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Exodus 20; Luke 23; Job 38; 2 Corinthians 8

Mar 09, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 20; Luke 23; Job 38; 2 Corinthians 8

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (Ex. 20) were once learned by every child at school in the Western world. They established deeply ingrained principles of right and wrong that contributed to the shaping of Western civilization. They were not viewed as ten recommendations, optional niceties for polite people. Even many of those who did not believe that they were given by God himself (“God spoke all these words,” 20:1) nevertheless viewed them as the highest brief summary of the kind of private and public morality needed for the good ordering of society.

Their importance is now fast dissipating in the West. Even many church members cannot recite more than three or four of them. It is unthinkable that a thoughtful Christian would not memorize them.

Yet it is the setting in which they were first given that calls forth this meditation. The Ten Commandments were given by God through Moses to the Israelites in the third month after their rescue from Egypt. Four observations:

(1) The Ten Commandments are, in the first place, the high point of the covenant mediated by Moses (cf. 19:5), delivered by God at Sinai (Horeb). The rest of the covenant makes little sense without them; the Ten Commandments themselves are buttressed by the rest of the covenantal stipulations. However enduring, they are not merely abstract principles, but are cast in the concrete terms of that culture: e.g., the prohibition to covet your neighbor’ s ox or donkey.

(2) The Ten Commandments are introduced by a reminder that God redeemed this community from slavery: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (20:2). They are his people not only because of Creation, not only because of the covenant with Abraham, but because God rescued them from Egypt.

(3) God delivered the Ten Commandments in a terrifying display of power. In an age before nuclear holocaust, the most frightening experience of power was nature unleashed. Here, the violence of the storm, the shaking of the earth, the lightning, the noise, the smoke (19:16-19; 20:18) not only solemnized the event, but taught the people reverent fear (20:19-29). The fear of the Lord is not only the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7), but also keeps people from sinning (Ex. 20:20). God wants them to know he had rescued them; he also wants them to know he is not a domesticated deity happily dispensing tribal blessings. He is not only a good God, but a terrifying, awesome God.

(4) Since God is so terrifying, the people themselves insist that Moses should mediate between him and them (20:18-19). And this prepares the way for another, final, Mediator (Deut. 18:15-18).

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Exodus 19; Luke 22; Job 37; 2 Corinthians 7

Mar 08, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 19; Luke 22; Job 37; 2 Corinthians 7

THE NEW TESTAMENT ACCOUNTS of the “words of institution”: — i.e., the words that institute the Lord’ s Supper as an ongoing rite — vary somewhat, but their commonalities are striking. Luke 22:7-20 allows us to reflect on some elements of one of those accounts.

All three synoptic Gospels indicate that Jesus ordered his disciples to prepare for a Passover meal; Luke stresses the point (22:1, 7-8, 11, 15). Jesus wants his own actions and words to be understood in the light of that earlier traditional feast. The Passover celebrated not only the release of the Israelites from bondage, but the way that release was accomplished: in God’ s plan, the angel of death “passed over” the houses protected by the sacrificial blood, while all the other homes in Egypt lost their firstborn. Moreover, this miraculous exodus set the stage for the inauguration of the Sinai covenant. So when Jesus now takes bread at a Passover meal and says, “This is my body given for you” (22:19), and when he takes the cup and says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (22:20), one hears more than overtones from the old covenant ritual. This side of the cross, one cannot avoid the conclusion that Jesus sees his own death, the shedding of his own blood, as the God-provided sacrifice which averts the wrath of God, that he himself is the Passover Lamb of God par excellence, and that his death establishes a covenant with the people of God by releasing them from a darker, deeper slavery.

Someone has said that the four most disputed words in the history of the church are “This is my body.” Without entering the lists on all that might be said about this clause, surely we can agree that one of its functions, as it is repeated in the ritual that Christ Jesus himself prescribed, is commemorative: “Do this in remembrance of me” (22:19). It is shocking that this should be necessary, in exactly the same way that it is shocking that a commemorative rite like the Passover should have been necessary. But history shows how quickly the people of God drift toward peripheral matters, and end up ignoring or denying the center. By a simple rite, Jesus wants his followers to come back to his death, his shed blood, his broken body, again and again and again.

