Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Is the wood of Genesis 22 a typological foreshadowing of the cross?

Chrysostom thinks so. He says as much on his sermon on John 19:16ff, Homily 85 on John. I’ve said as much, preaching in the past on John 19. But will it hold weight?
The key to typology, Clowney says, as opposed to allegory, is that typological readings pick up what is already symbolic in the OT. If the text doesn’t make an element symbolic in the first place, it does not warrant the production of a typological connection to the OT. That casts significant doubt for me on whether you could call the wood of the sacrifice typological.

And yet, have a look at Genesis 22:3-9 with me. The ξύλον is mentioned 5 times. Gen 22:3, 6, 7, and twice in Gen 22:9. The key verse would be Gen 22:6, “And Abraham took the ξύλον of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and ht eknife. So they went both of them together.” Then in v8, the fire and the ξύλον are present, and only the Lamb is lacking. In v8, Abraham responds that God will provide the Lamb for himself, and in v9, he binds Isaac on the ξύλον on top of the altar.

I highlight the use of the word ξύλον, because I believe it is significant – in one sense it is simply the Greek word that can be equally used of trees as of lumber, and so we find it used for both senses through the LXX. But it is the word that is used for (a) the tree of life in the garden, (b) the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, (c) the tree of curse in Dt 21:22, (d) the cross in the preaching of the apostles, and (e) the tree of life in Revelation. I’m convinced that there’s a theme running through those trees, quite apart from hanging anything upon the word ξύλον itself, but that makes Genesis 22 all the more interesting.
Try reading through the passage and everytime you strike ‘wood’, substitute ‘tree’. Beginning to sound like typology yet?

Now, here’s why I think the case is arguable. Not because the wood in the Genesis 22 narrative is symbolic, but because the narrative is typological. Abraham early in the morning takes his one and only son, the child of the promise and fulfilment of the covenant. He leaves his camp and goes to a solitary place to sacrifice (v2, the land of Moriah, identified in 2 Chr 3:1 with Jerusalem). In v7 they exchange the following, “My father!”, “Here am I, my son.” Isaac enquires about the lamb for the sacrifice, and Abraham responds that God will provide it for himself. Isaac asks about the offering, but makes no resistance to being bound to the wood.

Chrysostom, for his part, indicates that Abraham is prevented from completing the sacrifice, precisely because it is the type, not the reality. It would avail nothing, the death of Christ will avail all. There is virtually no doubt, if you grant typology, that Isaac is a type of Christ. So then the question becomes a slightly less complex one – to what point can you press the details once you established typology?

In this regard, I suppose it becomes a question about authorial intentions and maximalism vs. minimalism. I’m quite content to be towards the maximalist end of the spectrum – to trust the divine authorship of Scripture enough to believe that the details are part of the program. That still doesn’t leave me in the realm of allegory, though I suppose others would disagree, particularly minimalists who believe the only typology is that which the NT writers get away with.

So, the answer is yes, the bearing of the wood is typological. But it’s not typological without the prior typology of Isaac, and the typology of the sacrifice of the only Son, the child of the promise. Those are events laden with symbolism already, and invite us to read the narrative with typological import, which we then bring to our reading of Christ’s crucifixion, layering and deepening our appreciation of the fulfilment that Christ’s death is.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gaelic and Lifting

Well, it's a very long weekend thanks to the collusion of Easter and Anzac day, and that's meant extra time for Gaelic study. I've covered quite a bit of ground this weekend.

So, how are those goals going?

Gaelic: I'm making steady progress. I've been working hard on my fairly grammar-focused book, which is paying some dividends at the moment. My Gaelic tutoring lessons have been fairly infrequent due to timing issues, but they are good too. I can see myself by the end of the year having a decent grasp of Gaelic grammar, and an expanding vocabulary. Listening/Speaking lag behind though.

