Studies in Mark Pt. 9

mark[This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach on Mark 2:23-28. I’ve included a portion of it below. You can download the sermon pdf from this site or download audio here.

-h.]

Mark 2:23-28:

One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Introductory Remarks

1. The Significance of the Sabbaths in Mark’s Gospel

In today’s text, we encounter one of the Gospel of Mark’s four Sabbath narratives.[1] The Sabbath narratives, in order, are:

A. Teaching in the Synagogue (1:21-28)

B. Plucking heads of Grain (2:23-28)

C. Withered Hand (3:1-6)

D. Teaching at Hometown (6:1-6)

You may have noticed that the first and last Sabbath narratives mirror each other. In the first Sabbath narrative (1:21-28) Jesus teaches, casts out demons, and the people marvel at his authority; in the last Sabbath narrative (6:1-6), Jesus teaches, the people marvel at his authority, and they are offended by him. Similarly, the second and third Sabbath narratives also mirror each other. In the second Sabbath narrative (2:23-28, today’s text) our Lord’s disciples pluck heads of grain, rubbing the grains in their hands,[2] to feed themselves on the Sabbath; in the third Sabbath narrative (3:1-6), the man with a withered hand stretches out his hand. In the second Sabbath narrative, in other words, the disciples actively receive sustenance via the use of their hands; whereas in the third Sabbath narrative, the man with the withered hand passively receives the healing of his hand via Christ’s almighty word.

The significance of these four Sabbath narratives consists in how they demonstrate that Christ is working for us, to free us from the evil one (1:21), to sustain us with bread (2:24, et al), to heal us by his Word (3:2,4), and to teach us (6:2). And these narratives make the fifth Sabbath reference, not a complete narrative but simply a reference, so powerful. On the last Sabbath mentioned by Mark, Christ is doing all of these things – by laying in the tomb. The death of Christ is the crushing of the serpent’s head, the casting down of Satan, the binding up of the strong man. The death of Christ is the bread and wine that imparts life to us and sustains us (figuratively, of course, cf. John 6). The death of Christ is what restores us to God that we may present ourselves as acceptable sacrifices to God. The death of Christ is effective for those who believe. Our Lord’s resting in the tomb on the Sabbath is the ultimate fulfillment of the Sabbath, and it ensures us of the aforementioned benefits.

2. The Significance of Jesus’ Response

Hence, in Mark 2 we see the Lord not merely providing his disciples with physical rest but also spiritual nourishment. Christ argues from the example of David and his men, providing a practical counterargument to the unscriptural objections to grain-plucking raised by the Pharisees. This example subtly draws a parallel between the typological messiah (namely, David) and the actual Messiah, Jesus. As  David took of the bread of the Old Covenant and distributed it to his soldiers, so our Lord Jesus would soon take of the bread of the New Covenant and distribute it among his disciples. As David was simultaneously prophet, priest, and king, albeit in a temporary and typological manner, so our Lord Jesus is simultaneously our prophet, priest, and king truly and eternally.

Our Lord Jesus’ response is mind-boggling, in terms of its simultaneous breadth, depth, and brevity. Regarding breadth, he addresses the present concern about obeying the law, demonstrating that his disciples were not breaking the Sabbath. He also demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who do not condemn David, but do condemn Christ and his disciples who were not breaking the Law of God. Regarding depth, the answer he gives ties together the present moment and that of David, establishing a typological link between himself and David as prophet, priest, and king. He also points forward to what he will do as a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Regarding brevity, what takes theologians volumes to explicate – namely the typological, historical, and theological connections between David and his Lord (Jesus) – Christ states in a few short words!

3. The Matthean Context

Mark’s record of this event is given in more detail in Matthew’s Gospel, which tells us that just prior to refuting the Pharisees’ claim that Sabbath grain-plucking was unlawful our Lord Jesus declared:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matt 11:28.

Thus, we see that Christ’s provision of grain for his disciples on the Sabbath is the immediate fulfillment of these words in a very literal manner.

Yet there is another sense in which we see our Lord providing rest for his disciples, and that is by his refutation of the Pharisees’ interpretation and application of the Law. The disciples, and by implication our Lord God Christ, were being falsely accused of breaking God’s Law against working on the Sabbath. The Pharisees, apparently unaware of their own transgressions against the real commandments of God, sought to place the disciples of our Lord Jesus under their man-made rules. They sought to bind the consciences of the followers of Christ to customs that were not the Word of God and, therefore, not binding upon God’s people. So what does our Advocate do? He argues from Scripture against the Pharisees and for his people. He does not excuse sin, but reveals that the disciples’ actions in this instance were not sinful. Jesus judges the conduct of his people righteously, not according to man-made traditions or customs.

