Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dynamite Eugene Peterson Interview

Bob Abernethy recently did an interview with Eugene Peterson for the PBS program Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.

Abernathy asked Peterson to share his thoughts on the so-called prosperity gospel:
Well, I think it’s a lie. I think it’s just a downright rotten lie. It’s nowhere in Christian tradition, so how does this get going in our culture? It’s greed is what it is. It’s greed given a spiritual name: God will bless you. I want to ask these prosperity gospel people, do your people ever die? Do the people in your church ever die? What do you do when they die? Where’s the prosperity in that? I don’t have much patience with them, to tell you the truth, because I think they’re defrauding people.
Peterson was also asked to share his thoughts on the ethos of mega-churches:
The minute the church and pastors start saying what do people want and then giving it to them, we betray our calling. We’re called to have people follow Jesus. We’re called to have people learn how to forgive their enemies. We’re called to show people that there is a way of life which has meaning beyond their salary or beyond how good they look.
The interview runs 6:48. You will want to watch the whole thing.

Issues watching the video? Try the source link here.

Prayer Request for Christians in China

Please watch this seven-minute video and pray for our courageous brothers and sisters of the underground church in China:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Matthew 01: Sin, Scandal, and Salvation

Scripture Text: Matthew 1:1-17

Introductory Comments

This week we begin preaching on all 28 chapters in the gospel of Matthew. I want to start with a few word of introduction to the book, and then we’ll peer into what we can learn from the rather lengthy list of names that opens the book.

The book of Matthew is a gospel. What is a gospel? The word gospel comes from a Greek word that means “good news.” What is the good news? The good news is that the long-anticipated Messiah has come, Jesus Christ, who brings salvation to both Jew and Gentile alike. We have four gospels in the bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each of them presents to us a portrait of Jesus. I think it is wonderful that we have a multifaceted view of Jesus in the bible. If you were to pick, at random, four of your closest companions and have them write some things about you, you would not get the exact same things from each of the four people. All of the accounts would contain truth, but different things would be included. Friend A would have been with you at one event, while Friend B was elsewhere and didn’t include an account of the same event. Friend C would note a particular behavior of yours that makes you distinct, while Friend D would focus on a different aspect of your personality. Each of the four gospels presents the truth about Jesus, but just as painters have their distinct styles and emphases, our gospel writers, present to us nuanced views of Jesus through their respective inspired paintings.

Matthew’s gospel is one of these portraits, and the act of working through a gospel can be thought of as watching a painter at work. What he places on the canvas and the way he places it there is important to see. So I invite you to join with me as we admire the beauty and glory of the subject of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus Christ.

Here is what Matthew writes to open the gospel:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Matthew begins with a declaration about Jesus. First, he is the Christ. He is the anointed one, the Messiah, the promised deliver. The word translated in the ESV and NRSV “genealogy” is literally “genesis.” So what we are getting here is a creation account, a new creation “of Jesus Christ.” This Jesus, Matthew states, is the “Son of David.” He is the fulfillment of the promise God made to David that one of David’s progeny would sit forever on the throne of his kingdom. Jesus is also called “the son of Abraham” which is a clear allusion to the promise God made to Abraham, that he would have a seed who would be a blessing for all the nations of the world be blessed.

This first verse serves, in a way, as the title of the painting that Matthew is inspired to place on the canvas. The title forms the overarching framework of what is to follow. Jesus is the Christ, the great hope of the Jewish people. He is the son of David, the one who will be king forever. And he is the son of Abraham, the fulfillment of the longing of all people for salvation. I like the way commentator Dale Bruner puts it: “’Son of David’ says, ‘Israel, here is your Messiah!’; ‘Son of Abraham’ says, ‘Nations, here is your hope!’”

Up, Down, and Up Again

Matthew then does what a good Jewish person would do, he goes over the genealogical records to begin showing why everything verse one says is true. The way Matthew does this through the genealogy is very interesting, far more than you might imagine at first reading. The reason it’s interesting is that the genealogy follows a deliberate up/down/up pattern. The “up” is Israel’s ascendancy from the nomadic life Abraham to triumphant kingdom of David.