Lifting: I've hit 117.5 for a Squat, 75 for Bench, and 140 for a deadlift so far. I estimate that I could manage the 120 Squat and 80 Bench. Things are mostly on track, just a little behind on Sq and BP, but at this rate it's still conceivable that I'll reach 135 SQ, 155 DL, 90 BP, towards the end of June, which is difficult to comprehend.

Studies: Still no final result from the Masters, though it is being marked at last. Once that comes back, my PhD application can finally be processed, and it will be time to return to books once more. I should be doing a bit more Greek and Latin to keep things up, but I haven't had the motivation to make the time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the almost last word about the podcast

So, because wordpress moves old posts off the main page and archives them, if you miss episodes they will eventually no longer appear in iTunes. Thus, my posting many back episodes almost certainly means that you'll miss some. Just head to the webpage to find any sermons you're missing and looking for.

For this reason I think I'm going to skip the 2009 sermons, and move into posting the occasional sermons from 2010 and then on to this year's sermons.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why my brain hurts: annotating Jn 19:16-42

This week I'm working on the third in a series of Easter sermons, on Jn 19:16-42. I've probably done more hard exegesis work on these sermons than others I've done, (a) because they're longer passages, but (b) they're theologically quite dense. John is depicting the central event of Christian faith, and thus the single most theologically and historically significant even in the universe. So there is a depth of both eyewitness hsitorical detail and well as theological symboism and explicit Old Testament connection, that engages my mind and forces deep thinking.

Of course, the problem remains how to turn this into a sermon. And a relatively short sermon (compared to others), for Good Friday. my theory is to try and pick one of the OT threads, and focus on that. And yet there are so many! I'm working on either Isaiah 53 or Passover. My second difficulty is working out what aspect of human sinfulness to address. How do I bring the good news of atonement to bear on the problem of human rebellion, and in what respect?

Monday, April 18, 2011

latest sermon and a quick word on the podcast

John 18:28-19:16 Christ the True King (Apr 18 2011)

I'm updating the podcast chronologically from the start, which is taking awhile. Once it's up-to-date, I'll stop posting sermons here and leave them all to the other blog/podcast feed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

John 18:12-27 The Faithful Witness

In Jn 18:12 Jesus is arrested, by the cohort, the centurion, and the officials of the Jews. Calvin against gets things dead right when he comments, “Let us remember that the body of the Son of God was bound in order that our souls might be set free from the bonds of sin and Satan.” They lead Jesus first to Annas. Annas, father-in-law of Caiaphas, had held the high-priesthood between 6-15AD, when he was deposed by the Romans. As many considered it illegal to remove a high priest from office, he was considered by some to still be the high-priest. Nonetheless, the deposition had not halted Annas in his patriarchal power: five of his sons held the position, and at this time Caiaphas his son-in-law did (he held it from 18-36AD when he lost it at the same as Pilate was removed from power. Annas then is really the godfather to the Temple-mafia. And so it is to Annas that Jesus goes first. Yet, the mention of Caiaphas leads John to reflect upon Caiaphas’s earlier comment, in Jn 11:49-52, about the expediency of Jesus dying for the people. In Jn 11 John narrates this as unwitting prophecy, and its reintroduction here serves to highlight the theological dimension of Jesus’ death. It is substitutionary, one man for the people, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Pet 3:18).

Jn 18:15 depicts Jesus being accompanied, or better ‘followed’, by Simon Peter and ‘another disciple’; the text remains silent about his identity, though he is both commented on and depicted as being intimately familiar with the household of the high priest. This does not rule out John the apostle, but certainty is impossible. The high priest here is Annas, not Caiaphas (cf 18:24). Peter’s unfamiliarity to the high priestly household is, naturally, a reason for his inability to gain entry, thus necessitating that the other disciple return to the door to secure his entry. The presence of a girl on the door suggests that this property does not lie in the temple precinct, thus further corroborating that we are not dealing with Caiaphas’ household.

