A night at the Met

May 30, 2004

No, not the Metropolitan Opera, but darn close, as my own church, the Metropolitan Bible Church of Ottawa hosted operatic tenor Ben Heppner in an eclectic mini-concert. My understanding, though I could well be wrong, is that he was there to lend a hand to a ministry which our church supports, and in which Mr. Heppner’s daughter is involved.

After a worship set, Mr. Heppner took the platform. He opened with a rendition of Noël Coward’s “I’ll Follow My Secret Heart.” This was followed by two classical selections: “Non t’amo più” by Tosti and the popular Puccini aria “Nessun Dorma” [MIDI] from Turandot. The remainder of the repertoire was sacred music, beginning with the spiritual “Ride On, King Jesus,” and then a selection of great hymns of the faith, including “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” “I Will Sing of My Redeemer,” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” He was accompanied by his daughter on the piano. In between pieces he spoke briefly about his work, his family, and his faith.

I had a chance after the service to talk briefly with Mr. Heppner, and he seemed quite happy to answer my questions about his repertoire (which helped me immensely in preparing this synopsis, as my retention of Italian song titles typically lasts about ten seconds).

Speaking as a very occasional songleader and a fair-to-middling choral singer, it is quite a humbling experience to hear one of the truly great tenors singing on the same stage. Maybe it just gives me something to strive for. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful and uplifting evening – arguably a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


The Gospel and Gentiles (Rom. 11:13-36)

May 30, 2004

[I believe this may be the last of the Romans sermons, at least for now, since the summer hiatus is nearly upon us. It looks like the last one in Romans 11, anyway, and that was about as far as I originally wanted to transcribe this series.]

“Israel the Olive Tree” is a symbol familiar to readers of Old Testament prophecy, particularly Jeremiah and Zechariah; just as the maple leaf symbolizes Canada, so the olive tree symbolize Israel. Paul here pictures an olive tree with some of the branches broken off – those Jews who, having heard the Gospel message and rejected it, have themselves been rejected for a time because of their unbelief. But this gave the Gentiles an opportunity to receive the Gospel; cf. Acts 13:46 and 18:6, where Paul turned away from preaching to the Jews to preaching to the Gentiles and discovered that many of them believed.

However, this led to a spiritual problem developing in the Church as the Gentiles began to outnumber the Jews. They started to become conceited. Hence Paul here warns them not to become arrogant (11:18, 20, 25).

  1. Spiritual pride needs to be pruned.

    How do we know if we are getting too proud? Paul provides five indicators:

    1. You think salvation is all about you. (vv. 13-14)

      Rick Warren begins The Purpose Driven Life with this sentence: “It’s not about you.” He’s right. Paul ministered to the Gentiles partly in hope that by so doing he would arouse a godly envy in his fellow Jews, and they would be saved.

      Too often we have a “cul-de-sac Christianity” mentality where everything flows to us for our benefit. Rather, we should cultivate a “boulevard Christianity” where we receive the blessings but send them farther along the line.

    2. You fail to appreciate your spiritual roots. (v. 17)

      The root of the olive tree is the patriarchs, in particular Abraham, the father of all the Jews. Paul is reminding the Gentile Christians that they are not the roots, they are some of the branches – off a different tree, at that.

      We must never lose sight of the fact that we have been grafted onto a great root, and it is the root that supports the branches, not the other way around. We must appreciate Christianity’s Jewish roots. This does not mean that we need to become Jews or obey the Jewish law (see Rom. 10:4), or that we must unequivocally support the state of Israel. What it does mean, however, is that anti-Semitism is also anti-Christian.

    3. You get careless about God’s kindness. (v. 19)

      The Jews have lost their place of spiritual privilege for a time, while the Gentiles have been given God’s favour. Gentile Christians need to remember that this is only by God’s grace that they are in this place right now. But if they move to unbelief, they too will lose their place.

      Gentile Christians must not become careless or conceited, lest they get in trouble with God. The Bible says we may be confident of our salvation (see Rom. 8:30), but this does not mean that we can become complacent about it. Those who are truly saved, will truly abide – persever – in their faith. But there are those who are grafted into the Church that are not truly born again, and they can be cut off again.

    4. You forget your wild side. (v. 24)

      The Gentiles were not naturally a part of the family of faith (Eph. 2:11-12); it is by grace that we have been grafted in (Eph. 2:13). Some of us have a wild background that lets us appreciate what we have been given in Christ. But all Gentiles, though they may not realize it – maybe we’ve been a Christian all our lives, for example – have a wild side.

    5. You stop marvelling at God’s mercy. (vv. 31-32)

      Whether Jew or Gentile, we only believe at all because of God’s mercy, not because there is something innate to our nature. We must never forget the wonder that God let us into the family.

  2. A spirit of praise needs to bloom. (v.36)

    Rather than arrogance, the proper response to God’s mercy is gratitude. A spirit of pride needs to be pruned so that a spirit of praise can bloom.

God’s promises to Abraham

May 24, 2004

A major presupposition of the Dispensational hermeneutic is that there are still promises to Abraham and his descendants (i.e. the nation of Israel) awaiting future literal fulfillment: that they will inherit the Promised Land as a permanent possession, that they will be a great nation, and that from them will come worldwide blessings. These, we are told, are to be realized in the Millennium. Therefore, so-called “replacement theology” (God’s transferring his covenantal rule from the children of Abraham according the flesh to the spiritual children of Abraham according to faith) is a fallacy.

Over my Christmas holiday, I sat down with a Bible, a concordance, and the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, and went through all the promises made to Abraham in Genesis – systematically ordering those promises according to topic and seeking out their fulfillment elsewhere in the Scriptures. My intent was to determine which of them remain unfulfilled 4000 years later. Having posted last night’s sermon, I thought it might be a good idea to resurrect this list from another discussion forum and post it here.

Unless otherwise indicated, all chapter and verse references are taken from Genesis.

Promises of Blessings

Status: Fulfilled.

Blessings are promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:2; 22:16) and to those who bless him (12:3; conversely those who curse Abraham are themselves cursed). Also, blessings are to come to the nations of the earth through Abraham’s seed (12:3; 22:18).

Paul specifically declares the last of these to be fulfilled in the coming of the Gospel to the Gentiles through Christ (cf. Gal. 3:8). The remainder are fulfilled in a general way, as seen by God’s favour upon Abraham and his offspring.

Abraham is also promised a peaceful death at a “good old age” (15:15). He lived to be 175 (25:7-8).

Promises Concerning Ishmael

Status: Fulfilled.

While these promises are not germane to the present point, for the sake of completeness I include them to get them out of the way.

Ishmael was not Abraham’s heir, but since he was Abraham’s offspring, God promised that he would multiply exceedingly and be the father of a great nation and “twelve princes” (17:20; see also 21:13). These promises were fulfilled to the letter (see 25:12-17).

Promises of an Heir

Status: Fulfilled.

Both Abraham (15:4) and Sarah (17:16,19) are promised an heir despite their advanced age. This promise is fulfilled in the birth of Isaac (21:2).

Promises of Many Descendants and a Great Nation

Status: Fulfilled.

God promised Abraham that he would renew his covenant with Isaac and his descendants. This he does, with Isaac (26:3-5), with Jacob (35:9-15), and with the Israelites at Sinai (Exod. 20-23).

Abraham is promised that he will have many descendants through Isaac (17:2,6; 21:12). They will be innumerable, like the stars of the heavens or the sand of the seashore (15:5; 22:17). Solomon prays to God for wisdom to rule over “a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude” (1 Kings 3:8); in fact the author of 1 Kings says that “Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance” (1 Kings 4:20). Nehemiah also affirms that “Thou didst make their sons numerous as the stars of heaven” (Neh. 9:23).

Abraham is further promised that his seed “shall possess the gate of their enemies” (22:17); the conquests of Joshua (Josh. 1-12) and David (2 Sam. 8:1-18), to name two, fulfill this promise.

The promise to make Abraham’s name great (12:2) is said to have already occurred, in Deut. 26:5, and it is restated in 2 Sam. 7:9.

God promises Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and that Sarah would be the mother (12:2, 17:4,5,6,16). The fulfillment of this promise in the twelve tribes of Israel is self-evident – the remainder of the Old Testament deals exclusively with the nation of Israel.

A number of promises were made that found their specific fulfilment in the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt. These are:

  • that Abraham’s seed would be “strangers in a land that is not theirs (15:13)
  • they shall be slaves for 400 years (15:13)
  • the nation that enslaved them would be judged (15:14)
  • Abraham’s seed would “come out with many possessions” (15:14)
  • in “the fourth generation” they would return to Canaan (15:16)

Finally, Abraham is promised that “kings of peoples” shall come from his line. These would include Saul (1 Sam. 10:24), David and his line (2 Sam. 5:3), and of course this promise finds its ultimate fulfillment in the King of kings, Jesus Christ himself.

