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Rev. Matthew Powell
The Various Means of God’s Revelation
God has many different tools in His toolbox. He is not limited to just one or two ways of revealing Himself. We know He reveals Himself through nature, through His creation, through human history, through our own consciences. But the highest revelation of Himself is in His Word.
Even here, though, we see variation. God’s verbal revelation is not all the same. God revealed Himself in ancient times through prophets, visions, and dreams. He told Moses that He would speak in visions and riddles to most of the prophets. But to Moses He would speak face to face, clearly, in a way that He wouldn’t again until the great prophet that God would raise up had come. And that great prophet is Jesus.
Jesus certainly is the pinnacle of God’s revelation to His people. But this does not mean that we should ignore all the other revelation that God has given us and read only the New Testament. The book of Hebrews, making the very point that Jesus is the preeminent revelation of God, quotes the Old Testament constantly. The New Testament ties all of the Old Testament together, provides its full meaning and proper perspective, and enables us to go back to the Old Testament and read it rightly.
But we will be greatly aided in our quest to understand the Old Testament when we realize that God has revealed Himself in different ways. Stories like those found in Genesis or 1 Samuel will be read a certain way; wisdom literature such as Ecclesiastes or Proverbs, however, is different. We read a book like Jeremiah one way and a book like the Psalms another way. They’re all the word of God, and they’re all inspired and authoritative. But God reveals Himself in various ways, and we have to learn to be sensitive to that, to read the different books of the Bible in the way that they present themselves without trying to force them into particular molds. Many of the so-called contradictions of the Bible can be resolved and understood if we understand the different ways in which God presents Himself to us in His Word.
The Linchpin of God’s Message
But Jesus really is the linchpin, the pinnacle, the completion of all of it. All of Scripture progresses to Christ, but there is no progression after Christ. There is nowhere else to go. And that is what Hebrews tells us in this passage.
He is the “brightness of His glory,” for starters, which is really a remarkable statement. Jesus was a man, a human being who was basically indistinguishable from other people. The Sanhedrin needed Judas to pick Him out of a crowd for them; he was not a distinctive looking person. And yet when one had eyes to see, one saw God walking among men. Jesus told Philip, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.” And when the disciples or some other person saw a glimpse of the glory and majesty that was in Christ, we read that they were afraid and worshiped Him (as when they saw Jesus walking on the water or stilling the storm).
God often displayed His glory in the Old Testament. He showed Himself to Moses as a burning bush and as a pillar of cloud and fire in the desert. He showed Himself as a man glowing like amber and burning fire to Isaiah and Ezekiel. But when God was ready to demonstrate His glory in a way that was greater than any other, He sent His Son to become a man, a person, just like any of us. The glory of God in Jesus was concealed to a certain degree, and for a time. His glory was not fully revealed until after His earthly ministry. But it was what He did during His earthly ministry that was truly glorious, that paved the way for the future glory and victory. His work of preaching the truth, of purging us from our sins, of gaining the victory over sin and death, of revealing God’s mercy and grace to His people—these are the great glories of Jesus’ earthly ministry. They demonstrate God to us in a way not revealed anywhere else. God’s greatest glory is not seen with the eye of the natural man, but by faith.
Further, Jesus is the “express image of His person.” Some translations like the New American Standard have that translated “exact representation of His person,” which is also good. Jesus is a perfect revelation to us of God. Another remarkable truth! Jesus Himself, the man, is a better revelation of God than those very dramatic visions and dreams that Ezekiel, Daniel, or Isaiah saw. That unassuming, unremarkable man was a clearer message of who God truly is than the pillars of cloud and fire, or the burning hand writing on tables of stone.
This is the great reason why we don’t use pictures of Christ at all—not because we downplay the incarnation or think it unimportant. On the contrary, it is of the highest importance. In Jesus was the fullness of the Godhead bodily. His followers worshiped Him in the body, in His flesh, kissing His feet and bowing down before Him, and He accepted that worship. His incarnation was the perfect revelation of God, the way God chose to give the perfect message to the world of who He is. When we see Him in eternity, we will worship Him in His flesh, in His body.
But we don’t know what He looked like. The Bible withholds that information from us. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that “we know Him no more after the flesh.” And so we cannot worship Him in the flesh. If I had a picture that someone made, and I said that it was a picture of Jesus, I would have to worship that picture. It is the only proper response to Jesus, who was and is God in the flesh. But I wouldn’t be worshiping Jesus; I’d be worshiping an artist’s conception, based on his own imagination, of what Jesus is like. It’s not that we are not to worship Christ in the body—on the contrary, we must worship Christ in the body. What we must not do is worship something that somebody just made up.
So for now, we worship Him in spirit, in our hearts, bending our worship to the invisible truths of who He is, and longing for the day when we will see Him with our eyes and bow down before Him, the express image, the exact representation, of God Almighty.
The Completion of God’s Purposes
Further we see that Jesus’ ministry and work achieve the completion of God’s purposes.