The fateful question of v17 then comes from an unexpected quarter. Peter, so bold recently with the sword in the garden to lay down his life for Jesus, now finds himself unable to confess him. The question invites a negative answer, or else has a slight tone of scorn. Pressed by the simple question of a slave girl, Peter stumbles, and declare “I am not”. The three denials of Peter will echo in contrast to the three-fold affirmation of Jesus, “I am.”

The focus of the narrative shifts for a moment to details, again reinforcing the impression of eye-witness testimony. John records that the slaves and officials stood around, having made a charcoal-fire, due to the cold. The mention of Peter standing with them subtly alludes back to v5 where Judas stands with Jesus’ enemies – so now Peter.

However the author’s main focus lies further inside the household compound, where the high-priest (Annas) interrogates Jesus on two topics: his disciples and his teaching. Concerning the former, Jesus has been situated as a possible revolutionary figure, and his populism may have lead to suspiciions that he has numerous, possibly armed and trained, followers. Jesus replies nothing on this account. As to the second topic, Jesus’ teaching has been likewise popularly received, yet it does not derive nor have a great deal in common with the mainline teachings of the Sadducees or Pharisees.

Jesus answers with shrewdness. He says nothing about his disciples, once more defending his flock. Instead he concentrates on the identity relation between his outward, public teaching and his private instruction of disciples. In Jesus’ defence there is no dichotomy – his public teaching is his private teaching, and thus if they desired to know the content of his teaching, there were any number of witnesses who could attest this. The truthfulness of Jesus echoes Isa 45:19 and Isa 48:16, the truthful declarations of God. It also represents a dig at the proceedings. While it is doubtful that this initial trial could be considered a legal trial, and so their deviations technically illegal (whether they were technical illegalities or not), Jesus highlights the exceeding irregularity of the proceedings. No witnesses are called, the defendant is interrogated, and Annas is not the reigning high priest.

Jesus’ seeming insolence is taken as an afront by one of the officials present (v22) and occasions a blow and a rebuke. While the insinuation is that Jesus has violated Exodus 22:28, the violation actually belongs to his assailant, who has illegally struck the prisoner. An allusion to Isa 50:6 LXX is also present. Jesus’ response in Jn 18:23 again raises questions, challenging the abuse he receives. Indeed, he has not violated Ex 22:28, or in fact any law, and so merely inquires what charge they have, and requests that they testify to it. The intractability of the innocent Jesus at last moves Annas to send Jesus on (v24) to Caiaphas, who no doubt has been convening the members of the Sanhedrin for the night trial.

Meanwhile the narrative returns to Simon Peter, standing and warming himself (v25). He is asked a second time whether he is a disciple of Jesus, and denies again, “I am not.” The third questioning is quite dramatic and pointed, a relative of Malchus, who has lost the ear(lobe), asks Peter, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” (v26). Here is a confronting question, and Peter now cowers before his questioners, in stark contrast to Jesus before his. The restrained account of John conludes this vignette with the crowing of the rooster.

Application and preaching

I never really learnt to preach at college. Preaching was a subject, preaching was taught, but I don't think it was learnt. And I suspect that my experience was not unique.

One of the accusations I regularly hear is that we don't have enough application. I think this is generally true of Sydney preaching, but I don't think the answer is application. To come at this another way - what most people want in terms of application is not what they need. When most people say 'application', they want some practical outworkings of Christian living to implement in their lives.

The problems with that are several. Firstly, the Bible doesn't deliver a great deal of it. So if I preach that kind of application, I'll be exceeding the Bible's scope, and will leave it behind as the authority and content of my preaching. Secondly, if I present that as exhortation and suggestion, people are inclined to hear it as moral instruction and so take it on-board whether it is fitting for their situation or not. Thirdly, and relatedly, if I preach it as instruction and command, I will be preaching Law and not Grace.

Perhaps the best thing I've encountered on preaching has been listening to Clowney and Keller teach "Preaching Christ to a post-modern World." It's available on-line somewhere, and I've started re-listening to it. It helps you make sense of Keller's excellent preaching (ie, where it derives from), and you see how much he owes to Clowney (who is a real treasure to listen to and learn from).

