Holy Spirit

The similarity between the Holy Spirit and the wind or breath and air is so close that you could almost say that it is not a simile or a metaphor but it’s a definition.  In fact it’s his name.  Most of us know more Greek than we realize.  I think almost as many words come from the Greek as from the Latin, so we are using them all the time.  One of them is the word for spirit, whether mine or yours or the Holy Spirit, and that is pneuma.  Everywhere in the New Testament where you read about spirit, whether it is what Jesus gave up to God on the cross or the Holy Spirit that came from heaven.  Of course we use it in pneumonia, or pneumatic tools and so on.  Jesus naturally in talking to Nicodemus made use of that figure in John 3 when he says, “You must be born of the Spirit.”  And this is fulfilled beautifully in Acts 2 on Pentecost.

The words wind and breath and air are virtually synonymous.  Sixteen of our high school boys took part in a track meet and talking about their breath they would say, “I’m just winded.”  Or, “I got my second wind.” Or we use the expression, “I got the wind knocked out of me.”  And there was a great amount of wind that was at the track meet that had to be accounted for or reckoned with.  Records can not be established if there is a greater wind velocity than this or that.  But as I started to say, if there is no wind we don’t say that, we say, “there was not a breath of air.”  So there you have all three words, which are virtually interchangeable.  And all three of them are used to describe the Holy Spirit.  There is bound to be some overlapping as we look at these three words, much like ice can become water and can vaporize and become steam.  Just like that is often used as a symbol of the trinity, so too with the Holy Spirit as a symbol of himself, so He is air and wind and breath all at the same time.

Let’s look at the Holy Spirit first as air.  Three characteristics:  It is invisible, and it’s universal – omnipresent if you want to use that term – and it is essential.  And there you have three perfect descriptions of the Holy Spirit who is the breath or the air of God.  With regards to his invisibility, here is something, air now, which is very real. It is one of the most real phenomena in the world.  Yet no one has ever seen it.  We are sitting in the midst of it like a giant ocean but no one has ever seen it, not even with electronic microscopes.  It is just invisible, and isn’t that a perfect picture of the Holy Spirit?  No one will ever see it, at least with physical eyes, and yet we know it exists.  One of the first experiments we had in physics in high school was to weigh air and we had to laugh thinking that air had no weight.  But we found out by weighing flasks that had a vacuum with those that were pressurized that air had real weight.  So here we sit in this ocean of air, we sleep in it, we work in it.  We got to, and how we take it for granted, the way we do God, His Holy Spirit, in whom we live and move and have our very being.

He is also universal.  Water is found in most parts of the earth, but in some parts of the world it is almost nonexistent like the Sahara desert.  Air on the other hand is virtually everywhere.  One couldn’t venture into areas without air unless they had some sort of artificial air. Houdini used to allow himself to buried and through control of his respiration would be able to eventually escape unharmed.  There is air in water.  Fish through their use of gills can extract the air out of the water.  And although water is impressive in its scope with oceans that extend from California to China, it is nothing compared to the universality, the homogeneity, the commonness of air.   So that the air we are “swimming in” today may be half was across the country in a matter of hours and in weeks may be in China.  It is just one, singular.  We demonstrate the unity of the human race by the fact that we are of one blood.  Paul says to the Greeks who were rather snobbish, “God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.”  So we can transfuse blood from one person to another and yet there are different types of blood.  But in contrast to that, we all breathe the same air.  The same oxygen goes into our blood.  So it is a perfect picture of the omnipresence of God.  Psalm 139 says, “Where can I go apart from your Spirit.  Where can I go where you are not found?”   We can go without bread and water, which Jesus compared himself to, but we can not go 5 minutes without air.  Is it any wonder that Jesus to Nicodemus talked about his spirit, the Holy Spirit, as air.  It is universal, indispensable and absolutely essential.  And it is free, available, unlike water.  I wonder if there isn’t poetic appropriateness in this age of culture pollution if it isn’t sort of a scientific nicety that our air is polluted, contaminated, irreversibly.  And there is something very appropriate about the statement in scripture, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

Air in motion is first of all a breath like what we breathe, take in. And here we take in this wonderful ocean of God’s creation that he brought into being in paradise. Isn’t that thrilling too? It’s always new yet eternal. Changing form and reusable, same air as Adam breathed, you might say.  Now we personalize it, individualize it and call it breath.  That’s called God’s breath; the Holy Spirit becomes part of our being, a very part of us.  You don’t have to be a doctor to know that what you breathe in is passed from the lungs to the blood and taken to all the various cells in the body.  Now the amazing thing is that the air all around us wants to get into our lungs.  There is almost something alive about air.  It wants to get into our lungs and we have to repel it, keep it out.  I’m over simplifying now but one of the reasons why we can go to sleep at night and not worry about having to breathe is that it is instinctive to expel air. But it is an impulse of nature to fill our lungs.  Nature abhors a vacuum and so there is a space, a cavity in our body and air rushes in.  Then instinct takes over and we expel it but right away that vacuum is created and in rushes the air.  There is pressure in the world, pressure around us.  The air presses to get in, to be used.  You know why people are lost without the gospel, who are lost for lack of oxygen, for spiritual oxygen now, God’s breath, that He breathed into man in paradise, that he chose to reject? You know why people die?   It is because they hold their breath. They resist the Holy Spirit.  It is as simple as that.  He yearns after all men.  Genesis says His spirit is jealous of us, longs to envelop us, as He does, possess us and indwell us.  We got to pinch our noses and that is why Jesus said in John 16 that when the Holy Spirit is come he will convict the world of judgement.  Why? Because they are such bad people? Walking corpses, because they are spiritually dead? No. It is because they believe not in me, they don’t breathe.  They hold their breath.  They would rather smell the decaying offal of the world.