Of course, He was there from the beginning. Echoing statements from John and Paul, Hebrews says that God made the worlds through, or by means of, the Son. The creation happened by the spoken word of God, and the second Person of the Trinity is the Word of God. The word translated “worlds” is aioonas, meaning the cosmos, the universe, everything there is. Then in verse 3 of Hebrews 1, the writer says that all things are upheld by His power. Therefore we see the totality of this creative force—not just putting everything in place, as if that wasn’t enough, but by His creative power bringing into existence all that was, is, and will ever be. The whole of the creation throughout its history is put in place by God, through Jesus. Jesus is the mediator—the
We also read that He is the heir of all things. God has made Christ the heir of everything that God has, which is of course everything. But wait, you may say. Isn’t Christ God? If so, doesn’t He already have everything? God is equal in glory and majesty in each of His three Persons. No Person of the Trinity can change or gain in power, possessions, or authority, or else that Person would not be immutable God.
But Hebrews here speaks of His human ministry, His human Messiahship. Jesus then becomes the means by which God accomplishes the original creation mandate, that man should have dominion over all things. In Christ, that is accomplished. In Christ, the perfect man, humanity’s kingship over creation is restored. And as He is the firstborn of many brethren, the head of the body of the
This leads us, of course, to His work as a savior, that He purged our sins away (v 3). He has cleansed us and resurrected us and begun in us a new work of creation which will be restored in our salvation. It is of course only this work of salvation that makes our participation in Jesus’ ministry possible. Jesus, by Himself, accomplishes the completion of God’s purposes in creation. But by redeeming us from our sins He brings us into these plans and purposes and grants us to share in that redemption and dominion.
So we truly see Jesus’ ministry as the capstone to everything that God desires to accomplish in creation. He is the instrument of the creation’s existence in the first place and becomes the instrument by which that creation is restored to its purpose. We human beings, as the best and highest part of that creation, share in that redemption by faith in Jesus Christ, and are likewise restored to our true purpose.
The introduction to Hebrews ends with a statement that shows the finality, the completeness, of Jesus’ work. He sits down at the right hand of God, in a place of honor and privilege, with the on-high majesty. He is by that act declared to be in a position of unparalleled majesty and glory Himself, and to have finished the great work to which He was called. It is there that we have access to Him, there that He is our mediator, advocating for us with the Father, continuing to apply all of the benefits of His great saving work, in real time, to His people.
All of this in Christ! It is no wonder then, that the writer of Hebrews calls our attention to Him. For all the diverse ways that God has, in His wisdom, revealed Himself to us, He completes them all, fulfills them all, perfects them all in Christ. The Old Testament prophets themselves had an imperfect revelation, not that it was in error, but it was incomplete. But with Christ’s coming, far from becoming obsolete and irrelevant, those Old Testament revelations become perfected and glorified. Moses, David, Daniel, and the rest become far greater than they ever were, when they are seen in Christ. And Paul, Peter, John, and the rest build on the solid foundation of the Old Testament, illuminating and extending it as they explain and enlighten with the light of Christ. And all of us, as we read the Old and the New together, do so in the great and glorious light of Christ, the light of the world.
It is no accident that Christ Himself did not personally write a single sentence of the Bible. If He had, idolatrous man might have selected just that part of the Bible and discarded the rest. Or in our arrogance we might say that we learn Christ as the beginning, and then add to Him the revelations of Peter, Luke, Hosea or Jeremiah. But when we see that He is truly the author of the entire Bible, all of God’s revelation, despite never having put pen to paper, how much greater is that glory! How much higher and deeper and fuller becomes our understanding and appreciation for all of Scripture!
The book of Hebrews is a call to recognize the completeness of our salvation in Christ, to realize the superiority of Christ over everything else. The writer is particularly focused on how Christ is the fulfillment of everything the Old Testament pointed to, because his particular audience is struggling with this issue. They are former Jews who are thinking that perhaps they made a mistake converting. Some of them appear to be drifting back into Judaism. And the writer is showing them that it is truly going backwards to return to Judaism, since everything— the sacrifices, the Sabbaths, the whole thing—all point to Christ. In order to make his points effectively, the writer teaches us many wonderful truths about the proper way to view the Old Testament administration and about the relationship between the covenants of God.
But ultimately, whether the believer is tempted with a return to the Old law as in Hebrews, or with a flirtation with pagan mysticism as in 1 Corinthians, or with wealth and status as in James, or with immorality and societal acceptance as in 1 Peter, the answer is always the same. Look to Christ. If I have Christ, and I think I need something else, then I do not have Christ as I ought. All is in Him. All of God’s revelation throughout history finds its completion and its full meaning in Him. No knowledge is true knowledge unless it is combined with the knowledge of Christ. No experience is true experience until it is combined with the experience of Christ. No love is real love unless it is combined with the love of Christ.