Their tri-perspectival approach to preaching also is deeply fulfilling. I think I do only one of them well - expounding Christ from the Scriptures. The other two I am working on: applying Christ, and adoring Christ.

Applying Christ is basically, (a) getting to the roots of people's sins, and diagnosing those root-sins with the truth of the gospel. So, for example, this week the focus of the text is Jesus as our King, and so my application is to do some probing on the ways in which we reject God as King, and how that works itself out in our life and culture, and how Jesus as our King is in fact the solution to our problem. It's realising that the cure for our problems is always God and His Gospel.

Adoring Christ is something else I struggle with - hitting people emotionally with the vivid portrayal of the truth so that it engages our whole being and leads us to worship. This is really where illustration of truths comes in, and on the whole I'm not a handy creator of illustrations. Nonetheless, I'm working on it.

Will see how this goes this Sunday...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

podcasts of sermons

I have set up a separate blog just to podcast sermons and other talks. It's not all properly tagged and so forth, but I'm working on that. Anyway, I've posted up some fairly old sermons from 2006 and 2007 (I'm working forward chronologically). The blog is http://jeltzz.wordpress.com/, and you can put the rss feed directly into itunes from here

Or you can subscribe through itunes directly from this link:
http://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/sermons-etc-from-seumas-macdonald/id432221424

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

John 18:1-11 The Good Shepherd

In the lead up to Easter I'm preaching through John 18-19. I'll be posting up my thoughts on the passages as I prepare, and the sermon audio as well. Here is the first installment.

In Jn 13-17 Jesus has been instructing his disciples for life after his departure, preparing them for a post-cross existence. The narrative takes two turns: firstly in Jn 13:30 Judas departs the last supper, heading out into the night to arrange Jesus’ betrayal; secondly in Jn 14:31 Jesus says “Rise, let us go from here” signalling (presumably) the disciples’ departure from the upper room. Thus the initial verse of 18:1 signifies a second geographic movement. Jesus has finished speaking ‘these things’, not only the prayer of Jn 17, but the entire upper room discourse, and he ‘went out’. This is a reference then to leaving the city of Jerusalem itself. Unlike earlier in Passover week when Jesus has withdrawn to his base in Bethany, the night of Passover does not permit such an extended journey, and requires them to remain within an ‘extended city-limit’. Thus, Jesus takes his disciples across the Kedron ravine, to a garden (i.e. Gethsemane).

The other gospels fill in the details of their purpose there – Jesus’ prayer and the disciples’ failed vigil. John records only the fact that Judas knew the place (Jn 18:2). That Judas knew the place is because it has been a place frequented already by Jesus, and so in fact we know that Jesus knows that Judas knows the place. This scene is dominated by Jesus as the protagonist, and by this stage Judas is far less the free agent he might think he is. His role is played out in Jn 18:3, as he leads the mixed group to Jesus. Three parties are represented here. Firstly, the Romans, in a ‘cohort’, probably a far smaller detachment of a cohort. Their concern is that Jesus, as with other popular, charismatic, and messianic, figures could be the cause of civil unrest. The officials are associated with both the ‘high priests’ and the ‘Pharisees’, two fairly antagonistic groups within Judaism, united at this point in hostility to Jesus. They bring ‘lamps and torches and weapons’, expecting either a manhunt through the wilderness for a fugitive, or else a violent struggle with armed insurrectionists.

Jn 18:4 extends the foreknowledge of Jesus hinted at in Jn 18:2 to all things. Jesus knows ‘what’s coming for him,’ and yet precisely in that knowledge Jesus is the one taking control of events. The entire scene is narrated in a way consistent with the authority of Jesus over the events. So it is that Jesus ‘came out’. The garden was almost certainly a walled enclosure, and as such Jesus comes out of the entrance, thus interposing himself between the pursuers and his own disciples. He immediately takes the initiative, and asks the question, ‘Whom do you seek?’. The interlocutors reply, ‘Jesus the Nazarene,’ to which Jesus replies starkly, ‘I am’. On the one hand this is simply no more than the correct response, ‘I am he’, the complement to their question. Yet, within John’s gospel, the last time this phrase received prominent usage was in Jn 8:24, 28, 58, where in connection to Isaiah 40-55 it has definitive tones of divine self-revelation. So too here it is difficult to deny a second level of meaning to Jesus’ utterance. Indeed, to add a further layer of complexity, Jesus is the one they have been truly seeking all their lives, if only they had eyes to see.