The wonderful thing is is that we can pass on that breath.  Or really prompt others to breathe since everyone has to do their own breathing.  We can be the means of communicating the very breath of God. In John 20, the first day of the week or actually the new creation, when things first started again as a counterpart to Genesis, Jesus first appeared to his disciples who were gathered together.  And after finishing saying, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you,” he breathed on them.  Didn’t just raise his hands over them, or body to body contact.  He wanted to indwell them, his very breath to possess them. “Receive ye the Holy Spirit.”  We have all heard of artificial respiration but do you know it is relatively modern?  When I was a boy I was in a club much like the cub scouts and we practiced the Red Cross scheme of aiding a drowning victim with them face down and straddling their back with compresses, “Out goes the water, in goes the air,” being the rhythm.  But now that is obsolete and we have improved upon it.  Even the home-made, rule-of-thumb respiration is mouth-to-mouth.  And what is one to say of inhalation therapy that has revolutionized modern medicine. We tend to think of advances in medicine in regards to surgeries or antibiotics or cancer treatments, vaccines, and so on.  But a lot of credit in surgery belongs to inhalation therapy.  Many of us wouldn’t be here without that oxygen that man has learned to can, so to speak.  And so when Jesus said to his disciples, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” he was giving them artificial respiration and they would in turn pass it on to others.

This can become power, and that is air or breath in motion.  We know that hot air rises and more recently we have become aware of the movement of air on temperature.  We have known for sometime how humidity can affect the feel of a given temperature, but now we know that the affect of air movement, which we call the wind chill in winter, can have just as much effect if not more on our comfort.  So the movement of air or breath has so much to do with our well being and that is true in the spiritual realm as well.  One of our greatest sources of energy is just this thing of moving air.  I’m thinking of the windmills that dot the landscape in the Netherlands, and it isn’t just that they are quaint and picturesque but they are kept there despite the amount of land that they occupy or require.  They are somewhat crude compared to our American windmills, but they persist in using them not because of sake of tradition but rather because every year they reclaim acres and acres of land for this nation.  Holland is growing because of the windmill.  They move oceans of water through the use of the air.  Farmers get energy to light their humble cottages because of these devices. There is always ongoing studies to figure out better ways to harness moving air, which is wind, of course.  Or air brakes that stop mile long trains just by the application of air.

Now then, applying it to the Holy Spirit who is air in motion, who is breath, who is wind – the only way in which we can be recipients of that power is to be in a right relationship to Him. You have to be in the center of God’s will, or everything that I have said about life, movement and energy and power is moot.  We’re all aware that airplanes’ flight patterns for landing change on account of the wind.  Children flying kites can stand in one direction one day and a different direction the next to get their kites in the air, depending on the wind.  Now, how often are you and I powerless, bucking the wind or rowing upstream to change the figure, just because we are not moving along with the Holy Spirit, capitalizing on His power.  That’s what Jesus was talking about when he was talking to Paul, [sic] “Saul, you are a man of motion, energy and power but you are kicking against the bricks. You should be going along with me. We are at a standstill so to speak, cancelling each other out. You are fighting my work.  Why do you persecute me?”  And then we read this pretty expression “that he who had (been) breathing out threatening” – I think it is very deliberate that the Holy Spirit who inbreathes the Bible use that expression – “breathing out threatening” – like a dragon sort of smoke and fire – “began to breathe out blessings.”

Well one form that we can exert this power, that we can share this life that we have is through prayer.  Prayer is the Christian’s breath, his native air.  And by means that we can reach around the world. We would never think of someone taking down a windmill because he didn’t have enough air to make more than one of them run.  Air is free.  You can have as many windmills as you want.  That is what the Bible means when it says, “Pray without ceasing.”  Why settle for 5 minutes in the morning or 5 minutes at night, if that.  We should always be praying.  It is our very breath.  Whoever thought of just breathing for a little while, getting hyperoxygentated, then rushing to school and holding their breath the rest of the day.  Breathe constantly.  Pray without ceasing.  And you can reach out that little windmill of yours and because you are facing the Lord, you are in tune with His power, you can change people behind the Iron Curtain and behind the Bamboo Curtain that you will never see until glory.  Artificial respiration.  Another form of this is the Word of God, which is the power of God unto salvation.  Why does this book change lives, change people, unlike self-help books that may change your thinking or lifestyle?  Books about racism may change your whole attitude towards others but doesn’t change you into those other races. What’s the difference between the Bible and other books?  The Bible is God breathed, it’s in-spired.  And so when the Gideons are distributing their books into the motels they are breathing out the gift of life.  They are a vehicle, bottled oxygen, containing God and passing it on to others.  It is said that one Bible in a motel room can reach 3000 people.  What power we possess.  We are the spiritual mid-wives for the world.  I say again, everyone has to do their own breathing.  I wish we could breath for others.  We are the spiritual obstetricians that make them spark that first breath, makes them gasp for life.  So say, “Lord,” like Saul, “what would you have me do?”  We are the nursery for the new humanity.  What an honor, what a job.  So we ought to have for our first prayer be the hymn, “Breathe on me breath of God, ’til I am wholly thine, ’til all this earthly part of me, glows with Thy power divine.  Breathe on me breath of God, so shall I never die, but live with Thee the perfect life of Thine eternity.”

Advertisements

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.