3. Great Lent by Schmemann
4. Killer Angels by Shaara
Archives For February 2009
3. Great Lent by Schmemann
Some of the three friends’ sarcastic questions include levels of irony. Early on Bildad suggests that God has cast away Job’s sons because they sinned against him (9:4), but of course we know that Job frequently offered sacrifices for his children for this very purpose. Later, Eliphaz sarcastically asks Job if he is Adam, the first man to have ever lived and whether he has “heard the council of God” (15:7-8). The irony of course is that by the end of the story, we find that Job has been admitted to the council of God. And he is fully acquitted while Eliphaz is condemned.
Job says that his friends have reproached him “these ten times” in 19:3. Counting Job’s own speeches, there are exactly ten speeches from Job 3-18. This seems to imply that the “reproach” is two fold: it is the refusal to hear Job’s words and it is the audacity they have to speak up against him.
As a previous post pointed out, the structure of Job is itself Job’s transition from a priest-king to a prophet. This is the process of being welcomed into the heavenly council of Yahweh which readers glimpse in the prologue. Job does finally enter this council when Yahweh speaks to him out of the whirlwind, but the dialogue leading up to the whirlwind is full of allusions to this climax. Frequently, the words of the rhetorical combatants are referred to as “wind” (6:26, 8:2, 15:2, 16:3) which is the word RUACH, the same word for breath or spirit. And that word is used prolifically throughout the book, frequently to refer to the life-breath of man and the shortness of life which is quickly blown away with the “wind” (21:18, 27:21). And of course one of the disasters that befell Job was the great RUACH-wind that struck the house his children were feasting in and killed them (1:19). Similarly, other terms are also employed such as the “east wind” referring to the words of Job’s accusers (15:2), and the wicked are described as being stolen away in the “storm” (21:20).
The story of Job is the drawing of Job into the whirlwind. The narrative, the argument, the dialogue itself is Job’s transition into the wind/spirit/breath of Yahweh.
Addendum: Towards the end of Job’s final defense, he describes God’s opposition to him as being lifted up to the wind and being made to ride on it (30:22). The story of Job is Job being drawn up into the tornado of God’s presence.
“For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” (Eph. 5:29-30)
This meal is the very thing that we have considered this morning. Our High Priest gives us his own flesh and blood. We are his own flesh, his flesh and bones, and the Lord feeds us and cares for us. And this points to at least two realities. First, the very act of giving us his body is treating us like priests. In some traditions, the pastor says, ‘holy things for the holy,’ when the sacrament is celebrated. And this is exactly what the Protestant Reformers meant when they referred to the priesthood of all believers. We all partake of the sacrament, but then we hand one another the bread and the wine, and we share in that nourishing and cherishing. We are all priests and sacrifices to and for one another, offering one another the flesh and blood, and feeding one another and caring for one another as members of His body. And this act follows us out into the world, back into our families, back into our classes, back to our jobs. And the grace follows us, the Spirit goes with us, strengthening our hands to serve and to heal and to bestow, opening our mouths to speak words of healing and kindness and grace. This is what it means to be a royal priesthood, to be his beloved children. We are his flesh and blood, we are heirs of the King, and all of his riches of mercy and grace are ours. And that’s the last point: God always gives himself. There are no substitutes. He doesn’t try to buy us off. He gives, he gives excessively, and he gives himself overflowing. We have an inheritance that cannot be counted, cannot be weighed, and is inexhaustible, and that’s because it’s God himself. God gives himself to us, and then gives himself through us. You are the holy ones of God; you are his saints. And God gives himself to you, that he might be given through you. So come: eat, drink, and rejoice.
Ephesians 5 presents Christ as the model for all Christians, loving and sacrificing. Paul applies this specifically to husbands and wives, and today as we prepare to enter the season of Lent, we consider what it means to imitate the sacrifice of Christ as husbands.
A Sacrificing Sacrifice
Paul exhorts Christians to imitate Christ who gave himself in love as a sacrifice and an offering to God, a sweet smelling aroma (5:1-2). This is precisely the way sacrifices are described in the old sacrificial system (e.g. Lev. 1:9, 13, 17, etc.). But in order for a sacrifice to qualify, it had to be without blemish (e.g. Lev. 1:3, etc.). Of course Christ is both the sacrifice and the priest (Heb. 9:11-12), and as the priest he must also be holy and blameless (Ex. 29:1, Lev. 21:6ff, Heb. 7:26). Sacrifices were considered holy, and those who ate them were required to be holy (cf. Lev. 6:18, 27ff). In keeping with this, we need to look at two things briefly: first, notice how the Ascension Offering is prepared. As with all the offerings, a hand is laid on its head (1:4), it is cut up and arranged on the altar (1:6-8), a portion is washed (1:9), and then it ascends in the glory of the fire to the presence of God (1:9). What is striking is that there are a number of parallels with the ordinations of priests: priests were washed (8:6), clothed in garments of glory (8:7-9), in order that they might have access to the presence of God in the tabernacle. This is why the priests wore holy garments (Lev. 16:4) and were anointed with holy anointing oil (Ex. 40:13). Holiness means authorization and access. One last item to note is that during the ordination, blood from the ram was put on Aaron and his sons (Lev. 8:24). Putting all of this together means that priests were to be viewed as walking sacrifices. Priests were living sacrifices. In other words, being a sacrifice is what authorizes you to offer a sacrifice.
