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10

The Angel of the LORD continued…

One more post on the Angel, then we’ll look at some other multiple-LORD passages.

Check out Judges 6:11-24:

11 The Angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the Angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” 13 “But sir (Lord, Adonai),” Gideon replied, “if the LORD (Yahweh) is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about when they said,`Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” 14 The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15 “But Lord (Adonai),” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” 17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favour in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.” And the LORD said, “I will wait until you return.” 19 Gideon went in, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to Him under the oak. 20 The Angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the Angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the Angel of the LORD disappeared. 22 When Gideon realised that it was the Angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Ah, Sovereign LORD (Adonai Yahweh)! I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face!” 23 But the LORD said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” 24 So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

As we saw in our last post, the Angel proclaimed Himself to be the LORD who saved Israel out of Egypt in Judges 2:1-5. Here the Angel is called ‘Angel’, ‘Lord (Adonai)’ and ‘LORD (Yahweh)’ interchangeably. Verse 14 is clearly the same Character now ‘facing’ Gideon. His re-assurance to Gideon concerns Himself: “Am I not sending you?…I will be with you”. Gideon’s hope rests in this Person: “If now I have found favour in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.” (v17)

Here the Angel comes in a particularly priestly way. He pronounces to Gideon the blessing of Another called LORD (v12) and mediates Gideon’s sacrifice to this LORD, v21. Not only is He priest – mediating the Father’s peace to Gideon and Gideon’s sacrifice to the LORD – He also ascends in the sacrifice. He is Lord and Priest and in a funny sort of way, sacrifice. When Gideon sees this he really gets the identity of the Angel (which was the point of this sign, v17).

When Gideon realised that it was the Angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Ah, Sovereign LORD (Adonai Yahweh)! I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face!” (v22) It is his expectation that seeing such a Figure should result in death. This face to face encounter is clearly not something mortals expect to endure when it comes to the Sovereign LORD (Adonai Yahweh). God Most High on the mountaintop had told Moses:

“you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live… my face must not be seen.” (Exod 33:20-23)

Yet in the same chapter Moses and Joshua are described as having regular face to face encounters with the LORD in the tent of meeting (Ex 33:7-11). Within the OT there is a visible LORD who mediates the business of the unseen LORD. On this occasion Gideon calls out in alarm to the unseen LORD that He had seen the glory of the Angel. I think it’s most straightforward to see the LORD of v23 to be the Angel Himself, Christ. I won’t be very disappointed if proved wrong but my reasoning is:

1) In this incident it is the Angel who calls the unseen God, ‘LORD’ while it is the narrator who calls the Angel ‘LORD’ or ‘Lord’. When the narrator wants to tell us he’s referring to the unseen God he calls Him ‘Sovereign Lord.’

2) The whole incident is modeling how it is the Angel who provides peace for Gideon.

So, for me, v23 is Christ interposing on the basis of the sacrifice (in which He ascended) and proclaiming Himself to be peace. You can chew on that and let me know what you think.

Moving on to Judges 13 we see an extended passage about the Angel. In v3 He appears to Mrs Manoah who consistently describes Him as a man (v6, 10) as does the narrator (v11). He comes again when God hears the cry of His people and sends Him in response (v9). Just like with Jacob, He is coy about His name (v18, cf Gen 32:29). But just as in Judges 6, He ascends in the sacrifice to the LORD. At this Mr Manoah exclaims:

“We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!” (Judges 13:22)

His wife has more sense:

But his wife answered, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.” (Judges 13:23)

The Angel is described as God. And the expectation is that to see God is to die. And yet they do see God the Angel and Mrs Manoah identifies the basis on which they can still be accepted: sacrifice.

I could go on about the Angel but perhaps you can follow up the other references that I’ve listed yourself. Let me just draw your attention to one more passage. Because here we see that the Angel was set forth not simply as the Mediator for Israel there and then, He was also trusted in as the One who was to come – the Messiah.

“See, I will send my messenger (malak), who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord (Adonai) you are seeking will come to His temple; the Messenger (malak, Angel) of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty (Yahweh of hosts). (Malachi 3:1)

The messenger (Elijah/John the Baptist, cf 4:5) will precede the coming of the Lord who is the Angel. Here we see that the Lord who the people are seeking is the Angel of the covenant. He is their desire according to Malachi 3.

Enough on the Angel. Next post will be a re-working of a previous post on the trinitarian OT. And for those who are wondering, I’ll also soon do a ‘so what’ piece listing reasons this stuff matters!

Next post…

The Angel of the LORD continued…

One more post on the Angel, then we’ll look at some other multiple-LORD passages.

Check out Judges 6:11-24:

11 The Angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the Angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” 13 “But sir (Lord, Adonai),” Gideon replied, “if the LORD (Yahweh) is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about when they said,`Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” 14 The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15 “But Lord (Adonai),” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” 17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favour in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.” And the LORD said, “I will wait until you return.” 19 Gideon went in, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to Him under the oak. 20 The Angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the Angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the Angel of the LORD disappeared. 22 When Gideon realised that it was the Angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Ah, Sovereign LORD (Adonai Yahweh)! I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face!” 23 But the LORD said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” 24 So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

As we saw in our last post, the Angel proclaimed Himself to be the LORD who saved Israel out of Egypt in Judges 2:1-5. Here the Angel is called ‘Angel’, ‘Lord (Adonai)’ and ‘LORD (Yahweh)’ interchangeably. Verse 14 is clearly the same Character now ‘facing’ Gideon. His re-assurance to Gideon concerns Himself: “Am I not sending you?…I will be with you”. Gideon’s hope rests in this Person: “If now I have found favour in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.” (v17)

Here the Angel comes in a particularly priestly way. He pronounces to Gideon the blessing of Another called LORD (v12) and mediates Gideon’s sacrifice to this LORD, v21. Not only is He priest – mediating the Father’s peace to Gideon and Gideon’s sacrifice to the LORD – He also ascends in the sacrifice. He is Lord and Priest and in a funny sort of way, sacrifice. When Gideon sees this he really gets the identity of the Angel (which was the point of this sign, v17).