It’s at this point that John includes the remark that Judas stood with them. As elsewhere, Judas’ name is irrevocably blackened with the epithet ‘the one betraying him’. Though John omits the kiss of betrayal, no less should the human pain of Judas’ betrayal be seen. Here is one whose feet Jesus washed, a zealot for the messianic kingdom, now standing among Jesus’ enemies.

Though Jesus only appears to declare it twice, John’s construction includes an indirect statement in Jn 18:6, to thus provide three ‘I am’ statements. The resumption of the narrative after the Judas’ comment leads to the cryptic withdrawal and stumbling of the pursuants. No intra-narrative explanation is offered. Is it merely the boldness of Jesus in presenting himself to them, or are we to find a greater, theophanic, significance to the situation? Certainty is difficult. It is not, however, the pursuers who regain their composure, but rather Jesus who follows with a repeat of his question, to which they reply the same again. This provides the opportunity for Jesus to rejoined in 18:8 ‘I said to you that I am.’ Perhaps Jesus is subtly mocking them here – he has already identified himself as the one they seek, why then do they not act? There will be no capture of Jesus except Jesus permits it. Jesus then uses the emphatic declaration of whom they seek as the launch point for a trade, “If then you seek me, let these depart.”

It is hear that the full import of John 10 is realised. Jn 18:9 gives the key, as it speaks in scriptural terms of the fulfilment of Jesus’ words. The antecedent promise is primarily to be derived from Jn 17:12, but also Jn 6:39 and significantly 10:28. The physical dynamic of the garden arrest is now apparent. In Jn 10:6 when Jesus refers to himself as the ‘door’ of the sheepfold, and in those days a sheepfold would typically be a walled enclosure, and shepherds were known to sleep in the entrance way, thus functionally being the ‘door’, protecting the sheep within. Literally Jesus comes out of this walled enclosure (the garden), to face the thieves and robbers who have been false shepherds of God’s people before him, while behind him are his sheep. He thus physically interposes himself, before offering himself up for the free release of his disciples, in turn this surrender will mean the true liberation of his disciples, as “the evangelist is not just speaking about their bodily life, but rather means that Christ, by sparing them for a time, made provision for their eternal salvation.”1 He truly is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

The action then is interrupted by the unexpected violence of Peter. For the possession of a sword, it is worth comparison with the account in Lk 22:35-8. Peter draws his sword and makes an attempt on the slave of the high-priest. Only John records that his name is Malchus, another eye-witness detail by someone who knows significant details and facts. The futile strike achieves nothing more than slicing of his ‘ear’, perhaps better ‘earlobe’. In Lk 22:51 Jesus heals the ear, again protecting his disciple for what charge can be brought against him if the ear is there for all to see?

The two elements of Jesus’ speech in Jn 18:11 bring out the theological significance of this interruption. To take them in reverse order, Jesus’ statement about drinking the cup is loaded with Old Testament significance (Ps 75:8, Is 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15-17, 28-9; 49:12). It is the cup of God’s wrath poured out upon the wicked as judgment for sin. Functionally Jesus question here is the affirmation of the plan and so his resolution to do the Father’s will, mirrored in the other gospels by Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer. Peter’s outburst shows the practical outworking of the alternative, which is pitched so winsomely by Satan in Matthew 4. What happens if Jesus doesn’t drink the cup? If the Messiah initiates his messianic kingdom now, if Jesus takes the proferred kingdoms of the world, it will mean the Day of the Lord, judgment upon the wicked, the cleansing of sin from the face of the earth. It would mean no mercy, no forgiveness, no grace. It would be the crown without the cross, and an empty kingdom. Jesus’ refusal of that path is the determination to go to the cross, to offer his life up as the propitiation of God’s wrath upon sin, and so the Good Shepherd will indeed lay down his life – this indeed is the Father’s charge to him (Jn 10:18).

