After Christmas

While let downs, including after Christmas, are natural enough, they are not normal.  They’re not necessary, nor should they be.  I know that there is a lot of maudlin sentiment on “Get Well” cards, such as “You can’t have mountains without valleys,” and so on; that may be true in the natural world but that wasn’t true in the life of Christ.  You can’t imagine any depression in his life, which is of sin.  While the things that constitute our highs are unnatural, much like drugs.  An artificial thing.  There is no reason you can’t stay up on mountains, in other words.  That is what the Lord wants us to enjoy.  But we “take trips” by means of artificial lifts, which have no substance, no reality.  We are looking at the wrong things.  Our post-Christmas let down is that we are often looking at the wrong things for happiness and pleasure.

Let’s look at the story of the first Christmas and see what some of them did to preserve it’s happiness and why others lost it in the aftermath.  We’ll look at four groups of people, including Herod who constitutes a group – there was the Herodian family.  It was his son who executed John the Baptist and it was a grandson who died of worms in such a ghastly fashion that was recorded in the book of Acts.  It struck me after I prepared this that we are not individuals, and maybe that is the secret of maintaining Christmas joy, that we can’t go it alone, we need each other.  Sometimes very dramatically and obviously like medical help, but in one way or another all of us need groups.  The Herodian family failed, they didn’t sustain each other.  The wisemen constituted a little family of God as did Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family.  Finally we’ll see these little melancholy babes who gave their lives at the first Christmas, along with their parents.

Herod is symbolic of those that keep Christmas in a way, who are swept along by the world, but who don’t choose to or care to recognize Christ.  Oh he made a farce or pretense of it by saying, “Come tell me when you find this child king, the Messiah, and I’ll go worship him.”  And we read that he was upset or disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.  The whole town was excited, and there is a picture of the world at Christmas time.  Everyone is intense, excited and agitated but not for the right reasons.  Herod was a mean, despicable sort of a person.  When we read this story, we wonder, “Now why did God allow that to happen, to spoil the first Christmas?  That wasn’t necessary, this little subplot, the destruction of those babies.”  I was reading in a popular magazine a theologian from Yale divinity school who had some critical remarks to make about the miracle in which Peter was let out of prison when Herod had arrested him after beheading James.  And he said, “The thing that disturbs me is,” and keep in mind that this is a theological  professor, “why an almighty God should allow Herod to have slain the jailers for presumably letting Peter out of prison.”  So the same critics of scripture say, “Why did God allow this?”  But it wasn’t an isolated episode, a unique event.  This is the sort of thing that Herod was doing all the time.  At almost the same time he killed his own son because he constituted a threat to the throne.  He killed other relatives too.  Caesar, who himself was hardly a model of mercy, said when he read about the execution of Herod’s son, “I’d rather be a pig than a son of Herod.”  And Herod was one of his own deputies, who was appointed for political reasons.  And when Archelaus succeeded him, in order to avenge his father’s opponents, he killed 3,000 people that he suspected of being from the other party.  And when his grandson died, in order to cause universal mourning that he suspected wouldn’t be true, instead there would likely be rejoicing, he killed all the palace servants so that their families would be plunged into mourning out of vicarious sympathy.  Well enough about Herod for now.  We’ll run through this list of people and find out what happened to them after Christmas.

Let’s look at the wisemen.  This is a good point in which to get our sequence straight.  There is great deal of confusion about Christmas, people thinking that the wisemen and the shepherds were all there together at the manger and that wasn’t the case.  We read that before the wisemen came that Jesus had reached his 40th day. His parents took him up to where the palace was, where Herod was, into the jaws of the lion, so to speak, and dedicated him as was customary. They offered a sacrifice for the purification of Mary and that is where Simeon and Anna saw him, and so on.  They had him circumcised on the 8th day.  That all happened before the wisemen came because the same night that the wisemen left, Mary and Joseph with Jesus left for Egypt where they spent the next couple of years at least.  Now that isn’t too important of a matter except for this that we can see the pre-arrangement and the providence of God.  On the one hand, God could have arranged the wisemen’s start from miles away.  They were by caravan at least about 6 months distance away; God could have arranged that they started off from their home country where ever it was in the east, before Mary even got pregnant.  So that they, in that amazing coincidence by which God arranges that dove-tailing of time, got there on the very night he was delivered.  And then these cards would all be appropriate.  But we know that didn’t happen.  So when Herod inquired “How long ago did you see this star?” on the basis of that he killed these babies, and to play it safe he added a couple of years.  But with the wisemen the important thing is this, that they kept the real Christmas.  They got nothing back.  They had an expensive trip.  And you talk about a let down.  Here they came and thought that they would see a crown prince with perhaps a little crown next to a bassinet, with all the palace in excitement  because the future king had been born, but instead they wind up in a lowly little town, a mean suburb of a few hundred people, and in a modest house and they see a peasant girl and a half-employed carpenter father, and yet they knew what the real thing was.  These were real men of God.  And so their Christmas was really extended.  In just a moment we’ll see what happened to them in the Christmas aftermath.