When Gideon realised that it was the Angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Ah, Sovereign LORD (Adonai Yahweh)! I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face!” (v22) It is his expectation that seeing such a Figure should result in death. This face to face encounter is clearly not something mortals expect to endure when it comes to the Sovereign LORD (Adonai Yahweh). God Most High on the mountaintop had told Moses:

“you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live… my face must not be seen.” (Exod 33:20-23)

Yet in the same chapter Moses and Joshua are described as having regular face to face encounters with the LORD in the tent of meeting (Ex 33:7-11). Within the OT there is a visible LORD who mediates the business of the unseen LORD. On this occasion Gideon calls out in alarm to the unseen LORD that He had seen the glory of the Angel. I think it’s most straightforward to see the LORD of v23 to be the Angel Himself, Christ. I won’t be very disappointed if proved wrong but my reasoning is:

1) In this incident it is the Angel who calls the unseen God, ‘LORD’ while it is the narrator who calls the Angel ‘LORD’ or ‘Lord’. When the narrator wants to tell us he’s referring to the unseen God he calls Him ‘Sovereign Lord.’

2) The whole incident is modeling how it is the Angel who provides peace for Gideon.

So, for me, v23 is Christ interposing on the basis of the sacrifice (in which He ascended) and proclaiming Himself to be peace. You can chew on that and let me know what you think.

Moving on to Judges 13 we see an extended passage about the Angel. In v3 He appears to Mrs Manoah who consistently describes Him as a man (v6, 10) as does the narrator (v11). He comes again when God hears the cry of His people and sends Him in response (v9). Just like with Jacob, He is coy about His name (v18, cf Gen 32:29). But just as in Judges 6, He ascends in the sacrifice to the LORD. At this Mr Manoah exclaims:

“We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!” (Judges 13:22)

His wife has more sense:

But his wife answered, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.” (Judges 13:23)

The Angel is described as God. And the expectation is that to see God is to die. And yet they do see God the Angel and Mrs Manoah identifies the basis on which they can still be accepted: sacrifice.

I could go on about the Angel but perhaps you can follow up the other references that I’ve listed yourself. Let me just draw your attention to one more passage. Because here we see that the Angel was set forth not simply as the Mediator for Israel there and then, He was also trusted in as the One who was to come – the Messiah.

“See, I will send my messenger (malak), who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord (Adonai) you are seeking will come to His temple; the Messenger (malak, Angel) of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty (Yahweh of hosts). (Malachi 3:1)

The messenger (Elijah/John the Baptist, cf 4:5) will precede the coming of the Lord who is the Angel. Here we see that the Lord who the people are seeking is the Angel of the covenant. He is their desire according to Malachi 3.

Enough on the Angel. Next post will be a re-working of a previous post on the trinitarian OT. And for those who are wondering, I’ll also soon do a ‘so what’ piece listing reasons this stuff matters!

Next post…

15

The Angel of the LORD continued...

Let's look at the Angel in action in Genesis and Exodus.

His first appearance is to the Egyptian, Hagar:

Then the Angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." The Angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." The Angel of the LORD also said to her: "You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery... She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me." (Gen 16:9-14)

Here the Angel speaks of another Person called the LORD who has heard Hagar.  This is typical in the OT - God hears and sends His Angel to deliver.  See Gen 21:17; Ex 2:23ff; Num 20:16; Judges 13:9 - also similar is Dan 3:28; 6:22.

But even though the Angel is distinctly called of the LORD He can also own the name 'LORD' Himself.  In verse 13 even the narrator calls the Angel "LORD" and Hagar calls Him "the God who sees me."  He is from God but He also is God - in fact He is the visible God for Hagar is astonished that she has seen Him.

Read on to Genesis 22 and here we see that the Angel of the LORD is the One who intercepts the judgement of father Abraham on his son.

But the Angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." The Angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.

Difficult to read these verses if you're a unitarian!  'Now know that you fear God because you haven't witheld your son from Me.'  The Angel clearly thinks the offering is to Himself and later in v16 He clearly thinks that He is the LORD who will bless Abraham.  But He also clearly speaks of 'God' as another Person in the equation.  There's much more to be said about Genesis 22, but we must move on.

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a man ('ish) who is clearly a source of blessing (v26) and is in fact God (v28).  Jacob rightly identifies Him as 'God face to face' (perhaps best understood as a divine title?).  Why are we looking at this passage while considering the Angel?  Because of what Hosea 12:3-5 makes of this incident.

...[Jacob] struggled with God. He struggled with the Angel and overcame Him; he wept and begged for His favour. He found Him at Bethel and talked with Him there-- the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is His name of renown!

Hosea knows how it is that Jacob could actually wrestle with God and see Him face to face.  He knows that Jacob wrestled with the Angel.  But Hosea also knows that such a name is not a diminutive title for this figure. The Angel is Himself the LORD God Almighty (Yahweh the God of Hosts).  What's interesting is not only Hosea's high christology but also how OT saints thought through the issues of how God is mediated.  It was clear to Hosea, even though Genesis does not mention the name, that Jacob wrestled 'the Angel.'  OT saints are able to make such distinctions and properly interpreted their own Scriptures christologically centuries after the events and centuries before the incarnation.