It is the Holy Spirit who makes us holy; he is our seal, our authorization, God’s mark upon us (4:30, cf. Jn. 6:27). Since we are called to imitate the love and sacrificial offering of Christ, Paul calls us to holiness (5:3, 9, 18). But since Christ is both the priest and the sacrifice, it should not come as a surprise that we are called to the same. In fact, Paul insists that the priestly love of Christ is what actually affects this change in us, and that our priestly ministry is and does the same. Paul applies this priestly calling to marriage, and calls husbands to love their wives in imitation of Christ (5:25) which is exactly what he previously called all Christians to (5:2). Again, the love of Christ is sacrificial, but his sacrifice is what qualifies him for the task. He gave himself in order to “sanctify and cleanse her” (5:26). And it may sound a little funny: is Christ preparing his bride to be a sacrifice? And the answer is yes, a living sacrifice “holy and without blemish” (5:27, 1:4). Like all sacrifices, he washes her, sanctifies her, feeds and warms her (5:29). And this applies directly to the calling of husbands. The ministry of husbands is not generic or common; it is specific and priestly. You are holy: you have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, set apart for ministry to and for particular people. And one of those people is your wife. You are called to walk in love and give yourself for your bride as an offering and a sacrifice to God in order that you may sanctify and cleanse her, in order that she may be holy and without blemish, in order that she may be a sweet-smelling aroma to God (5:25-27, 5:2). And this ministry is in word (5:26) and in deed (5:29).
Conclusion & Applications
In order to cleanse your wife, you must repent of your uncleanness (5:26 cf. 5:3-5). You must be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable in order to turn others into sacrifices (Rom. 12:1, 20).
Cleansing with the “washing of the water by the word” comes on the heels of Paul’s exhortation to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (5:18-19). Reading scripture and singing together is an essential way husbands must cleanse their wives.
Lent is the season in which we meditate on the work of Christ for us. Jesus is the ultimate living sacrifice, because Easter is true. And being united to Him means that we have been set apart as his ministers to follow in his steps, to lay our lives down in order to bestow the gifts of life and light. Therefore put away all fornication and uncleanness, and walk as children of light. “Awake, you who sleep. Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
One of our tasks in growing in Christ is to grow up in our worship. There are a number of facets to this, but a central aspect of worship is music. In a number of places in Scripture the Holy Spirit is associated with music. When David plays for Saul, the music subdues the evil spirits, when Paul says to be filled with the Spirit, he says to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another. We are called to worship in the beauty of holiness, and holiness is that which is supremely supplied by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is God’s glory cloud; it is the storm of his presence. And we are called into that presence week after week. We are called to join in with that cloud, that storm, and that thundering presence. And we do that in our song, in our music. But we have really only just begun. The Scriptures, and the Psalms in particular, instruct us in our worship. God calls upon us not only to sing but to make music on many instruments. In Psalm 150, the psalmist lists at least seven different instruments and some of them are just general categories. The Psalmist closes the psalm exhorting everything that has breath to praise the Lord. Given the thrust of the Psalm, the command is really something like: everyone needs to make noise in praise of God. If you have a drum strike it, if you have a trumpet blow it, if you have stringed instruments play them, if you have a voice sing out, if you have hands clap them. As we seek to grow up in worship, we want our worship to be ordered by the patterns of Scripture, but one of those patterns is that our worship ought to grow in volume. God likes noise. He loves a joyful noise. As we gather in the Spirit, our joyful praises are the glory of God; we are the glory cloud, the music of the Spirit, the beauty of holiness. So come with all that you have, come with singing, come with joy, and come expecting the Spirit of God to grow us more and more into that thundering presence. And then when you leave here this morning, take it with you.