Now on to the Holy Family.  In a way, their Christmas was extended.  There were first the shepherds on the night he was born and after 8 days they had the festivities that the Jews make so much of, the circumcision, and friends and neighbors came for that with feasting and then 40 days later they took a trip of a half dozen miles to the dedication at the temple. Here they heard those remarkable prophecies.  Yet even there when they went to the temple there was the embarrassment of having to admit that they were poor.  The
Word of God prescribed that in the case of a first born child, by way of thankfulness and substitution, that they should bring a little lamb.  But they were so poor that they had to settle for the grudging concession that Moses allowed of a couple of pigeons.  And you wonder if in their minds they thought that can’t an all powerful God who controls everything could have seen that we got a little extra money to buy a lamb, much like Jesus took money out of fishes mouth to pay his taxes.  And yet there again the Lord had to lead this Holy Family right down to the waters edge before the Jordan would stop flowing, to use that illustration, that they had to be down to their last dime, unable to buy even pigeons, and then have that long trip to Egypt ahead of them and having the wisemen step in with Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, making the trip possible.

Finally let’s look at these innocent little babies in Bethlehem who died as a result of the birth of Christ.  They were involved involuntarily, they had no choice in the matter.  I think we all feel the most sorry for children whose parents are drunkards and spend whatever money they have on drink or drugs, maybe even pawn the children’s clothes or shoes, maybe even going without food.  But in this case, here were mothers and fathers who loved their children no doubt as much as Mary loved her baby, and because of the first Christmas they are plunged into all kinds of grief.  Now we don’t know how many and we must not exaggerate it.  We talk about it as a slaughter or a massacre, but if there was only one (and it was likely more than one since the order was pleural – kill all the babies under 2 years old) it was a colossal crime, it was a massacre.  And if it was two,  there were two too many.   But again, this was what was happening to babies generally those days.  It was what Jesus came to spare all babies from.  It was a sort of fate that all babies were experiencing in one way or another.  If it weren’t from colic, lack of hygiene or antibiotics, many babies were dying before their 2nd birthday like flies.  Unbelieving parents were offering their children to Moloch, a false god, laying their new borns in the fiery arms of that idol.  Or in the case of the Greeks and the Romans among whom they lived, just exposing them because they already had too many or if the child was born with handicaps, and so on.  So it is all right for us to feel enraged in this Year of our Lord [2017], but we can afford to because this is the Year of our Lord and the majority of our children do reach their 2nd birthday.

So now, in short succession, let’s look at what happened to each of these groups of people after Christmas.  Herod, as one would expect, had the most serious and extreme letdown.  He died within a matter of days.  This was his last Christmas, although he didn’t realize it. And a patient God allowed him to live just long enough to play his resistant, stubborn, unwitting role in this divine drama and then he was just taken off the stage.  Almost days later he died.  This sorry experience was true of most of his sons.  All of them were “sons of Esau.”  The Herodian family were from Edom.  That was what was so galling to the Jews, the sons of Jacob, that the sons of Esau were in the throne.  We all know families that are unbelievers, or the patriarch was an unbeliever, and it is hard not to wonder what is Christmas like for them, do they have that hope that makes even death at Christmas a minor note, something unimportant?  Some of us have had deaths at Christmas time and know all about this unopened gift bit, and yet there was something real joyous, pure and peaceful.

Well enough about that. The wisemen were good men who God honored by not only leading them by a star in nature but by coming to them in dreams.  Looking forward to Christmas, even a long trip seems like part of the fun.  Advertising for trains or planes used to say “getting there is half the fun.”  But they don’t say anything about going back again, a trip of equal length, something that just has to be done when it is all over.  I’ve done that too in my college days, and there the let down is obvious with the long, tedious hours of travel.  So we always talk about that long trip with the star bidding them on until they came to the feet of Christ.  But think of that equally long tedious trip home again, equally expensive; what were their thoughts?  Here was the consolation of the fact that they had seen God not only in nature but had had a revelation that this true God came to them in a dream.  And just think of the honor that has been theirs every single Christmas ever since, that school boys of ours play the wisemen.  There is a bumper sticker that I have seen between Christmases that says, “Wisemen still seek him.”  Think of the honor, glory and privilege  that has devolved upon these wisemen because they were obedient.  Eternal, endless Christmas.

So to the Holy Family and their aftermath.  We read that Mary kept Christmas in her heart.  It says it twice, after she had gone up to the temple and after the visit with the wisemen, it says she kept all these things in her heart.  You know it is instinctive to keep trophies. We cling to treasures, printed programs, jewelry, favorite articles of clothing or wedding dresses, just to kind of perpetuate it, and yet it somehow just slips through our fingers.  And yet it is possible to perpetuate these things, and the best of all endlessly if we got the real thing.