Promises of Land

Status: Fulfilled.

Abraham is promised the land of Canaan as his possession and that of his descendants (12:7). In places this is said to be “all the land which you see” (13:14-15) and, most specifically, “[f]rom the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates” (17:18).

Joshua conquered it:

So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. (Josh. 21:43)

Some land was lost in border skirmishes during the rule of the judges, but David regained it:

Then David defeated Hadadezer, the son of Rehob king of Zobah, as he went to restore his rule at the River [i.e. the Euphrates]. (2 Sam. 8:3).

Solomon ruled over it:

Now Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt; they brought tributed and served Solomon all the days of his life. . . . For he had dominion over everything west of the River, from Tiphsah even to Gaza, over all the kings west of the River; and he had peace on all sides around about him. (1 Kings 4:21,24)

In conclusion

All the promises given to Abraham by God have been fulfilled. None remain outstanding.

Joshua affirms it:

So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass. (Josh. 21:43-45)

“Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed.” (Josh. 23: 14)

Nehemiah reaffirms it:

And Thou didst find his [Abram’s] heart faithful before Thee,

And didst make a covenant with him

To give him the land of the Canaanite,

Of the Hittite and the Amorite,

Of the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite –

To give it to his descendants.

And Thou has fulfilled Thy promise,

For Thou art righteous. (Neh.9:8)

So the question remains: What part of the covenant with Abraham remains unfulfilled and awaiting the millennial kingdom to be realized?

May Long Weekend Sermon Threefer: From Abraham to the Millennium

May 24, 2004

[Since it was related to the ongoing series on Romans, I present last night’s evening sermon. Again, as a non-Dispensationalist, I disclaim some of the pastor’s particular conclusions, but for the sake of a fair and accurate synopsis present the full outline here without comment.]

From Abraham to the Millennium: Israel’s Past, Present, and Future

Frederick the Great once asked his chaplain for the greatest evidence of the truth of Christianity. The answer was, “The Jews.” They are a small, persecuted group that has alwasy managed to retain its identity throughout all these centuries. Their perseverence is evidence that there is a God in heaven and validity to the Bible.

This is a panoramic view of Jewish history as seen in the Bible. Since Christianity is Jewish, this is our spiritual history as well.

  1. Abraham to Moses

    2000 years before Christ, Abraham had an encounter with God. Promises were made to him, specifically that he would be given a land, that his descendants would become a great nation, and they would be a worldwide blessing. God confirmed these promises with a covenant (Genesis 15), which was made unilaterally by God himself.

    Compare Hebrews 11:8-9,11-13: Abraham and his descendants through to Joseph live in Canaan as strangers. Jacob and Joseph die in Egypt, but Joseph, who dies after a stellar career in the civil service, requests that his remains be returned to Canaan to be buried. The patriarchs believed God’s promises, though they didn’t live to see them carried out.

    Then a pharaoh arose who “knew not Joseph.” He saw the Israelites as an asset rather than a nation.

  2. Moses to David

    C. 1400 B.C., God raised up a leader, Moses, to deliver the children of Israel from slavery. It is at this time that Israel is galvanized as a nation. God gives them the Law at Mt. Sinai, but because of their disobedience, what should have been a short trip into the Promised Land becomes a 40-year waste in the wilderness.

    Moses dies and is succeeded by Joshua, who conquers the land of Canaan and divides it according to the 12 tribes – who, at this time, are still a loose confederation more than a cohesive nation. They are ruled by a series of “judges” and for the next few centuries, Israel experiences cycles of disobedience, followed by distress from neighbouring enemies, followed by deliverance. The people clamour for a king.

  3. David to Jesus

    In approximately 1000 B.C., Israel is ruled by a succession of three kings: Saul, David, and Solomon. David is the high water mark of the Israelite monarchy; though often a moral failure, he is nonetheless a “man after God’s own heart.” God makes a covenant with David that one of his descendants will perpetually be on the throne.

    Following the rule of Solomon is a civil war, the division of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms, and a downward spiral of evil kings. In 722 B.C., God permits the Assyrians to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel. In 586 B.C., the southern kingdom of Judah follows suit when the Babylonians take over. The land remains depopulated and desolate until about 500, at which time some Jews begin returning. But it isn’t the same as it used to be, nor does it appear to be what God had promised to Abraham.