Progress for the believer is always learning to embrace Christ more fully, more truly, more sincerely. We continue to plumb the depths of that deep, deep well, learning to apply the truths of Christ more fully to our marriages, to our work, to our friendships, to our physical health, to every part of our lives.
Jesus is the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person. Christ is the fullest revelation of God to man that ever was or ever will be. Man was created to glorify God, to know God, and to enjoy God forever. And there is no better way, really no other way at all, for us to accomplish this purpose than to know Christ.
One day we will again see Him in the flesh, like the disciples did. One day that knowledge will be immediate—we will stand before Him and worship Him on His throne. But for now, we have the Scriptures, combined with the teaching power of the Spirit of God. And, therefore, let us diligently apply ourselves to learning, and pray for faith to believe, all that God has to tell us about His Son in His Holy Word.
The Reformation, that great movement of the sixteenth century, out of which Protestantism was born, can be viewed from different standpoints. It has been looked at in Church History largely as a polemical movement—as a tremendous controversy in doctrine and religious life between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. We will look upon it as an evangelistic and missionary movement, and this will give a new perspective to it. For evangelization played a prominent part in the work of the Reformers. They did personal hand-to-hand work; and they also either went themselves or sent missionaries into regions as yet unevangelized by Protestantism.
Ulrich Zwingli Birth and Education
Ulrich Zwingli, the founder of the Reformed Churches, was born in northeastern Switzerland, at the village of Wildhaus, in the canton of St. Gall, which is located in a high valley about 4,000 feet above sea-level. The low Swiss chalet, in which he was born,
After studying in his uncle’s school for two years, he was sent to school at Little Basle (opposite
His stay there was cut short by the following incident. He would later become the most musical of all the Reformers, playing seven instruments. The Dominican monks at
The Crisis in His Education
Zwingli progressed rapidly in his education. In 1502 he returned to
Wyttenbach planted in his mind three seed-thoughts, that afterward came to harvest and produced the Reformation. Luther became a Reformer by emphasizing the doctrine of justification by faith, but Zwingli approached the Reformation from a somewhat different viewpoint, namely (and these were the three seed-thoughts that Wyttenbach taught him):
1. The supreme authority of Scripture—the Bible was to be the guide rather than the Church, as the Catholics held.
2. Sins are forgiven through the death of Christ, and not through the Virgin Mary, as Catholics held.
3. The sale of indulgences was a fraud and a cheat.
Zwingli was under Wyttenbach but a few months, but in that short time Wyttenbach left an indelible impression upon him. These three seed-thoughts slumbered in his mind for about ten years, and then, as we shall see, they came to harvest as he began the Reformation at Einsedeln. How wonderful and eternally-lasting is the influence of a Christian teacher. All the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, now numbering about thirty millions of adherents, have come directly out of this Reformed Reformation, and are the result of these three seed-thoughts of Wyttenbach. Indeed, all the other Protestant Churches, except the Lutheran, have indirectly come out of it, so that Wyttenbach’s influence through Zwingli is affecting more than one hundred millions who are living today. What an inspiration, this, to the Christian worker’ It is one of the most remarkable illustrations in all Church history.
We now come to the study of Zwingli’s conversion. The study of a man’s conversion, especially of a great man like Zwingli, is a very interesting subject, and we may well pause to follow its steps carefully.
Zwingli’s First Charge—Glarus (1506-1516)
In 1506 Zwingli was called as priest by the congregation at Glarus, situated about fifty miles southeast of
The most interesting question about this period is whether there were any signs of his becoming a Reformer. It is very evident that as yet he was only a humanist; and yet in his case, as in that of a number of others, humanism was the bridge over which he passed to Protestantism. He revealed his love of humanism during this period in several ways:
1. He began the study of the Greek language about 1513. The Latin language was the sacred language to the Catholics, so the study of the Greek prepared him to become a Reformer when he later gained possession of the Greek New Testament.
2. He started a school which was attended by young men of the best families and in which he taught, the new humanistic methods of education. Some of his students, who afterward became prominent, as Tschudi, bore witness to his wonderful power as a teacher.
3. He came into correspondence with Erasmus, the leader of the humanists.
But the Protestant was beginning to appear in the midst of the humanist, though still faintly. There are several signs that prophesied the coming Reformer. These were:
1. A linguistic preparation (the knowledge of the Greek), which prepared him to later read the New Testament and thus see the difference between it and the Romish Church.
2. A political preparation. He paid three visits to
3. A liturgical preparation. While in
4. A doctrinal preparation. He began to doubt the doctrine of the intercession of the saints, one of the fundamental doctrines of Romanism.