Then there is the “down” phase, beginning with Solomon (delicately described as having been fathered “by the wife of Uriah”), and continuing down, down, down, through rebellion and sin and national idolatry to the rock bottom place of the “deportation to Babylon” in verse 11. The trajectory then goes back up, culminating in the fulfillment of all of God’s promises in Jesus Christ. Each of these “lines” says something essential about the God we worship.1

First Line of Names – God Shows Divine Mercy

Four of the names in this list are very unusual. First, they are women, and the inclusion of women in a genealogy like this is very unusual. Second, each of the four women have, to put it mildly, awkward backgrounds. Tamar’s story is told in Genesis 28, where she acts like a harlot in order to get her father-in-law, Judah, to fulfill his obligations. Tamar became pregnant as a result, producing one of Jesus’ great-grandfathers. Hmm. Rabah was the prostitute of Jericho who aided the spies sent by Joshua to that city. She becomes a great-grandmother of our Lord. Ruth is notable because she was a Moabite. Moabites are those who descended from Lot, who committed incest with his daughters (are we adequately scandalized yet?). The fourth woman in the list is the source of such awkwardness that Matthew doesn’t mention her directly, but instead as (the wife of Uriah). That would be the wife of Uriah the Hittite, named Bathsheba. She is known as the one who became the object of David’s lust. She is also a great-grandmother to our Lord.

All four women, then, are at the heart of some scandal or embarrassment, which accompanies the scandal and sin and unkept promises of the men they are associated with. All four women are non-Jews, which is another very astonishing surprise. Why are they there, while notable Jewish matriarchs are absent? How can gentiles be in the mix with the one who would be called “King of the Jews?”

The answer can be summarized this way: In this first genealogical line, Matthew is showing us the gospel already. The great God of history uses repentant sinners, Jews, and Gentiles, women, and men, to work his great purposes of salvation in history. As Bruner puts it, “The genealogy’s first line, then, teaches divine mercy, a mercy extending to both racial and moral ‘outsider.’”

Jesus’ family history, then, is much like the ones many of us have. We each have in our history our share of unmentionable embarrassments, family secrets, outrageous scandal and gross immorality. But in Christ none of those things have the last word. Jesus’ family history is not unlike our own, which his good news because he will be the to redeem us from our past.

Second Series – Divine Judgment

The next series of names begins with Solomon, the king known for his wisdom and whose reign ends in apostasy, and ends with the deportation to Babylon.

This section shows Israel’s descent from the heights of prominence in the Middle East to a byword among the nations, being crushed militarily by Babylon, the kingdom that forced the people into exile, what the ESV translation refers to as “the deportation.”

This second “line” or series of names points to God’s just judgment for sin. Sin and idolatry and apostasy are abominations in God’s kingdom, and to persist in these things brings judgment upon the people. Sin carries with it judgments that are experienced over time in history and even right now. While on vacation, I was reminded of the judgment we experience now while listening to an excellent sermon by a preacher in Baxter, Minnesota. One way we know we live under judgment now is that we all die. With sin, death entered this world.

Matthew was inspired to highlight this fact, that sin brings God’s judgment. How? By deliberately changing a few of the names in this second line of the genealogy. King Asa should appear in verse seven, but his name is changed to the name of the Psalmist Asaph. And where we expect to read King Amon in verse 10, we instead see King Amos, the name of the Old Testament prophet.

When I first saw this, I wondered why Matthew would do this. These lists of Kings were certainly well known, and would have been well-known to the Jewish readers of the gospel. It is impossible to believe that this was simple error. If it was, Matthew would have been called out on it. But this genealogy is not simply about the names, it’s about what God does in and through his chosen people. These names were changed to make a theological point. Together, the psalmist Asaph and the prophet Amos signify something – they signify “all seers and prophets” sent by God to snatch God’s people from either too much or too little engagement with the world.

The other thing to note briefly in this second line is that Matthew skips ahead in a couple of places. This isn’t an unusual facet of many genealogies of this kind. Three kings, Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah are omitted after Joram; and Jehoiakim is omitted before Jehoiachin. Lots of reasons have been postulated for why these four were omitted, but it seems that the most likely explanation is simply to get a list of 14 names, making the genealogy easy to remember.

