A Jew, an African, and Jesus (Hays)

From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, Vol. 14 (New Studies in Biblical Theology)

(This is a re-post from September, 2019)

The story in Acts 8 where Philip meets an important Ethiopian man is a great story.  The Ethiopian was on his very long trip home after worshiping Yahweh in Jerusalem.  The Holy Spirit led Philip to the point where he eventually shares the gospel with the Ethiopian starting in Isaiah 53.  There are many application points in this story.  One of them is brought out well by J. Daniel Hays in From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race.

The actual story of the Ethiopian’s conversion to Christianity is familiar.  Philip, led by an angel of the Lord, left Samaria and went to the Gaza road, where he encountered this Ethiopian official in his chariot.  After Philip explained ‘the good news about Jesus’ to him, they drove by some water and the Ethiopian asked, ‘What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ (8:36, NRSV).  Polhill notes the theological significance of the verb in this question (koluo, to hinder forbid, prohibit), and suggests that Luke records this question for his Gentile Church audience, thus clarifying that no one is to be denied full membership into the Church through baptism.  Remember that this official was a eunuch and was prohibited from full membership in Judaism.  He was also from a region that lay outside the limits of the Roman Empire.  Polhill summarizes by writing, ‘The verb indicates that barriers have been removed, hindrances to the spread of the gospel to all people.  In this case a double barrier of both physical and racial prejudice had fallen.’

Hays ends the section like this:

As in this entire unit of Acts, the Spirit plays a major role.  So we can conclude that it was clearly part of God’s plan for the gospel to reach this Black African in the most initial stages of the Christian evangelistic explosion.  A Greek-speaking Semitic Jew led a Black African eunuch to Christ in one of the first evangelistic encounters recorded in Christian history, thus setting the stage for the explosion of the gospel into the world that took place over the next thirty years, and giving a foretaste of the mixed composition of the new people of God that will fill the kingdom of Christ.

J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation, p. 174, 176. 

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

From a Pastor to His New Congregation (Kuyper)

When Abraham Kuyper arrived in Amsterdam in August, 1870, he gave an inaugural sermon to the Reformed congregation that he had been called to shepherd. This sermon is called “Rooted and Grounded” and it is found in the volume On the Church by Abraham Kuyper. In this sermon Kuyper talked about how the church is an organism and institution. Near the end of the sermon he appealed to the congregation in a wonderful and pastoral manner – I’ve quoted some of his words below. (Note: when Kuyper mentions a “sword” he’s speaking metaphorically, referring to “the sword of the word” which he referenced earlier in the sermon.)

I offer you my heart and my hand. I pray only this: do not demand that I ever lend my hand to an external building that lacks the inner rootedness of the heart. As minister of the Word, I have to preach that Word to you, and my strength lies in that alone. What you recently sang to me: “Do not conceal from us what has been commanded to you, for the congregation is listening,” I will in God’s strength accomplish, even if I have to flog you in your conscience, even if people will leave because of the harshness of my words.

Indeed, permit me to conclude, congregation, by declaring that what I am pursuing is not simply the restoration of the church; what I intend is not simply doing battle with whomever dislikes my efforts. No. What moves my soul, what I beseech from my God, is that he may grant me to shine before your eye a single ray of light from that eternally rich, never exhaustively adored mercy that is in Christ Jesus. What arouses my zeal is simply this, that I may dip the tips of my fingers in that Fountain of eternal Love, in order to lay a few drops of those cool waters of grace on the burning lips of your heart. And if I then also seek the restoration of the church, if I then also reach for the sword—it is only because, congregation, I am convinced that the minister of Christ may not sit idly by while the access to those waters of life is barricaded for the Lord’s congregation.

Abraham Kuyper, On the Church, from the chapter called “Rooted and Grounded.”

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Rescued From the Shipwreck of the Law (Calvin)

In Galatians 2:19 Paul wrote, “For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God” (NET). Calvin’s comments on these phrase are quite helpful. It’s a good Tuesday meditation! Here’s Calvin:

To die to the law, may either mean that we renounce it, and are delivered from its dominion, so that we have no confidence in it, and, on the other hand, that it does not hold us captives under the yoke of slavery; or it may mean, that, as it allures us all to destruction, we find in it no life. The latter view appears to be preferable. It is not to Christ, he tells us, that it is owing that the law is more hurtful than beneficial; but the law carries within itself the curse which slays us. Hence it follows, that the death which is brought on by the law is truly deadly. With this is contrasted another kind of death, in the life-giving fellowship of the cross of Christ. He says, that he is crucified together with Christ, that he might live unto God. The ordinary punctuation of this passage obscures the true meaning. It is this: “I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live to God.” But the context will read more smoothly thus: “I through the law am dead to the law;” then, in a separate sentence, “That I might live to God, I am crucified with Christ.”