It is also an anticipatory rite. It looks forward to the consummated kingdom, when the Passover and the Lord’ s Supper alike find their fulfillment (22:16, 18). We eat and drink as he prescribes “until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26), when commemoration and proclamation will be swallowed up by the bliss of his presence.

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Exodus 18; Luke 21; Job 36; 2 Corinthians 6

Mar 07, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 18; Luke 21; Job 36; 2 Corinthians 6

ONE CAN ONLY IMAGINE the conversations that Moses had enjoyed with Jethro, his father-in-law, during the decades they spent together in Midian. But clearly, some of the talk was about the Lord God. Called to his extraordinary ministry, Moses temporarily entrusted his wife and sons to his father-in-law’ s care (Ex. 18:2). Perhaps that decision had been precipitated by the extraordinary event described in Exodus 4:24-26, where in the light of this new mission Moses’ own sons undergo emergency circumcision to bring Moses’ household into compliance with the covenant with Abraham, thereby avoiding the wrath of God.

But now Moses learns that Jethro is coming to see him, restoring to him his wife Zipporah and their sons Gershom and Eliezer. Soon Moses continues the old conversation. This time he gives his father-in-law a blow-by-blow account of all that the Lord had done in rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt. Doubtless some of Jethro’s delight (18:9) is bound up with his ties with his son-in-law. But if his final evaluative comment is taken at face value, Jethro has also come to a decisive conclusion: “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly” (18:11). And he offers sacrifices to the living God (18:12).

All this material is provided as background for what takes place in the rest of the chapter. The next day, Jethro sees Moses attempting to arbitrate every dispute in the fledgling nation. With wisdom and insight he urges on Moses a major administrative overhaul — a rigorous judicial system with most of the decisions being taken at the lowest possible level, only the toughest cases being reserved for Moses himself, the “supreme court.” Moses listens carefully to his father-in-law, and puts the entire plan into operation (18:24). The advantages for the people, who are less frustrated by the system, and for Moses, who is no longer run ragged, are beyond calculation. And at the end of the chapter, Jethro returns home.

In some ways, the account is surprising. Major administrative structures are being put into place among the covenant community without any word from God. Why is Jethro, at best on the fringes of the covenant people, allowed to play such an extraordinary role as counselor and confidant of Moses?

The questions answer themselves. God may use the means of “common grace” to instruct and enrich his people. The sovereign goodness and provision of God are displayed as much in bringing Jethro on the scene at this propitious moment as in the parting of the waters of the Red Sea. Are there not contemporary analogies?

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Exodus 17; Luke 20; Job 35; 2 Corinthians 5

Mar 06, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 17; Luke 20; Job 35; 2 Corinthians 5

BY THIS STAGE IN JESUS’ MINISTRY, the tensions between him and the authorities have become acute. Some are overtly theological; others have pragmatic overtones and elements of turf protection. Every unit in Luke 20 reflects some of this increasing tension.

We shall focus on the parable of the tenants (20:9-19). The story becomes more comprehensible to Western minds when we recall that these “tenant farmers” in the first-century culture were not simply employees (in the modern sense), but workers tied to an entire social structure. They owed the owner of the vineyard not only a percentage of the produce, but respectful allegiance. Their treatment of the servants he sent was not only harsh and greedy, but shameful. That he should send his son would not be thought of as a stupid act on his part: it would simply be unthinkable for them to kill him. But in the story that Jesus tells, that is just what they do: they kill him, hoping somehow that the land will become theirs not that the rightful heir is dead.

What then will the owner do? Jesus answers his own question: “He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (20:16).

The people grasp the point of the parable. The main lines were clear: God was the vineyard owner, the tenant farmers were Israel, the servants rejected by the farmers were the prophets, and eventually God sends his “son” (doubtless a slightly ambiguous category for them) — and the result is that the land and prosperity that the owner provided are stripped from them and given to others. Small wonder they exclaim, “May this never be!”

That was exactly the response Jesus expected from them. He had set them up for it. But now he looks at them steadily and cites Scripture to prove that that is exactly how things will turn out, exactly how things therefore must turn out. For doesn’t Scripture say, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” (20:17; Ps. 118:22)? That “stone” finally wins; those who fall on it are broken to pieces, those on whom it falls are crushed. But the fact of the matter is that the stone is initially rejected by the builders.

