Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's not a Kingdom without the King: part one

Halloween is hear, which means November is tomorrow, which means a new month of Tabletalk.  This month's theme is the first question of WSC: What is man's chief end?  Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

This month's issue isn't merely about the only WSC question that I can ever remember, but it is about the joy of being in God's presence, meaning we should always be joyful because we never leave his presence.

Enjoying God, Coram Deo by Burk Parsons
Tabletalk's editor starts this issue with the myth that the Westminster theologians were so concerned with doctrinal precision that they failed to display the beauty and loveliness of the faith in their documents.  However, these are the same Westminster divines that start their catechisms with the language of glorifying and enjoying God.  Their Standards expressly exist to show believers how they can glorify and enjoy God.  "It was the doctrinal precision of the Standards that made them so beautiful to me."

When I first heard this catechism question, I had only remembered the answer to be "to glorify God."  I was made by God so that I could glorify him.  Then I read the Shorter Catechism again and noticed "and enjoy him forever."  Parsons, over time, came to see the wisdom of those words.  "They capture the all-encompassing nature of our relationship with God; namely, being chosen by God, called by God, united to God in Christ, justified by God, indwelt by the Spirit of God, adopted by God, sanctified by God, and loving God and neighbor to the end that we might glorify God."  I long to see God's chief purpose fully realized and soon.

Faith Has Its Reasons by R.C. Sproul
Too many times people think that if you have faith, then you must be opposed to reason and sense perception.  You cannot sense God, and his logic is beyond reason, so, we Christians must follow him without thinking about why we believe.

RC Sproul is against such nonsense.  Epistemology is the division of philosophy which asks, "How do you know what you know?"  Philosophers answer this question by reason, sense perception, or a combination of the two.

Rationalists stress the mind and reason as the sources of true knowledge.  Empiricists emphasize the five senses as the basis for knowledge.  The scientific method combines reason and empiricism.  "I don't find in Scripture the idea that faith is irrational or anti-sense perception."  Augustine agrees by asking, "how could we receive knowledge from God if it were not accessible to the human mind?" 

God gave us the Bible.  He would not give us a written document if faith bypassed reason.  In the same Bible, there are words written by people like Dr. Luke who wrote down eye-witness accounts of Jesus's life.  The Bible was written by and affirmed by people who literally heard God speak to them.

Revelation is how we know what we know as Christians.  We have our Scripture canon because at some point, people knew who wrote its words and could testify that they talked to God.  We Prots exclude the Apocrypha because it came out of Alexandria and has no clue who wrote it.  We include Hebrews because of its powerful history.  We believe God because he spoke.

This faith is not blind as it embraces testimony.  Real opposites of faith are not reason and sense perception, but credulity and superstition.

Credulity believers something without ever investigating its reality.  Superstition believes in magical things that have nothing to do with Scripture.  These abound in the church, which is a tragedy.  Real faith investigates what people say and is confirmed by Scripture.  We believe Scripture because we believe the Person revealed in it.

Created to Enjoy God Forever by John D. Currid
Currid notes that all Near Eastern creation accounts believe that humans were created to be a slave to the gods.  As these religions were some of the first to leave the true faith of Adam and Noah, it is not surprising that they would make this caricature of the loving God who originally only had one rule: don't eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge.  This is a distortion of the God who also must oppose sin and therefore require much of his people before he finally saves them with Jesus.

Genesis 1 shows that man was never meant to be God's slave, but was the crowning glory of his creation.  His creation was only good.  Then he created man and woman and it was very good and he could stop.  He made man simply so that he could walk and talk in God's image.

The Near Eastern gods are distance and impersonal.  The Genesis God molded a man from the dust with his hands and breathed his breath into him.  He walked with Adam and Eve directly in the garden.

Only when Eve and Adam betrayed God did they have a disconnect with God.  Now, his image is completely marred.  Instead of the fellowship that God desired when he created mankind, we were now alienated from him.  But he still promised immediately to send a Redeemer to crush the serpent's head.

The Near Eastern gods would have not cared enough about people to become one and take their deserved punishment.  God the Son became Jesus and lived a perfect human life and suffered our complete punishment and was victorious.