His Second Charge at Einsedeln (1.516-1518)
In 1516 he left Glarus for Einsedeln. The cause of his departure was the opposition of a minority in his congregation because he was so outspoken against the foreign military service of the Swiss. We thus see that he was a political reformer even before he became a religious one. Einsedeln was a very different field from Glarus. It was a pilgrimage-place in an upper valley four thousand feet above sea-level, and about twenty-five miles northeast of
It had in it one of the most sacred of the Romish relics, the image of the Black Virgin, which was believed to have power to forgive sins. There was a providence in his appointment to this place, for, as he had no pastoral duties, it gave him ample time for study. Like Paul in
The event that made Zwingli do this was the publication of a book. Oh, how great is the power of a book, especially when that book is the Bible. In 1516 Erasmus published the Greek New Testament. As Zwingli read it, a flood of light burst on his mind, as he saw how different the Romish Church was from the New Testament. He copied in his own handwriting all the Epistles of Paul in Greek, and committed whole Epistles to memory. This later proved of great value to him in his disputations with the Catholics. In thus committing Scripture, he is an example to be imitated by Christians today.
And now the seed-thoughts planted in his mind by Wyttenbach sprang forth to harvest, and he began the Reformation. His progress seems to have been gradual, but at that time he seems to have been farther advanced than Luther when the latter nailed the theses on the church door at
Zwingli’s First Year at
Zwingli’s fame as a preacher became so great that the little mountain abbey could not hold him. In the latter part of 1518 he was called to be the head priest at the cathedral of
He also showed his missionary spirit by trying to convert the country people as well as the city folk, for he began preaching on Fridays as well as on Sundays, as Friday was market day and that brought the people of the canton to
Beginning of the Reformation at
Zwingli’s preaching soon began to exert great influence in
On July 17 Zwingli did what may be called personal missionary work for the conversion of Lambert of Avignon. Lambert was a Franciscan monk, with whom Zwingli debated publicly about the intercession of the saints, and so powerfully that Lambert was converted to Protestantism.
It was very evident that matters were approaching a crisis. This crisis came in 1523. On January 29 there was a great disputation held at
Zwingli, in November, 1523, preached against images. Thomas Platter tells the story that he was at that time sexton in the
The Completion of the Reformation at
By the end of 1524 the only remnant of Catholicism was the mass. Finally, in the spring of 1525, the
Spread of the Reformed Doctrine
The Reformed Church having been established at
The Conference at
The first step that prepared for the reception of the Gospel elsewhere was the Conference at
One of these messengers was Thomas Platter, who thus tells the story. It was arranged that a young man in the Conference should each day write down what was said, and that either Platter or another young man would carry it from
Although Zwingli was not at the Conference, yet fortunately the Reformed found a new champion in Oecolampadius, the Reformer at
The Conference at
The next great event was the Conference at
The Conference at
The next great event was the Conference at
Landgrave Phillip of Hesse, one of the leading princes of
On October 1st, the public debate took place in the great hall of the castle, in the presence of Landgrave Phillip of Hesse and Duke Ulrich of Würtemberg. These princes sat at one end of the table, while the leading Reformers sat or stood around the table. There is a tradition that Luther wrote on the table in chalk the words, “This is my body,” so that he might not weaken from his position on the Lord’s Supper. For two days they debated, especially on the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli and Oecolampadius so pressed Luther by the exegesis of the Scripture texts and quotations from the Church Fathers that finally he could answer no more, but pulling the cloth, on which he had written the words “This is my body” from the table, he held it up before them as his vindication.
But a sickness broke out in the crowded town and broke up the Conference. Before they separated, the Landgrave had them draw up fifteen Articles of Faith. Both sides agreed on all the Articles except on that about the Lord’s Supper. As it was evident that they could not reach an entire agreement; the Swiss asked that they be recognized by Luther as brethren. But Luther refused, saying, “You have a different spirit from ours.” Zwingli held out his hand to Luther but was refused, and so the Conference broke up (October 5th), without uniting the two Churches.
But it made a favorable impression for Zwinglianism on
Zwingli’s Later Years
For the diet of
The last years of Zwingli were taken up with political alliances and with the spread and conservation of Protestantism. He had been criticized for the former, but it is to be remembered that
But Zwingli was also very busy introducing and building up Protestantism in the Catholic cantons of St. Gall, Appenzell and Thurgau, northeast of Zurich, and of Schaffhausen to the north. His letters reveal his activity there. At the end of 1529 he went to Frauenfeld, the capital of Thurgau, and organized the Reformed congregations into a synod, composed of about five hundred ministers from the
Zwingli’s Death at Cappel
The year 1531 was the last year of his life. It brought with it the Second Cappel War. The First Cappel War broke out in 1529, between the canton of
But the First Cappel War had settled nothing permanently. So the war broke out again in 1531. The Protestant cantons had decided to lay an embargo upon the five Catholic cantons on wheat, and other necessary articles, until these cantons would give up foreign pensions, etc.
When his identity was discovered, they very quickly put him to death. His body was quartered and burnt. So died Ulrich Zwingli, as the inscription over the door of his house in
Zwingli’s Character and Doctrines
So lived, and so died the great founder of the Reformed Churches. Zwingli was of all the Reformers the most modern in his views, and as time rolls on, his life and character are being better understood. He was by no means faultless. He made mistakes—many of them—though some of them were mistakes due to his age. There were none of the Reformers who were faultless and who made no mistakes. However, in spite of them, and rising above them, Zwingli appears as a great character and a mighty force. He was one of the four great pillars of the Reformation: Luther, Melancthon and Calvin being the other three.