Moving on in Genesis we come to Jacob's blessing of his grandsons.  Just as he sought the Angel's blessing for himself (Gen 32:26,29) so now he wants the Angel's blessing for Ephraim and Manasseh:

"May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my Shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm--may He bless these boys.  (Gen 48:15-16)

Who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  This is a massive question today.  Can we please have the courage to proclaim from Genesis that Christ is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He is the Deliverer God before Whom the patriarchs walked.  The Angel is God and Shepherd, Deliverer and the Source of all blessing.  The Angel is God from God and the One to Whom the patriarchs looked.

I can't see a) any way around this, b) any reason you'd want to get around this!

Let's move on briefly to Exodus.  And here again we see the pattern whereby people call out to God, God hears (Exod 2:23-24) and in response He sends His Deliverer.  And who is the Deliverer?

2 There the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight-- why the bush does not burn up." 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am." 5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6 Then He said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Ex 3:2-6)

The Angel is Him who dwelt in the burning bush (Deut 33:16).  He is, v4,  LORD and God and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Furthermore He is the great I AM (v14) who saves His people.  When Jesus claims to be I AM He isn't (as many seem to say) audaciously applying to Himself a title belonging to ""God"".  He's saying - I'm 'Him who dwelt in the burning bush.'  He's not just saying 'I have the same name as Israel's Redeemer, He's saying - You know the whole burning bush, plagues, Red Sea thing?  That was me!'

Notice how in Exodus 3:12 the Angel says:

"I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."

The Angel will save a people and bring them to God.  That is the story of salvation.  And does the Angel deliver on His promise?  Yes! He is the LORD who goes at their head:

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. (Ex 13:21)

How do we know that this is the Angel?

Then the Angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them (Ex 14:19)

So the Deliverer is the Angel who is of the LORD and who is the LORD.  Exodus 23:20-23 tells us how the Angel relates to the Most High God: 'My Name is in Him' says the LORD on top of the mountain.  The Angel is the One the people should follow knowing that He has been sent from the LORD on high with the very character of the unseen God.  To hear the Angel (v22) is to know the favour and salvation of God Most High.

The Exodus was wrought at the initiative of God the Father hearing His people’s cries for mercy.  Out of His compassion He sent His Angel to deliver His people and bring them back to the Mountain to worship Him.

And just to drive home the point even further, let's look at one last reference.  When all is done and dusted and Scripture looks back on the redemption out of Egypt, who is it who takes the credit?

The Angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said,`I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you."  When the Angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud. (Judges 2:1-4)

At this point I feel like pulling a CS Lewis - when the Angel makes such incredible claims, He's either mad, bad or the LORD.  So who is He??

I hope it's obvious.  But I hope we also see that these things are plain on their own terms and in their own context.  I haven't needed to do any NT 're-reading'.  I hope you see this isn't a conjuring act it's simply taking these verses seriously. And allowing them to say what they say without forcing them into a pre-fab unitarian mould.

I think it's clear (don't you?) the Angel is clearly divine, clearly Israel's Deliverer, clearly trusted in.  But also note - He is also clearly distinct from another called LORD or God (we'll see this more and more as we go on).  And He has His identity as the Sent One (malak - Messenger). To see Him is to be immediately drawn into knowledge of the Sender whose Name He bears.  His very being is defined by relationship to Another.  He is a divine Person who belongs to another divine Person.  Israel's LORD is God from God.

And if this is true then the OT doctrine of God is nothing like the modern Jew's god, nothing like the philosopher's god, nothing like allah.  The God of the OT is inescapably and irreducibly trinitarian in nature and christocentric in focus.

One more post on the Angel to come and then we'll look at some other fun stuff.

Next post...

15

Who is the Angel of the LORD?

In my last post I laid out my intention to show from the Old Testament that Christ has always been the one Mediator between God and man.

I find the easiest place to start in these discussions is with the Angel of the LORD.  If a person cannot see from Scripture that this is a title belonging to Christ then the conversation will not get very far.  So I wonder whether you have a view?

Perhaps the first thing to say is - don't be thrown by the title.  Angel (malak) just means 'Sent One' or 'Messenger' (as most translations render it in Malachi 3:1).  So literally the Angel of the LORD is the One Sent from the LORD.  And already we should be hearing resonances with Jesus' self-descriptions.  In John's Gospel for instance Jesus is described as the One Sent from God 40 times!  That might be significant!

The second thing to say is that not every angel is The Angel.  There are many created angelic beings in the bible.  But when Scripture speaks of the Angel we know who we're talking about.  In the same way there are many ones sent from God in a general sense.  But when you talk about 'the One sent from the Father' you are talking about Jesus.

But really the proof is in the eating.  So get a load of these verses.