Finally, let’s conclude with these parents who lost children by way of Christ’s coming. We read that these mothers would not be comforted.  I hope that it wasn’t intentional, that they refused to be comforted.  Perhaps they were unbelievers.  The land was full of them.  And they are the ones for whom Christ came to die.  But the quotation is from Jeremiah, and when he saw all those people going into exile he wrote in prophetic and poetic fashion, “Rachael is weeping for her children.”  Just like we speak of George Washington as being “the father of our country,”  Rachael is the mother of the Jews, and she is weeping for her children and cannot be comforted.  Matthew thought of that statement in Jeremiah when he learned of all those mothers in Bethlehem who cried for their murdered babies.  Well what was God trying to tell them, trying to tell everybody?  We all have to die eventually, and maybe those that died young back then were better off rather than to grow up in an occupied country.  What God was trying to get though to all these people was that if they were trusting in the Lord Jesus, this baby of Bethlehem, then the babies were far better off by having short circuited, by-passed, detoured this world that is nothing but a constant death and that if our house is in order that we do not need to sorrow about our lost children or oldsters as opposed to those who have no hope.  The church has traditionally referred to these children as the first martyrs, and so they were.  If Jesus had not come, they would have not been killed.  But if Jesus had not come there would have not been any life after this life.  They might have lived for 50 or 60 years but then what?  They would have been dead by now, of course.  If Jesus had not come they would not have had the possibility of heaven.

And so what each of us has to do in the light of the negative example of Herod and the more positive one of the wisemen and the Holy Family, and we hope that all or some of those babies families in Bethlehem, what we have to do is individualize it, personalize it, which the majority of people aren’t doing, just generalizing it. We have to say, “Jesus the savior to Bethlehem came, willing to suffer this world of shame.  Died on the cross, my evil nature to free, Oh it was wonderful, how could it be, dying for me.  Living for me, oh it was wonderful, how could it be.”

Funny Birthday Party

Editor’s Note:  This was written as a contribution to a New Mexico high school newspaper.

What would you think of celebrating your folk’s birthdays by getting out all their baby pictures, giving them some toys as gifts, and singing some sentimental songs about, “Sweet little daddy boy, delivered by dear Dr. Kamps and bathed by nice nurses.”  What would the President or Queen of England think of our celebrating their birthdays by talking about their baby days?

But that is exactly what we do in our annual celebration of the birth of the King of the world, who is 2,000 years old, all-powerful and all-wise.  Sounds just a little silly, doesn’t it, when the Bible doesn’t tell us to remember his birth, and we don’t even know what time of the year he was born?

I’m all in favor of Christmas as far as gift-exchanging is concerned, parties, decorations, vacation from school, and even Santa Claus with his reindeer.  December 25 was his day first, and the church came along and tried to steal the show by saying, “Let’s pretend Jesus was born on that day.”  (Happily, some parts of the church commemorates Christ’s birth in January, and in other countries they moved St. Nicholas day  ahead to early December.) But the “world” whose motto is, “If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em,” grabbed this suggestion of the church and said, “That’s great; we’ll have Shalako and Santa and Jesus too, but since He is no longer alive, let’s remember Him as a weak, cute, sweet little baby that we can feel lovey-dovey about, and in case there is such a person like Him still around, he sure ought to feel good toward me for thinking such nice thoughts about him once a year.”

My point is this; it’s OK to light Advent candles in church and farolitos around our homes, but don’t think about Jesus as He once was – a helpless baby who had to learn even to walk and talk – but as He is right now, saying to everybody, “I am the light of the world,” who gives everybody wisdom, whether its Einstein or a high school freshman.  It’s OK to sing lots of special songs at Christmas, but let’s let the unbelievers sing “Away in the Manger,” while we sing “Crown Him with many Crowns,” “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” and “The Messiah,” with words taken directly from Scripture instead of songs out of Amy Grants imagination.  Conversely we are just imitating the world by using Christmas carols for atmosphere and sentiment instead of praise to God if we don’t sing “Joy to the World” in July, which we don’t.

The other side of the coin is the fact that the church pays very little attention to Ascension Day or Pentecost, whose exact dates we do know, and which are far more important for our salvation than Christmas.  Why don’t we?  It’s simply that because the “world” ignores them, naturally, just because they don’t believe that Jesus rose to Heaven and is now running the universe (and Christmas, by means of their prayers, etc., are helping him).

This all sounds pretty heavy, and maybe out of place in a high school paper.  But if changes are going to be made, young people are the ones who will have to make them.  Revival (another word for good changes), has always come to the church through men and women under thirty. (Virgin Mary was only a teenager.)  My generation has left yours too many bad habits, customs and examples which have to be sorted out from Him who said, “I am the truth.”  Browing could have been talking about the church, and the students in this school when he said, “The best is yet to be.”  God believes it; you be it.

The Practice of Typological Preaching

After this long excursus as to the NATURE of typology in Scripture, the frightening question comes to the conscientious preacher as to where he begins or ends adequate typological preaching.

First, the “sky is the limit” as to the possibilities.  Everything in Creation, as said earlier, is a type of Christ, the first-born of all creation, the archetype of redemption.  The Bible is so full of types that are not identified as such, are so “randomly” chosen, and so unexpectedly surprising sometimes (like Old Testament “prophecies” and their “fulfillment”: who would have guessed that muzzling oxen had anything to do with paying preachers? I Cor. 9:9 and repeated in Timothy!) that any mouthpiece for God, speaking by the Spirit of God, can find types where He will.