His greatness was many-sided. He was great as a thinker, as a theologian, as a poet, as a patriot, as a statesman, and as an orator—and all these were consecrated in the highest wav to the cause of the Reformation. His was a great missionary spirit and he did not rest until most of German Switzerland had become Protestant.
His doctrinal position may be now defined as a “liberal Calvinism.”
1. He strongly held to the supremacy of Scripture.
2. He held to the doctrine of election, as did all the Reformers, even Luther. They emphasized this doctrine because in their reaction against the Catholic doctrine of justification by works, they held to justification by faith. And as man’s works could not save, then God alone could save and he did it by electing them. But Zwingli was broad and liberal in his Calvinism. He held that all infants were saved, and also that there was a possibility of salvation for some of the heathen, as Socrates and Seneca: for his love for the classics had liberalized his theological views. In holding this, he gave the death-blow to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. And while strict Calvinists hold that Christ died for the elect, Zwingli held that He died for all.
But he did not live long enough to fully co-ordinate these doctrines into a system, for he died in middle life. On the doctrine of justification by faith he agreed with Luther, but his emphasis was different. He emphasized the cause of justification, namely, the death of Christ, while Luther emphasized the result namely, justification. He says in his Confession to Emperor Charles V, “For this is the one sole mediator between God and men, the God and man Christ Jesus.” Luther’s doctrine was based on Galatians, Zwingli’s on Hebrews ( and ). This emphasis of Zwingli’s on the “Ransom of Christ” led him to hold at first, to the memorial view of the Lord’s Supper, though toward the end of his life he inclined toward the higher Calvinistic view.
 Egli, Schweizerische Reformations-Geschichte, page 35.
 The manuscript of this is in the Zwingli museum at
 Bullinger, History of the Reformation, page 9.
 De vera et falsa religione. Translated into English and published in The Latin Works and the Correspondence of Huldreich Zwingli. Vol. 3.
 In nine years he published about eighty works.
 [Good here fails to see the development in Zwingli’s thought from the influence of renaissance humanism to biblical understanding. EDB]
Salem Ebenezer RCUS, Manitowoc, WI
Ann M. Goeke, 74, went home to her Lord on Wednesday, August 24, 2011, at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay, after a long battle with pneumonia. She was born February 4, 1937, in Brillion, WI.
Ann was a member of Salem Ebenezer Reformed Church in WI. Ann had served in the church Ladies Aid and was also a member of the church Adult Bible Study. Ann loved to travel and to read. She is survived by her husband Leslie, who has served as an elder in the church.
Hilda Rambadt, born September 19, 1911, celebrated her 100th birthday at Salem Ebenezer Reformed Church during a special fellowship meal at the church on September 25, 2011. She also celebrated with about 100 friends & family members, including a great‑grandson from Alaska on Sunday, September 18, 2011 at the Newton Town Hall.
Rev. Chester R. Ploeger
September 1, 1925-August 21, 2011
GARNER- Rev. Chester R. Ploeger, 85, of Garner died Sunday (August 21, 2011) at the Concord Care Center in Garner.
The funeral for Rev. Chester Ploeger was conducted at Peace RCUS, Garner, IA, on August 24, 2011. It was a blessing to have words of sympathy and remembrance from the Synod Executive Committee and from representatives of our four Classes. There were a total of ten RCUS ministers in attendance, representing each Classis of the RCUS. Thanks be to our faithful Lord and God for how He worked through the ministry of Rev. Ploeger. And all praise to our Lord for the only comfort in life and in death, Jesus Christ!
Rev. Chester Raymond Ploeger, one of seven children of Fred and Amelia (Luelf) Ploeger, was born September 1, 1925, at Schaller, Iowa. He was baptized in Immanuel Reformed Church in Schaller on September 13, 1925, by Rev. Herman Greimann. Chester grew to manhood on his father's farm located seven miles northeast of Schaller.
On May 28, 1939, he received the Rite of Confirmation by Rev. Willard Sherman. He received his elementary education in the rural schools of Eden Township and graduated from Hayes Consolidated High School at Storm Lake in 1942. In 1946, he graduated from Mission House College in Plymouth, WI, with a Bachelor of Arts degree and from the Mission House Theological Seminary with a Bachelor of Theology degree in 1949. He was examined and licensed by the Germania Classis, Reformed Church in America, at Lennox, SD, on July 8, 1949, and ordained into the Holy Ministry by the same classis on July 27, 1949.
