“See This Child”–An Advent Poem for 2016

“See This Child”
December 6, 2016

See this child for whom all things
Are made and by whom held.
This mighty one, begotten Son,
Has come with men to dwell.

See this child with undefiled
Nature now asleep.
This righteous one, beloved Son,
Will scorn and murder reap.

See this child with tiny hands,
Who cries and must be fed.
This lowly one, a virgin’s Son,
Is everlasting bread.

See this child with infant smile
Whom heavenly host proclaim.
This worthy one, the royal Son,
Shall be for sinners slain.

See this child in swaddling cloths
And in a manger laid.
This gentle one, the promised Son,
Has come to kill the grave.

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A Cluster of Christological Affirmations in 1 Thessalonians 1:10

Written sometime around A.D. 50 or 51, 1 Thessalonians may be the earliest of Paul’s letters (with the possible exception of Galatians), and it’s always interesting to see what someone’s theology (or, in this case, christology) consists of early on.

Paul writes, “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9-10).

My interest is specifically verse 10, which is in bold. What kind of truths are present there, either explicitly or implicitly, about Jesus?

  1. Jesus died (“from the dead”). The very word “dead” is present.
  2. Jesus rose (“whom he raised from the dead”). Bodily resurrection ended his death.
  3. Jesus ascended (“from heaven”). At some point between his bodily resurrection and his current location in heaven, there was an ascension to get him there.
  4. Jesus remains in heaven (“from heaven”). After his ascension, Jesus has not dwelt elsewhere. The God-Man remains in heaven.
  5. Jesus will return (“to wait for his Son from heaven”). He will return from where he presently dwells. This refers to his Second Coming, which is the bodily return of the bodily risen and bodily ascended Jesus.

#’s 1, 2, and 5 are explicit in the verse, and #’s 3 and 4 are implicit. Paul affirms–all in one verse–the death, resurrection, ascension, session, and return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Singing in “The Hobbit” and With the Saints

hobbit pic of gandalf and bilboI just finished reading The Hobbit for the first time, and I was surprised at all the singing. Surprised–and delighted! In the first and final chapters and in many of those between them, there was a preponderance of songs.

One especially meaningful song appears in Chapter 10 (“A Warm Welcome”). Bilbo had recently rescued the dwarves from imprisonment (in Chapter 9), and now he and the gang were approaching The Lonely Mountain. Along the way, when they came to Lake-town (or Esgaroth), people began to sing “old songs concerning the return of the King under the Mountain.”

The lyrics were:

The King beneath the mountains,
The King of carven stone,
The lord of silver fountains
Shall come into his own!

His crown shall be upholden,
His harp shall be restrung,
His halls shall echo golden
To songs of yore re-sung.

The woods shall wave on mountains
And grass beneath the sun;
His wealth shall flow in fountains
And the rivers golden run.

The streams shall run in gladness,
The lakes shall shine and burn,
All sorrow fail and sadness
At the Mountain-king’s return!

This is prophecy-in-song. The mountain was currently occupied by the despicable dragon Smaug, and people longed for–and sang for–the day when the true Mountain-king would come.

The first verse declares that the king would come. In the second verse, royal music would once again fill the halls. In the third verse, creation would respond as woods and grass wave. In the fourth verse, sorrow and sadness would be no more.

This prophetic song, along with other songs old and new, strengthened the characters. Over the days of such celebration and singing, the dwarves recovered and anticipated the remaining miles of their journey to The Lonely Mountain. Within a week, “Thorin looked and walked as if his kingdom was already regained and Smaug chopped up into little pieces.”

As I read the lyrics of the songs in The Hobbit, I was struck afresh with how important singing is for the saints. We sing not only because of what God has done in Christ but also in view of what he will do. We sing to remember, and we sing for hope. And as was the case with characters in the book, songs strengthen us in the face of fear, trial, and battle. And we mustn’t minimize the power of singing together. The characters joined in song with others. By singing together they grew stronger together.

One final observation about singing in The Hobbit. Even the bad guys, like the goblins, had songs. In Chapter 6 (“Out of the Frying-Pan Into the Fire”), the goblins celebrated their wicked plans with singing. Those songs may be poetic, but ultimately the lines lack the power of the noble songs which come from the souls of the brave and hopeful hobbits, dwarves, and elves. Songs are better which reflect on what is true, beautiful, and worthy.

As I finished the last of the songs in the final chapter of The Hobbit, I found myself looking forward to singing with the saints on the Lord’s Day. I’m ready to remember with them and hope with them. And I’m confident that in singing together we will be stronger together, for what we reflect on is the Lord Jesus Christ, the one most true, beautiful, and worthy.

It’s Good to be Alive!

sun shining behind treesDid you wake up this morning? If you’re reading this, then the answer is obvious. But for many people around the world, yesterday was their last day. Because of death, their eyes no longer see the sun.

The author of Ecclesiastes says, “Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun” (Eccl. 11:7).

The second part of the verse expands the first. The light in the first part is the sun in the second. In Ecclesiastes those on earth live “under the sun” and thus under its light. For their “eyes to see the sun” means that they are alive. The author tells us what this experience is like: seeing this light is “sweet.”

Light can be many things: bright, illuminating, far-reaching, fast, blinding. But “sweet”? We normally associate that word with food. However, maybe “sweet” is the perfect description of this non-food image of light. This author shows that being alive is sweet! Life tastes good! Opening your eyes to another day is a pleasant thing.