Second – and that, after all, is the purpose of any “type”, be sure that it really illuminates the point at hand.  (“Muzzled oxen” certainly does; the points of comparison are obvious.) Don’t strain to make a figure fit, as is done with the specific number of fish the disciples drew in John 21:11, etc.

Third: (converse of point 2)  Don’t draw analogies, though ever so perfectly fit, if the point at hand doesn’t need illumination or illustration.  This will do more than anything else to curb excess in this kind of preaching.  An old couplet (which comes in various formulations) says of the two testaments in Scripture:  “The New is in the Old contained, The Old is in the New explained.”  Too often preachers have delivered spell-binding  sermons on Old Testament themes in which they explain the Old Testament in the light of the New!  The pictures were intended to serve the people of their times until reality came, and they still serve us as illustrations, but who wants to spend undue time with a photograph when the person himself is physically visible? (Does it help to understand the atonement to point out that the Passover lamb was young, a male, without blemish, etc?)  This can soon end in allegorizing.

Fourth; do not make comparisons between all parts of type an application; Solomon’s temple is NOT  a model for our church-building obsession, especially as to extravagance. Joseph too was a type of Christ, but certainly not in marrying a heathen-priest’s daughter.  Hezekiah’s prayer for added life was imprudent; many troubles to self and nation followed in those years.

Fifth; Scripture changes type-and-applicaitons easily; Satan is a roaring lion; Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah; Satan is a snake; Jesus tells us to be wise as they.  The leaven in Matt. 13 (usually a symbol of evil) may in that place represent goodness.  In II Cor. 3 and 4 a “veil” represents different things.  Paul switches comparisons in Rom. 7 as to who dies; in I Cor. 14:22 his use of “sign” (or “unbeliever”) does not seem consistent.

Sixth:  Beware of confusing type and reality; the Israelites did with the brass serpent in the wilderness.  (We can do it with a cross.)  The Decalog, as we know it, is a type as to format (talking about Egypt, the 7th day Sabbath, oxen, etc.)  It is obsolete for New Testament usage.  It served Israel well in 1400 BC and was intended to be useful until Christ came.

Two Bible “stories” that have received more inadequate preaching (and other) treatment than any others are, surprisingly, the birth of our Savior and his death (and resurrection).  What makes this ironic is the fact that no Bible stories are more familiar and preached about more.  In a typical church, about one-fourth of a pastor’s available Sundays are used in Advent and Lenten series, of six weeks each. (Add to this the special occasions and such absences from the pulpit as vacations, it is a wonder that the average Christian congregation knows as much about the Bible as it does, which is meager.)  One unfortunate result of this over-emphasis is that a pastor feels forced to embellish the “inspired record” (disliking to repeat the same too-familiar facts every year), which creates in many listeners an addition to imaginative Bible fiction about Christmas and Calvary, and the confusion and ignorance is compounded. Doubly ironic, many of the important facts of Jesus’ birth and death are generally known, namely, that he did not descend from Solomon (Joseph did, but not Mary); the Wise Men did not visit him at the manger, his father Abraham was not a Jew (any more than Noah, or even Ham were black), and so on.  What Christian knows why Jesus chose Sunday on which to rise from the dead, when for his contemporaries it was the first work-day of the week?  Point is, Jesus’ birth and death (to say nothing of his resurrection) are signs, types of great importance.  In themselves, as historical events, they have great importance, of course; ( I Cor 2:1; I Cor 15.  But no facts are more universally known.  What sane person denies that Christ was born and is an historical figure, when every calendar is dated in terms of that event?  Who denies his crucifixion, when the cross is the most familiar man-made emblem or symbol in human history?  Even his resurrection is not seriously challenged, and all the preaching in the world cannot prove it to the atheist.

Nowhere are we told in Scripture to “remember” Jesus’ birth, and God took pains to see that the exact year, month, date, and day are unknown, as is true of the exact birth-spot, plus Calvary and Christ’s empty tomb.  This is what makes of limited value the “pilgrimages” to the un-Holy Land, where even the paths on which Jesus once walked are as much as seven feet below the present surface, and the water on which he once walked and boated might even now be in Lake Michigan, or our own drinking faucets.

We say all this, every Christmas and Good Friday, in reminding that Jesus’ could have been born a dozen times or even been crucified that often, and all that would mean nothing for us if he had not been raised (differently from Lazarus or Jairus’ daughter) and ascended into heaven.  But we persist in our imitation of the world and its spiritual ignorance by almost total neglect of the anniversaries of Jesus’ Ascension/Coronation and Pentecost, in which Christmas, Good Friday, and even Easter find their climax.  What is the significance of an earthly monarch’s birth, marriage, and other rites of passage, compared to his coronation?  Jesus followed his resurrection with 40 days of instruction as to its significance, and commanded his church to prepare themselves for what proved to be ten long days of waiting and watching for his return in the “Spirit”.  What a complete inversion of our customs, in which “Easter” is dropped the day afterward like a hot potato, and Ascension/Pentecost are neither prepared for or followed up, even if observed on the anniversary days themselves.  This is what Hebrews means when it says it readers major in the minors, have to be taught instead of being teachers, milk-drinkers instead of meat-eaters.  Today’s spiritual children at least have their preachers to blame for much of this ignorance.