On June 18, 1950, he was married to Miss Grace Grether in the Salem-Ebenezer Reformed Church in Manitowoc, WI, by the Rev. K.J. Stuebbe. Chester served the following pastorates: Logan Reformed Church in Dell Rapids, SD, from 1949 to 1952, Peace Reformed Church in Garner from 1952 to 1965, Zion Reformed Church in Menno, SD, from 1965 to 1970, Peace Reformed Church in Napoleon, OH, from 1970 to 1973, Salem-Ebenezer Reformed Church in Manitowoc, WI, from 1973 to 1976, Grace Reformed Church in Bakersfield, CA, from 1976 to 1983, Peace Reformed Church in Loveland, CO from 1983 to 1985, and Eureka Reformed Church in Eureka, SD, from 1985 to 1990. In 1990, Chester retired from the ministry and moved with Grace back to Garner. Chester was elected Pastor Emeritus by the Peace Reformed Church in Garner on July 15, 1990. From 1990 to 2000 he did substitute preaching in various Reformed churches in the area. He is survived by his wife, Grace Ploeger (nee Grether) of Garner; a sister, Evelyn Currie of Storm Lake; a sister-in-law, Mardelle Ploeger of Sioux Center, and many nieces, nephews, and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents; brothers, Ivan (Genevieve) Ploeger and Everett (Verna) Ploeger; fraternal twin brother, Lester Ploeger; two sisters, Opal (Lyle) Langner and Mildred (Bill) Demers; and a brother-in-law, Wilbur Currie.
Minneapolis-Metro Mission Work Update
Rev. Ryan Kron
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are all grateful for the work that God continues to do in building his church in the Twin Cities. During this past month, many of the details of the church plant have begun to solidify:
1) Lord willing, we will begin meeting for regular corporate worship services on Sunday, October 23, 2011. We will meet at Eden Lake Elementary School, which is located in Eden Prairie (a suburb southwest of Minneapolis). The address for Eden Lake is: 12000 Anderson Lakes Parkway, Eden Prairie, MN.
2) Our Sunday morning schedule will follow this schedule: Sunday School/Catechism from 9:00 AM to 9:45 AM and Corporate Worship from 10:15 AM to 11:30 AM. We are also planning to have potlucks together on the 2nd and 4th Sundays from 11:45 AM to 12:30 PM.
3) The church plant has officially been named Emmaus Road Reformed Church.
4) Our website is now up and running: www.emmausrcus.org. Our blog will now be updated regularly at the new website.
5) Please join us in giving thanks to God and continuing to remember these items in prayer:
a) Thanksgiving that God has answered our prayers by providing us with an elementary school to rent for corporate worship in Eden Prairie.
b) Thanksgiving for those who have attended the Bible study over the past six months. Overall, 57 different adults and kids have attended at one time or another.
c) Thanksgiving for the generous support of Redeemer and the churches of classis and synod.
d) Prayer that those who have visited the Bible study will come to corporate worship services.
e) Prayer for outreach to the neighborhood around the church plant.
f) Prayer for the families of the core group as they pour their hearts and lives into serving in various capacities in the church plant.
g) Prayer for the core group and the members of the Bible study as they invite friends, family, and neighbors to come and join us for worship services.
h) Prayer for the new Bible studies that will begin soon in different parts of the southwest metro of the Twin Cities.
i) Pray that God will sanctify all of us more and more by his Spirit through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
j) Pray that God will be glorified in the start of this new church plant.
k) Pray that God will save His people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Rev. 5:9).
Finally, please join us in praying the words of Colossians 1:9-14:
"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
Pastor Ryan Kron, Minneapolis, MN
by Tom Cox
[Mr. Cox is attending Covenant Chapel in San Diego at this time. Rev. Baloy writes: "Well over one year ago, Tom Cox came to our congregation in San Diego. The following account is a ‘Mealtime Meditation' which he gave on the Lord's Day of August 7, 2011." We are printing this for publication in the hope that others will be benefitted and perhaps even have an angle on a job for Mr. Cox who remains homeless. -Ed.]
All of us here today have had tribulations at some point in our lives. But what exactly are tribulations? In short, they can be called "hard times" or be referred to as "a rough road ahead," or, as some would say, "down on our luck." We've all been there. Everyone on this planet, whether they are believers in Christ Jesus or not, have had their share of tribulations.
But why do we have these tribulations? God gives us these "hard times" for several reasons. And I will list four reasons that I have found:
1) To balance out the amount of prosperity we have in our lives. We can find a couple of examples of this in Ecclesiastes chapter 3 in verses 3 and 4, and also in verse 6 that read: "A time to break down and a time to build up, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to gain and a time to lose."
2) As a means to chastise us for not following His Word like it says in Deuteronomy 8:5: "You should know in your heart that as a man chastens His son, so the Lord your God chastens you."
3) So that we may learn perseverance, as Paul wrote about in Romans 5:3-4, "But we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulations produce perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope."
4) To draw us nearer to Him: Paul wrote in Romans 8:35, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" He goes on to tell us the answer in verses 38 and 39 which read, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." God can use any one of these reasons, or a combination of, or even all of these reasons, for giving us tribulations. That certainly seems to be the case with me.