That I might live to God. He shews that the kind of death, on which the false apostles seized as a ground of quarrel, is a proper object of desire; for he declares that we are dead to the law, not by any means that we may live to sin, but that we may live to God. To live to God, sometimes means to regulate our life according to his will, so as to study nothing else in our whole life but to gain his approbation; but here it means to live, if we may be allowed the expression, the life of God. In this way the various points of the contrast are preserved; for in whatever sense we are said to die to sin, in the same sense do we live to God. In short, Paul informs us that this death is not mortal, but is the cause of a better life; because God snatches us from the shipwreck of the law, and by his grace raises us up to another life.

 John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 73.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Law, Gospel, and the Two Testaments (Melanchthon)

Philip Melanchthon’s Commonplaces (Loci Communes) was first published in 1521 – relatively early in the Reformation. Commonplaces is something like a systematic theology in that it covers the basic teachings of the Christian faith as found in Scripture (e.g. God, Trinity, sin, law, gospel, faith, predestination, the sacraments, etc.). Martin Luther couldn’t speak highly enough of Melanchthon’s work, believing it was one of the best books on the Christian faith ever written.

I haven’t yet finished Melanchthon’s Commonplaces, but so far I am enjoying it! Here’s a helpful section I highlighted a few weeks ago. It’s on the law/gospel distinction. I appreciate how he notes that this distinction is not a historical one, but a hermeneutical one:

Generally speaking, there are two parts to Scripture, law and gospel. The law shows sin, the gospel [shows] grace. The law indicates disease, the gospel points out the remedy. To use Paul’s words, the law is the minister of death, the gospel is the minister of life and peace: ‘The power of sin is the Law’ (1 Cor. 15:56), but the gospel is the power of salvation to everyone who has faith (Rom. 1:16).

Nor has the Scripture so given us law and gospel that you should think that only that is gospel which Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have written, and that the books of Moses are nothing but law. But the presentation of the gospel is scattered, and the promises are sprinkled throughout all the books of the Old and New Testaments. On the other hand, law is also scattered in all the books of both the Old and New Testaments. Contrary to common opinion, history is not divided up into some periods of law only, other periods gospel only. …Every age known to us is a time of law and a time of gospel just as men have been justified in all ages in the same way: sin has been revealed through the law, and grace through the promise of the gospel.”

Philip Melanchthon, Commonplaces, “The Gospel”.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Giving Up Self-Righteousness (McCheyne)

On October 25, 1840, Robert Murray McCheyne preached a sermon on Galatians 6:14 (May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. [NIV]). In one part of the sermon McCheyne talked about Paul’s “feelings towards the cross of Christ.” That section started like this:

It is implied that he [Paul] had utterly forsaken the way of righteousness by deeds of the law. Every natural man seeks salvation by making himself better in the sight of God. He tries to mend his life; he puts a bridle on his tongue; he tries to command his feelings and thoughts, all to make himself better in the sight of God. Or he goes further: tries to cover his past sins by religious observances; he becomes a religious man, prays, weeps, reads, attends sacraments, is deeply occupied in religion, and tries to get it into his heart; all to make himself appear good in the eye of God, that he may lay God under debt to pardon and love him.

Paul tried this plan for long. He was a Pharisee, touching the righteousness in the law blameless; he lived an outwardly blameless life, and was highly thought of as a most religious man. “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.” When it pleased God to open his eyes, he gave up this way of self-righteousness forever and ever; he had no more any peace from looking in,—“we have no confidence in the flesh;” he bade farewell for ever to that way of seeking peace. Nay, he trampled it under his feet. “I do count them but dung that I may win Christ.” Oh! it is a glorious thing when a man is brought to trample under feet his own righteousness; it is the hardest thing in the world.

This is very true! Many Christians still have a little pope or pharisee in us that think we have to obey God to gain his favor. Then we read words of gospel and grace in Scripture that says we do not need to “do” for God’s acceptance, because it is “done.” Sometimes to drive out the pharisee or pope in us we need to memorize and repeat to ourselves short phrases of Scripture like this: not by works! (Gal. 2:16). Lord, help us to lay down our own righteousness and cling to Christ’s, and his alone!

The above quote is found on page 261 of McCheyne’s Memiors.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015