Genesis 16:9-14; Genesis 21:17-20; Genesis 22:11-18; Genesis 24:7,40; Genesis 31:11-13; Genesis 48:15-16; Exodus 3:1-6; Exodus 13:21 <=> Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20-23; Exodus 32:34; 33:2 <=> 34:9; Num 20:16; Num 22:22-35; Judges 2:1-5; Judges 5:23; Judges 6:11-24Judges 13:3-23; 2 Sam 24:16-171 Kings 19:5,7; 2 Kings 1:3,15; 1 Chron 21:11-20; Psalm 34:7,9; Psalm 35:5-6; Isaiah 37:36; Isaiah 63:9Daniel 3:28; Daniel 6:22Hosea 12:4-5 <=> Genesis 32:24-30Zechariah 1:9-19; Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-6; Zechariah 12:8; Malachi 3:1

See also these verse where people are said to be like the Angel and so are said to be like Christ:

1 Sam 29:9; 2 Sam 14:17,20; 2 Sam 19:27; Gal 4:14

As you see the Angel is not an insignificant figure in the Old Testament.  I'm not expecting you to check out all the references but thought it might be useful to have them all together.  Over the next few posts I'll pick out some key passages to highlight some fundamental truths.  At bottom this is where these verses take us:

  • The Angel is divine - He is very often called the LORD and God, He speaks as the LORD, acts as the LORD and accepts divine worship.

  • The Angel is distinct from another Person called 'LORD' or 'God' or 'God Most High.'

  • The Angel acts on behalf of God Most High in revelation and salvation.

  • The Angel is correctly identified by the OT saints as a distinct, divine Person

  • He is feared, trusted and hoped for by the faithful.

The Angel is God from God.  Light from Light.  True God from True God.  That's clear from the biblical portrait.  To fail to see His identity is, I think, a real problem.

What always strikes me in discussions about the Angel's identity is that the Scriptures are so unambiguous in naming Him LORD.  I would go so far as to say that the Old Testament is even clearer on the divine identity of the Angel than the New Testament is on the identity of Jesus. But of course once we grasp who the Angel is in the OT the NT pictures of Christ's divinity become much more apparent.

When Jesus claims to be the One sent from the Father He is not merely defering to divinity - He is claiming it.  His divine identity in the New Testament is so much easier to see for those who have already grasped it in the Old.

In the next post I'll have a look at some of the key Angel passages.  Let me leave you with a Calvin quote who sums up the history of Christian interpretation on this issue:

The orthodox doctors of the Church have correctly and wisely expounded, that the Word of God was the supreme angel, who then began, as it were by anticipation, to perform the office of Mediator. For though he were not clothed with flesh, yet he descended as in an intermediate form, that he might have more familiar access to the faithful. This closer intercourse procured for him the name of the Angel; still, however, he retained the character which justly belonged to him - that of the God of ineffable glory. (Instit. I.xiii.10)

Next post...

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Hello all, I'm moving house tomorrow.  Apparently broadband won't be up and running at the new place for another two weeks (which will limit my blogging opportunities)!  But if you need your fix of 'Christ the Truth' why not go to my website

Here's one of the more central pages which links to five papers I wrote on doctrine of God stuff.  It's a series called the 'God who is...'  I wrote these about 5 years ago for a church doctrine of God course.  I'd definitely change the third paper (too philosophical (while trying to be anti-philosophical!)).  But here it is for what it's worth. There are plenty of other sermons and papers on the site too.  Enjoy.  I'll be back blogging when I can.... 
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THE GOD WHO IS... 

Revealed in Jesus

We meet the Living God only in Jesus. He is the sole point of contact between God and the creation. Theology cannot begin without Him nor continue outside of Him. We must be radically and self-consciously Christ-obsessed. This is the mark of Christian theology, distinguishing it from all human philosophy and theistic supposition. Taking every thought captive to Christ is the means by which we will defend true knowledge of God against the countless philosophical accretions which threaten the Church. click here for more 

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Three Persons United

Our Christian life begins when we meet the Father in the Son and by the Spirit. The Christian life is, from first to last, a life lived in and by the Three. The Trinity is not special information for the advanced believer. The God we know is the Three Persons united in love. There is no 'more basic' truth to God than the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is no real God beneath or beyond the Persons. All talk of the Living God must therefore be about the Persons. Understanding them and deepening our fellowship with them in their relations and roles will be the very stuff of our Christian lives. click here for more 

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Bigger than you think

Since God is the Three Persons united, we must not imagine some fourth 'substance' that is somehow more foundational than the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We must not enquire into impersonal 'attributes' or 'essences' as though they are the bedrock realities upon which the Persons are founded. We understand God's attributes only when we understand His Triune ways and works as revealed in Jesus. We must not come to the Word of God with our philosophical notions of God's attributes and then fit the Persons into these idolatrous moulds. As the Father reveals His character in the Son and by the Spirit then we can see the power, love, wisdom etc of the Living God. Allowing our doctrine of God to be shaped in this way will open our eyes to a God who is bigger than we could ever conceive. click here for more 

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Love

The Living God is Persons in loving, committed relationship. His will for our life is to be swept up into this eternal love affair and to be agents of His love for the creation. If our doctrine of God is fundamentally impersonal, our Christian lives will consist of duty-bound Pharisaism. If we understand the Passionate God then our lives will begin to conform to the total love of heart, soul, mind and strength which Jesus models and commands. click here for more 

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Proclaimed by Moses

The Scriptures do not introduce us to God and then to the LORD and then to Christ and the Trinity. Revelation does not progress towards Christ - it begins with Him. Moses and the Prophets proclaim the same Triune God as Jesus and the Apostles. From Genesis 1, the Trinitarian Gospel of the LORD-Messiah is front-and-centre as the focus of all Biblical revelation. In this paper we will briefly run through Genesis and Exodus to see how Christ is proclaimed as the One and Only revelation of the Unseen LORD. click here for more .

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No (good) trinitarian theologian wants to have a fourth thing - a divine substance considered apart from the Three Persons.  But it's important to be aware that this error (effectively having a quaternity) has two versions.  There is a vulgar quaternity and a more insidious one.