Doubtless Jesus’ hearers did not understand all of the ramifications of this parable. But the scribes and chief priests understood enough to know that they themselves did not figure too well in it: they must be included among the people who beat up on prophets and finally reject God’ s Son. Politically, this is one more step to the cross; theologically, Jesus teaches his followers what kind of Messiah he is, and how his death is as inevitable as the scriptural prophecies that predict it.

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Exodus 16; Luke 19; Job 34; 2 Corinthians 4

Mar 05, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 16; Luke 19; Job 34; 2 Corinthians 4

THE CLOSING VERSES OF Exodus 15 are a harbinger of things to come. Despite the miraculous interventions by God that characterized their escape from Egypt, the people do not really trust him; the first bit of hardship turns to whining and complaining. Exodus 16 carries the story further, and shows that this muttering is linked, at several levels, to overt defiance of the living God.

We need not imagine that the Israelites were not hungry; of course they were. The question is what they did about it. They might have turned to God in prayer and asked him to supply all their needs. As he had effected their rescue so dramatically, would he not also provide for them? But instead they sarcastically romanticize their experience of slavery (!) in Egypt (16:3), and grumble against Moses and Aaron (16:2).

Moses might have felt miffed at the sheer ingratitude of the people. Wisely, he recognizes its real focus and evil. Although they grumble against Moses and Aaron, their real complaint is against God himself (16:7-8): “You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.”

In all this, the Lord is still forbearing. As he turned the bitter waters of Marah into sweetness (15:22-26), so he now provides them with meat in the form of quail, and with manna. This frankly miraculous provision not only meets their need, but is granted so that they “will see the glory of the LORD” (16:7). “Then you will know that I am the LORD your God” (16:12). Further, the Lord says, “I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions” (16:4).

Unfortunately, not a few in the community fail the test miserably. They try to hoard manna when they are told not to; they try to gather manna when, on the Sabbath, none is provided. Moses is frankly angry with them (16:20); the Lord himself challenges this chronic disobedience (16:28).

Why should people who have witnessed so spectacular a display of the grace and power of God slip so easily into muttering and complaining and slide so gracelessly into listless disobedience? The answer lies in the fact that many of them see God as existing to serve them. He served them in the Exodus; he served them when he provided clean water. Now he must serve not only their needs but their appetites. Otherwise they are entirely prepared to abandon him. While Moses has been insisting to Pharaoh that the people needed to retreat into the desert in order to serve and worship God, the people themselves think God exists to serve them.

The fundamental question is, “Who is the real God?” New covenant believers face the same choice (1 Cor. 10:10).

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Exodus 15; Luke 18; Job 33; 2 Corinthians 3

Mar 04, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 15; Luke 18; Job 33; 2 Corinthians 3

EACH OF THE FIRST FOUR UNITS OF Luke 18 can easily be misunderstood; each makes abundant sense when read in conjunction with the others.

The first (18:1-8) is a parable that Jesus tells his disciples “to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (18:1). An unjust judge is badgered by a persistent widow so that in the end he provides her with the justice she asks for. “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” (18:7). If even this judge eventually puts things right, how much more will God, when his “chosen ones” cry to him? By itself, of course, this parable could be taken to mean that the longer and louder one prays, the more blessings one gets — a kind of tit-for-tat arrangement that Jesus himself elsewhere disavows (Matt. 6:5-15). But the last verse (18:8) focuses the point: “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” The real problem is not with God’ s unwillingness to answer, but with our faithless and lethargic refusal to ask.

The second (18:9-14) parable describes a Pharisee and a tax collector who go up to the temple to pray. Some modern relativists conclude from this story that Jesus accepts everyone, regardless of his or her continuing sins, habits, or lifestyle. He rejects only self-confident religious hypocrites. Certainly Jesus rejects the latter. But the parable does not suggest that the tax collector wished to continue in his sin; rather, he begs for mercy, knowing what he is; he approaches God out of a freely recognized need.

In the third unit (18:15-17) Jesus insists that little children be brought to him, “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” One must “receive the kingdom of God like a child,” or not at all. Yet this does not commend childlike behavior in all respects (e.g., naïveté, short-term thinking, moral immaturity, the cranky “No!” of the “terrible twos”). But little children do have an openness, a refreshing freedom from self-promotion, a simplicity that asks and trusts.

