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The Escape to Egypt October 13, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 2:13-18.

Summary: In this passage, an angel of the Lord commands Joseph to flee to Egypt with his family – as Herod is planning to kill Jesus. Joseph obeys this command – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Hosea 11:1.

The Magi fail to return to Jerusalem after worshiping Jesus in Bethlehem; when Herod realizes that they have disobeyed him in that regard, he is filled with rage. He then orders an infanticide in Bethlehem and its environs – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Herod sought to kill Jesus – as he viewed Jesus as a threat to his reign. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Do we think that Christ’s cause depends on the power and patronage of princes? We are mistaken. They have seldom done much to advance true religion; they have far more frequently been the enemies of the truth…There are many people like Herod. Those who are like Josiah and Edward VI of England are few.

Ryle’s thoughts spurred me to learn more about Edward VI of England. Perhaps Ryle and his contemporaries extolled Edward’s virtues because he:

  • was a passionate Protestant
  • died tragically.

In any event, Ryle makes an accurate assessment of the divide between politics and true religion. As modern-day believers, we should not trust in our political leaders to advance the kingdom of God. While we should still pray for them – as that is an act of obedience on our part – we must ask God how we, given our relatively limited sphere of influence, can advance His kingdom.

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Jeremiah in Prison June 24, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 37.

Summary: In this passage, King Zedekiah requests that Jeremiah intercede with God on his behalf – as the Babylonians are besieging Jerusalem. At some point, the forces of Pharaoh advance on the Babylonians, leading to their (temporary) withdrawal from Jerusalem.

King Zedekiah and the people of Jerusalem grow complacent. God then speaks through Jeremiah, declaring that the Babylonians will return to Jerusalem and destroy it.

Later, Jeremiah is arrested and accused of attempting to desert to the Babylonians. He proclaims his innocence – yet he is imprisoned.

At some point, he informs Zedekiah that he will be captured by the Babylonians. Despite this ominous prophecy, Zedekiah grants his request to be placed in the relatively pleasant confines of the courtyard of the guard.

Thoughts: In verses 9 and 10, God asserts that the Babylonians will destroy Jerusalem. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Jeremiah took it for granted that the destruction of the city of Jerusalem would not be effected by the forces of King Nebuchadnezzar or by his power or the number of his soldiers, but by God’s judgment…Jeremiah intimates that even if the contest were only with shadows, they would not escape the extreme vengeance that God had threatened.

Verse 10 is jarring; it is difficult to contemplate a wounded soldier staggering out of their tent and mustering the strength to torch the chief city of their foes. If that impossible event had occurred, the people of Judah would have been compelled to acknowledge that God was opposing them through the Babylonians. They would have admitted that God was giving the wounded Babylonians supernatural strength. Now I assume that the siege of Jerusalem ended in a more conventional manner, with (relatively) unscathed Babylonian soldiers overrunning the city; thus, I am curious as to whether an analogous event has occurred in the history of warfare…

In verse 18, Jeremiah decries his imprisonment before King Zedekiah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Although the prophet’s words had displeased the king, Jeremiah also complains that wrong had been done to him since he had been thrown into prison. In this way he shows that he had been unjustly condemned for having threatened ruin to the city and destruction to the kingdom, for he was constrained to do this by the obligations of his office. So the prophet shows that he had not sinned in this but had proclaimed God’s commands, however bitter they were to the king and to the people.

I found this verse to be somewhat amusing, as it immediately follows verse 17 – where Jeremiah declares that Zedekiah would be captured by King Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah would have found that turn of events to be incredibly humiliating; thus, he would have been angry with Jeremiah. How did Jeremiah have the temerity to proclaim his innocence before Zedekiah? Perhaps the best explanation is that Jeremiah knew that God was actually speaking through him; thus, he implicitly appealed to God to vindicate him. As modern-day believers, perhaps we can be inspired by Jeremiah’s actions in this passage; if we know that God is working through us, then we do not need to be ashamed.

In verse 21, we see that King Zedekiah ordered the transfer of Jeremiah from the house of Jonathan the secretary to the courtyard of the guard. Now I am curious: why did the king make this decision? Did he believe that by treating Jeremiah with more respect, God would respond by showing favor to him – and Jerusalem? Did God somehow work in his heart, enabling him to determine that Jeremiah should not be mistreated? Also, did Jeremiah alter his opinion of the king after he was transferred to the courtyard of the guard? Did Jeremiah harbor the belief that he should have been pardoned?