In a sentence – for here we are pleading for typological preaching, not trying to exhaust the meaning of the atonement – Jesus was miraculously virgin-born not in order to be sinless (do we get our sinfulness from our male ancestors?), nor in order to be divine, but as a symbol of the divine nature of the new birth of every member of the new race that he fathered as the Second Adam (John 1:13).

 

Typology, Part II

This is perhaps a good point at which to include three forms, kinds, or applications of typology; the tabernacle, for example, is obviously a picture of Christ.  At the same time, it certainly is an apt picture of the three-fold nature of man (body, soul, spirit), which in turn reflects the trinitarian nature of God.  Isaac is one of many Old Testament persons who pre-figured Christ.  At the same time he typifies some aspects of the New Testament believer and his passive obedience to God; he also typifies the “self” (good enough; not something bad, any more than our Lord’s “self”-will) which has to be sacrificed (Rms 12:1) as certainly as Ishmael, symbolizing the believer’s old nature which has to be expelled.  (Ishmael is at the same time a symbol of unbelieving man.  All the while, of course, countless sermons can be and have been preached about Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, et al from such purely historical perspectives as parental responsibilities versus favoritism, etc. Joseph especially has “suffered” from such “Bible-story” treatment versus his reel role in Scripture (and history) as Israel’s redeemer and a type of the Redeemer himself.)  (For the following, confer Andrew Jukes: Types in Genesis, p. xxviii

  1.  Inward application; what we might call the “spiritual” significance; apart from the historical story, Adam on this score is the “spiritual” father of the race, for ill.  (Rms 5)
  2. Outward (Jukes calls this allegoric.)  Adam symbolizes the “old man” in the unregenerate (who is nothing more) and the same in the Christian, which has to die. (Rms 6)
  3. “Dispensational”, future, anagogic, what we usually think of as “typological”; in Adam’s case, of course, he typifies (despite 1 and 2, above) the Lord Jesus (I Cor. 15).

It is obvious from these examples, a preacher can never “do justice” to Adam from a purely historical point of view (as preoccupies so many Bible students and critics) or Abraham, Moses, etc. apart from their typological significance.  The “moralizing” approach simply holds up Enoch for our example of piety; systematic theology struggles with (or ignores) the question of where he went, before Christ died for sin.  Typology sees in Enoch a picture of the “translation” of the living believers at end of world.

Similarly, in addition to all its wonder-working, and as a picture of it, Christ’s crucifixion is a symbol, a type of our own.  The New Testament uses the term “cross” as often in reference to the one you and I must die upon, than it does the historical one of Calvary.  (More of this, later, under the study of the Lord’s Supper, in which we remember our death with Christ as certainly as the Lord’s, at least we ought to.)

As regards the resurrection of our Lord, it was a sign of ours.  But when we say that, are we thinking of our resurrection to new life at regeneration?  That the new creation began on Easter morning (and hence Sunday, the first day of the week was chosen for that history-changing, “eternity” beginning event,) just as the first creation began on Sunday? (More about this later under baptism.)  Limiting our resurrection (on account of Jesus’) to our future one, after the death of our physical bodies, how much attention is paid to the fact that the bodies, manifestations that Jesus made of himself on Easter day and afterward, were not his glorified body, but types, signs?  Easter sermons expatiate on the fact that Jesus passed through closed doors after Easter (forgetting he ate and drank with them as he had done before, and that he walked on water before Easter).  Are we to assume that his glorified body has scars in hands and side, and if so, which ones of ours will we retain in glory?

Typology, Part I

Definition:  The study and interpretation of types and symbols, originally especially in the Bible. 

Typology is a very important type of expository preaching which, throughout the entire history of the church, has been used profitably by many outstanding preacher/Bible students.  Typology itself, especially in the form of the sacraments (the Word made visible) is an important part of the Christian ministry (leading to all kinds of disagreement as to who can administer them, etc.)

Just as doctrine is often formulated (and distorted) through songs, our theology is weak and even wrong on account of incorrect typology, especially the great doctrine of the “exchanged, new, fuller life” which is ignored and even denied because of misconceptions as to Canaan and the significance of the meaning of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

First of all, the entire creation, God’s general revelation, his Word in the world, is typological.  God built the physical, visible, world along spiritual, “invisible” (even redemptive) lines. (Plato believed this.) Even “numbers” figure in this revelation; Scripture makes a great deal of the symbolism to be found in numbers (but, again, beware of extreme applications); Numerology can become as bizarre as astrology (or palm-reading, which capitalizes on the scientific fact no two finger-prints in human history are identical), but in this area too it is worth observing the difference between Western and Eastern worlds in the very form of numbers, so that the regimented and structured Roman numerals is unusable for higher mathematics, while the fluid, artistic, Arabic “figures” of 1-0 can be used to infinity, have intrinsic attractiveness as to form, and yet are adaptable to modern digital use.