The vulgar one looks like this:

Oneness and Threeness 1

Here is the "shamrock" trinity - three bits growing out of an underlying stuff.  In practice this is, roughly, how many unthinkingly view the trinity.  Such a vulgar quaternity is rightly rejected by theologians.  It can be seen immediately that the 'Godness of God' is considered at a completely different level to the three Persons in their roles and relations.  What makes God God is fundamentally impersonal attributes that may be expressed in the Persons but not constituted by their mutual inter-play.  So we can safely reject this version of things.

But I find that many theologians, having rejected the vulgar quaternity, congratulate themselves prematurely.  There is also the insidious quaternity to be dealt with.  There is another way of having a fourth...

Oneness and Threeness 2

Fundamentally this error consists in conceiving of the one God separately to a consideration of the three Persons in communion.  Recently I read a theologian say "God is both one and three - both a person and a community."  This is an example of the insidious quaternity.  One-ness and Three-ness are laid side by side to uphold a belief in the equal ultimacy of one and three.  Yet the one-ness of God is conceived of as a uni-personal one-ness - that is, it is separately considered to the multi-personal three-ness.  One and Three were not mutually interpreting truths but instead the 'one God' is thought of in non-communal (that is, non trinitarian) terms.

This is the approach taken by by so many doctrine of God text books where De Deo Uno (on the One God) is addressed prior to De Deo Trino (on the Trinity).   Yet, unless the two section are integrated at the deepest levels then there is grave danger of a fourth thing - i.e. "God plus Trinity" or "God apart from Trinity."

When this theological method is followed, often (not always but most times) section one unfolds such that the Three Person'd interplay takes no meaningful part in the discussions of the attributes.  Yet, typically, these attributes are asserted to be the virtue by which God is God.  On this view it is still possible to discuss the 'Godness of God' without reference to the perichoretic life of the Three.  Here One-ness and Three-ness are considered to be non-competing perspectives on the same God.  This effectively means that it is possible to speak in non-triune terms about the living God.  'God', then, is not the same thing as 'the Three Persons united in love'.

This is also a quaternity.  Just a more insidious one.

And the only way I can see to avoid this fourth thing is to side with the Cappodocians: God's being consists without remainder in the Three Person'd perichoresis .

Oneness Threeness 3b

The one-ness of God is not a simple divine essence but the very unity of the Three.  The being of God is not an underlying substance (contra the vulgar quaternity).  But nor is it a separately conceived essence (contra the insidious quaternity).  Rather God's being is the very communion by which the Three are One.

Trinity is not a perspective on the one God.  Rather the only God there is is trinity.  And the only way to conceive of Him is in triune terms.  'God' is 'Trinity'.  Unless this strict identity is maintained a fourth enters in.

Thus we must never conceive of the one God in any other terms than trinitarian ones.  (Re-write the text-books!).  God's being is in His communion (to use Zizioulas's phrase).  His One-ness is in His communion.  And (let's not forget) His Three-ness is in His communion - the Three are only who they are in this eternal perichoresis.   To put it another way: God is love.

 

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This is a re-working of an older post on One-ness and Three-ness.

A friend of mine is at Bible college and has been set an essay on trinitarian theology and the difference between east and west.  He emailed me to ask "So what??! I mean realistically what are the implications of the different approaches?"

Here's part of my response.  I have obviously caricatured positions to make a point.   I'm trying to be as stark as possible to drive home the difference.  And the west is obviously not as bad as I've suggested, nor is the east the paragon of virtue.  There are basic things about eastern trinitarianism I disagree with - but not their starting point.  And that's my focus here.  So here is my response:

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Ok, you say 'So what?'  I say - 'So everything!'

De Regnon [who my friend mentioned in his email] is a good lead.  Let me re-phrase his insight:  The west begins with One and then tries to figure out how to get Three.  The east begins with the Three and then figures out how the Three are One. 

Re-read this until you have the distinction firmly in mind...

The west begins with One and tries to get to Three.  The east begins with Three and then gets to One. 

Now between these positions there is all the difference in the world.

If you're eastern you say: "I've met this guy Jesus and He introduces me to His Father and sends His Spirit."  And then, having met the Three Persons in the gospel, you say 'what kind of one-ness do these three Persons share?'  And because you think in this way you can conclude: "These three Persons are *one* because they are united in love." 

So you go to John 17 and you see Jesus saying He wants His followers to be one the same way He and the Father are one.  And then you say "Aha!  The one-ness of the church is loving unity, therefore it stands to reason that the one-ness of Father and Son is loving unity."  And then you remember 1 John 4 and you say with joy: How is God one?  God is love!  God is a loving community of Three Persons. 

And this means that the greatest thing in all reality is love (because God is love).  And it means that reality is relational.  And it means that loving community among disinct people is very important.  One-ness for the east is a loving union of particular Persons who don't lose their individuality (Father, Son and Spirit are all different Persons - they are not one because they are identical.) 

So the east simply says: God is three distinct but totally united Persons loving one another.  Let me flesh out three implications of this:

1) It means that difference, distinction, community, relationship, mutuality, reciprocity and LOVE are all at the very very centre of who God is.  God's identity is not primarily a collection of attributes but a community of love

2) Because even the Father, Son and Spirit find their identity in relationships we see that relationship is at the heart of personal identity.  God is who He is because He is love.  God is who He is because of the relationships of Father, Son and Spirit.  Therefore I am who I am because of the relationships I share in.

3) Community is hugely important.  Even in God, different voices are not silenced by one dominant ruler.  Instead different voices contribute to a one-ness that's all about distinct persons working together in love.