The False Prophet Hananiah May 18, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 28.

Summary: In this passage, the false prophet Hananiah son of Azzur attempts to discredit Jeremiah – declaring that God will:

  • deliver Judah from the oppression of Babylon within two years
  • bring all of the exiles in Babylon – and the articles of worship that Nebuchadnezzar looted – back to Judah at that time.

Jeremiah responds by appealing to God, declaring that He will reveal the veracity – or lack thereof – of Hananiah’s proclamations.

Hananiah refuses to retract his statements; moreover, he demonstrates his stubbornness by breaking the wooden yoke on Jeremiah’s neck.

Later, God responds by condemning Hananiah for his false prophecies and asserting that Babylon will oppress Judah for more than two years. After two months have passed, Hananiah receives the ultimate punishment for his blasphemous deeds when God slays him.

Thoughts: I found this passage to be fascinating, as it sharpens our understanding of the opposition that Jeremiah endured throughout his ministry. In particular, we see that Hananiah spoke with authority, utilizing phrases such as “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says,” “declares the Lord,” and “This is what the Lord says.” Jeremiah – and other genuine prophets of God – also utilized these phrases during their ministries; thus, we have a better sense as to why the people of Judah had difficulty discerning God’s voice at that time. They needed to distinguish between genuine and false prophets, and one obvious – in retrospect – approach was to ask: whose prophecies came to pass? In this case, since the exile in Babylon lasted for seventy – and not two – years, we see that Hananiah was a false prophet.

In verses 5-9, Jeremiah responds to Hananiah’s proclamations. The sidebar in my NIV Study Bible includes the following note:

Was Jeremiah being sarcastic? Probably. Some feel Jeremiah genuinely wanted the temple and the nation restored. But it’s more likely there was a sarcastic edge to his reply.

Calvin offers some related thoughts on Jeremiah’s response in his commentary on verses 5 and 6:

It was therefore Jeremiah’s object to turn aside the false suspicion under which he labored, and he testified that he desired nothing more than the well-being of the people…”May it happen in this way. I would willingly retract, and that with shame, all that I have predicted so far, so great is my care and anxiety for the safety of the public. For I would prefer the welfare of all the people to my own reputation.”

Thus, Calvin does not appear to detect any sarcasm in Jeremiah’s response. When I meet Jeremiah in the next life, I hope to query him on this point and learn more about his interactions with Hananiah – and other false prophets. Did he ever pray to God that they would repent of their sins and seek His forgiveness?

Jeremiah’s Complaint April 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 20:7-18.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah describes the following quandary:

  • when he proclaims God’s judgment upon His people, they insult him
  • when he attempts to shun his prophetic calling, God compels him to fulfill it.

He then beseeches God to punish those who insult him and reject His message.

He also rues his own existence, despairing of life itself.

Thoughts: I found this passage to be rather odd, as Jeremiah’s attitude toward God oscillates between pessimism and optimism:

  • verses 7-10 reflect his consternation at the inherent quandary of his prophetic calling
  • verses 11-13 reflect his confidence in God – that He will vindicate him in light of the insults of his compatriots
  • verses 14-18 are replete with sorrow and pain.

If this passage had concluded with verse 13, then I would have classified it as a typical Psalm, where the psalmist initially expresses their fears and doubts before concluding with a display of confidence in God. When I meet Jeremiah in the next life, I plan to ask him about this passage; are the three sections that I noted above arranged in chronological order?

Here, we see that Jeremiah is caught in a quandary concerning his prophetic calling. This caused me to ponder the following question: can we truly shun God’s calling for us in this life? At least some people sense that God has designed a difficult and costly path for them – and they attempt to avoid it, pursuing another path that offers relative peace and comfort. If they never end up pursuing that difficult and costly path, then since God is sovereign and omniscient, could it be argued that the path of relative peace and comfort was His actual plan for their lives? Perhaps this is just idle speculation on my part, as one cannot answer that question until the next life.

