(4 minute 40 second read out)
“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)
The word for “defense” is apologia. It is used in 2 Corinthians 7:11 in context of genuine repentance. There it is translated “to clear yourselves”
“For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:11 ESV)
Indeed there is an aspect of Christianity that involves clearing ourselves. In process of the spread of the gospel, God has been pleased to use men to speak the truth in love with lives that are inwardly full of hope and faith in God. The way the gospel moves forward is by a defense of one’s delights in Jesus Christ that offer no just cause for offense.
John Calvin explains:
“This was also required by the state of the times: the Christian name was much hated and deemed infamous; many thought the sect wicked and guilty of many sacrileges. It would have been, therefore, the highest perfidy against God, if, when asked, they had neglected to give a testimony in favor of their religion. And this, as I think, is the meaning of the word apology, which Peter uses, that is, that the Christians were to make it evident to the world that they were far off from every impiety, and did not corrupt true religion, on which account they were suspected by the ignorant.
Hope here is by a metonymy to be taken for faith. Peter, however, as it has been said, does not require them to know how to discuss distinctly and refinedly every article of the faith, but only to shew that their faith in Christ was consistent with genuine piety. And hence we learn how all those abuse the name of Christians, who understand nothing certain respecting their faith, and have nothing to give as an answer for it. But it behoves us again carefully to consider what he says, when he speaks of that hope that is in you; for he intimates that the confession which flows from the heart is alone that which is approved by God; for except faith dwells within, the tongue prattles in vain. It ought then to have its roots within us, so that it may afterwards bring forth the fruit of confession.”
Thus, apologia must not be disconnected from the roots of delight in Christ that is defended before the world. A perfect example is found in Song of Songs chapter 5:9–16. Imagine here the Shunamite who is captured into Solomon’s harem is longing for her true shepherd lover, and is asked by the world:
“What is your beloved more than another beloved,
O most beautiful among women?
What is your beloved more than another beloved,
that you thus adjure us? (Song of songs 5:9 ESV)
After this imagine her response or defense of her love for her true and good shepherd. She says,
My beloved is radiant and ruddy,
distinguished among ten thousand.
His head is the finest gold;
his locks are wavy,
black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves
beside streams of water,
bathed in milk,
sitting beside a full pool.
His cheeks are like beds of spices,
mounds of sweet-smelling herbs.
His lips are lilies,
dripping liquid myrrh.
His arms are rods of gold,
set with jewels.
His body is polished ivory,
bedecked with sapphires.
His legs are alabaster columns,
set on bases of gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon,
choice as the cedars.
His mouth is most sweet,
and he is altogether desirable.
This is my beloved and this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem.” (Song 5:9–16 ESV)
A good defense is a defense of our love for Jesus Christ. Perhaps we do well to consider when we are ‘witnessing’ that biblically speaking, the clearing of ourselves before the world has more to do with testifying to a genuine love we have for Jesus. In Peter’s estimation, the world needs to hear more of this.
I have two passages in mind this morning. The first is Matthew 28:18–20 and the second is Matthew 16:16–18. The first is a commission, the second promise. Let’s take them in the order in the book of Matthew.
“Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:16–18 ESV)
I want to concentrate on the last part of that verse: “the gates of hell shall not prevail.” We need not get into all the issues of the verse. I want you to see that there are “gates.” And “gates” are used more for defense than offense. Really the world is not so much on the offense, but is retreating from Christ by their rebellion against him and the church. Christ’s promise is that these “gates” will not prevail. In other literature, the phrase “the gates of hell” can speak of death. However, in the Bible we read early that this was included in God’s promise about kingdoms opposed to the everlasting one. In Genesis, Moses writes,
“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,” (Genesis 22:17 ESV)
That last phrase “And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies” is the matter I am looking at here. It is a promise. The gate of the enemy was the place one did business before the leaders of that city. For example, just a bit later it can be read:
“Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites, and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city,” (Genesis 23:10 ESV).
Now, quickly moving from here, keep in mind the promise of blessing of the descendants and their success against the city gates of the world.
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20 ESV)
The commission, I believe, relates directly to the promise. God is going to make the spiritual descendants of Abraham, the father of the faith per se, extremely numerous through means of discipling. Discipling the nations involves baptizing and teaching God’s law. The words “make disciples” are really one word in the Greek New Testament that is a verb for discipling or teaching. We teach God’s people from every nation who have been chosen before the foundation of the world, regenerated by the Spirit, and justified by faith alone in Christ alone, by baptizing them into the church, and teaching them obedience to God’s law. This commission given to the church will not fail. The church is on the offense, the world is on the defense. And God’s promise stands, and his commission will be successful. Thus, teach the nations with hope and confidence in God.
I was reading in the gospel of Mark this morning and came across an article in my reformation study bible on hell. It begins with these words:
“We have often heard statements such as “war is hell” or ” I went through hell.” These expressions are, of course, not taken literally. Rather, they reflect our tendency to use the word hell as a descriptive term for the most ghastly human experience possible. Yet no human experience int his world is actually comparable to hell. If we try to imagine the worst of all possible suffering int he here and now we have not yet stretched our imaginations to reach the dreadful reality of hell.” (p.1753 full edition)
Berkhof states similarly the liberal idea of hell as follows:
“In modern liberal theology the word “hell” is generally regarded as a figurative designation of a purely subjective condition, in which men may find themselves even while on earth, and which may become permanent in the future.” ~Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 735.
