Monthly Archives: October 2013

Throwing Garbage on the Alter

We like to think of the Old Testament as a completely other thing.  This is the fault of the dispensationalist.  We have constructed an Old Testament God who was all about judgement and works and never cared about the heart.  This gives us a pass to disregard many of the Old Testament teachings, when they should convict us.   But this ‘Old Testament God’ does not exist. Last week in Malachi 1 we were presented with a different God, a God who looks very much like the God in the New Testament.  He refused to accept the sacrifice of the people because their hearts were not in it.  They met part of the literal qualifications, they put animals on the alter.  But they were just going through the motions. God’s criticism of their hearts was not just mind reading, he criticized their actions. Actions that were the results of these hearts.  I think these things can be applied to our worship today, we can look at our outward works and get some idea of the heart.


I think this is an airplane hanger decorated with handicap signs.

v.8a When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? This was forbidden by Leviticus 22:22.  The people either forgot this or were in blatant rebellion.  We like to think of forgetting as an excuse that gets us off the hook, but in scripture it is a further sin.  God commands his people to remember the law of the Lord, time and again.  Remember what happened here.  Remember what I did for you.  This was the whole tenor of the first five verses of Malachi. There was a pagan notion back then that your fate was determined by the stars of the zodiac and the day and time of your birth or the family of your birth.  We still have these notions today.  But here you have twin boys and yet their fates were very different.  The descendants of Jacob became the nation of Israel, blessed by God.  And the descendants of Esau became the nation of Edom hated by God.  These pagan notions are not true, what is true is that God blesses whomever he feel like blessing.  And he had chose to bless Israel, he remembered them, but they had forgotten these blessings.


Well, it’s symmetrical.

v.8b And when you offer those that are lame and sick, is that not evil?  This is like donating a broken tv to the Salvation Army. Do we always give God our best?  Do we give him the best of our time?  Do we give him the best of our minds.  Do we give him our money before we spend on ourselves?  Of course the point is that everything we have is a gift from God and giving the first fruits is just a statement that it all belongs to him.  But these actions are important. Do we spend more time reading sports statistics than we do the Scripture?  Do we spend more of our lives studying for a better job or studying scripture?   Do we spend as much time dressing for church as we do for work or play? Do we work as hard at preparing our minds and voices for worship as we do for the big race?  Do we prioritize giving money to the church or buying a new boat or vacation.  Do we spend more time decorating our homes or building the house of the Lord?  Now this is not to minimize the over the top blessing of God.  He is not stingy, that is the point.  We should be generous with our giving, because we serve a generous God.  David felt bad about the ark residing in a tent while he lived in a house of cedar II Samuel 7:1.  So he wanted to build God a house.  God told him he would build David’s house instead.  Then when Solomon was finally allowed to build a house for the Lord, God blessed him with a huge palace as well.  But the fact remains we are very blessed and we spend most of it on ourselves.

v. 13 You bring what has been taken by violence. I suppose this is a condemnation of giving stolen goods to god.  The Bible hardly condemns violence as such.  We would never steal would we?  What exactly is theft?  It is taking what you have not earned from someone else.  There are many common types of theft these days, that no one really thinks about.  Have you declared bankruptcy and walked away from outstanding debt?  It may be legal but this is theft. You benefited and then squandered that which was not yours.  That is theft.  Do you take government money when you are capable of working?  In case you haven’t noticed the government does not have any money.  That money is taken from someone else, most likely our grandchildren by excessive debt.  That is theft.  Do you take money for a ‘job’ that really isn’t doing anything?  This all may be legal, but it is definitely sloth and probably theft.  We are about the most blessed people on the earth ever.  But we want more, more, more, without the sacrifice of hard work–all for the Lord’s work, of course.

Frankfurt Cathedral

Frankfurt Cathedral

v. 14a Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished.  Do you break vows so you can look good?  Do you want to keep up appearances with the world but don’t care about how you look before God?  This is the sin of Aninias and Sapphira in Acts 5 and it is a big one.  Have you ever promised something to God when it made you look good but when it came down to it you made up and excuse to give God less?  God often puts us in tough situations that look really bad for us, only to save us at the last minute. He likes cliff hanger.  It might seem like the only way out is breaking his rules and fudging just a little. But, if we break our vow at the last minute, we miss out on these blessings and prove our faith is worthless.


v. 14b I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.  What about corporately? Does the outpouring of our faith, as it becomes culture, leave the world around is in awe of our God? When you look at the cathedrals built by the poor medieval church it should put us to shame.  We are very very wealthy and yet we meet for church in warehouses or strip malls.  This enables us to live in palaces made of cedar and go on cruises every once and a while–we deserve it.  The work of their hands stands the test of time, the rocks of those cathedrals cry out to this day, pointing people to Christ. They sacrificed their time and money to build monuments to their great God.  Meanwhile, we entertain ourselves and almost everything we make is disposable.