Five years ago things were going quite well for me. I was in a time of prosperity. I had a job that I liked. I had my own apartment, a king-sized bed to sleep in, and a kitchen to cook my meals in. I had well over 200 VHS and DVD movies to watch, and a video game system to play video games if I didn't want to watch any movies. And if I didn't want to play video games, I had close to 200 music CDs to choose from for my listening pleasure.
Oh, yes, things were going great! But then it all changed, and it changed in just a matter of minutes. I got up on a Friday morning and walked to work. It was a lovely morning. The sun wasn't up yet, but there was light and the air was still cool. It was payday, and I was anticipating getting my check. I had the full 80 hours for that two-week period and had worked another 16 hours of overtime. It was enough to pay the next month's rent, buy enough food for two weeks, and maybe even a movie or two, or a couple of CDs. Yes, life was good!
But when I got to work and walked in the door, before I could even punch in, I was given a devastating blow. I was told that there were no more jobs and to go home. And when I inquired about the paychecks, I was given the knock-out punch. "The company is bankrupt, there's no money, no jobs, go home!" I knew right then and there, that I just lost everything without that final paycheck. I had no money for rent, no money for food, not even bus fare to go look for a new job. I knew I was going to be homeless.
On October 1, my rent was due. On October 2, an eviction notice was taped to my door. On October 8, 2006, I walked out of my apartment for the last time, with only a couple changes of clothes that I could carry with me. Everything else had to either be thrown away or simply abandoned in place.
Do you remember that I said that God also used tribulation to teach us perseverance? Well, here it is five years later. I'm still homeless, still unemployed. I think I have definitely learned perseverance, and it has helped me to build character. I know I can persevere as long as I need to while I wait for God to act and allow me to prosper once again. Homelessness isn't as hard to deal with as it was at the beginning. Don't get me wrong, it's no walk in the park (no pun intended). And it certainly isn't fun, nor do I wish to remain homeless. But what makes it bearable now is the fact that I have grown closer to God the Father Almighty and to His Son, my Lord Jesus Christ.
And our Lord Jesus Christ Himself went through His share of tribulations. Did He not wander in the wilderness for 40 days being tempted by Satan? Did He not also have to flee from different cities as people wanted Him captured and killed? On the night that Judas betrayed Him, was He not in the garden praying to His heavenly Father and said: "O my Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as You will"? And did He not suffer great humiliation and pain as the centurions stripped Him of His clothing, whipped Him and beat Him, and thrust a crown of thorns upon His head? And did He not suffer while He was nailed to that cross even unto death? These are all examples of the tribulations that our Lord had to endure. Yes, He knew He had to go through those tribulations, and He did so out of His love for all of us, so that we who believe in him and call upon Him may be saved.
Paul was right when he wrote, "Tribulation produces perseverance, character, and character, hope," because I now have hope, and five years ago I had none. There is something else that I didn't have then, but I do now: God and His Son Jesus Christ. I know God has blessed me, because He brought me to meet Pastor Baloy. That was no accidental encounter. God led both of us to each other. Pastor Baloy then brought me to this church and introduced me to all of you. And all of you, through your kindness and your prayers, have given me the hope I so needed. All the glory goes to God above. But I thank all of you as well. And what gives me even yet more hope are these words that Jesus Christ Himself said in John 16:33: "These thing I have spoken to you, that in Me, you may have peace, in the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, and may His Father bless each and every one of you for many, many years.
Covenant Reformed Chapel
San Diego, California
On Sunday morning, July 17, 2011, Mr. Bobby Denton and Mr. Ricky Heeb were ordained and installed to serve as deacons at Grace Reformed Church, Lancaster, CA. The Lancaster congregation gives thanks and praise to God for His continued faithfulness in giving gifts to men for the extension of the gospel ministry in this fallen world. May the Lord continue to raise up qualified men to serve in the offices of pastor, elder, and deacon in His Church for His glory, honor and praise!
On Sunday evening, July 17, 2011, Rev. Scott Henry was installed as pastor of Grace Reformed Church, Lancaster, CA. Rev. Paul Henderson presided over the worship service, while Rev. Tracy Gruggett preached the charge to the pastor from 2 Timothy 4:1‑5, and Rev. Vern Pollema preached the charge to the congregation from Matthew 28:18-20. It was a wonderful evening as RCUS ministers, elders, and members from Lancaster, Bakersfield, Shafter, La Habra, and San Diego praised the Lord for His sustaining mercies and His glorious faithfulness towards His people. "Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever" (Psalm 118:29).
By Henry Beets
The Belgic Confession of Faith is the oldest one of the three doctrinal standards of the Reformed Churches of Dutch origin. It dates from 1561, whereas the Heidelberg Catechism was published in 1563, and the Canons of Dordt adopted in 1619. It is usually spoken of as the Belgic or Netherlandish Confession of Faith.