Third Line – God’s Faithfulness

The last phase in the genealogy is an “up” phase. The deportation comes to and end and the people are restored to the land, with the names leading up to show us Jesus, who is in fact both the son of David and the son of Abraham. What this third “line” shows us is that God’s judgment is not the last work (thank God!). The third line culminates in the arrival of our Lord and Savior, thus showing that the people faithlessness, our faithlessness, can never outlast God’s faithfulness toward his children. Abraham was promised that from him would come forth a seed for everyone (for all the nations). God promised David a king forever on the throne. God’s faithfulness to his promises, and his fulfillment of them, are all found in Jesus. I like the way Bruner puts it: Jesus Christ shows “God’s good faith in conceiving the seed of Abraham and the Son of David in the womb of Mary.”2 Loved ones, Jesus is the fulfillment of everything promised by God.

In summary, then, the first “line” of the genealogy shows us that God is merciful. He chooses those who are sinners to be His appointed children. The second “line” of the genealogy shows us that sin brings a just judgment, because sin is contrary to God’s will for his people. The third line shines forth with the good news of God’s faithfulness, despite our faithlessness.


What does this mean for us today? First, the genealogy shows that Jesus is the savor of every kind of person – men, women, adulterers, prostitutes, heroes, and gentile foreigners.

That includes those of us in this room whose own family histories and personal histories are filled to the brim with examples of our sinful depravity: Divorce, lust, abuse, criminal pasts, addictions, promiscuity, abortion, etc. The list of sins is huge, but none of them have the last word of the word of the Almighty God. Just look at one of the names on the list as an example. Rahab was a gentile prostitute who for her faith is ultimately incorporated into the people of God.

No one in the room is qualified to be here except that they have been granted a place in the kingdom by the grace of God shown in the cross of Christ. What gratitude we should have for that grace. And that grace is a call to action.

Martin Luther spoke this way about the questionable sinners who appear in Jesus’ family tree. He said, “Oh, Christ is the kind of person who is not ashamed by sinners – in fact, He even put them in His family tree.”

Notice that? God is sovereign. These sinners are in Jesus’ family tree by design, to show us how God redeems and saves his people.

But Luther didn’t stop there, and neither should we. There are radical implications for us because of the way God saves the unworthy sinner. Luther continued this line of thought: “Now if the Lord does that here, so ought we to despise no one … but put ourselves right in the middle of the fight for sinners and help them."3

Are you putting yourself right in the middle of the fight for sinners and helping them? Am I? Or do we want nothing to do with sinners at all? What many churches seemingly desire today is to have lots and lots of sinners come to church, but to do this by declaring that their sin really isn’t sin. So please join our nice club were sin is an unmentionable and will never be the cause of awkwardness or “exclusion.” Beloved, this text should show us that this kind of thing actually brings into the church a culture of death. It is the height of lovelessness to pretend that sin isn’t what it is, to avoid making mention of it, either from the pulpit or in our daily lives, for fear that someone might take offense. It is loving beyond measure to proclaim to everyone we come in contact with that sin has been defeated forever by a Jesus who himself had sinners in his own family tree. He accomplished the destruction of sin by paying the cost of sin and taking the full measure of God’s wrath upon himself, the wrath that we deserved. Jesus is king, Matthew says, and is worthy of all honor and glory and praise and love and joy. He is the fulfillment of everything God promised in the Old Testament, for Jew and Gentile alike, and also people such as ourselves. How about you? What’s your family tree like? Is it anything like Jesus’? Can you see how God used Jesus’ family history to show us that Jesus is our savior from even the most heinous sin? Come to Him now, if you haven’t already, repent, and believe. Amen.

1 I'm deeply indebted to Dale Bruner for this and other insights in this amazing gospel. He will be my scholarly, theological partner for this series.
2Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Vol 1. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007. 14.
3Bruner, quoting Luther’s “Sermon on the Day of Mary’s Birth” 8 September 1522, W2, 11:2371.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
July 24, 2011
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew