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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS

R. C. SproulR. C. Sproul:

I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating his birthday every year. Keep in mind that the whole principle of annual festival and celebration is deeply rooted in ancient Jewish tradition. In the Old Testament, for example, there were times when God emphatically commanded the people to remember certain events with annual celebrations. While the New Testament doesn’t require that we celebrate Christmas every year, I certainly see nothing wrong with the church’s entering into this joyous time of celebrating the Incarnation, which is the dividing point of all human history. (Ligonier.org)

Popular or Inspired?

Christianity and the Bible:

In the 9th century A.D., Photius listed around 280 uninspired writings. Many of these books were very popular among Christians. The Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas (c. A.D. 70-79) was widely circulated and the Shepherd of Hermas (c. A.D. 115-40) was the most popular of all the non-canonical books. Many quoted from these books. The Apocalypse of Peter (c. 150 A.D.) had great popularity in the early church and was a source from which Dante’s Inferno was derived. However, popularity does not equal inspiration.

Many are unaware that various “lists” of inspired books were in existence long before the Church Councils of later centuries. Eusebius (265-340 A.D.) mentions as generally acknowledged all the books of our New Testament except James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, which were disputed by some, but recognized by the majority. Athanasius in 367 A.D. lays down the twenty-seven books of our New Testament as alone canonical; shortly afterwards Jerome and Augustine followed his example in the West. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa–at Hippo Regius in 393 A.D. and at Carthage in 397 A.D. These councils did not impose – they simply codified what was already the general practice of Christian communities.

The Marcionite Heresy

Heresy and the Church:

Marcion was born around the year 85. He traveled to Rome around 135 A.D. where he became known in the church and began to teach. He thought there were huge differences between the God revealed in the Old Testament (OT) and the God found in the New Testament (NT). He decided to reject the God of the OT because he believed Him to be an evil craftsman who created an evil world. Marcion put together his own bible, excluding the OT, and including only Paul’s letters and Luke’s gospel. He excluded a few parts of Paul’s letters where Paul refers to the OT and references to hell and/or judgment. Marcion’s unorthodox canon forced the church fathers to begin naming the accepted documents. Marcionite churches spread throughout the Roman world until the beginning of the fourth century.

“And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:19 ESV)

Blessings to Come!

Martin Luther continues his exposition of Hebrews 9:11-15 in the excerpts below:

But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the New Testament that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:11-15, Luther’s Translation?)

Christ’s blood has obtained for us pardon forever acceptable with God. God will forgive our sins for the sake of that blood so long as its power shall last and its intercession for grace in our behalf, which is forever. Therefore, we are forever holy and blessed before God. This is the substance of the text. Now that we shall find it easy to understand, we will briefly consider it.

The adornment of Aaron and his descendants, the high priests, was of a material nature, and they obtained for the people a merely formal remission of sins, performing their office in a perishable temple, or tabernacle. It was evident to men that their absolution and sanctification before the congregation was a temporal blessing confined to the present. But when Christ came upon the cross no one beheld him as he went before God in the Holy Spirit, adorned with every grace and virtue, a true High Priest. The blessings wrought by him are not temporal–a merely formal pardon–but the “blessings to come”; namely, blessings which are spiritual and eternal. Paul speaks of them as blessings to come, not that we are to await the life to come before we can have forgiveness and all the blessings of divine grace, but because now we possess them only in faith. . . .

The apostle does not name the tabernacle he mentions; nor can he, so strange its nature! It exists only in the sight of God, and is ours in faith, to be revealed hereafter. It is not made with hands, like the Jewish tabernacle; in other words, not of “this building.” The old tabernacle, like all buildings of its nature, necessarily was made of wood and other temporal materials created by God. God says in Isaiah 66:1-2: “What manner of house will ye build unto me? For all these things hath my hand made, and so all these things came to be.” But that greater tabernacle has not yet form; it is not yet finished. God is building it and he shall reveal it. Christ’s words are: [“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”] (John 14:3) (“Christ Our Great High Priest”)

The Spiritual Priesthood

In the Old Covenant, the priest offered sacrifices and sprinklings of blood which merely effected an external pardon. This absolution rendered no one inwardly holy and just before God. Something beyond this was necessary to secure true forgiveness. According to Martin Luther:

But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:11-15, Luther’s Translation?)

