Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Darkness in Biblical Usage - Henry Knapp

Having worshipped together for the past four months now, it should come as little surprise to you that I have more than my share of little quirks. Most of them are fairly harmless as oddities go. One such is that I really enjoy winter. I realize I’m not alone in preferring winter over summer; but still, at least in my house, I’m considered a bit odd. Given the choice between sweating in the summer or being bundled up in the cold, I’ll take the bundled up every time. But, the big appeal of winter for me is how early it gets dark. Yes, I really like it when dusk comes around 5:00 pm. Some might accuse me of being “a creature of the dark”; but I’d like to think that overstates it a bit!

The imagery of light and darkness in the Scripture is well known. Obviously, most of the imagery is metaphorical: that is, light, not as a product of the sun, but as a symbol of what is good and pleasing to our Lord. Likewise, darkness itself from a scientific standpoint—as in the absence of light rays—is not a concern for the biblical authors. Rather, it is darkness as a metaphor for the absence of insight, holiness, goodness, or the divine. This imagery plays out in rich and varied ways in the Bible, and while there is a common thread—light is good, darkness is bad—the variety provides insightful nuance.

Often, darkness is used to describe the realm of Satan’s activity and general evil. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Isiah 9:2); Romans 13:12 talks of our evil deeds as “the works of darkness”, a vain life is one of darkness (Ecclesiastics 6:4, 11:8). In 1 Thessalonians 5:5, Paul describes Christians as children of the light and day not the night or darkness. Job pictures death and what follows in these terms (Job 10). Those in the grip of Satan live in darkness, work in darkness, and further the darkness.

Alternatively, darkness is also used to symbolize the absence of the Divine Father, playing off the imagery of God as light (1 John 1:5). So, rather than identifying darkness with evil, this slight twist links it with the lack of all that is good in God. The end-times vision of the Apostle John includes being constantly with God where there is always light—not because of the sun, but because of God’s very presence. But, to be separated from God is to be “cast into the darkness” (see Matthew 8:12, Revelation 20-22).

A further shift on the metaphor is the biblical use of darkness as revealing the horror of divine judgment and wrath. In describing the coming day of judgment, the Lord declares, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight” (Amos 8:9). Darkness is the punishment of the Lord (Proverbs 20:20). One of the plagues released on Egypt, the ninth plague preceding the Passover judgment, was darkness covering the land (Exodus 10, Psalm 105:28). A thick darkness covered the Egyptians while they pursued the Israelites who were in the light (Exodus 14). The Psalmist pictures God’s coming in righteousness and judgment as a coming darkness (Psalm 97). In this sense, darkness is not Satan’s realm, nor is it the absence of the divine, but rather the visible expression of God’s displeasure.

For three hours while Jesus hung on the cross, the land was pitched into darkness. I invite you to read Matthew 27:45-46 and consider the darkness that surrounds our Savior.

1. Why do you think Matthew gives a timeline here? What is he trying to communicate?

2. What biblical references can you think of where “darkness” appears? What are some common threads in the Bible’s use of “darkness?”

3. Read Amos 8:9-10 and the surrounding texts. What is the point here? How does this connect to our text today?

4. Both Matthew and Mark emphasize that Jesus used a loud voice when He cried out. Why do you think they mention the loudness of His cry?

5. How does Jesus generally address God? What term does He use? Notice it is missing here.

6. What is the meaning of “forsaken”? What does it feel like to be forsaken?

7. Why might Jesus have said that God had forsaken Him? What are the options? Which seems to make the most sense in context?

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Over A Thousand Years Before Christ... - Henry Knapp

The American Revolution was 250 years ago. Long time. If you’ve ever studied the time period, or seen a movie or show set during that time, you know how very different the world was back then.

The Pilgrims first landed in New England 400 years ago. Columbus sailed for the New World 600 years ago. The Crusades were 800 years ago. The Vikings were raiding medieval Europe 1,000 years ago. Rome was still standing 1600 years ago.

How different the world was back then! So much has changed, so many differences; it is hard to draw any meaningful connections between the times back then and today. But, think of prophecy. Imagine someone telling you that the most crucial events in your 21st century life were foretold with accuracy by someone living during the bubonic plague.