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On the other hand the west begins by saying: "we know that God is one.  We know that this one God has all sorts of attributes that go with the 'Creator' job description. So God is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, impassible, immutable etc etc."  Then the west says, "Ok we've got the one God, but now in the gospel we meet these three Persons.  So how can the three Persons qualify as this one God?" They figure that since the one God is defined by these attributes then the way these Three are One is by sharing in all these same attributes.  And so they map these attributes identically onto the three Persons.  In this way the distinctions between Persons gets lost.  Every difference is blurred into the one God who is defined not by relationships but by attributes (i.e. He's big and clever).  Three implications of this:

1) God's identity is primarily a collection of attributes - attributes that are about His distance from creation, His difference to us.

2) If God is who He is because of His attributes - personal identity is essentially about *attributes* (about being big and clever).  Therefore I am who I am because of how big and clever I am.

3) Community is not really that important - there's only one voice and will that counts.  Distinctions and difference will get bull-dozed before the all-important one.

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Ok, now that I've laid it out like this, hopefully you can see some of the 'so what' significance??

Let me tease it out by discussing the three implications:

Regarding 1):  In the west, God has been defined as a collection of attributes that place Him at an infinite distance from us.  Now if you go out on the streets and talk to people about whether they're religious, basically (keeping eastern influences out of this) people will say either they do or they don't believe in a distant, uni-personal God who is approximately the 'omni-being' of philosophy.  Whether they believe in "God" or don't believe in "God", the "God" they're talking about is the collection of attributes which the western theologian began with before they examined the gospel!  The god that our western culture has either embraced or rejected is not the God of the gospel!  Instead the "god" of the pub discussion is pretty much the "one God" that the western theologian began with.  And if the bloke in the pub rejects that god - I don't blame him!!  That's not a god who is obviously related to Jesus of Nazareth (or His Spirit or the Father He called 'Abba').  And therefore its not a god who appears to be particularly interested in us - its not a god revealed in gospel love but in philosophical speculation.  Now the cultures shaped by the western church have been shaped by this doctrine of God.  When they accepted "God" it was this "God" they accepted.  When they rejected him, it was this "God" they rejected.

Atheism has basically been the rejection of this god.  People have decided they don't want a distant omni-being over against them and proclaimed his non-existence.  And what people like Colin Gunton are trying to ask is "Would the west have rejected "God" so thoroughly if the "God" they were presented with by the western church was the community of committed love revealed in Jesus?"  The answer still might be yes, but it's an interesting question anyway!

Regarding 2): The question of personal identity.  Well if we go with the west, my identity is all about my attributes.  I need to build up a CV of my big-ness and clever-ness.  That will define me.  But if I go with the east then my identity is about my relationships.  I am who I am because fundamentally I'm in Christ (and what's more I'm a son, a brother, a husband, etc). When I take this seriously, my western status-anxiety can be relieved in a second.  I find liberation from the western drive to prove myself and forge an identity for myself.  I am given identity in the relationships I have (primarily my relationship with Christ). 

Think also of the abortion debate. What is it that defines whether this foetus has personal identity?  Ask a westerner and they'll instinctively answer you in terms of attributes: "This foetus can/can't do X, Y, and Z therefore the foetus can/can't be aborted."  But what if the foetus is a person not because of its attributes but because it already stands in relationships of love?

Regarding 3): The point about community.  Here's a quote from the website: (http://www.christthetruth.org.uk/threepersonsunited.htm)

"...what can we learn about relationships and community from The Relationship? In gender relations, in multi-ethnic society, in equal opportunities policies, in the church, in our families - we are constantly confronted by people who have real and important differences and yet people who ought to be treated with equal respect and dignity. How do we appreciate the differences and uphold the equality? If we treat all in exactly the same way, are we not ignoring the valuable distinctives? This ‘melting pot' approach falls foul of oppression-by-assimilation. The incumbent majority always wins out at the cost of the minorities - they either become like the majority or they die. Do we, therefore, treat specific parties differently in an attempt to give them a leg-up? When this happens stereo-types can be re-enforced by ‘special treatment' and work against the value of equality. Furthermore: who defines the appropriate yard-stick of "success" in a culture? Perhaps it is better to abandon the idea of community altogether and accept along with Margaret Thatcher that there is "no such thing as society."

"Well what can the Trinity teach us? At the heart of reality lies a Community of different but equal Persons who have their own identities constituted by their mutual interdependence. They work together as One. There definitely is such a thing as society. Person-hood can never be considered individualistically but is made up of relationships on which we depend. Within The Community, the Persons freely submit to one another in roles of subordination while never losing their equal status. They do submit to differences in treatment and in function - but they maintain a definite equality of being and uphold one another in bonds of unconditional love. Here is a Community on which to model our own."

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Much of this is from a comment or two I've made here at Dan Hames' excellent blog.

The trinity is a very old doctrine. See The Trinitarian Old Testament for just how old. But Nicea (by which I mean the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed of 381 which we say in church today) gave us certain terminology that is accepted by both East and West.  Its creed is basic to all Christian churches.  Yet its doctrine of God is a particular one - one that is sometimes unwittingly (sometimes wittingly) side-lined, ignored or opposed.

The first thing to notice is Nicea's doctrine of 'the one God.'  To the untrained eye, it looks like it doesn't have one.  It simply says 'We believe in one God' and then immediately goes on to speak of 'the Father Almighty', 'one Lord Jesus Christ' and 'the Holy Spirit'.  Nicea gives absolutely no definition of the one God except to unfold His being in the description of the Three. No doubt many scholastic theologians (if anachronistically present!) would have inserted quite an extended treatise on the omnis in between "I believe in God..." and "...the Father Almighty". But Nicea doesn't let you force a breach between a description of the One and the Three.  To describe the One is to unfold the Three.