The fourth unit (18:18-30) finds Jesus telling a rich ruler to sell all that he has and give to the poor, if he is to have treasure in heaven, and then follow Christ. Does this mean that only penurious asceticism will enjoy the blessings of heaven? Is it not Christ’s way of stripping off this particular person’ s real god, the pathetic ground of his self-confidence, so that he may trust Jesus and follow him wholly?

Can you see what holds these four units together?

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Exodus 14; Luke 17; Job 32; 2 Corinthians 2

Mar 03, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 14; Luke 17; Job 32; 2 Corinthians 2

THREE OBSERVATIONS ON the crossing of the Red Sea (Ex. 14):

First, the dynamic confrontation between Pharaoh and the sovereign Lord continues. On the one hand, Pharaoh follows his desires, concluding that the Israelites are hemmed in by sea and desert, and therefore easy prey (14:3). Moreover, Pharaoh and his officials now regret they let the people go. Slavery was one of the fundamental strengths of their economic system, certainly the most important resource in their building programs. Perhaps the plagues were horrible flukes, nothing more. The Israelite slaves must be returned.

Yet God is not a passive player as these events unfold, nor simply someone who responds to the initiative of others. He leads the fleeing Israelites away from the route to the northeast, not only so that they may escape confrontation with the Philistines (13:17), but also so that the Egyptians will conclude that the Israelites are trapped (14:3). In fact, God is leading the Egyptians into a trap, and his hardening of the heart of Pharaoh is part of that strategy (14:4, 8, 17). This sweeping, providential sovereignty is what ought to ground the trust of the people of God (14:31). Above all, the Lord is determined that in this confrontation, both the Israelites and the Egyptians will learn who God is. “I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army…. The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen” (14:17-18). “And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (14:31).

Second, the “angel of God” reappears (14:19) — not as an angel, but as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day, alternately leading the people and separating them from the pursuing Egyptians. But looked at another way, one may say that “the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light” (13:21). The ambiguities we saw earlier (Ex. 3; see meditation for February 20) continue.

Third, whatever means (such as the wind) were ancillary to the parting of the Red Sea, the event, like the plagues, is presented as miraculous — not the normal providential ordering of everything (which regularity makes science possible), but the intervention of God over against the way he normally does things (which makes miracles unique, and therefore not susceptible to scientific analysis). For people to walk on dry land between walls of water (14:21-22) is something the sovereign God of creation may arrange, but no other.

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Exodus 13; Luke 16; Job 31; 2 Corinthians 1

Mar 02, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 13; Luke 16; Job 31; 2 Corinthians 1

ON FIRST READING, the parable of the shrewd manager and its unexpected conclusion is one of the strangest stories that Jesus tells (Luke 16:1-9).

An inefficient and wasteful manager is called in by the wealthy owner and told he is to be sacked. He must close out the books and pick up his pink slip. Terribly concerned about his future, the manager wonders what he should do. He does not possess the robust physique that would equip him for manual labor, and he really does not want to go on the dole.

So he comes up with a totally unscrupulous plan. While he still enjoys legitimate authority over the owner’ s goods and accounts, he starts cutting deals with his master’ s debtors. It is a huge operation, and the sums are enormous. For debtor after debtor, he slashes the amount of their indebtedness, in some cases as much as fifty percent. His reasoning is very simple. In a culture where a gift creates an obligation, he recognizes that all these people will feel obligated to accommodate him when he finds himself without a job and income. With sums like these, he will be able to rely on their hospitality for a very long time. Doubtless the master did not like having his accounts diddled, but he was savvy enough to recognize the shrewdness his manager had shown.

Then comes the startling application: “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (16:8-9). What does this mean?

It cannot mean that Jesus advocates unscrupulous business practices. The point is that the manager used resources under his control (though not properly his) to prepare for his own future. Do the “people of the light” use resources under their control to prepare for their own future? What is that future? The shrewd manager wanted to be welcomed into the homes of these debtors; the people of the light are to be “welcomed into eternal dwellings” (16:9). So should we not be investing heavily in heaven, laying up treasures there? If that includes spending money on the right things, so be it: when it is all gone, we still have an eternal dwelling ahead of us. The idea is not that we can buy heaven, but that it is unimaginably irresponsible not to plan for our home, when even the people of this world know enough to prepare for their future homes. Understandably, the next verses (16:10-15) strip away the glamour of possessions in favor of what God highly values.