We are a very advanced people technologically, but often we give the leftovers in worship.  The though and complexity of our worship is child’s play compared to the complexity of our work and entertainment lives.  Why should the world take notice of our God when we rarely do?  I often like to step outside of the Christian circles I live in and do a thought experiment.  What do we look like to the world?  I think we look stupid.  And, it’s not because we are following a gospel that they don’t understand.  It is because we are stupid in our worship.

Model of Solomon’s Temple

The Lion Enters the Land

We dispensational evangelicals have a real problem with the Old Testament New Testament  relationship.  We hesitate to let the New complete or provide commentary on the Old.  We don’t know the Old well enough to really understand the New.  And, we certainly don’t use the same Bible study methods the writers of the New Testament did, because they had super powers, I guess.  This is all very unfortunate.  The destructive power of modernism is centered in an incredibly stupid separation from the past.  We then fill in what is missing with our selves.  As people of the Book this is silly. The center of our faith and therefore our lives is a connection with the past found in Scripture.  We think we can do away with all this and make our own way much better.  Well look around, it’s not working out too good for us.  This is not a criticism of computers as technology, which is a product of Christianity, but a criticism of all the worthless content on those computers such as porn or piles of selfish drivel.

Media these days is directed towards we the consumer.  It is all about us, or rather taking money from us.  But this is not the case with literary or historical works created in the past.  The gospels were both literary and historic works of art and they were not written to us.  They were composed in a particular place at a particular time to convey a story to a particular people.  This does not leave them inaccessible to us by any means.  The church has kept these stories alive and current the way almost no other story has ever been kept alive.  But we put an end to that with modernism.

The beginning of Mark would have screamed “conquering messiah” to first century Israel.  Mark begins by quoting a passage directly from Isaiah 40 and using Old Testament typology which is much more subtle to us today.  The fact that the verse is quoted in all four gospels probably indicates that it either was or became a sort of type in and of itself.

Crossing of the Red Sea, Cosimo Rosselli c.1481.  Note the incorporation of flood imagery.

Crossing of the Red Sea, Cosimo Rosselli c.1481. Note the incorporation of flood imagery.

The quote isn’t just about John the Baptist, in the same way John the Baptist wasn’t about  John the Baptist.  He was the herald of the King.  The quote links us back to the book of Isaiah as he began his section on the future redemption of Israel.  It is meant to call the whole section to mind. The setting, both when Isaiah wrote and when Mark wrote, was a time when Israel was in exile.  They longed for deliverance from their oppressors Babylon and Rome.  But there were two levels of oppressors, physical and spiritual. There were two levels of longing;  for freedom from Babylon/Rome and for freedom from Satan and his disciples the religious leaders.  Isaiah spoke of a return to the land from exile but it is also a picture of our return to Eden.  Some got both the meanings then as Isaiah wrote and when Mark wrote.  The Old Testament message from the time of the fall predicted a Messiah who would come and conquer the dragon and lead us back to Eden.  It is the story of the chosen people, the circumcised of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by whom that conquering Messiah would come.  Some could only see the earthly level, they wanted freedom from Rome or Babylon as an issue of national pride.  It is easy to blame political leaders for all the faults of the world, but there are faults in our own heart that need a conquering messiah.  Often we don’t want anyone meddling that close to home.  So they rejected a Messiah who wanted to save their souls when it became obvious that he didn’t share their opinion that biggest problem in the world was Rome.  Mark and Isaiah preached the same gospel.

The Baptism of Christ, Andrea del Verrocchio c. 1472.  It is believed that the cherub on the left was painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

The Baptism of Christ, Andrea del Verrocchio c. 1472. It is believed that the cherub on the left was painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

The passage is quoted in all four gospels but Mark jumps right to it. It is shortly followed by three short episodes.  He is not simply a precursor to Steinbeck and his terse style.  He is painting a picture for us, a literary picture of types.  And since it was such a well known picture he painted an outline that their minds would fill in.  First was the baptism of Jesus and the Spirit descending on him. Baptism is a passing through water, it would have brought to mind the creation account as the spirit “hovered over the face of the water” Genesis 1:2. Or the second creation, as the dove flew over the flood waters Genesis 8:6-12.  Or the people of Israel passing through the Red Sea waters guided by a wind (Spirit, Cloud).

Second was the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days.  This would have brought to mind the wanderings of mankind on the earth, exiled east of Eden.  Even after the flood man continued to wander.  It would have brought to mind the promises of God to his people that he would provide them respite from their wanderings.  It would have brought to mind the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, James Tissot c. 1886

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, James Tissot c. 1886

Joshua Enters the Land

Joshua Enters the Land

But this would be a lame ending to the story.  And so the crossing of the Red Sea waters and wandering in the wilderness was followed by Joshua coquering the land.  The Old Testament story and the story of mankind were stories with no end, until Jesus the Messiah burst on the scene.   This is Mark’s third episode which is summed up in verse 14 and 15 but continues for the rest of the book.  This is the much longed for end of the story: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  Just as Israel entered the land at Jericho a started kicking butt, Jesus enters Galilee and starts kicking butt.  He conquered evil spirits, disease, religious leaders and their lies,  and ultimately he conquered death.  Then the king ascended to the right hand of the father to rule.  It’s wasn’t quite how some people thought it would happen.  Some had been lost in the sea of bad teaching or the wilderness of their own sin.  Other rejected it outright.  But some heard the cry, of the real battle and the victory that took place behind the curtain on the spiritual level, the level that really matters.  They became the “people of the way” as the church was called in the first century.