1 Calvin The Crossway classic commentaries Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1994.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A recent sermon

A recent sermon on 1 Thess 5:1-11. Apologies for the audio quality, and there are a few minutes missing at the start. The technical difficulties of getting recording happening right in a new church context.

Thoughts on Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns

Recently I’ve been reading this book, by T.David Gordon. I find it to be thoughtful, provocative, and engaging. In his introduction Gordon helpfully points out that while his intention is to be descriptive, i.e. an explanation of why contemporary American churchgoers do not sing hymns, and find it difficult to do so, his argument to why that is so inevitably involves the superiority of traditional hymnody, and so cannot but come across as prescriptive.

Some of the features of Gordon’s argument are keen insights. He writes of how we have not chose to listen and sing pop music (p15), but rather the ubiquity of pop music means it’s the only music we think of as music. He critiques the values of our contemporary society as amusement, triviality, and contemporaneity as an aesthetic value (p45). He also argues that Christian theology gives us a ground for an aesthetic absolutism, not an aesthetic relativism (p54).

And yet, there are a number of features of Gordon’s argument that I do not find convincing. For example, he argues that comparisons to the translation of the scriptures into the vernacular are not a valid analogy for the music question. And yet, he often speaks of how music that we don’t think of as music (i.e. classical music for most of us), may as well sound oriental (as oriental music sounds foreign to most western ears, trained or not). But I presume Gordon would not think oriental traditions of church should adopt western hymnody? That is, I think Gordon is overplaying the synthesis of traditional Euro-centric hymnic traditions with Christian aesthetic absolutism.

Furthermore, Gordon argues that the need for broad cultural appeal is misguided, and uses Jesus’ discourse about the narrow way leading to eternal life as some kind of scriptural ground for this (Mt 7:13-14). Yet, I would think that Jesus’ words on this matter point to the narrowness of Christ’s exclusivity, and the righteousness that comes only through faith in him. It is not an elitism or narrowness about cultural norms of church life.

In utilising Ken Myer’s tripartite division of music traditions (classical/high, folk, and pop/mass), Gordon finds pop lacking in virtually every category. He does not consider accessible to be a virtue. And yet, if new Christians need to be schooled in a musical tradition that will probably always feel alien, how is that the heart’s response of worship in song? More to the point, since Myer’s schema basically has the same values for classical music and folk music, except that folk music is more accessible, is it not folk music that has the best ‘pitch’ to be the tradition of music the church should pursue.

Indeed, one of the sadnesses of western culture is the decline in true folk music traditions. Folk for many has become a ‘genre’ of pop, a section of the rapidly-disappearing CD stores. Personally I find my truest experience of folk music in learning and listening to the songs of my ancestor’s homeland, Gaelic songs from Scotland. Since few of us have a background in singing songs of everyday life and singing communally, communal singing in church is becoming virtually our only communal singing context (barring karaoke).

All the questions that Gordon finds in traditional hymnbooks, about the theological significance and orthodoxy of lyrics, their poetic value, the fitness of their music, are valuable. I also concur that we should resist aesthetic relativism, and seek to develop a truly robust Christian aesthetic philosophy. Yet there is a proper cultural relativism, that is descriptive, biblical, and has aesthetic implications.

Ultimately I am not convinced that singing hymns alone will save us from contemporary society and the reign of the banal. Rather, we risk raising barriers to people’s entry into worshipping communities, barriers that are not gospel ones, and may in fact prevent people from living lives of faith, or at the least force people to feel like their Christian life is lived out in a stranger’s language.
I’d love some thoughts on this topic, so feel free to comment.