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Exodus 12:21-51; Luke 15; Job 30; 1 Corinthians 16

Mar 01, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 12:21-51; Luke 15; Job 30; 1 Corinthians 16

THE PASSOVER WAS not only the climax of the ten plagues, it was the beginning of the nation. Doubtless Pharaoh had had enough of Moses; God had had enough of Pharaoh. This last plague wiped out the firstborn of the land, the symbol of strength, the nation’s pride and hope.  At the same time, by his design it afforded God an opportunity to teach some important lessons, in graphic form, to the Israelites. If the angel of death was to pass through the land, what principle would distinguish the homes that suffered death from those where everyone survived?

God tells the Israelites to gather in houses, each house bringing together enough people to eat one entire year-old lamb. Careful instructions are provided for the preparation of the meal. The strangest of these instructions is that a daub of blood is to be splashed on the top and both sides of the doorframe; “and when I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Ex. 12:13). The point is repeated: “When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down” (12:23). Because of the blood, the Lord would “pass over” them; thus the Passover was born.

The importance of this event cannot be overestimated. It signaled not only the release of the Israelites from slavery, but the dawning of a new covenant with their Redeemer. At the same time, it constituted a picture: guilty people face death, and the only way to escape that sentence is if a lamb dies instead of those who are sentenced to die. The calendar changes to mark the importance of this turning point (12:2-3), and the Israelites are told to commemorate this feast in perpetuity, not the least as a way of instructing children yet unborn as to what God did for this fledgling nation, and how their own firstborn sons were spared on the night that God redeemed them (12:24-27).

A millennium and a half later, Paul would remind believers in Corinth that Christ Jesus, our Passover Lamb, was sacrificed for us, inaugurating a new covenant (1 Cor. 5:7; 11:25). On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus took bread and wine, and instituted a new commemorative rite — and this too took place on the festival of Passover, as if this new rite connects the old with that to which it points: the death of Christ. The calendar changed again; a new and climactic redemption had been achieved. God still passes over those who are secured by the blood.

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Exodus 11:1 – 12:20; Luke 14; Job 29; 1 Corinthians 15

Feb 28, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 11:1 – 12:20; Luke 14; Job 29; 1 Corinthians 15

THE CRUSHING PLAGUES have followed their ordained sequence. Repeatedly, Pharaoh hardened his heart; yet, however culpable this man was, God sovereignly moved behind the scenes, actually warning Pharaoh, implicitly inviting repentance. For instance, through Moses God had already said to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go” (9:16-17). Yet now Pharaoh’s patience entirely collapses. He warns Moses that he is not to appear in the court again: “The day you see my face you will die” (10:28).

So the stage is set for the last plague, the greatest and worst of all. After the previous nine disasters, one would think that Moses’ description of what would happen (Ex. 11) would prompt Pharaoh to hesitate. But he refuses to listen (11:9); and all this occurs, God says “so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt” (11:9).

In Exodus 11 – 12 there is yet another almost incidental description of God’s sovereign provision. Exodus 11 tells us, almost parenthetically, that “the LORD made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people” (11:3). This is followed in Exodus 12 by the description of the Egyptians urging the Israelites to leave the country (12:33). One can understand the rationale: how many more plagues like this last one could they endure? At the same time, the Israelites ask for clothing and silver and gold. “The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians” (12:36).

Psychologically, it is easy enough, after the event, to explain all this. In addition to the fear the Israelites now incited among the Egyptians, perhaps guilt was also operating: who knows? “We owe them something.” Psychologically, of course, one could have concocted a quite different scenario: in a fit of rage, the Egyptians massacre the people whose leader and whose God have brought such devastating slaughter among them.

In reality, however, the ultimate reason why things turn out this way is because of the powerful hand of God: the Lord himself made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people.

This is the element that is often overlooked by sociologists and others who treat all of culture like a closed system. They forget that God may intervene, and turn the hearts and minds of the people. Massive revival that transforms the value systems of the West is now virtually inconceivable to those enamored with closed systems. But if God graciously intervenes and makes the people “favorably disposed” to the preaching of the Gospel….

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