Amazingly, the New Testament authors seem willing and eager to connect the prophecies of centuries earlier to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. According to some counts, there are over one thousand Old Testament quotations and allusions in the New Testament. And, between 200 and 400 specific Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament. Remember, the time gap between the prophecies and their fulfillment in the first century AD is a minimum of 400 years. Many of the prophets spoke of Jesus 700 to 1,000 years before the events.

Now, it is true that some of these prophecies are pretty hard to figure—even after they are competently explained. Some “prophecies” in the Old Testament appear obscure. But, by my own figuring, somewhere between 50 and 80 prophecies are so clear that it is hard NOT to see them fulfilled in Christ: the virgin birth of Jesus, to be called Immanuel, born in Bethlehem, from Galilee, a light to the Gentiles, enter riding a donkey, rejected and despised, pierced for transgressors, numbered among the sinners, buried in wealthy man’s tomb. It is not hard to find a good long list of these prophecies, and I’d encourage you to look through them. Again, many will leave you scratching your head wondering; but, the overwhelming sense you get when you look at these is… WOW!

What is most enjoyable for me, however, is the unexpected prophecies I run across; that is, when I find myself surprised in my reading of the Old Testament. Often enough to still surprise me today, I’ll be reading the Bible when suddenly something connects so clearly with God’s work in Christ that it is hard to deny that it is intentional. We know and celebrate that our Lord has providentially shaped the world to meet His plan for salvation. Yet, often enough when I first see it, I remain amazed at His work.

One such text for me is Psalm 22. Jesus directly quotes this text when He was crucified. Hanging on the cross, Jesus calls out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” While there is tremendous theological power behind Jesus’ words here (which we will explore in future weeks), one thing that jumps out is that this is a direct quote from the opening line of Psalm 22. And, I don’t think it is an accident that Jesus is drawing attention to this psalm. Read it, and see what you think!

In preparation for worship this week, read Psalm 22 and ask:

1. How many direct references can you see to the crucifixion?
2. Why do you think Jesus called attention to this text?
3. Assuming that the surrounding crowd knew their psalms (and I think it is a fair assumption), what do you think they might have thought hearing this crucified One point to this psalm?
4. If you were to summarize this psalm to another, how would you do it? Try summarizing it in a short paragraph, a short sentence.
5. What might have been going on in the original author’s world that led him to write this psalm? Just speculate on what might have been happening.
6. The psalms are often used by modern Christians to capture their current mood or experience. Why would a modern Christian be attracted to this psalm? What mood/experience does this psalm capture?
7. What is the emotional sense of the psalm—is the author happy? Sad? Angry? Depressed? And, does that emotional mood change throughout the psalm?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Woman Behold Your Son - Doug Rehberg


In 2010 Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer was speaking at Fordham University Law School when she said that seeing the 1957 movie 12 Angry Men influenced her to pursue a career in law. She noted that juror 11’s monologue (no names are used until the last three minutes of the film) on his reverence for the American justice system inspired her. She told the audience of law students that, as a lower court judge, she would sometimes instruct juries to learn from the film. Over the last 62 years 12 Angry Men has been used throughout the corporate world to school executives and decision-makers on group dynamics, consensus-building, and effective listening.

But the reason I cite it is because of the early scene when Henry Fonda (juror #8) says excitedly, “Okay, let’s take two pieces of testimony and put them together!” Now he’s talking about the sound of the passing L Train and the sound of a body of a dead man hitting the floor. But the two pieces of testimony that fascinate me are the ones John gives at the opening and closing of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Amazingly, he is alone among the gospel writers in giving us these crucial pieces of testimony.