The Call of Jeremiah January 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 1:4-19.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks to Jeremiah on three occasions:

  • first, He states that He had predestined him to serve as His prophet to the nations; although Jeremiah attempts to resist that calling, God declares that He will empower him to fulfill it
  • later, Jeremiah has a vision of an almond tree; God uses that vision to reinforce the point that He will actively work through him
  • finally, Jeremiah has a vision of a boiling pot; God uses that vision to reinforce the point that He will work through the peoples of the north to punish his compatriots.

God asserts that his compatriots have committed the following sins:

  • forsaking Him
  • worshiping other gods.

He then reiterates that He will empower him to condemn their sins – through his prophecies.

Thoughts: In verse 6, we see that Jeremiah attempts to resist his prophetic calling. I was struck by the fact that Jeremiah acknowledges God as the “Sovereign Lord” – yet immediately resists his calling. If Jeremiah accepted the sovereignty of God, then why would he attempt to resist His will for his life? Perhaps this verse highlights the cognitive dissonance that plagues many Christians – including me. On one hand, we readily acknowledge the sovereignty of God through various praise songs and (public) prayers. On the other hand, our actions reveal our trust in our own abilities; we do not genuinely believe that God is sovereign in our lives. This indicates that we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit in overcoming our crippling doubts and leading lives that reflect our trust in His sovereignty.

In verses 18 and 19, we see that God assures Jeremiah that He will empower him to fulfill his calling – despite the opposition of the kings of Judah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 18:

God encourages this prophet to be firm and to persevere, as though the battle would be long, so that he would not faint from being tired. The prophet would not have to contend with one king only, but as soon as one died, another would rise up and replace him. From this Jeremiah saw there would be no hope of rest until the time that God had appointed arrived.

This caused me to ponder the fact that God wanted Jeremiah to proclaim His message of judgment to all of his compatriots – even if it elicited an angry response. I often have difficulty saying what people need to hear, as my instinct is to say what people want to hear. This tendency may have hampered my effectiveness in my previous ministry roles as a Sunday School teacher and a youth counselor, where I had great difficulty rebuking students for their misbehavior. As my Christian walk progresses, I need to trust that if I say what is right, then God will be pleased with me – regardless of human opinions. It is difficult to discount human feedback, yet we need to be more attuned to God’s feedback – with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

The Two Witnesses January 22, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 11:1-14.

Summary: In this passage, John is commanded to:

  • use a measuring rod to measure the temple of God and its altar
  • count the worshipers in the temple
  • refrain from measuring the outer court.

God reveals that He will empower His two witnesses to prophesy for 1260 days; to this end, He will grant them miraculous powers. They will then be killed, and those in Jerusalem whom they have prophesied against will taunt their bodies. Yet God will raise them up after three-and-a-half days and enable them to ascend to heaven. He will then strike Jerusalem with a great earthquake, killing many of those who taunted the bodies of the two witnesses.

Thoughts: This passage is replete with Old Testament references, including Ezekiel 40 and Zecharaiah 4. Its overall message is timeless, though; the pastor at my old church provides an excellent summary in one of his devotionals:

So, putting it all together, what is John’s take on martyrs of faithful? First, that God will protect his church for eternity, even if some of us get knocked around a bit before then. Secondly, those who stand for God are the latest in the line of godly heroes stretching back to ancient times: Joshua and Zerubbabel, Moses and Elijah, Peter and Paul. Thirdly, death cannot befall God’s witnesses except in his timing, once their task is fulfilled. Fourthly, God will vindicate those who die for him, and avenge their suffering. Martyrdom is a fierce threat to the suffering church, and a great grief to those who survive, but it is under the jurisdiction of God who makes all things right in the end.

The Angel and the Little Scroll January 20, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 10.

Summary: In this passage, John observes a mighty angel descending from heaven. This angel holds a little scroll in his hand; seven thunders respond to his voice – yet John is not allowed to record their response. The angel swears by God Himself that His mystery will be accomplished. John is commanded to take the little scroll from the angel and eat it; it is sweet in his mouth – though sour in his stomach. John is commanded to continue prophesying.