  4. Jesus to the Present

    When Jesus appeared on the scene in the early first century, the people held high hopes that he was the Messiah who would overthrow Roman rule. Then they realized that political power wasn’t what he was all about. They had him crucified, calling judgment upon themselves for the act. The consequence: in AD 70, Rome overran Jerusalem and crushed it. It ceased to be the centre of the Jewish religion, and the Jews were scattered across the world for centuries, hunted and haunted for the remainder of their history.

    Then in 1948, the modern state of Israel was created in Palestine. Surrounded on all sides by enemies that desire to push the Israelis into the sea, it is a miracle that the nation has survived. This is proof that God is not finished yet with the Israelites.

  5. Daniel’s 70th Week

    During the exile, the prophet Daniel had a vision of the future of Israel in 70 “weeks,” or sevens, or years. The 70th “week” is apparently yet future, a time during which someone will draft an apparently workable covenant of peace between Israel and its enemies. But this covenant will be broken in 3 1/2 years by the Antichrist, and it will be followed by another 3 1/2 years of tribulation that will be difficult not only for Israel, but the rest of the world.

    Zechariah 13:8ff describes a time at which 2/3 of the living Jews are to be slaughtered; the remaining third call upon God in repentance. This is the point where “all Israel shall be saved” and the New Covenant is fulfilled.

  6. Millennium

    At Jesus’ return, he rules the world from Jerusalem for 1000 years (Rev. 20). It is during this time that the blessings promised to Abraham – land, a great nation, worldwide blessing – are finally realized. God will have kept his promises.

Two “takeaway” applications from all this:

  • It is a great privilege to be in on the blessings promised to Abraham (Gal 3:14,26-29).
  • God is in control of history. He was in control back then, and he remains in control until the end of time.

From the stars we came, to the stars we return.

May 24, 2004

Author Peter David today reports the passing of Richard Biggs, the actor who played Dr. Stephen Franklin on Babylon 5. I did a little further digging and found this from the series’ creator, J. Michael Straczynski, posted to the newsgroup rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated:

We’re still gathering information, so take none of this as firm word, but what seems to have happened, happened quickly. He woke up, got up out of bed…and went down. The paramedics who showed up suggested it was either an aneurysm or a massive stroke.

Dr. Franklin was one of B5’s most morally complex characters. Raised in a strict military home by his father, a celebrated war hero, he chose to study medicine rather than follow the military career that was expected of him. Estranged from his father for many years, they were reconciled in the second-season episode “Gropos.” Franklin was often sanctimonious about the habits of his co-workers, while he himself alternately denied and fought an addiction to stimulants that cost him his post. A third-season subplot involved Franklin on “walkabout,” in which he wandered the station trying to find himself. A rigorously ethical man, he once destroyed his extensive xenobiology research rather than allow it to be used by the Earth Alliance to build biological weapons. In one of the most morally poignant B5 episodes, “Believers,” Franklin defies orders and violates the religious beliefs of an alien family visiting the station to perform lifesaving surgery on their child – only to discover that they consider him defiled by being cut open like an animal and have put him to death themselves. Sometimes portrayed as an arrogant scientist, Franklin was also a fervent believer in “Foundationalism” – a syncretistic religious movement not well defined in the B5 universe, but appearing to be a sort of cross-species Unitarianism.

Thank you, Richard, for bringing such an excellent character to life. You will be missed.

Sunday Sermon Twofer: The Gospel and the Nation of Israel (Rom. 10:16-11:36)

May 23, 2004

[Playing a little catch-up with our pastor’s Sunday sermon series. This is this morning’s.]

Romans 1:16 tells us that the Gospel went out first to the Jews, then the Gentiles. The sad news is, most of them didn’t receive it.

  1. Israel has rejected the Gospel.

    Paul quotes Isaiah 53:1: “Who has believed our report?” The implication is that no one has believed it. It stabs Paul in the heart to have to admit that his own people have overwhelmingly rejected the Gospel message.

    Could there be a reason for this? Perhaps they did not hear. Or perhaps they heard, but did not understand. Paul answers these two possible excuses:

    1. even though they had heard (10:18)

      Paul quotes Psalm 19:4 here. The messsage has gone out to all the earth – Jews included. They can’t claim they have not heard.