If you read through the book of Ecclesiastes, you’ll note that the author is under no delusion that life is easy and carefree. In the book he is astonishingly, even uncomfortably, candid about life’s vexations and frustrations. So he’s not ignoring the suffering and injustice in the world when he says that “light is sweet.” But suffering and injustice do not make up all the happenings on earth. The author knows life can be hard, but that’s not all it is. We should be willing to say everything that’s true about life.

For each of us under the sun, there is a time to be born and a time to die (Eccl. 3:2), and these times are set by God alone (see 8:15). If you have seen the sun today, then the latter “time” still lies before you. This day, like yesterday, is a gift from God to us. Here is another day to seek him, know him, praise him, fear him, obey him. Here is another day for his glory. It’s good to be alive!

Happy Birthday, Jim Hamilton! Eleven Lessons He’s Taught Me

Today is April 11, 2016, and Jim Hamilton turns 42 years old. Eleven years ago in 2005, a month before I turned 22, I began my first semester of seminary and met him through taking his course on the book of Isaiah. In God’s kind providence, that course and subsequent interactions with Jim impacted my mind and heart in ways that still reverberate to this day.

I praise God for Jim’s example and service for Christ, for I know he’s impacted so many thousands of people over the years. In 2010 our family moved to Louisville so that I could pursue a PhD in Biblical Studies under Jim’s supervision, and in 2013 I was honored to be his first doctoral student to walk the stage.

I’ve learned so much from Jim. He has been a source of encouragement and counsel. At different times he has served as my professor, doctoral supervisor, and pastor. And I’m glad to call him a friend.

As I think about how Jim has been a blessing in my life, there are numerous lessons he’s taught me, either out loud or with his example. Since I’ve known him for eleven years, here are eleven things, in no particular order, that have affected the way I think about my faith, my family, my studies, and my ministry.

 

On Writing: Make the most of your time, writing during your most productive days/hours.

On Parenting: Be a fun dad, because the kids aren’t young for long.

On Reading the Bible: Read the Bible over and over again, and memorize as much as you can.

On Manhood: Be a man who pursues purity in heart and life.

On Marriage: Be unashamed at how much you love your wife.

On Fiction: Read Harry Potter.

On Reading the Old Testament: We should read the Old Testament like the apostles did.

On Languages: In biblical languages, as in sports, fundamentals matter.

On the Academic Life: Keep your head down and be faithful in your work.

On Preaching: Help the congregation see and feel their need for the passage.

On the Point of It All: What matters most is God’s glory–in salvation through judgment, of course.

The Disillusionment of Peter at Gethsemane: Moving from Defending Jesus to Denying Jesus

All four Gospels report Peter’s denial of Jesus. And though Peter denied that he would ever deny Jesus (Matt. 26:35), Jesus had prophesied a threefold denial before the night was over (26:34).

It was the night of Jesus’ arrest on Passion Week. The disciples were at Gethsemane with Jesus, who had been praying in close proximity to Peter, James, and John (Matt. 26:36-44). Then the betrayer, Judas, arrived to fulfill his arrangement with the religious leaders (26:14-16, 45-46). He kissed Jesus, which signaled the arresting party to make their move (26:49-50). Peter intervened, drawing his sword and slicing off a man’s ear (26:51). Then Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (26:52).

Peter didn’t want the arrest to happen. On an earlier occasion, he had protested Jesus’ teachings about suffering in Jerusalem and being killed (Matt. 16:21). At that time Peter had taken Jesus aside and rebuked him: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (16:22). And though Jesus had continued to teach about his coming suffering and death (17:22-23; 20:17-19), Peter had not accepted this as the Messiah’s work.

Peter believed a commonly-held view about the Messiah, that at his coming the Promised One would overthrow the political powers, liberate God’s people, establish the kingdom of God, vindicate the righteous, and pour out justice on God’s enemies. The idea of God’s Messiah having to suffer and die challenged this prevailing view. The Son of David would come to rule and reign, not die, right?

Back to Gethsemane. The thing Peter did not want to happen was happening before his very eyes. Authorities had seized his Messiah. God’s Promised One was being taken into custody. So Peter rushed to defend him. What a display of boldness and courage–and misunderstanding.

The scene became a moment of disillusionment for Peter, because Jesus looked at him and said, “Put your sword back into its place” (Matt. 26:52a). Jesus stopped Peter from stopping the arrest. The arrest must happen, that Scripture be fulfilled (26:54, 56). Peter had not yet embraced the role Jesus had come to embody: a Messiah who would reign and establish God’s kingdom but who must first suffer and die. “Put your sword back into its place” was a command that must have jarred the disciple. Jesus really planned to go through suffering and death! The Christ, whom Peter had followed for years and believed to be the Son of God, was seized as the disciples looked on.

This was a crucial moment in Peter’s life. His sword-swinging instinct may have shown boldness and resolve, but before the night was over, Peter would say of Jesus, “I do not know the man” (Matt. 26:72). He would deny Jesus not once, not twice, but three times (26:70, 72, 74), just as Jesus had said (26:34).

Jesus didn’t seem to be the Messiah whom Peter expected. Arrest didn’t look like triumph. Being taken into custody didn’t look like God’s kingdom coming. What a moment of disillusionment for Peter! If we see Peter’s boldness at Gethsemane and his cowardice at the high priest’s courtyard and then ask, What changed? What made him go from defending Jesus to denying Jesus? The narrative may give us the turning point in Matthew 26:52, when Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place.”