Thoughts: In verses 9 and 10, we see that it was difficult for John to “digest” a little scroll from a mighty angel. It could be argued that it was difficult for John to digest the contents of the entire letter, since we have already encountered the following prophecies:

  • believers will experience intense persecution; moreover, some of them will be put to death for their faith
  • God will punish unbelievers for their refusal to repent of their deeds; in particular, some of them will be tortured and put to death
  • the physical world will be (partially) destroyed; life on earth will be irrevocably altered.

This passage also caused me to think of other passages from Scripture that are relatively difficult to digest, such as:

  • Joshua 6, which includes the destruction of an entire city and its inhabitants (except for Rahab and her family)
  • Psalm 137, which apparently includes approval of infanticide
  • Matthew 24, which includes a plethora of apocalyptic images.

As believers, we must be willing to wrestle with these passages – as opposed to only reading those passages that appear to be compatible with our culture. God has given us His (entire) Word, and He calls us to hold to His attributes – including holiness, sovereignty and love – as we read through all of it. Moreover, He calls us to wrestle with His complexity and grow in our limited understanding of Him through this endeavor.

Prologue November 11, 2015

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I’ve recently started reading through the Book of Revelation with the aid of a commentary by Matthew Henry. I should note that I’ve previously read through Revelation. As in my recent stroll through the book of James, I hope to comprehend Revelation as a whole. In particular, I would like to sharpen my understanding as to how the superiority of Jesus Christ should compel me to live a committed, holy life in a sinful world.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both this book and Henry’s commentary. Each post will correspond to a specific section in the NIV translation.

For starters, here are my thoughts on Revelation 1:1-3.

Summary: In this passage, the apostle John states that Jesus Christ has given him a divine revelation concerning events that are at hand. He also states that those who hear this revelation and respond to it appropriately are blessed.

Thoughts: This passage is arguably the touchstone of this book, as it introduces its source and pronounces a blessing on those who heed its words. Thus, when we struggle to comprehend the meaning of 666 or wonder why John discusses beasts and dragons in this book, we must remember that this book was essentially dictated by Jesus Christ Himself through his servant John. We must not attempt to ignore or downplay the visions and symbols in this book; instead, we should make an honest effort to determine what God the Son was communicating to John’s original audience through these visions and symbols. Moreover, we must make an honest effort to determine how we should respond to this book.

Prophecy of Scripture July 20, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Peter 1:12-21.

Summary: In light of Peter’s exhortations in the previous passage, he now reminds his readers that:

  • the truth that he has taught them is important
  • they have a constant need of it – since they face great dangers.

Thus, he is strengthening them in this letter. Moreover, he knows that his physical death is imminent, and so he alludes to the Gospel of Mark, which will strengthen them after his death.

Peter then states that he did not waste his time in carefully tracing out many sophisticated myths when he preached the Gospel message to them; instead, he told them the truth regarding the first and second coming of Christ. His message was confirmed by the Transfiguration, when he heard God the Father testify that Jesus is God the Son.

Now Peter asserts that the first coming of Christ was the fulfillment of prophetic testimony, and so his readers should carefully study this testimony in the Old Testament. Indeed, the Old Testament is a light that reveals the dirt and filth of sin. They should also study the Old Testament in glorious expectation of the second coming of Christ. Peter concludes by asserting that the writers of the Old Testament did not unfold their own prophecies; instead, these prophecies came from God.

Thoughts: In verses 16-18, Peter uses the example of the Transfiguration to prove that he was an eyewitness of Christ and His power. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

The apostle thus shows that the Father’s testimony to his Son was the crowning proof of the power and authority of the gospel message…Once again the apostle introduces his own testimony. Not only did he see the glory of the Son, but he heard the voice.

While the resurrection of Jesus Christ may have been the driving force behind Peter’s faithful service as an apostle, this passage shows that the Transfiguration also influenced Peter’s ministry. I assume that whenever he reflected on this awesome event (in light of the resurrection), he was reminded that Jesus Christ – given the testimony of God the Father – truly is the Son of God, and this great fact demanded that he respond to it appropriately. Indeed, this great fact demanded that he give his whole life in service to Jesus Christ, and so he suffered to the point of being crucified upside down. Perhaps if I had been in Peter’s position, I would have walked the same path in light of this overwhelming experience of Christ and His power.