When looking for a doctrine of God's 'ousia' (being), again a typical western theologian may be disappointed.  All we have in the creed is the controversial phrase 'homo-ousios'.  Jesus, the Son, is 'homo-ousion tw patri' (of one being with the Father).  There is not here a prior definition of 'ousia' which is then mapped onto the three Persons.  Let me repeat: There is not a prior definition of 'ousia' which is then mapped onto the three Persons.  Instead we infer what the 'ousia' is from the fact that Father and Son are 'homo-ousios'.

Jesus, in all His difference from the Father, is still homo-ousios with the Father. In His divinity He is 'God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made." Even in His divinity He is 'ek tes ousia tw patri' (out of the being of the Father). There are important differences between Father and Son that are not papered over but rather affirmed by and included in the homo-ousios.

The homo-ousios does not denote three-fold repetition but rather, in TF Torrance's words:

"The Father/Son relationship falls within the one being of God.” (Trinitarian Faith, p119).

Homoousios “meant that the Son and the Father are equally God within the one being of God.” (ibid, p122)

The homo-ousios upholds the distinction (as well as unity) of Father and Son. Remember that you can't be 'homo' with yourself. And it points us to the fact that the Father is Begettor, the Son Begotten. The Father from Himself, the Son from the Father (even according as He is God, contra Calvin but with Nicea!).

There are genuine differences in Persons that in no way compromise their equality of divinity. There is never a time when the Son is not homo-ousios with the Father nor is there a time when the Son is not begotten of His Father. Therefore there is not an ousia of the Father that could ever be separately conceived and then assigned in equal measure to Father, Son and Spirit. Instead the ousia of God is a mutually constituting communion in which Father, Son and Spirit share. The ousia of the trinity consists in three Persons who are 'homo' with one another. While Nicea does not say explicitly that the 'ousia' is the communion of Persons, it points decidedly in this direction. (See Torrance's 'Trinitarian Faith' for more).

All this is to say that distinctions between Father, Son and Spirit are upheld within the divine nature. The divine nature is not a set of pre-determined attributes which are identically mapped onto the Three. The divine nature is constituted by difference, distinction, mutuality, reciprocity - it is a divine life (a dance even!) not a divine stuff.

Compare this with so much doctrine of God in the west.  First an ousia of 'omnis' is determined.  The one God is discussed for 600 pages in terms of 'uncreated Creator'.  And then we face the Three.  What do we then do?  Simply give to each Person this CV of attributes and insist that this is what the Nicene homo-ousios demanded!  On this understanding all difference, distinction, mutuality and reciprocity is banished from the status of deity.  In preference to the lively interplay of Father, Son and Spirit, a 'simple' doctrine of the One (read divine simplicity) is forwarded.  And God's own being is conceived of as a stuff not a life.

Think I prefer Nicea!

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For a sermon of mine on trinity go here.  For some excellent talks by Mike Reeves on the subject go here.

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A little detour on Barth...

Last century, Karl Barth was key in re-emphasizing mission as the outflow of the life of God.  At the Brandenburg Missionary Conference in 1932  he said:

"Must not even the most faithful missionary, the most convinced friend of missions, have reason to reflect that the term missio was in the ancient Church an expression of the doctrine of the Trinity-namely the expression of the divine sending forth of self, the sending of the Son and Holy Spirit to the world? Can we indeed claim that we do it any other way?"

The mission of God flows from Father to Son to church and out to the world.  And just as the God from whom this mission flows is a Gospel God - One who is who we see in the events of the gospel - so His mission is a gospel mission.  Just as the Father committed His words (remata) to the Son (John 14:24), the Son entrusts them to His followers (John 17:10) to be taken out into the world (John 21:20).

For this reason Barth was very particular about what he thought mission to be.  It is a word-y business.  It is about proclamation, about publishing this Gospel to the world.  Consider these quotes from a variety of his writings:

“The essence of the Church is proclamation.”  (Homiletics, p40)

“the event of real proclamation is the life-function of the Church which conditions all the rest.” (I/1,p98)

“The first if not the only thing in its witness is the ministry of the viva vox Evangelii to be discharged voce humana in human words.  It is its declaration, explanation and evangelical address with the lips.” (IV/3, p864)

“…we learn from the Biblical witness to revelation that, over and above the command to believe, love and hope, and distinct from the command to call in common upon His name, to help the brethren, etc., Jesus Christ has given His Church the commission to proclaim, and to proclaim through preaching and sacrament.” (I/1, p62)

“At bottom, the Church is in the world only with a book in its hands.  We have no other possibility to bear witness except to explain this book.”  (God in Action, p107-108)

Now, before we ever write off such a mission as narrow - ignoring the social and political needs of the day - consider article 6 of the Barmen Declaration which Barth penned in Germany in 1934:

“The Church's commission, which is the foundation of its freedom, consists in this: in Christ's stead, and so in the service of his own Word and work, to deliver to all people, through preaching and sacrament, the message of the free grace of God.”

Consider the context.  Germany. 1934.  Wouldn't there have been immense pressure to deliver another message alongside that of the 'free grace of God'??  Wouldn't we have been tempted also to address the extemely pressing social and political needs of the day??