In our day, there are many churches which guilt trip their members by placing unnecessarily heavy loads of work on them every Lord’s day. Those who don’t attend to every meal, to every social gathering, to every outreach program, to every bible study and book study, those who, in fact, openly state that they are under no requirement to do so are met with a series of wagging fingers of shame. The Pharisees, like those in these present day places of worship, were not upholding a wise and scripturally sound practice, they were not upholding a divine command either – they were upholding a law of their own devising which actually contradicted God’s Law. These men were not like the sound elders over whom God has placed his church, men who pray and study God’s Word when seeking to establish guidelines for certain ecclesiastical realities upon which Scripture is seemingly silent (or is, the very least, not explicit in addressing these realities). In our study of Peter not too long ago, we learned of how our elders are to rule/lead. And what are their duties? Rebuking, Exhorting, Correcting, Discipling, Disciplining, Teaching, Encouraging, and Comforting through the Word of God preached. This is not what the Pharisees were doing. Rather, they were placing their word in direct opposition to God’s Law and, thereby, harming God’s people. Jesus doesn’t give them a green light to continue this sinful behavior. Jesus does not let it slide, as it were. He openly demonstrates, from the Scriptures, how these men have completely misunderstood the Scriptures. They have misunderstood the Law, and they have misunderstood the prophets. Consequently, they have mistreated God’s sheep, teaching as commandments the traditions of men.

And Jesus our Lord does this for his sheep. He demonstrates his role as our perfect Advocate, examining us and the accusations of his enemies against us, concluding with the unalterably true verdict of either “Guilty” or “Innocent.” We read of this very thing in Zechariah 3:1-5:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.

Christ the Lord stands before our accuser and declares the truth, providing us with rest from the attacks of Satan, the flesh, and the world.

Soli Deo Gloria.

-h.


[1] Mark’s Sabbath Narratives & References:

A. Teaching in the Synagogue (1:21)

B. Plucking heads of Grain (2:24, 27. 28)

C. Withered Hand (3:2, 4)

D. Teaching at Hometown (6:2)

[E. Resting in the Tomb (15:42 & 16:1)]

[2] cf. Luke 6:1.

The Trinity in Psalm 45

Trinity[Lately, there have been many changes in my life that have made it difficult to post as regularly as I would like, e.g. changing jobs, adjusting to a new schedule, and preparing to preach on Psalm 45 this Sunday. I hope to get back to my series on Biblical epistemology very soon. Until then, Soli Deo Gloria!]

Psalm 45 is a song of praise in which the writer, speaking by the Holy Spirit, praises the divinely anointed king, the beauty of the king’s bride, and the gloriousness of their wedding ceremony. The writer makes known to us the attributes of the King: The anointed king is the most handsome among the sons of men, full of grace and truth, blessed by God forever, mighty, majestic, exuding splendor, victorious, devoted to truth and meekness and righteousness, eternally established as king by God. He is the lover of righteousness and truth favored by God above all men.

The anointed one is not merely a person upon whom God’s favor rests, but one whose active obedience to God’s law is met with divine approbation. The Spirit of God, through the writer, tells us in detail about the relationship between the Lord God and his Anointed King. Because the king is the most handsome among men and full of grace and truth, God has blessed him forever. Because the king has loved righteousness and hated wickedness, therefore God has anointed him with the oil of gladness above all of his companions.

The Spirit shows us that the king was above all of his companions and is above all of his companions. By virtue of his character this king is favored above all others by God, as well as exalted above all others by God. The Holy Spirit also teaches us that this king is not merely a man above all other men, but God himself. As it is written: “Your throne, O God, is forever…” The Anointed one of Israel, the Christ or Messiah, to put the matter more explicitly, is the most righteous among men and the only Righteous and Wise God himself, clothed in human flesh. The king of Israel is God and Man, without contradiction, and is the object of the praise of the writer, who is penning the Spirit of God’s Words, and God’s most favored king of all kings.

It is important for us to stress these relations between the Spirit (speaking through the writer), the King (who is God and Man), and God (who has chosen this king and exalted him because of his righteousness and victory over wickedness and the enemies of God), for it shows us, albeit in a shadowy form, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the whole of Scripture at once. This psalm has God’s anointed king as its central focus. He is the object of the Spirit’s glorification and the object of the Father’s love. He rides forth is justice and righteousness and meekness and successfully destroys God’s enemies and wickedness. And he takes for himself a bride beautified by the garments of his royalty, a bride whom he has set apart from the world for himself as the object of his love.

