Ezekiel 43.13-17 and Hebrews 8.5-6 – The worship of God.
Posted: 30 August 2012 in Ezekiel, Hebrews

“And these are the measures of the altar after the cubits: The cubit is a cubit and an hand breadth; even the bottom shall be a cubit, and the breadth a cubit, and the border thereof by the edge thereof round about shall be a span: and this shall be the higher place of the altar. And from the bottom upon the ground even to the lower settle shall be two cubits, and the breadth one cubit; and from the lesser settle even to the greater settle shall be four cubits, and the breadth one cubit. So the altar shall be four cubits; and from the altar and upward shall be four horns. And the altar shall be twelve cubits long, twelve broad, square in the four squares thereof. And the settle shall be fourteen cubits long and fourteen broad in the four squares thereof; and the border about it shall be half a cubit; and the bottom thereof shall be a cubit about; and his stairs shall look toward the east.”

“Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he [Christ] is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.”

Here, and for several chapters previously, God gives Ezekiel very detailed instructions regarding the construction of the temple in which he is to be worshipped. In many ways it reflects the equally detailed instructions given to Solomon, and to Moses in the desert. We might wonder at the reason for this, and the writer of Hebrews gives at least part of the answer. Namely that the earthly Temple and/or Tabernacle is the representation of a heavenly reality where Christ now ministers on our behalf. Now that Christ is fulfilling the role of a high priest in heaven we, of course, no longer need detailed instructions for building a temple where sacrifice can be made.

The problem I have always had with the regulative principle is that, without borrowing from the Old Testament, the New Testament doesn’t actually say much about the conduct of public worship. Nevertheless, in principle it seems right to say that it is not for us to decide what would be pleasing to God, and only he can stipulate that – as he does, in great detail, to Ezekiel.

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Luke 16.19-31 Eternal punishment and the impregnability of a determined atheism.
Posted: 29 August 2012 in Luke

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

There seem to be at least two things which can be inferred from this passage. One is that the annihilationist view put forward by some today is not really tenable in the light of biblical revelation. This above passage is not the only one in the gospels where Jesus makes it perfectly clear that he expects eternal punishment to await those who are not saved, and not merely annihilation. Whilst it is obvious what the sentiments are which motivate the annihilationist view, we are not allowed to substitute what we would like to be true for what God has revealed to be true. The attempt to do so contains an implicit criticism of God and his righteousness, and sitting in judgment upon God, and his absolute sovereignty, really is not something Christians should be found doing.

The other thing which struck me, towards the end of the parable, is the remark to the effect that even somebody returning from the grave would not persuade somebody who did not want to be persuaded of God’s existence and of his rule over creation. Listening to the new atheists, that rings very true. If some such thing did happen today, a new atheist would predictably say that, although medical science was currently unable to account for it, that does not mean that it won’t be explicable in naturalistic terms at some point in the future. Their faith in the explanatory power of science to account for any inconvenient truths is unlimited, and it is unlimited because they don’t want to contemplate any alternative possibility (one in particular).

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Psalm 136 – God’s eternal election.
Posted: 7 August 2012 in Psalms

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever….. To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever: And brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth for ever: With a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy endureth for ever: And made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever: But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever: And slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth for ever: Sihon king of the Amorites: for his mercy endureth for ever: And Og the king of Bashan: for his mercy endureth for ever: And gave their land for an heritage: for his mercy endureth for ever.

In reading Psalm 136 it has always struck me that the Egyptians and Amorites might not have been exactly impressed by God’s mercy towards them. It would seem that there is only mercy for those whom God chooses to have mercy upon, and that, in bringing his elect to salvation, there is only wrath for those he has not chosen.

That God should save some of his creatures, and repobate others, scandalises people down to this present day, but it is a theme which runs throughout the Bible: Starting with the call of Abraham (rather than any of his fellow countrymen) in Genesis 12.1, right through to the salvation only of those whose names were written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (Rev 13.8 and 20.15).

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1 Corinthians 12.4-12, 28 – The need for the divine gift of humility
Posted: 6 August 2012 in 1 Corinthians

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ….. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul makes it clear that there are various vocations to be found in the life of the Church, but in verse 28 he also makes it clear that not all of those vocations are of equal importance, or have the same status. Should it happen that we find ourselves called to occupy a position somewhere close to the bottom of the hierarchy, that will obviously pose a challenge to our egos. And yet obedience to the call of God would require that we submit to his will. God is not an equal opportunities employer, and embracing the role he assigns to us may be an exercise in humility. We must be content to be invisible to the world, and to the Church as well, if that is what God wills for us. But that humility cannot come from within ourselves, because within ourselves there there is nothing to be found but a rebellious spirit. Without a divinely bestowed gift of humility, our innate egoism would soon start making itself felt.

People with the most prominent roles in the Church and society are also the people who need to be most heavily gifted with humility. To the extent that that is not what happens in practice, and it seems not to happen quite a bit, to that extent it is probably safe to conclude that God’s will is not being done, and that they are occupying a position to which they have no divine calling.

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Exodus 22.4-6 and Numbers 15.33-35
Posted: 5 August 2012 in Exodus, Numbers

” If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double. If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man’s field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution. If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.”

“And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.”

What struck me about the above is that, in the passage from Exodus, concerning offences against our fellow men, the offences attract penalties which are formulated, more or less, on the basis of an eye for an eye. In the second passage, however, an offence, which to us might seem a relatively minor transgression, attracts the death penalty.

The legislation in the Old Covenant is, of course, no longer directly applicable to us. But it is in our Bibles for a reason, and that reason is that we should be able to learn from something which was, after all, spoken by God. The obvious inference to be drawn from the severity of the penalty exacted upon the Sabbath breaker is that the least offence against God himself is (at least) as serious as the most serious offences against our fellow men.

Every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God is eternally and unchangably true, and anything spoken by God can only be abrogated by God. These passages ought to give us reason to contemplate the extent of our God’s everlasting majesty. Everything in the universe is for the glory of God, and nothing can be allowed to detract from his glory: That is the message to be drawn from the penalty exacted from the sabbath breaker, and that is our Creator’s perspective.

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