    2. even though they could understand (10:19-21)

      It isn’t a problem of comprehension. Paul quotes Moses (Deut. 32:21) and Isaiah (65:1-2) to show that since the Gentiles were able to understand, certainly the Jews were able to as well.

      The Jews’ problem was not with their heads, but their hearts. They were not dull and stupid, but disobedient and stubborn (v. 21). Sadly, this is still true; many contemporary Jews, presented with the Good News, display an almost visceral rejection of it.

    This raises another question: If Israel has rejected God, does this mean that God has rejected Israel? Paul’s answer: By no means!

  2. God has not rejected Israel. (11:1)
    1. God has chosen a remnant in Israel in the present. (11:1-6)

      This remnant is those who believe in Christ, a people God has chosen out for himself, small in quantity, but not in quality. Paul proves this by pointing to himself, a believing Jew. He quotes from the story of Elijah to show that God has always had his remnant.

    2. God has hardened the rest of Israel for a time. (11:7-10)

      We were introduced to this idea of “hardening” back in chapter 9. Hardening a clay pot does not change the shape of the pot, it simply solidifies it in whatever shape it is in. Israel was disobedient and obstinate, so God solidified them in their disobedience and obstinacy.

      There is a warning here to anyone who thinks they can play fast and loose with God’s standards. Who can truly say that they can do what they want now, and that if they repent later God will forgive them? Perhaps God will harden their hearts too. This is why the author of Hebrews warns his readers not to harden their hearts (Heb. 3:7-8).

    3. God will save the nation of Israel in the future. (11:11-36)

      Is Israel hardened in its unbelief forever? Not at all! Israel’s rejection of the Gospel opened the door for the Gentiles to receive it. This is a great blessing for the Gentiles. But the fulness of Israel’s repentance will bring an even greater blessing; the nation that was hardened will be the nation that is restored.

      Why is this important? Because there are some Christians who say that God is completely finished with the Jews. However, Paul is saying that God still has plans for Israel.

Two personal applications for this teaching:

  • It provides solid ground for believing in God’s promises. God’s promises to Israel are irrevocable (11:29). If God will keep his promises to Israel, we can be sure that he will keep his promises to us as well.
  • It provides a good reason to hope in the saving mercy of God (11:32).

The Gospel and Beautiful Feet (Rom. 10:14-15)

May 23, 2004

[Continuing my pastor’s series on Romans 9-11, this is last week’s sermon, somewhat belated. I’ll post today’s later this evening, I hope.]

God thinks that the feet of those who carry the Gospel are beautiful. This passage is a series of successions, numerous links in a long chain of logic.

  1. Saving comes after calling. (13)

    Those who are saved must first call – an admission that they need to be saved, from God’s judgment and wrath (which is a key theme of Romans’ first five chapters). It is also an admission that we can’t save ourselves. But everyone who makes the call, gets an answer.

  2. Calling comes after believing. (14)

    There’s a logical order to this. To call on the Lord, we must first believe in the Lord.

  3. Believing comes after hearing. (14)

    Compare John 5:24 – those who hear and believe have eternal life.

    But in our world, there are many people – almost a third of the world – who have never heard. It is even possible for them to be “out of sight, out of mind.” But they are not out of God’s sight and mind. So what happens to those who have hever heard the Gospel? To be called and saved, they must hear.

  4. Hearing comes after telling. (14)

    Someone needs to tell them. This is a challenge to Christians who believe that their lives just speak for themselves. The “preacher” here is a herald: someone who is sent to proclaim an important message. When a king sends a herald with a proclamation, the herald proclaims it. He doesn’t just set a good example for the king’s subjects to follow.

  5. Telling comes after sending. (15)

    The heralds must be sent.

    The logic of the passage can be summed up like this: For the lost to be saved, the saved must be sent. There are three pastoral implications for this:

    1. We are all sent to reach people.

      John 20:21 says that as the Father sent the Son, so Jesus sends his disciples to tell people. We may be the “beautiful feet” whom God sends to our friends.

    2. We must send some to unreached peoples.

      Many cultures in our world have not yet heard. The Great Commission says to go in to all the world (Matt. 28:19). So for them to hear, we must send some of our own, and we must send some of our best. Like Paul and Barnabas, they should be someone who will be missed at home.

    3. We must support those we send.

      The emphasis of Rom. 10:15 is our sending, not their going. Perhaps this is because most of us aren’t goers, but senders. We can support them through prayer, and through finances.