Yet Barth's definition of mission speaks extremely pointedly into the social and political needs of the day because it refuses to deal with those needs on their own terms.  Instead, the church serves and confronts the world (even Nazi Germany!) by first serving its Lord.  This service is gospel proclamation.  And through it, the world is confronted with its true Fuhrer (Christ) and its true Reich (the Kingdom).  The church most engages the world when it most rejects the world's agendas and presses its own - the Gospel of Christ.

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For more on this see my essay on What is the mission of the church?

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God is a Gospel-Alone God.  He is known only in the Gospel.  His very being is a Gospel Being.  There's no use even conceiving of a God other than the Father revealed in the Son by the Spirit.  If you're not convinced, read these posts which were digressions to bolster the point:

       The Trinitarian OT

       Oneness and Threeness

Now if this is true then the Gospel-Alone God is honoured in the world by a Gospel-Alone mission.  This is what I was trying to say with the first two parts of "Mission, evangelism and social action." (part one, part two).

Here are some more thoughts on the topic...

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7)  Much talk in this debate is founded on false dichotomies.

Take as an example Dwight Moody's comment:

"I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel.  God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, 'Moody, save all you can."

Many of the 'evangelism-only' advocates in this debate sound closer to Plato than Scripture as they forward an essentially dualistic world-view.  Here "this world" is pitted against a salvation that is clearly 'out of this world.'  Salvation is from this 'wrecked vessel'.  Such thinking is very common.  People play off against each other then and now, soul and body, heaven and earth, individual and corporate, internal and external, rational and physical.  In each case it is the former that is given precedence. 

Yet surely God's purposes for 'this wrecked vessel' are to renew it not abandon it!  The new creation - the realm of salvation - is this creation renewed.  The spiritual realm is not anti-physical, the Word became flesh!  Any arguments for Gospel-alone mission must avoid such dualisms.  But...

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8) We must also maintain some Biblical distinctions.

'Spiritual vs physical' is more recognisable as a Greek dualism  But the Bible puts forward some right distinctions.

  • Adam vs Christ
    • Adam refined is still Adam.  "Flesh gives birth to flesh." (John 3:6)
  • Works vs Faith
    • Even faultless legalistic righteousness is dung in God's sight. (Phil 3:1-9)
    • "Faith comes by hearing." (Rom 10:14)
  • Christ's work vs Our witness
    • All authority is given to the risen Christ - the Church goes in a word and sacrament ministry. (Matt 28:18-20)
    • We do not redeem the world - Christ has done it.  As ambassadors, we bring word of this finished work (2 Cor 5: 18-21)
    • We are not the doers.  It is finished.  We bear witness to His once-and-for-all Doing.

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9)  'Service to the world' does not co-ordinate our mission.  Mission co-ordinates our service to the world.

Often people conceive of 'service' as the umbrella activity under which evangelism sits (side by side with social action).  Yet, what does 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 say?  Apostolic ministry is setting forth the truth plainly - in this context we serve. 

It's always perilous to claim 'this is how Jesus did it' but that's what I'm claiming.  Ministries of mercy always accompanied Christ's preaching of the word.  Praise God!  I mean, really, can you imagine a Christ who ignored the physical needs of those who came to Him??!  Not for a second! Yet His service was in the context of His Gospel (word) mission:

Think of Mark 1:

"Everyone is looking for you!" 38 Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come." (Mark 1:37-38)

His word ministry co-ordinated His mercy ministry. 

Think of Mark 2: the paralytic's physical need was met but first Jesus pronounces forgiveness and then heals him as a witness to the reality of that forgiveness. 

Think of Mark 3:  Jesus appoints the 12 and sends them out to preach and to drive out demons.  Now whatever you think about this second task it surely functions similarly to the way it functions for Jesus (it is His authority He gives them to do it).  In Jesus' ministry it functioned as authentication that the Strong(est) Man has come.  It can't be interpreted today as sanction for elevating social action to the level of proclamation.  Jesus could easily have said 'Go and campaign for social justice.'  Instead He said v14 and 15,

Think of Mark 4.  The Kingdom grows in the power of the word.  In fact the power to grow a world-dominating kingdom organically resides in this word alone.

Think of Mark 5. The woman with the flow of blood simply wanted a physical fix.  Jesus wants a personal encounter and to pronounce a word of forgiveness.

Think of Mark 6. Jesus identifies the people's need - teaching (v34)!  Those who would sit under Jesus' teaching were shown tremendous kindness - the feeding of the 5000!  Yet even this deed is a sign proclaiming Christ and Jesus uses words to explain it as such.  To those who come under the word, their every need is catered for.  Yet even these needs are met in Gospel-proclaiming ways.  No-one could doubt that here is a Gospel, Word-ministry.  But one in which the full, vibrant, physical life of the Kingdom is manifest.

We could continue in Mark, but let's stop there.  Doesn't Jesus' example challenge our mission strategies?  We often put on a meal to attract non-Christians then tack on a Gospel talk.  Jesus puts on a teaching event and then, in costly love and in demonstration of the miraculous resources of the kingdom, He meets the physical needs of those who come.  What should be our response?

Should we put on a soup kitchen for the homeless and have a five minute 'God slot' in the middle?  Or shouldn't we rather move into the deprived areas of our world on a Gospel-proclamation footing, and in that context offer food, clothing, shelter, brotherly-sisterly love to any and all who will come under the sound of that Gospel. 

All this is part of what it means to have evangelism co-ordinate our 'service' rather than the other way around.

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In my next post I'll talk about the costly, life-sharing, counter-cultural, need-meeting love we ought to be manifesting in our churches.  None of that is a betrayal of our mission of Gospel-proclamation.  In fact, Jesus thought it was the back-bone of it!  (John 13:34-35)

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