Secret of the Universe is an entire book about the Trinity in Creation.  We practice the principle in this paragraph by using hearts to symbolize love, or flags to represent political entities and inspire patriotism.  “Mere” color has much meaning and psycological significance, and is used accordingly in the Bible. Scripture, accordingly, makes a great deal of the “revelational” character of creation. (See Romans 1:18-23; 2:12-16; 10:18-21.)

The entire Bible is a typological book, whether you use the word parable, symbol, story, or what Paul calls an “allegory” in Galatians 4:21-ff; also called a “figure”.  Entire volumes have been written about the types in Scripture alone.  In a certain sense, the prophecies of Scripture are “typical”; certainly contain types.  This is especially true in the Old Testament, which is God’s “primer”, picture-book of spiritual truth.  Paul sums it:  These things happened and were recorded for us. (I Cor 10:11; Also see Hebrews)

Ordinarily we think of the New Testament as being the fulfillment, the reality, of the truths for which the Old Testament is full of types, or pictures.  But the New Testament, in turn, is crammed full of types, some of present reality, others for the future and/or of eternal significance.  Think of the so-called sacraments (an unfortunate term), over which there is so much disagreement as to meaning.  Think of the “I Am’s” of Christ, plus the literally countless other figures – Lamb of God, serpent in wilderness, and the Rock of Matthew 16:18 (often applied wrongly to Peter and who not).  The Church is symbolized by marriage, a house (forgotten by those who persist in calling a building “God’s house”, as though He and it were some kind of idols), a human body, salt, light, etc.  Miracles are acted-out sermons, and parables, of course, are earthly pictures of spiritual truths.  The Sermon on the Mount is almost nothing but a series of metaphors, analogies, illustrations.

So, true preaching (following the example of Jesus) is basically “typological”, by taking “abstract” truth “visible”, understandable, convincing, and motivating, by means of parallels, “morals”, and illustrations between Scripture and the preaching situation.

There are three basic methods of approaching the Bible, all of which can be “expository” of sort, and all of which, of course, are subject to the pleasures of their users, including “heretics” as well as the orthodox.

  1. There is the “Bible as literature” approach, often used at the Sunday School level, in which the stories of Scripture (and the Bible is undeniably one continuous story, from creation to eternity) are learned, apart from whether they are true and really happened (e..g. Jonah, Job, even Adam), and various lessons are drawn from them as to our temporal and eternal welfare.
  2. An opposite extreme is the systematic theology treatment, in which all the material in Scripture is neatly and logically organized under different doctrines, whether it be Providence (as shown in the lives of Biblical characters) or God (which runs the danger of reading back into the Old Testament what is really revealed only in the New), or Salvation (which often overlooks the fact that Old Testament “saints” were not regenerated and did not go to heaven when they died).
  3. Biblical-theology preaching studies the Sacred record exactly according to the way and the purposes in which it was written, namely, a progressive unfolding of God’s revelation as to himself, man, salvation, etc.  It is, naturally, Christological at heart (in the fashion that all of human history is dated B.C. or A.D.).  It stresses the basic unity of Scripture (as to theme and contents), while still pointing out the drastic differences between the two Testaments.  (Unger sums it nicely: Old Testament is preparation for the Redeemer; Gospels record his manifestation; Acts the propagation of the gospel; Epistles contain the explanation, and Revelation summarizes the consummation of the ineffable plan.)  This does not mean that the only system or sequence by which the Bible can profitably be studied (or read) is from cover to cover (as in the case of other books), but it does mean that every part of all 66 books must be studied in terms of the whole.  Identical words in David’s mouth mean something radically different from Paul saying them (And, of course, it makes a difference whether the same words are in a psalm, an epistle, a prophecy, or historical book.)

 

Expository Preaching

A simple definition of expository preaching is not a running commentary, a verse-by-verse reading and “explaining” of individual words, phrases, and ideas (which can miss the forest on account of the trees).  Usually  (not necessarily) is SERIAL study of the Bible, usually a book at a time (not necessarily in Bible-order); a given unit may be a chapter or part of one (sometimes an entire book of the Bible, even a big one!), with discovery of the key idea in the passage, its relation to the context, the supporting sub-ideas, and the application of the whole to the current listeners.  Despite the virtues of this system and the advantages to a pastor, various pressures make inferior kinds of sermons (topical, “occasional”) more popular.  For this reason we list some arguments in favor of expository preaching:

  1.  Agreed; the Bible should be the textbook for all preaching.  What other textbook is used in any other way than “expository”? (As it is, we use scripture as a recipe-box of slogans, mottoes, maxims, edifying ideas, and unsystematic theology as “texts”.)
  2. Agreed; preaching is (should be) teaching; exposition is simply teaching.
  3. This is the way the Bible was written; not as a book of theology, a catechism or creed, but a progressive unfolding, a revelation, with order, sequence, unity, system.
  4. It is the way that the typical Christian ought to study the Bible for himself; sermonizing (preparation and presentation) on the part of a preacher ought to be a model, example of this.
  5. This was the method by which God’s people in the Old Testament studied the Word of God. (Note the Providence by which Jesus’  “text” in his sermon at Nazareth was arrived at, and the impact that it had on the audience just because it wasn’t artificially selected for the occasion the way we will pick “inaugural” sermons and others. (Luke 4)
  6. Jesus used this method of “preaching”.  Cf. “sermon” on the road to Emmaus.
  7. Paul and the Early Church followed this practice.
  8. The Reformers practiced this system; cf. Calvin’s commentaries, which are his “sermons”.  With their aversion to multiplication of special days, sermons on “Christmas” etc. were not necessarily on nativity texts or subjects.
  9. All times of revival generally and re-emphasis upon preaching have been marked by it.
  10. Church-building preachers have been known of this method; Campbell Morgan, Ian Thomas, Spurgeon, M. Lloyd-Jones, Donald Barnhouse, John MacArthur.  (Versus “name” preachers!)
  11. Today, wherever the church is growing, preaching is usually expository; S. America (Juan Ortiz), Korea.
  12. All the popular Bible-study systems – Navigators, Campus Crusade, Walk Through the Bible – are basically expository (in contrast to devotional booklets with random texts).
  13. The abysmal ignorance of the Bible outside and within the church demands a “return” to this type of Bible study.  (How many “indoctrinated” church members can tell the theme of Colossians, Philippians?  Where to find the Sermon on the Mount? The 7 “I Am’s”?
  14. Such a system will be certain to cover the “whole counsel” of God, instead of constant repetition of a few familiar themes by following the “church calendar” or other.  (As mentioned above, sermons are given added impact because the listeners can never suspect the choice of subject was contrived, self-serving, audience-pleasing or -scolding.
  15. It is really the easiest for the pastor – in terms of subject selection, preparation.  Other systems spend too much attention on form, to neglect of contents.  Illustrations tend to leap from Scripture itself.  (Preparation for the ministry itself is simplified or concentrated on Scripture in the case of expository preaching.  Men like Billy Graham have had only Bible-college training versus expensive liberal arts diversification. The modern minister cannot be expected to be an expert in more than the Scriptures.)
  16. For the Native American, expository preaching lends itself to his synthetic approach to life, versus the analytic, theoretical, abstract, philosophical.
  17. Expository preaching makes long-term pastorates possible (as evidence by men mentioned under Pt. 10, above. (Topical preachers who spent a lifetime in a given church usually had a big turn-0over in their audiences.)  All agree that short pastorates are far from ideal, and do not build up a congregation.  The big reason for the “game of musical chairs” in parsonage and pulpit is that the pastor is “preached out”, (despite the inexhaustibleness of the Scriptures) because of the limited number of ways a minister can preach on a limited number of subjects, be they ethical, doctrinal, or other.

Prayer: Power and Practice

Books that are entitled “How to do this…” and “How to do that…” are legion now days. And we all need, when it comes to prayer, some down to earth common sensical suggestions. More than one person has said to me, “I want to, I know I should, I’d like to, how do I go about it?”  And it made me think of what characterizes me and every Christian, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

In light of that lets motivate ourselves by seeing the power of prayer.  It changes things and changes us.  You don’t have to take your choice, you can have both. It isn’t either/or, it’s both/and.  You can have your cake and eat it too.  But before we go any further it must be said that we should not think of prayer primarily as getting things, although that is its basic meaning.  It is a petition.  It is an important part of prayer but not the exclusive part.  I believe that we Calvinists have the biggest problem with this notion or question, “Does prayer change things?”  Maybe that is why we are not necessarily noted for prayer.  We tend to think that it has all been predetermined long ago, so what is the sense of praying about it?  And yet I think that even as Calvinists in our heart-of-hearts we think it must or why would we spontaneously in times of trouble, sickness or death, unemployment, national emergencies, and so on just leap to prayer?   We have all heard the expression, “there are no atheists in foxholes,”  and it is all because of the belief that prayer changes things.

Well how does it?  How can it?  Doesn’t God run the show?  In Philippians we see that God uses those prayers.  A sovereign, independent God is pleased to use those prayers.  For example, God doesn’t need the sun to make the world go round. He doesn’t need the sun to make the world light.  There seems that there was some sort of light before the 4th day when God made the sun appear.  But He is pleased to give us ultraviolet light, to give us energy,  to make plants grow. To use another illustration, God didn’t have to arrange it to have man himself populate the world.  He could have periodically created children, much like people bring foster kids into their home.  He made the angels after all separately.  So, in short, God doesn’t do anything in this world that He isn’t asked to.  Take, for example, this matter of weather. It is one of if not the primary aspect of our existence. It regulates our health, our activity, our well being, our clothing, what we eat and where we eat, whether indoors or outdoors.  Every newspaper carries a weather prediction, we listen to it on the news, our lives sort of revolve around the weather.  And God says in James that Elijah was a man like us and he prayed and it didn’t rain and then he prayed again and it did rain.  “The prayer of the righteous man is powerful and effective.”  Prayer changes things.  And that applies to forgiveness too.  The Bible says that “whatsoever you shall bind in earth [by your prayers or failure to pray] shall be bound in heaven (or loosed).”  And this applies not only to weather and to sin, but to everything.  “More things are wrought by prayer,” says Tennyson, “then the world has ever dreamed of.”  He was putting it mildly.

But more important, prayer changes us.  I’m sure that we would all agree that that is more important than weather.  Who cares if you die of exposure if in the process of life you become more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ, which is our whole reason for existence, our purpose in being Christians.  Prayer changes us, and it works.  Think of the most pious, devout people you know, the kind of a Christian you’d like to be and could be, and should be. I’m not thinking of monk-type people here, but people that are down to earth, practical. Almost invariably you will find that they are people of prayer.  Not exclusively, I said they were practical.  They put their money where their mouth is, they roll up their sleeves and implement what they asked God to do.  Prayer is not a cop-out for work.  The same James that says [sic] “You got faith? I’ll show you I got faith by my works.”  Prayer is work.  Faith without works is dead, and works without prayer is deader yet.  One of the greatest evidences of spiritual growth, as a pastor of a congregation, is in this very area.  I keep a list of things that we have prayed about that have come to pass, not only locally but around the world.

Now to the practice of prayer.  First there is what the Bible refers to as “praying without ceasing.”  Jesus said people ought to pray and not stop.  This characterized Nehemiah, Ezra and many others.  It marked them, and marked Jesus.  It marks every outstanding Christian.  “Prayer is the Christian’s very breath, the believers native air, his watchword at the gates of death.” He enters heaven with prayer.  He is praying all the time, not just on his deathbed.  That’s his lifestyle. One of its finest forms is to pray, in those situations when you can do it, is to pray aloud. It isn’t necessary but it is good self discipline.  It makes the angels sing and it scares satan.  Ask God to make you His instrument, His secretary, to give you things to pray about on the basis of which He can work.  At the end of Job, after this tremendous ordeal, God has compassion for his friends, who meant well but missed the point.  God said to Job, “Pray for your friends and I’ll bless them.”  You first pray for them so I can bless them.

So that is private or personal prayer, but one is not going to pray without ceasing unless he has stated seasons. Again, all the men and women of God who accomplished great things had a quiet time.  I’m not saying how long or how often, but it was systematic, it was regular. Now I know that we are all busy, but isn’t that funny, when you think about it, because everybody that has ever walked the earth has had a 24 hour day, no more or less. And yet we holler about being so busy, but ironically, there is no generation, at least theoretically, that should have more leisure. But the trouble is that given enough time you are going to fill it. Schedule a meeting for 2 hours and it is likely that you are going to fill it even if the agenda could have been done in half that time.  That’s the law of life. So it is not a matter of finding time, it’s simply taking time.  It is there if you want to have it. It all depends upon your priorities.

Just a thought about combined or joint prayer:  What place does that play in the Christian’s prayer life?  People say “I can pray at home,” and that is true and the same excuse is given for not going to church.  So what is the value of gathering together to pray?  It is not a caucus where we gather together to pressure God. And it isn’t to psych ourselves up, but it is the way in which we enrich one another’s prayers, where we learn from each other how to pray and what to pray for.  That’s the great virtue of prayers with the family at home, whether at meal times or before bed.  “Unless you become like a child, you will not enter the kingdom.”  Unless you pray like them.  This is a place where every member of the family is equally tall. This prayer enriches.  And it also purifies our prayers.  We all make mistakes, such as our content (praying for the wrong things), our manner (irreverence), our formulation or wrong words (trying to impress God with big theological terms); these can all be corrected when we pray with someone else.  When we pray with others we tend to be more sincere. That’s likely what Jesus had in mind when he said if two of you should agree, touching anything, it should be touching my Father who is in heaven.  It is pretty hard for two people to pray improperly.

Well, it still isn’t easy which makes me convinced that it is important.  Don’t you find that is the way of most things in secular life that the most important things are the hardest to do?  And the way to learn it is just to do it.  It doesn’t come easy to anybody, but by doing you become skilled.  That’s what prayer is, not talking about it, thinking about it, reading about it.  Much like the way if one uses the word “doctor” they typically think about a medical doctor, someone who is “practicing”.  Someone who is doing something.  And that is how you learn to pray, by the doing.

And so, “Praying as one who long has prayed and yet no answer heard, Have you been sometimes half afraid God would not keep his word? Seems prayer to fall on deafened ears, does heaven seem blind and dumb?  Believe, believe prayer is heard, the answer in time will come.  God does not mock believing prayer.  You shall not go unfed.  He gives no serpent for a fish, nor gives He stones for bread.  Say not ‘The promise is not mine, God did not hear me pray.  I prayed, I trusted full but bars of brass have blocked the way.’  God heard thee, he hath not forgot.  Faith will at length prevail. Yea, know it.  Not the smallest word all his truth shall fail.  For if you truly have believed, not vain has been thy prayer, as God is true, thy hope shall come, sometime, some way, some where.”