Do we not see the Trinity? Do we not hear the Spirit of God speaking of the Son’s glories? Do we not hear the Spirit of God revealing that the Father has chosen his Son above all men to be the eternal occupant of the throne of David, the king of all kings, and the perfect bridegroom who covers his bride with royal garments of righteousness? We do, although only in part, that is to say in a shadowy type that becomes crystal clear when the time of fulfillment comes. Hence, the writer of Hebrews reveals that it is of the Son [that the Father] says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

[Heb 1:8-9]

 

And Paul explains that husbands ought to love their wives even as

…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

[Eph 5:25-33]

And the apostle John reveals that Christ is the king of kings and the church is “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” [Rev 21:9b]

Whereas commentators have written extensively on this psalm, trying to identify its king and queen as this or that historical person, the New Testament clearly states that the King of which the psalmist speaks is the Son, Jesus. And the New Testament tells us who the bride of Jesus is: the church. What we have in this psalm, then, is not merely the celebration of an ancient king and his beautiful bride, but a typological portrait of the Spirit glorifying the Son who glorifies the Father who, in turn, glorifies the Son. The Spirit glorifies the king by revealing the king’s glorious attributes and relationship to God the Father. The king glorifies the Father by his gracious words and perfect obedience to God’s holy law. The Father glorifies the Son by blessing him forever, as the psalmist reveals.

-h.

Christ is the Bridegroom; therefore, Jesus is Yahweh

Lamb JesusA Profound Mystery

In Ephesians 5:25-33, Paul the apostle teaches that the union between Adam and Eve, and men and their wives in general, analogically mirrors the union of Christ and his church. The implications of Paul’s paralleling of the marital union and the Christian’s union with Christ are indeed profound, for the Hebrew word for “holding fast” (i.e. union) that is first mentioned in Genesis 2:24 is repeated in several places in the Old Testament when describing the unique relationship of love and service Israel was to have to Yahweh alone. A few verses using the same Hebrew word (דָּבַק, dä·vak’) are demonstrative of this phenomenon.

You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.[1]

…if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you.[2]

You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.[3]

…choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.[4]

…be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of theLord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.[5]

By paralleling the marital union of a man and a woman to the church’s union with Christ, Paul is tying together the marriage union, the union of Israel and Yahweh, and Christ and the Church. He is, in other words, identifying Christ as bridegroom of the Church, even as Yahweh identified himself as the bridegroom of Israel,[6] thereby identifying Jesus Christ as the unique object of service, devotion, love, worship, and obedience of all of the elect constituting the church universal.

Hence, Paul speaks of the profound mystery involved in saying that Adam and Eve prefigure Christ and the church. Mystics have often misused this text in Ephesians to legitimize their heretical notions of ontological union with God (i.e. divinization). Their misreading of the text becomes plain to see when the relationship between Adam and Eve – which is one of cleaving or clinging orholding fast to one another only – is shown to have echoes in the Old Testament in God’s dealing with his people Israel. It is also made clear by the word mystery as it stands in direct relation to the two becoming one flesh. Yahweh commanded his people to cling to him alone, even as Eve was tocling to Adam alone. However, God and Israel would not become one flesh. Rather, God becameone flesh with his people when he “became flesh.”[7] As the Holy Spirit teaches in Hebrews 2:14-15:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

Paul identifies this as the great mystery (μέγας, μυστήριον) of God being manifest “in the flesh” in 1st Timothy 3:16, using the same Greek terms in 1st Timothy as he uses in Ephesians 5:32.[8]

The profound mystery of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 5, then, is the incarnation of Yahweh, to whom his people are to cling, and who not only shares in our flesh but will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.”[9] As John states in his first epistle:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.[10]

Adam and Eve’s clinging to one another is an analogy of how Israel was to cling to Yahweh, and their becoming one flesh is a foreshadowing of the incarnation of our Lord, as well as the redemption and transformation of our bodies.

Christ is God

Thus, the Bridegroom metaphor that Christ uses of himself is a direct self-identification as Yahweh the Bridegroom of Israel. The Church’s monogamous relationship to Christ, as it were, only further serves to solidify this interpretation, as the relationship is one of clinging/absolute fidelity of worship, adoration, allegiance, praise, and so forth. Paul’s identification of Christ as the Last Adam, the Great Bridegroom to whom the Church will be presented at the eschaton, additionally, is an explicit identification of Christ Jesus as Yahweh having partaken of human flesh and, as the firstfruits of the resurrection, calling his elect to believe, be redeemed, and be raised to life eternal with an incorruptible body of flesh and bones that shares in his resurrected human body’s attributes.

Soli. Deo. Gloria.

-h.


[1] Deut 10:20.

[2] Deut 11:22-23.

[3] Deut 13:4.

[4] Deut 30:19b-20.

[5] Jos 22:5.

[6] This is done implicitly in the verses mentioned above which command Israel to cling to Yahweh. However, it is also stated explicitly throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Jeremiah 3:1-18; Ezekiel 16; Hosea 2; 3:1-5).

[7] See John 1:14.

[8] viz., μέγα and μυστήριον.

[9] Phil 3:21.

[10] 1st John 3:2.