In verses 20 and 21, Peter asserts that the writers of the Old Testament were guided by the Holy Spirit. Recently I thought about how the Bible is “divinely inspired.” My understanding of this phrase is that the Holy Spirit did not dictate the exact contents of each book to its author. Instead, the Holy Spirit called each author to convey one message (or set of messages, depending on the book) to their readers. Given this message (or set of messages), the author was given the freedom to determine how to convey it to their readers; the final result is the set of books that Christians have enjoyed for centuries. For example, Paul displays his clear, logical mindset in his masterpiece, Romans. Also, Jeremiah pours out his passions and sorrows for his country in his eponymous book and in Lamentations. In addition, Solomon’s writing in Ecclesiastes is marked by his weariness from chasing after temporal pleasures. We can be thankful that the Holy Spirit allowed each writer to convey His message in their own words – allowing us to relate to His message.

Orderly Worship September 30, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 14:26-40.

Summary: Paul begins by asking the Corinthians to assess the state of their worship services; he knows that whenever they gather for worship, one is ready to sing a song of praise to God, another is prepared to teach, a third is ready to exercise the gift of prophecy, a fourth is prepared to exercise the gift of speaking in tongues, and a fifth is ready to interpret any tongue that may be employed – yet all of these gifts must be exercised for the benefit of the entire church. Now only two or three of those who can speak in tongues should use that gift during a particular worship service; they must speak in turn, and someone must be able to interpret their speech. If none of the believers present can interpret a tongue that may be employed, the speaker of that tongue should not audibly exercise their gift at that time; they should only exercise it silently by talking with God.

Also, only two or three of those who have the gift of prophecy should use that gift during a particular worship service, and those who have the gift of distinguishing between spirits should assess their revelations; now if one receives a revelation from the Lord while another is exercising the gift of prophecy, they should remain silent until the speaker has finished. By speaking in turn, the prophets facilitate the teaching and comforting of the entire church. Indeed, the Holy Spirit does not compel those with the gift of prophecy to cast off their self-control while exercising that gift. This follows from the fact that God is characterized by peace – and not by commotion.

Now in the churches of that era, it was common for women to be silent during worship services – and so the Corinthians should observe this practice; women should be silent in accordance with the Old Testament doctrine that stresses the subordination of women to men. If women have any questions regarding Christianity, they should ask their husbands in private – as it is abhorrent for them to speak during worship services. Paul then challenges the Corinthians, since their allowing women to speak during worship services implies that the Gospel originated in Corinth. Now if anybody considers himself to have the gift of prophecy – or any other gift – they should submit to Paul’s directions in this passage, as Paul is led by Christ in this regard. If anybody refuses to accept Paul’s authority in this regard, he will leave them to their own devices. It follows that the Corinthians should seek after the gift of prophecy, and the gift of speaking in tongues should not be muzzled. Paul concludes by noting, though, that these gifts should be exercised during their worship services in such a way that propriety and order are preserved.

Thoughts: The focus of this passage – and, to be more precise, the entire chapter – is the proper conduct of worship services. Now the disorder that prevailed in the Corinthian church primarily arose from members who were anxious to exercise the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues. This picture of disorder is decidedly foreign to modern-day churches, especially the Baptist, Presbyterian and non-denominational churches that I’ve attended. Of course, this makes me wonder if a modern-day Pentecostal service serves as a poor approximation to the situation in the Corinthian church. I’m assuming that order still prevails in a modern-day Pentecostal church – how is order enforced, though?

Verses 34-35 stress that women should not speak during worship services – at least in the churches of that era. Hodge offers some head-scratching thoughts on this issue:

The rational basis for this prohibition is that it is contrary to the relationship of subordination in which the woman stands to the man if she appears as a public teacher…The scriptural basis is expressed in the words as the Law says – that is, the will of God as made known in the Old Testament. There, as well as in the New Testament, the doctrine that women should be in subjection is clearly revealed.

This is certainly one of the most controversial passages in all of Scripture, and Hodge’s thoughts do not resolve all of the doubts in my mind. For example, many churches – including the one that I attend – have ordained female pastors and female ministers; would such actions be contrary to the directive that Paul spells out here? Also, many churches have female Sunday School teachers, especially for children’s classes; would that state of affairs be contrary to Paul’s directive?