaven could furnish as many new Christs (if I may speak so) as there are days betwixt him and us, and yet he is one and the same.

O, we love an unknown lover when we love Christ.

I am glad I read Rutherford in February– I’ve needed him this month. I’m not much for books of quotations or pithy sayings, but The Loveliness of Christ is well worth it to read a saying or two with your Bible reading in the morning, or on your lunch break, or before you go to sleep at night. Let the Spirit use his gospel words to cause faith to rise within your heart. You’ll be glad you did.

-Daniel

 

Theology in C Minor

Listening to the jazz station right now. I don’t listen to jazz much, simply because it’s so hit-or-miss in my opinion. But a little jazz can be good for the soul, and this wouldn’t be Flotsam and Jetsam if I didn’t try to enumerate how I think this may be so.

When I was in high school, I thought I might try my hand at writing music. It was awful, but I didn’t know that at the time. I remember showing one of my pieces to my band instructor and asking his opinion. He was trying to be kind, and so instead of shredding it, he simply told me “you need to know what the rules are before you can break them.” He was exhorting me to go further in my music theory before I attempted to put notes to paper, and he was right. I’m not one of those naturals with music running in their souls.

I was reminded of that incident just now whilst listening to Donald Byrd’s rendition of “Ray’s Idea.” Half-listening to the song, it sounds like the drummer is spazzing out while the pianist is playing with fat fingers, and the bassist has had waaay too much caffeine. It makes me wonder what any of the old greats would have thought of it. Would Chopin be impressed? I’m reminded of the scene in The Majestic where Jim Carrey sits down in front of the piano and the community waits with baited breath to see if it’ll jog his memory (if you haven’t seen the movie, you should; it’s the only Jim Carrey film worth watching), and how his old classical piano teacher is scandalized when he starts playing these wild jazz riffs. Certainly, when jazz came on the scene, it broke all the rules. But when I tuned in fully, the song came into focus in a way that not only made sense, but fit together beautifully. It’s the bass, I believe, that ties the whole thing together, keeping the key while the piano dances all around it with it’s accidents and licks and arpeggios (forgive me if I misstep, music mavens– I’m no expert). What appears to be thick fingers incapable of hitting one key at a time is, in fact, an intentional part of the whole scheme. These composers and players know their way around a major scale. They aren’t making mistakes, they’re making music, exploring the qualities of their instruments and of the notes and chords themselves in a way that no one had done before.

The Sanhedrin thought Jesus didn’t know his doctrine well enough, or that he was flouting it on purpose. They thought he was ignorant of the law. A man can’t pick grain on the Sabbath– don’t you know that? A man can’t eat with unwashed hands. A man certainly can’t claim to be God; can’t extend forgiveness to sinners; can’t associate with gentiles, whores, tax collectors; can’t claim to interpret holy writ; can’t raise himself above Moses, Abraham, and the Fathers; A man can’t rise from the dead.

The scribes and Pharisees, those teachers of the law railed and railed, and Jesus just smiled. Listen closer, he says. The deep music of redemption threads its way through his works and teaching. Jesus isn’t sabotaging the sacred things, but saving sinners. And once you know that, you can see it on every page.

Herbaversary

Hello,

This month marks two years since I met and befriended the greatest poet the English language has ever produced. To honor the man, I reproduce here one of my favorite poems of his, “The Holdfast.” It has helped me through some dark times recently, and I pray you will be comforted and strengthened by it as I have been.

I threat’ned to observe the strict decree
Of my dear God with all my power and might.
But I was told by one, it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
Then will I trust, said I, in him alone.
Nay, ev’n to trust in him, was also his:
We must confess, that nothing is our own.
Then I confess that he my succor is:
But to have nought is ours, not to confess
That we have nought. I stood amazed at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend express,
That all things were more ours by being his.
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

Thank you George Herbert, for showing me the God who cannot fail or fall.

-Daniel

Et Cetera, Et Cetera

Hello. Late-night thoughts here.

Why are there so many stories in the Old Testament? It’s chock-full of tales. This is God’s word to man- can’t we just cut out the fluff and get to the important bits? One possible approach to one possible explanation occurs to me, mediated by Leithart filtered through the Wagner and Beethoven I’ve been listening to all evening.