The first piece of testimony comes in John 2 where Jesus, His mother, and His disciples are at a week-long wedding feast in Cana. It’s apparent from the account that Mary has some connection with the bridal party, because when the wine runs out she hurries to Jesus to urge Him to fix the problem. Remember what He says to her? Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Then, like many mothers I know, she ignores His biting retort. Instead, she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” Now there are a number of reasons why John includes this miracle in his gospel. It’s the first miracle Jesus performs. Wine to the Jews was a symbol of joy. The Jews used to say, “Without wine there is no joy, and without joy there is no life.” So what John’s telling us is that Israel was out of both. Their religion was dry, empty, and lifeless. They were trusting in everything but God and His work. So what’s Jesus do? He turns the water in the foot bathing troughs into the best wine they’ve tasted all week.

The second piece of testimony is found in John 19:25. Here John says, “but standing by the cross of Jesus was his mother…” Now John is the only one to tell us this. Why? There are several reasons: 1) it’s the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy in Luke 2:35; 2) while nearly everyone else runs from the cross, she stands; 3) Jesus establishes His spiritual family (the church) as more important than His biological family, etc.

But there are many more profound reasons than all of those when you take the two pieces of Johannian testimony and put it together. Think of it. 1) It’s the end of His earthly ministry; 2) He’s already established that wine is the symbol of His own blood; 3) the miracle at the cross is not turning water into wine as a source of joy for the remainder of a party, but He’s shedding His own blood to gain life and joy for billions of people for all eternity.

There is so much in this third word from the cross! How appropriate that we will be digging into all of it on Mother’s Day.

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled, “Woman, Behold Your Son,” you may wish to consider the following:

1. How would you describe Mary’s life as the mother of Jesus? Rosy or troubled?
2. The gospels refer to Mary only occasionally. What is similar in these instances? Hint: The first five are: The Annunciation, the visit to Elizabeth, the birth, the flight into Egypt, the presentation of Jesus in the temple.
3. How does this third word from the cross show Jesus as the perfect Son?
4. What is so baffling about John’s inclusion of this word?
5. What does this word say to us about Jesus’ ability to meet every need?
6. How is Jesus here the greater Adam?
7. How does His attention to the needs of His mother reveal a perfect portrait of His sinlessness?
8. How does John 19:26-27 prove the truth of Mary’s declaration in Luke 1:47?
9. How does this third word prove that Jesus alone can meet our deepest human need?
10. What can you conclude when you compare John 19:27 to John 20:10?

See you on Mother’s Day!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Backdrop of Crucifixion - Henry Knapp

Kelly and I were married on a Saturday. We were hoping to get married the week earlier, but family schedules didn’t allow it to happen. Consequently, on the Wednesday after our wedding, we needed to be back at work. A short honeymoon. A friend of mine had a farmhouse/cabin in western Virginia that he offered for our few nights together, and we spent our honeymoon in the shadow of the Shenandoah Mountains.

I had yet to discover a passion for studying the War between the States, and I spent our time in Virginia without realizing that we were honeymooning on the site of numerous Civil War skirmishes. Now, we weren’t there to study history, so that’s ok; but in later years, when we returned to the area and after I had spent some time learning about the Civil War, I was surprised at how much the historical background shaped my understanding of the area.

As we explore the Seven Greatest Words of History, the seven last things Jesus spoke as He died, the cross looms large in the background. Spread across the four gospels, these seven sayings all took place while Jesus hung on the cross on Good Friday. It is possible, I suppose, to even read these sayings and not really realize that Jesus is dying here (except, perhaps, “Into Your hands, I commit my spirit”). But, if you really want to understand the thrust of these final sayings of Jesus, the background of His execution is crucial.

As many of you know, crucifixion was a brutal, vicious, cruel way to die. The Romans themselves recognized the inhumanity of the practice by refusing to use it to execute their own citizens. If a Roman citizen was to be executed, he was most frequently beheaded, but not crucified. The Romans used this form of execution specifically to deter similar offenses—it was public, slow, exceedingly painful, and tremendously humiliating.

The physical sufferings of the cross, and specifically what Jesus went through on a bodily level, have been depicted in various ways in recent decades. I have not spoken to anyone who watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ who has not stressed the eye-opening portrayal of Jesus’ physical anguish. From a purely medical standpoint, I would suggest an article published in 1986 in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. William Edwards where he describes the medical effects of crucifixion. It is so educational to read, and yet horrifying to realize that my Lord suffered such. Stretched out and hanging on the cross, a person would need to push up on their feet (straining on that nail) in order to loosen the pressure on the chest to be able to take a breath. Through the pain and the exhaustion, usually over a period of days, the crucified one is unable to push up and slowly suffocates.