Jim Jordan has pointed out that the offices of prophet, priest, and king seem to follow a progression of maturity and glory. The role of priest is to guard and requires strict adherence to the law. After this is added the role of king, where the law must be applied with wisdom. Kings must wrestle with difficult issues and questions and contemplate applications not directly addressed in the law. The king not only guards the law, but begins to speak wisdom from the law into the world. Finally, the last stage in biblical maturity is the prophet, who in his most basic role is allowed access into the deliberations of God. The first prophet in Scripture is Abraham who prays for the afflicted and is heard (Gen. 20:7). He speaks into the counsels of God regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. The prophet is given the floor to debate and argue his case before the divine assembly. And this is because he has grown to maturity. He has guarded the law and the Word of God is hidden in his heart (priest), but he has also learned wisdom and applied the word, dividing between joints and marrow, piercing to the thoughts and intents of the heart (king). And because he has grown into this maturity, he is welcomed to the divine assembly and his prayers are heard. Of course because the prophet has been involved in the divine deliberations, he is supremely qualified to announce those verdicts. This is why prophets frequently bring the Word of the Lord and foretell what He is about to do, but this is because they were there when it was all decided and they have been granted the authority to ask God what he is about to do.
The latter part of this progression is part of the point of the book of Job. Job is a priest and a king, but the story of Job is his transition from the second to the third stage of glory-maturity. He goes from an upright and righteous priest-king who understands the law and justice to the glory of a prophet. In simple terms this is seen in comparing the prologue and epilogue. At the beginning, Job offers sacrifices for his children who may have sinned (priest), and in the end, Job offers sacrifices for his three foolish accusers who have spoken wrongly concerning God. But the key difference is that God authorizes Job to pray for them and promises that he will hear Job (prophet). Job has graduated from the glory of a priest-king to the glory of a prophet, and this is further symbolized by the glory-beauty of his three daughters in the end of the book. Job has gone from a priestly “blamelessness” to the prophetic glory-beauty.
This perspective makes a great deal more sense of the middle part of the book. Why is the book a series of dialogues, arguments, accusations, and deliberations? Because Job must learn to speak in the assembly of the sons of God which is glimpsed in the prologue. He must patiently endure the testing of God, the accusations of his companions, and emerge clinging to his integrity in faith. While Job is usually regarded as mostly good, he is usually thought to have slipped and failed a bit since he is said to have “repented in dust and ashes.” The Hebrew here is a little more ambiguous than that, but at the very least it runs parallel once again to Abraham who interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah recognizing that he was but “dust and ashes.” When Job speaks to Yahweh like a prophet, he is granted a prophet’s mantle. Only having answered his accusers is he ready to do battle with The Accuser, Satan.
Another thought on Lent:
Historically in the West, Sundays during Lent are not included in the 40 days. In other words, Sundays are always feast days in the midst of a season of preparation and penitence. But this really should not seem strange since all true repentance must flow from a heart of joy and thanksgiving. When we receive the Word of God with gratitude it will confront our sins and rebuke us in our folly, but the thankful heart will immediately look to God for grace, ask for forgiveness, and rejoice to begin again. In other words, repentance and sorrow for sin always flow out of joy and thankfulness in the Lord.
And the point is that this means that Lent is not merely a time to be “sad.” Rather, Lent is for joy. But it is a refusal to accept anything less than real joy. If God is faithful and hears our prayers to teach us, to confront us, to deal with our sins, there should certainly be moments and days of sorrow and pain. But because this is all the goodness of God, it is all sorrow that leads to repentance and that is a profoundly joyful thing. Which means that the wisdom of Lent (and other penitential periods) is teaching the people of God deep joy, real joy, deep grace, and that is cause for rejoicing and therefore Lord’s Days in Lent should be some of the most robust feast days we celebrate.
One of the lessons of today’s sermon text is that the story of God’s working in the world is God’s determination to throw a glorious feast. God’s idea of a good time is lots of people piled around his tables with fine wine and mountains of good food. But more than that, this reveals what your God is like. God is generous. God is open-handed. God is promiscuous with his kindness; he is unscrupulous with his grace. And we’re all proof of that. He’s given us all things in Christ Jesus, and on top of that, He has given us His Spirit working out his gifts in our lives. And he seats us here week after week spoiling us with good bread and good wine, his body and blood for our joy and nourishment. This God does not invite you here begrudgingly; he isn’t going over all your failures or weaknesses. He’s not reminding you of how you really could have done that better. He’s inviting you with open arms; He delights in you. He rejoices over you with singing and dancing. He is not ashamed to call you His own. You are his favorites. And clearly this is not something you’ve earned. It’s all a gift; it’s all grace. And really the only requirement is that you come with thankfulness. Come with thanksgiving, come with joy, come with wonder in your hearts for God’s grace. He rejoices over you, he loves to bless you, he loves to fill you, he loves to heal you, and he says come one, come all. So come with joy to receive the gifts of God. Rejoice in receiving these gifts because God is rejoicing in giving them to you. Come eat, drink, and rejoice.