All music has this quality of repetition to it. In most songs there will be a section of music which repeats several times, and while sometimes there is development from iteration to iteration in the form of a crescendo or the addition of instruments or underlying strains, sometimes the sections just repeats. And repeats. And repeats again. And then, just as the listener becomes aware that he is waiting for something to happen, the cycle breaks and a new section begins. It builds tension. It builds anticipation. Often these sections end on a leading tone, causing that sleeping musician’s ear in all of us to long for the resolution brought about by a tonic or dominant note or chord.

God doesn’t just want your mind, and so his book isn’t a list of propositions. He doesn’t just want your obedience, and so his book isn’t just a list of commands. God wants your worship, and so his book is all about the majesty of his Son, the Deliverer of Israel who appears at the end of the song to put away sin for all time. Something happens to a person when they read the unfinished story that is the Old Testament, and hear the broken deliverer theme over and over and over again. We were created listening for the resolution to come in Christ. Thank the Lord, the sweet strains of that resolution have come, and it’s a catchy tune.

-Daniel

The Field

Happy New Year! I wrote this poem a few weeks ago. I hope you find it encouraging.

I came upon a fallow field
And found a farmer standing there,
Considering how to make it yield
It’s share.

“O Sir!” I cried, “This land’s no good!
See how it barren, stony lies?
For all your sweat and all your blood
It dies.”

But the farmer took no heed
Of my rational demand,
Just hefted a small sack of seed
In hand.

“Old man, you do not understand
The price I paid for this poor plot;
To hear which I for it have planned
You ought.

I purchased this with my own life,
These blood-bought seeds. they fall as dew.
I plough in hope, and hoping wait
For you.

See now, you are the similitude,
You are the land clogged thick with clay.
And out of clay I’ll make a man
Again.

You must receive the worded seed,
Receive my blood which falls as rain–
The painful ploughing then won’t be
In vain.

You will have that for which  I died,
You’ll see my Passion’s just increase;
For righteousness will sprout inside,
And peace.

Then the Farmer turned away,
His furrows dug upon my soul,
His word within implanted made
Me whole.

I looked upon that fruitful field,
And saw a harvest of his tending,
A tree of life which bears its fruit
Ne’er ending.

-Daniel

Palm Sunday

Some Palm Sunday reflections, for which I am indebted to Jason DeRouchie.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem the week before Passover, the word of his coming spread before him such that a large crowd gathered to welcome him in, believing he would deliver them from Roman occupation and restore the kingdom to Israel. So Jesus rode into town, to fulfill what was written, which, as John put it (John 12:15), was as follows:

Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!

John is mostly quoting from Zechariah 9:9, with a paraphrase here and there. Here’s the text in Zechariah, with the exact words used in John bolded:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

So it looks like John left out the parallel second line, the “to you” in the third line, and then the longer description of the manner of the king’s coming at the end. But he didn’t paraphrase the beginning– he just up and changed it from “rejoice greatly” to “fear not.” Why?

The phrases “fear not,” “daughter of Zion,” and “king.” only appear together in one other place– Zephaniah 3:14-17:

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
‘Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love.;
he will exult over you with loud singing.’

The passage in Zechariah, which contains the specific prophecy about the donkey’s colt, is largely about God’s judgment of the nations and his deliverance of Israel. God is high and lifted up, the king over the whole earth, the divine warrior– that’s the sort of language used. The king is coming, yes, and coming to save, but he seems rather transcendent and terrifying in Zechariah, particularly in the verses following 9:9. In Zephaniah, the king comes to Israel and stands in her midst, singing over her and telling her not to be afraid. The transcendent God has become the immanent God.

It’s possible that John conflated these two passages accidentally. But I think John is smarter than that. I think that in noting the fulfillment of Zechariah he intended to tell his readers just what kind of king it was who fulfilled the prophecy. There will come a day when Jesus will come on a war horse (Revelation 19:11). But not today. Today the king comes on a donkey, sitting with children and telling his people not to be afraid.

On Friday he will be for us– he will be a priest for us, a sacrifice for us, becoming sin for us, being God and man for us. But today he is the immanent God. Emmanuel, God with us.