These articles in Tabletalk are accompanied by a sidebar with a question that is answered in catechetical style.  Ra McLaughlin writes these.  The first is Why did God create man in the first place? God's goal was to extend his heavenly kingdom to earth and to receive glory from its citizens.  God invented humans so that they could fill the earth with them and extend the geographical borders until they filled this whole sphere and could all enjoy God from everywhere.

The Promise of God's Presence by John R. Sittema
"Out of the blue, the old man heard the voice of God."  He means Abram, later to be Abraham.  This voice was different than his Near Eastern gods.  This one talked.  This God with a real voice told Abe to leave his family and travel to an unknown place named Canaan and there have many children who would become the greatest nation.

To Glorify God and Enjoy Him
This was the beginning of God bringing his people back to the original state in Eden where they could completely enjoy God and glorify him.Abe's people learn that he is not just a god, but the only God that all the other gods imitate and insult.  Mankind made these gods, and they cannot come back to his full presence until their sin has been removed.  The serpent promised life and wisdom to Eve if she ate the fruit, the life and wisdom God was apparently keeping from her.  She ate and learned that this actually deconstructed lifeGod banned them from the garden, and there is no true life or wisdom apart from him. 

In Genesis 1-11, God uses the word "curse" five times.  In Genesis 12:2-3, he uses "bless" for Abraham five times, showing God's plan to restore creation to its original purpose.

Bloody Shadows of Hope
With God's blessings would come great bloodshed.  First Abe cut animal carcasses in half.  Then, God walked between the halves making a promise that if he did not follow through, then he would become like the carcasses.  Abraham did not walk through the bodies.  God kept his promise and still sent Jesus to suffer the punishment because sin must be punished.

After that, God began the ritual of circumcision: Abraham and all his sons must go through the pain for cutting off their foreskins lest they should be cut off from God.  This continued until Jesus came and took the complete punishment, now cancelling the need for circumcision.

Finally, God asked Abraham, after he finally had a son with Sarah, to sacrifice Isaac on an altar.  Both this and circumcision could greatly place Abraham's descendants in danger of not existing.  But Abraham obeyed, and God sent a ram to die in Isaac's place.  That is how he had saving faith.  God showed him what he would do with Jesus.

A Continuing Mission
On this side of the cross, we take for granted how much it cost for us to have the access to God that we enjoy today in the Holy Spirit.  This is a completely generous gift, not an obligation.  God has been cosmically offended by the people he created to bear his image.  They must suffer his wrath.  He faced the idea of creating humans in vain and having no enduring seed.  But God does not, waste his time.  God became man and took God the Father's wrath.  Let us never take this gift for granted.

Why did Abraham have to wait so long for the fulfillment of the promise?
Abraham did not actually receive his complete promise in his lifetime.  Probably because the complete promise is not granted until we are completely in God's presence again, which will not happen in this lifetime.  "God never promised that Abraham would receive all the benefits of God's presence in this lifetime."  However, they were fulfilled in Christ, and they will be completed when Christ returns.

The Holy of Holies by Daniel R. Hyde
"That I may dwell in their midst" (Exodus 25:8).  At this point, Abraham's descendants completed their 400 years of slavery in Egypt.  Now God appeared to them as a burning bush, a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night, and a thick cloud with lightning, thunder, and a trumpet blast.

"Yet with the tabernacle there was something new.  God's presence was no longer like a visitor who came and went, but like a resident who dwelled in a a tent just as they did, in their midst."  Now God lived with his people in a way that Abraham could not know.  This presence could only be enjoyed on God's terms.  Only the priests could enter that presence and only once a year.  Any careless move, and they could be dead.  God blessed his nation with him, but Jesus still had not come, so they still had to be aware of his holiness and their total depravity.  They could only come to God with animal sacrifices and then would have to leave.

Why was Uzzah Killed?
This was the man in 2 Samuel 6 who was helping carry the Ark of the Covenant on an ox cart.  He touched it as it was falling, and God killed him.  Uzzah forgot that this ark is the footstool of God's heavenly throne.  To be around the Ark was to look directly into heaven.  This was the holiest relic on earth.  A relic that God said should only be carried on the shoulders of priests.  If anyone touched it, they would die.  God gave Uzzah what was promised.  Uzzah was not more holy than dirt and had no need of protection.

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