However. Let’s be clear on something that often gets lost as we learn more and more about crucifixion—the REAL sufferings of Jesus were not physical, they were spiritual. As brutal and even incomprehensible as were the bodily anguish of Jesus throughout His death, they pale in comparison with the real anguish of the cross—the Son’s punishment by, rejection of, and separation from the Father. As a matter of fact, I have found that some folks can be so overcome by the physical aspects of the cross that they miss the spiritual ones. Because the bodily pain and humiliation of the cross is so visible and perceptible, it is possible to focus only here and to miss the deeper pain, the greater humiliation, of the Holy One bearing our spiritual guilt, our sin, and the suffering that is present there.

And so, as we together explore the last words of Jesus on the cross, His physical sufferings loom large—but His spiritual sufferings are even more dramatic. Allow the backdrop of crucifixion to not only call attention to the bodily pain Jesus went through, but ultimately to see and understand the real cost of the cross—the Righteous One transformed into my sin, into your sin.

This week as we prepare for worship together, read Luke 23:32-43.

1. What do we know of the background of these criminals? What does it mean that we don’t know much at all, yet they are here so prominently in the text?

2. Why do you think the place is called “the Place of the Skull?” What skull? (If you are interested in my speculation, come ask me!)

3. Why does Jesus allow Himself to be mocked as He does?

4. What is the main difference between the two criminals? Why does one act one way, the other act another way?

5. The one criminal asks to be “remembered” when Jesus comes into His kingdom. What do you think he is hoping for?

6. What is behind Jesus’ words about “Today”?

7. Paradise is usually taken by theologians as another word for heaven. Why use this word instead of “heaven?” What does “paradise” imply?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

"Father, Forgive Them" - Doug Rehberg


This week we begin a new series called “The 7 Greatest Words of History.” Hint: All are spoken by the same man in the space of 3 hours. In fact, taken together the truth of these words alone can satisfy the deep needs of the human heart.

*****

There is nothing harder for us to have penetrate our minds and our hearts than the unconditional, noncontingent grace of God. The truth is that the Gospel of grace upends our sense of fairness and offends our deepest instincts. We insist that reality operate according to the predictable economy of reward and punishment, especially when it comes to those who have done us harm.

Even those who have tasted the radical saving grace of Jesus Christ find it intuitively difficult not to put conditions on it when we try to communicate it to others—“Don’t take it too far; keep it balanced.” A “yes grace, but” posture permeates the church today and perpetuates spiritual slavery. The truth is, Divine Grace is radically unbalanced. It contains no “but”. It is unconditional. It is uncontrollable. It is unpredictable, or else it is not grace.

Years ago a dear, long-standing mentor of mine paid me the greatest compliment I’ve ever remembered receiving. He said to another (who reported it to me), “He gets grace!” I can think of no higher compliment, for as Doug Wilson puts it, “Grace is wild. Grace unsettles everything. Grace overflows the banks. Grace messes up your hair. Grace is not tame. In fact, unless we are making the devout nervous, we are not preaching grace as we ought.”

I once read of a woman who came to her pastor for a listening ear after her divorce was final. She was consumed by anger at her ex-husband, and it was spilling out into her other relationships. She had plenty of reason to be mad. He had treated her terribly and then abandoned her at a very vulnerable time in her life. Who could blame her for being angry?

After she had poured out the depth of her rancor he asked her, “Do you think there’s any way you might forgive him?”

She replied, “Forgive him! He would never ask for forgiveness! And unless he asks for it, I would never grant it. And even then, I’d have to really believe him. I’d have to see some real change. After all, we are only called to forgive those who have repented. That’s how God works.”

Oh really? What God is that? Now there are plenty of reasons why she might not forgive or be able to forgive her ex-husband, but invoking God as her example is not one of them. If God forgave only those who sincerely repented and changed their ways, it would be a very short list! In her victimhood and woundedness, this women had lost sight of the fact that God had forgiven her—and continued to forgive her. In the midst of her sin and pride, she had lost sight of the fact that if He waited for her to straighten out, He would wait forever.