An understanding of practically all of the Epistle to the Hebrews is necessary before we can hope to make this text clear to ourselves. Briefly, the epistle treats of a twofold priesthood. The former priesthood was a material one, with material adornment, tabernacle, sacrifices and with pardon couched in ritual; material were all its appointments. The new order is a spiritual priesthood, with spiritual adornments, spiritual tabernacle and sacrifices–spiritual in all that pertains to it. Christ, in the exercise of his priestly office, in the sacrifice on the cross, was not adorned with silk and gold and precious stones, but with divine love, wisdom, patience, obedience and all virtues. His adornment was apparent to none but God and possessors, of the Spirit, for it was spiritual.

Christ sacrificed not goats nor calves nor birds; not bread; not blood nor flesh, as did Aaron and his posterity: he offered his own body and blood, and the manner of the sacrifice was spiritual; for it took place through the Holy Spirit, as here stated. Though the body and blood of Christ were visible the same as any other material object, the fact that he offered them as a sacrifice was not apparent. It was not a visible sacrifice, as in the case of offerings at the hands of Aaron. Then the goat or calf, the flesh and blood, were material sacrifices visibly offered, and recognized as sacrifices. But Christ offered himself in the heart before God. His sacrifice was perceptible to no mortal. Therefore, his bodily flesh and blood becomes a spiritual sacrifice. Similarly, we Christians, the posterity of Christ our Aaron, offer up our own bodies (Rom 12:1). And our offering is likewise a spiritual sacrifice, or, as Paul has it, a “reasonable service”; for we make it in spirit, and it is beheld of God alone.

Again, in the new order, the tabernacle or house is spiritual; for it is heaven, or the presence of God. Christ hung upon a cross; he was not offered in a temple. He was offered before the eyes of God, and there he still abides. The cross is an altar in a spiritual sense. The material cross was indeed visible, but none knew it as Christ’s altar. Again, his prayer, his sprinkled blood, his burnt incense, were all spiritual, for it was all wrought through his spirit. Accordingly, the fruit and blessing of his office and sacrifice, the forgiveness of our sins and our justification, are likewise spiritual. (“Christ Our Great High Priest”)

Have We Excluded Something Important From Worship?

Praise him with trumpet sound;

praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance;

praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with sounding cymbals;

praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150:3-6 ESV)

In the words of R. C. Sproul:

The visual impact of the furnishings and the buildings of both the Old Testament tabernacle and temple was awesome. The eyes were dazzled with a sense of the splendor of God.

Sound was vital to Old Testament worship. The choral compositions of the Psalms were moving to the Spirit. They were accompanied by the full harmony and rhythm supplied by the harp, the lyre, the flute, and trumpets. The piano and the organ are marvelous instruments, but they cannot produce the sounds that the other instruments provide. Hymns and choral anthems are greatly enhanced when they are supported with greater orchestration.

Old Testament worship involved all five senses. The element of touch is missing in most Protestant worship. Charismatic groups emphasize the laying on of hands, which meets a strong human need for a holy touch. Early Christian worship involved the placing of the pastor’s hands on each person with the pronouncement of the benediction. When congregations got too large for such personal attention, the act gave way to the symbolic gesture of the benediction spoken by the pastor with outstretched arms. This was a simulation of the laying on of hands, but the actual touch was lost.

Old Testament worship included taste and smell. The fragrance of burning incense gave a peculiar sense of a special aroma associated with the sweetness of God. One of the first gifts laid at the foot of the manger of Jesus was that of frankincense. Most Protestants reject incense without giving any substantive reason for its rejection.

Taste was central to the Old Testament feasts as well as the New Testament celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The injunction to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8) is rooted in the worship experience. The people of God “tasted the heavenly gift” (Heb. 6:4).

Perhaps we have stunted worship by excluding elements that God once included and deemed important.

Read more here. . . .

His Unspeakable Love

Quoting John Owen:

“Christ’s offering Himself was the greatest expression of His inexpressible love! To imagine that there is any cleansing from sin except by the blood of Christ is to overthrow the gospel. We are never nearer to Christ than when we find ourselves lost in a holy amazement at his unspeakable love!”

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