Is the Word of God Impersonal in the OT?

wpid-wp-1433137781246.jpegDenying the Personality of the Word

The assertion that the New Testament does not identify God’s Logos as personal is frequently made by unitarians. A staple belief among unitarians is that the Logos of God was a-personal, but through the influence of Greek philosophical traditions began to be incorrectly identified as a divine personal being. This has been demonstrated to be both exegetically untenable and historically/philosophically wrong (for instance here). There are some unitarians, however, who because of this exegetical and historical/philosophical evidence argue that the a-personality of the Word of God (i.e. the Dabar) is clearly taught in the Old Testament. However, is this true?

Not for the attentive reader of Scripture. Beginning with the book of Genesis, the attentive reader will note that there are instances in which the Word of God is addressed as Yahweh, as the Lord, as God. And God is hardly an a-personal entity. How then can the unitarian assert that God’s Word in the Old Testament is a-personal? Whatever their reasoning is, they are not deriving it from the Scriptures, as the following article aims to demonstrate.

Here are just a few instances of this phenomenon.

The Voice of the Lord

1. In Genesis 3:8, the Holy Spirit says Adam and Eve heard the “sound” of the Lord God walking in the garden. The word for sound is a Hebrew word which is usually translated as voice. This fact is reflected in the King James Version, where the reader is informed of the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden. This voice calls out to Adam and his wife, who are hiding, and reveals their sin, judges them, and promises them redemption through the Seed of the Woman.

Contextually, Hebrews 4:12-13 echoes this narrative and states that the “Word of God” is “living and active” and “no creature is hidden from his sight.” That is to say, the Word (here, logos) of God is living and active, judging the wicked and saving the elect, and there is no one hidden from his sight. Note how swiftly the writer moves from “Word” (i.e. Logos) to the personal pronouns “his” and “him.” Note further  that before him, i.e. the Logos of God, “all are naked and exposed,” even as Adam and Eve were when the Voice of God walked through the garden and confronted them with judgment and salvation. Hebrews 4:12-13 seems to be directly alluding to the Garden of Eden in which the Voice of the Lord, the Word of God, walked among the trees and called out in judgment and salvation, revealing hidden sinners and exposing them completely. [For a devotional treatment of the same subject, see this previous post].

2. In Psalm 29, the identification of the Voice of the Lord with Yahweh himself is impossible to deny. Specifically, verses 5-9 identify the Voice of the Lord as Yahweh, via the use of parallelisms. Thus, the Voice of the Lord is said to break the cedars in v.5a, but in v.5b the Lord is said to be the one who breaks the cedars. The personalization of the Voice of the Lord, moreover, is carried over into the next verse where the personal pronoun “he” refers back to the Lord, i.e. the Voice of the Lord in v.5a. Likewise, vv.7-8 transition from “the Voice of the Lord” in vv.7-8a to “the Lord” in v.8b. The climax of this worship of the Voice of God can be seen in v.9 where the transition is the smoothest. Psalm 29:9 states that: “the Voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” Note that the transition from “the Voice of the Lord” to “the Lord” is even more explicit. Here the writer says that the temple is the temple of the Voice of the Lord. Do a-personal utterances have temples?

The Word of the Lord

1. Throughout the Old Testament, in addition to the Voice of the Lord propositions identifying that Voice as Yahweh himself, there are also verse which clearly identify the Word of the Lord as Yahweh himself. The first appearance of the phrase, for instance, is in Genesis 15, where “the Word of the Lord” comes to Abraham in a vision, and Abraham responds with these words: “O Lord God…” (Gen 15:1-2) Lest any confusion occur, the Scriptures go on to say that “the Word of the Lord” came to Abram and “brought him outside” (vv.4-6). Throughout this passage, the Word of the Lord is identified specifically as Yahweh and he/him/his.

2. Similarly, in Jeremiah 1 we are told that “the Word of the Lord came to [Jeremiah] and said…” (v.4). Jeremiah’s response is clear: “Ah, Lord God! . . .” (v.6) The prophet clearly identifies the Word as the Lord himself, and this is made evident by the following verse, where we read: “But the Lord said to me…” (v.7) Note the transition from “the Word of the Lord” to “the Lord,” a transition which we have already noted in Ps 29. The identification of the Word of the Lord as Yahweh-in-person, i.e. as a Christophany, is made even clearer when we read that “…the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me…” (v.9a)

This Word of the Lord is not a-personal, or even intangible. Rather, the Word is the Lord and he stretches out his hand and touches the mouth of his prophet, Jeremiah.

Concluding Remarks

The Word of the Lord, although primarily a technical formula introducing a prophet’s message as legitimately obtained directly from God, at times designate the Second Person of the Trinity, the Lord God himself: the Logos of John 1. It is simply not the case that the Word of the Lord is a-personal in the Old Testament.

-h.