The same could be true for the disciples, the woman at the well, the woman caught in the act of adultery, Zacchaeus, the thief on the cross, the woman with eleven years of chronic bleeding, etc., etc. If any single statement of Jesus proves the unconditionality of grace it’s Jesus’ first word from the cross, found in Luke 23—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled, “Father, Forgive Them” you may wish to consider the following:

1. What did Don Henley say/sing about forgiveness? Do you agree?
2. On what grounds does Jesus issue forgiveness?
3. Is there any significance to this being His first statement from the cross?
4. How does Luke 23:34 square with all of the other times Jesus issues forgiveness throughout His life?
5. What is significant about Luke’s description of the scene in verse 32 and 33 as the context of Jesus’ statement?
6. In what form does Jesus speak the words of forgiveness?
7. On what grounds does He ask the Father to forgive “them”?
8. To whom to these words apply?
9. How wide is this forgiveness?
10. “God loves you as you are, not as you should be, because none of us will ever be as we should be.” Do you agree? Do you think Jesus agrees?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Reincarnation, Resuscitation, and Christian Resurrection - Henry Knapp


In so many ways, Shirley MacLaine is a godsend—a gift to all preachers who get to speak on the resurrection of our Lord and our coming resurrection. MacLaine is also an easy target, and perhaps I should feel somewhat guilty taking shots at her. (I must confess, I don’t feel guilty at all!) The actress has long been an outspoken proponent of reincarnation, recounting her various pasts, including lives as an orphan raised by elephants, a Japanese geisha, a pre-Atlantian androgynous being, a Muslim gypsy girl living in Spain, and a medieval warrior. Her idea, humorously laid out in her various books, is that we all have residual memories of previous lifetimes, thus explaining some of those moments when you appear to “know more than you should” about a certain topic or aspect of life.

MacLaine is not the only advocate for reincarnation—the idea that following death, the spirit or essence of a person is “re-embodied” in another physical form at a future time. Reincarnation also plays a prominent role in a number of world religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Some commentators draw a link between reincarnation and resurrection.

But the Christian doctrine of the resurrection is NOT reincarnation—it is not like it at all! In reincarnation, the important “thing” is the non-physical essence of a being. The physical part is insignificant and inconsequential. There is no link between the bodies of one reincarnation to the next. But, Christian theology, following the clear witness of the Bible, teaches us otherwise. The body is not something to be discarded, easily replaced as our spirits move through the ages. Rather, the physical world, including our physical bodies, are created by God, blessed by Him, and intended to be an essential part of what it means to be human. Resurrection is distinct from reincarnation exactly in that there is an essential link between our present bodies and our resurrection bodies. Our brother, Jesus, did not come back from the dead in some other reincarnated form, but in His own body—changed, for sure, but still demonstrating great continuity with His earthly body. As Paul stresses throughout the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, the body that will be (our resurrected body) is linked and connected to our present body.

Christian resurrection, however, is also not resuscitation. Resuscitation is the bringing back to life of a dead body—think of Lazaraus. We frequently talk of Lazaraus being resurrected, but there is no indication that he was raised from the grave by Jesus in his new, heavenly body. Instead, God brought Lazaraus’ body back to life again; and we can be sure that he died again at some point. If reincarnation denies any connection between the new body and the old, resuscitation identifies the two too closely—the “new body” is just the “old body,” though no longer dead. Again, this is NOT Christian resurrection. If in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul links the old and the new, he also makes clear that there is a vast difference between the two. Like a seed that grows into a tree, the old body gives birth in resurrection to the new body. An acorn is vastly different than an oak tree… but they are inextricably linked. In the same way, our resurrected bodies are different, yet connected, to our current bodies.

This, of course, is part of the beauty of the resurrection of Jesus—reminding us of the value of our physical lives, our future physical lives, the incomparable greatness of the new over the old, yet the continuity between the two. When we think of Jesus’ resurrection, we think of a physical resurrection, where Jesus’ human body is raised from the dead, and transformed into His heavenly, resurrected body. And, through our union with Him, we too will experience such a blessing.

In anticipation of our coming celebration of Easter, I would encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 15, a marvelous chapter! On Sunday, we will be looking specifically at verses 1-19.

1. See if you can trace Paul’s thinking in these verses. He makes a very logical argument here, and his approach is well worth going over.

2. How is the Gospel described here? What characteristics stand out to Paul?

3. What is the importance of Paul listing out the individuals and groups of folks to whom Jesus appeared once resurrected?

4. Paul refers to himself as “one untimely born” (vs. 8); what do you think he means to communicate with that phrase?

5. Why do you think Paul is writing this? Most scholars recognize that Paul is responding to a list of questions that the Corinthians have sent to him. What Corinthian question lies beneath the surface here?

6. What would a life look like that has been lived “in vain” (vs. 14)? Could someone accuse you of such a life?

7. Try turning all of Paul’s negatives into positives. He says, if no resurrection then all these negative things are true. The implication is that, if there IS a resurrection, then what follows?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Tears of God - Doug Rehberg


In June 1993 Charles Krauthammer addressed the graduating class of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. McGill was one of his alma maters. Like many proficient speakers he had three points. But it is only his second point that interests me this week because it aligns so well with Luke 19:28-44, Luke’s account of “Palm Sunday”.

Krauthammer began as many engaging speakers do, with a story. He said, “Exactly 23 years ago, in this very building, I was sitting in your seat. What I shall offer you today is a reconnaissance report from a two-decade life expedition into a world beyond McGill College Avenue. Like Marco Polo, I return – without silk, but with three pieces of sage advice.”

To think that his speech was delivered 26 years ago, and yet it is as fresh this April as it was that June!

Now for his second point: LOOK OUTWARD. Krauthammer continued, “By that I mean: Don’t look inward too much. You have been taught – rightly taught – Socrates’ dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living. Yet I would add: Beware of the too-examined life. Perhaps previous ages suffered from a lack of self-examination. The age of Oprah does not. Our problem is quite the opposite.

“One of the defining features of modernity is self-consciousness…we live in an age in which the highest moral injunction is to get in touch with one’s feelings. Speaking as a psychiatrist – well, a psychiatrist in remission – I can assure you that this is a highly overrated pursuit.

“The reigning cliché of the day is that, in order to love others, one must first learn to love oneself. This formulation – love thyself, then thy neighbor – is a license for unrelenting self-indulgence, because the quest for self-love is endless. By the time you have finally learned to love yourself, you’ll find yourself playing golf at Leisure World, having outlined those you might have loved. ‘Love thy neighbor’ was supposed to be the hard part of the biblical injunction. Sometimes it seems like all of America is working on the ‘thyself’ part – almost the definition of narcissism.”

There are few portrayals of American culture in over the last 26 years that are more accurate than Krauthammer’s critique. And yet, this portrayal is not limited to modern America. It is exactly what was going on in Jerusalem the day Jesus stopped His ride to look out over the city and weep.

This Sunday we will take a fresh look at that scene and those tears. We will attempt to ferret out the reasons for Jesus’ unusual emotional display. The principle question is: why does He weep? What does He see that brings Him to tears? Hint: It is much of the same inward focus that Krauthammer nails at McGill.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “The Tears of God,” you may wish to consider the following:

1. What examples can you find in the Old Testament of divine sorrow?
2. How does Jesus appear to be expressing the same sentiment as His Father in Hosea 11?
3. From where is Jesus gazing down over the city of Jerusalem?
4. How do you explain the range of emotion in Jesus in Luke 19:41-46?
5. How many times is Jesus said to have cried in the gospels?
6. What differences can you identify between these incidents?
7. What does Jesus mean in verse 42 when He laments their lack of knowledge of what makes for peace?
8. Who is He saying this about and why?
9. What prophetic reality is Jesus referring to in verses 43 & 44?
10. What does He mean when He says, “…because you didn’t know the time of your visitation.”?

See you Sunday!