Nonetheless the biblical doctrine of hell deserves reflection so as to distinguish it from the false subjective notion that people refer to as stated above. Using aforementioned article, here is a brief meditation on why I am reluctant to describe 2020 as hell:
- I am reluctant to describe 2020 as Hell because Hell is a reality that exists outside of any negative subjective experience or symbol. Hell is a real entity. Hell is not merely a symbol. Symbols function to point to reality. Therefore things like: the place of torment where the worm doesn’t die, outer darkness, fire, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a prison, a place of eternal separation from God’s blessings, etc. all function to point to a higher and more intense state of reality than the symbol itself can contain. So, symbols function not to lessen the reality, but to help capture it. To speak of 2020 or a negative subjective experience as hell devalues the reality of hell.
- I am reluctant to describe 2020 as Hell because Hell lacks the blessings that still existed on earth in this life, and does not do justice to the real justice of God that will come upon the sons of disobedience. Hell is wrathful. Hell is not separation from God. It is separation from the blessings of God. Godless people already wish to be separated from God and such would provide no problem for them. The real teaching of hell is not separation from God, but from God’s blessings that people enjoy in this life whether they are good or bad. In hell, all blessing of God is removed, and the presence of God’s wrath is administered. God is not being cruel in sovereignly ruling negative experiences in 2020 now nor in administering wrath in hell later. God is just. He is not getting thrills by punishment. He is just in his being and to offend an eternal holy God can only be met with eternal punishment proportionate to his being. Hell is setting forth the just punishment that rejectors of the eternal holy God deserve. To speak of 2020 or some experience as hell is to devalue the real wrath of God set forth in Scripture that is deserved by every person who rejects an eternal and holy God.
- I am reluctant to describe 2020 as Hell because Hell is eternal, and 2020 is not. Hell is not an annihilation where existence ceases. Jonathan Edwards says it well, “Wicked men will hereafter earnestly wish to be turned to nothing and forever cease to be that they may escape the wrath of God” but they can’t. God’s wrath will not be satisfied in hell because the objects of his wrath are unable to atone, only Christ can, and therefore it goes on forever. To speak of 2020 or some experience as hell ignores the fact that all bad experiences in life come to an end and are not forever, but hell is forever.
- I am reluctant to describe 2020 as Hell because Hell is far more crucial than a negative subjective experience in this life. Hell is “an eternity before the righteous, ever-burning wrath of God, a suffering torment from which there is no escape and no relief. Understanding this is crucial to our drive to appreciate the work of Christ and to preach His gospel.” To speak of 2020 or some experience as hell is to replace a crucial teaching to the faith with a lesser and weaker one that will have an effect on our love for God and for people in the world who need the gospel.
Nonetheless, having said all of this, there is some value in the notion that people look at 2020 or other negative subjective experiences as hell, namely that it might point them to the reality of hell and help them flee to Christ. If the notion of 2020 as hell gets people to discover the vastly superior doctrine of hell that is written in God’s Word, then it serves a purpose that will in no wise prove unfruitful. So, 2020 was not Hell, but it may point people to study Hell, and to see an incomparable doctrine so as to (if God be pleased) cause them to flee from the wrath of God and to His Son Lord Jesus Christ.
Genesis 38 appears to be an interruption in the story of Joseph, since Joseph’s story begins in Genesis 37. Genesis 38 is the account of Judah and Tamar. It seems at first, out of place. However, with careful examination, one will find that it is actually perfectly in place—as all of Scripture is.
“Although at first blush this chapter appears to be a diversion from the main story of Jacob’s family, it is a necessary component of the overall plot that demonstrates how God’s plan unfolded in the lives of the sons of Jacob, the twelve patriarchs of the people of Israel.” ~Steinmann, Andrew E.. Genesis (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) . InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
Using the same commentator above, I found several parallels to Genesis 37 which make it very clear that this chapter is placed intentionally together with it to convey it is about the story of Jacob’s family in a big way. In other words, the meaning stated above governs the arrangement of the chapters. Moses is telling a story of gigantic proportions of how the whole world will be blessed!
Here are the items in brief that Steinmann relates about the similarities of the chapters which are on both sides of chapter 37.
- In the previous chapter (37) Jacob is sent a robe and told to identify it, and in this chapter (38) Tamar sends Judah his seal, cord, and staff and tells him to identify them.
- In ch.37 a goats blood was used to stain Joseph’s coat, and in ch.38 a goat was the price for Tamar’s services as a prostitute.
- In both chapters there is deception: In ch.37 Israel’s sons deceive him about Joseph; and in ch.38 Tamar deceives Jacob.
- The chapter that follows also shows the placement to be very intentionally telling this story. They both include similar openings: Judah went down from his brothers (38:1) and in 39:1 Joseph was taken down to Egypt.
- In chapters 37 and 38 both use evidence to persuade someone. In ch.37 Joseph’s bloodstained coat is used as evidence to persuade Israel that his son Joseph is dead. In ch.38 Judah’s seal, cord, and staff are used as evidence to show the man who impregnated Tamar. Additionally, in ch.39 Joseph’s garment is used as evidence by Potiphar’s wife to support her claim that Joseph tried to sleep with her.
The connections noted above on these three chapters amazingly tell the reader that this is a story of how God lets no obstacle get in the way of his covenant promise to bless the nations. And with such we can too take heart as we read in the genealogy of the Messiah in Matthew:
“and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram” (Matthew 1:3 ESV).
Thus, God allows no obstacle to prevent his blessing the nations.
“Nothing renders us so like unto God as our love unto Jesus Christ, for he is the principal object of his love;—in him doth his soul rest—in him is he always well pleased.” ~John Owen, Works Vol. 1, p146
“and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3:17 ESV)
“He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”” (Matthew 17:5 ESV)