Casting out the Money Changers, Carl Heinrich Bloch

Casting out the Money Changers, Carl Heinrich Bloch

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’” -Mark 1:1-3





The Four Evangelists

There is an old saying which we only half understand these day; “neither rhyme nor reason.”  Which means a thing is pure nonsense if it contains no discernible logic or poetry.  We postmodern-moderns have little use for truth conveyed or encapsulate in poetry.  If a thing is not ‘scientific’ we reject it.  But this is to our own detriment especially when trying to understand things from the past.  Perhaps it goes back to that grand instance of rejecting ethnocentric poetry for heliocentric logic.  Poetry has lost ever since, though the church has only begun losing it recently.  But to hear it told, they lost to Galileo and his telescope 500 years ago.

Die Vier Evangelisten, Peter Paul Rubens c. 1614  Can you identify each Evangelisty by his creature?

What is poetic order?  It is not mere rhyming.  It is combinations of things which are not logical, yet which can convey truth nonetheless.  They might be elements from old stories combined with new stories, themes from one area of study applied to another, dividing things into a certain number of parts, combining things into a certain number of groups.  The Hebrew mind like most premodern cultures, was very poetic.  Their poetic devices included repeating things three times for emphasis, use of chiasm which is symmetrical pairs of lines or themes with the focus at the center, and the use of significant numbers.  Such is the case with the four gospels.  Both before the Church canonized four gospels and after, the number four had significant connections with other things.  These connections were not logically connected but poetically.


Saint Irenaeus, 130-202AD

Irenaeus was an early Church father and theologian.  He was a champion for the faith fighting the Gnostic heresy much of his life. He said of the four gospels:

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground”1 Timothy 3:15 of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sits upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. . . .”For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For, [as the Scripture] says, “The first living creature was like a lion,” Revelation 4:7 symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but “the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,”— an evident description of His advent as a human being; “the fourth was like a flying eagle,” pointing out the gift of theSpirit hovering with His wings over the Church. And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ Jesus is seated.

. . .And the Word of God Himself used to converse with the ante-Mosaic patriarchs, in accordance with His divinity and glory; but for those under the law he instituted a sacerdotal and liturgical service. Afterwards, being made man for us, He sent the gift of the celestial Spirit over all the earth, protecting us with His wings. Such, then, as was the course followed by the Son of God, so was also the form of the living creatures; and such as was the form of the living creatures, so was also the character of the Gospel. For the living creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform, as is also the course followed by the Lord. For this reason were four principal (καθολικαί) covenants given to the human race: one, prior to the deluge, under Adam; the second, that after the deluge, under Noah; the third, the giving of the law, under Moses; the fourth, that which renovates man, and sums up all things in itself by means of the Gospel, raising and bearing men upon its wings into the heavenly kingdom.

This led to the medieval organization.  Matthew was associated with the face of man because he begins his gospel with a geneology of Christ.  Mark was associated with the face of a lion because his gospel emphasizes the conquering king.  Luke was associated with the ox because he begins his gospel with the priestly sacrifice of Zacharias.  John because his gospel seems to soar beyond the others to gaze into the sun as it expounds the mysteries of the incarnation, a man.  These themes were so common that often the icon would be used instead of the title.  They were widely used in church architecture, the four beasts often surrounding the icon of Christ. Their stones cried out, while ours cry “pragmatism”.  They became themes for the Christian walk.  He was created a man, must sacrifice himself as the ox, must have the courage of the lion and would one day soar as the eagle to heaven.

The Four Evangelists, Book of Kells c. 800

More recently James B. Jordan has modified Irenaeus’ scheme a little bit and added comparisons to history:

Author Old Testament History New Testament History Face
Matthew Mosaic/Priestly Jacobin (James) Ox
Mark David/Kingly Petrine Lion
Luke Exilic/Prophetic Pauline Eagle
John Combination of all 3 Johanine Man

I think this can be very helpful.  Matthew is the most Jewish gospel containing the most Old Testament allusions so it get’s the ox which was associated with sacrifice.  The eagle was the symbol of Rome or the Gentiles, John took his gospel farther into the strange new territory of the new creation ushered in by the incarnation.  The shift from Peter to Paul is evident in in Acts.  But before them James was apparently the leader of the church which is why he was the first of the twelve disciples to be executed Acts 12:2.  Later John’s other writings wrap up the New Testament canon.

While reason and statistical analysis might give us one picture of Mark we would do better to study a poetic people poetically. So we begin our long study of the Lion.  Though Jesus was a servant, Mark, in his gospel, is telling us about a conquering king.  But, that will have to wait until later.

Further Reading: The Four, Peter J. Leithart