These two geographical adjectives are practically identical in meaning, historically speaking. In the days of Caesar, the inhabitants who founded the Republic of the Seven Provinces were spoken of as France, were spoken of as Belgi, and their language as Belgic.
But later on the name "Netherlanders" or people of the "lowlands" became current. During the reign of Charles V there were seventeen "Netherlandish" provinces united under his crown, and of these, eight were located in what is now called Belgium. During the Eighty Years' War, and as a result of that great struggle, these seventeen "United Netherland" provinces were separated. The people who founded the Republic of the Seven Provinces were spoken of in those days as Northern Netherlanders, to distinguish them from the Southern Netherlanders, who now belong to the kingdom of Belgium, and to whom the name Belgian and its derivatives are usually limited in our days. But originally "Belgic" and "Netherlandish" were synonyms.
The author of this Confession of Faith himself was born in the Southern Netherlands, namely, at Mons (Flemish=Bergen), the capital of the Province of Hainault, a city owing its origin to a fortress erected there by Caesar during his campaign against the Gauls. This author was Guido de Brés, also known as Guy De Bray, born most likely in the year 1522, the son of Jean de Brés, a painter. During his infancy his mother was a devout member of the Roman Catholic Church, and more than once expressed as her wish that her son might prove to be a useful instrument for the propagation of the true religion. Her wish was to be fulfilled, but in a different sense than she had in mind. Young de Brés became a painter on glass (glas schilder). Somehow he became acquainted with the Bible and books bearing on the Reformation, and the new light on the old religion, which came to him through these volumes, so illumined his mind and influenced his will that between the eighteenth and twenty-fifth year of his life, he broke with the Roman Church. Up to the year 1548 he continued in Mons, but soon after that date, when a bloody religious persecution was started in his native land, he fled to England, where he became acquainted with exiled leaders of the Dutch Reformation in those days, such as his countryman Dathenus and the Pole à Lasco. Four years later we find him back in the Southern Netherlands, as an itinerant preacher of the Reformation, with the town of Lille (Flemish=Rijsel, now belonging to France), as his headquarters. But he did not long remain there.
New persecutions drove him to Germany, where very likely he met John Calvin, then the rising leader of the Reformed people. During 1555 and the beginning of 1557, the young preacher was in Switzerland where he continued his studies in Lausanne and Geneva. Within a couple of years he was back again in his native land, where he married Catherine Ramont. He preached not only in Lille, but also at Tournay (Flemish=Doornik), a city situated on both banks of the Scheldt River, and one of the most ancient towns in Belgium. It was during these days that he labored on the "Confession of Faith," with which his name was to be linked permanently. He prepared it in conjunction with Saravia, later Professor of Theology in Leyden, and afterward at Cambridge, where he died in 1613; and Rev. H. Moded (for some time chaplain of William of Orange), and consulted other Reformed leaders of his day, possibly Calvin himself.
The "Confession" originally was written in the French language. In fact it was to some extent patterned after the Confession of Faith of the Reformed Church of France, which had been drawn up under the guiding direction of John Calvin and published in 1559. The work of de Brés and his collaborators was first printed in 1561. During the night between November 1 and 2, 1561, a copy of it, carefully wrapped up, was thrown over the wall of the Castle of Tournay, hoping that it might come under the eyes of commissioners of the Spanish King, Philip II, then Lord of the Netherlands, these commissioners being charged with the uprooting of all heresy as rebellion against the legal authorities, yea, against God himself.
The preface of the Confession protested against the charge of the Reformed people being rebels. Notwithstanding their being exposed to the most cruel persecution, they obeyed the government in all things lawful. At the same time this preface breathed the spirit of Christian martyrs-witnesses for Christ. Rather than deny Christ, so it was declared, the thousands of Reformed believers, whose convictions were expressed in the Confession, would "offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire, well knowing that those who follow Christ must take up the cross and deny themselves." What language of exalted heroism!
Before long de Brés himself was to be such a witness-unto death. In 1567, while he and Peregrin de la Grange were the much-beloved and diligent pastors of Valenciennes, in Northern France, the city was taken by the foes of the Reformation marshalled under the banner of Spain. De Brés and his colleague had fled, but were taken prisoner and cruelly bound and brought back to Valenciennes. From his prison, a miserable dungeon, the author of the Confession wrote letters of comfort to his brethren in the faith, to his old mother, and his wife and children, and prepared for his death as if it were to be a marriage feast.
He told one who came to visit him in his prison that the clanking of his chains was sweet music in his ears because he bore them for the sake of his Lord and His doctrines of free grace. But this testimony the more enraged his persecutors, and in the night between the 30th and 31st day of May of the year 1567, both de Brés and de la Grange, testifying to the last, suffered the death of martyrdom by means of hanging.
But already before he died, de Brés's Confession of Faith had been translated into the Dutch language, 1562, and after some revision and abridgment, had been publicly adopted by the Synod of Antwerp, 1566. At the Church Convent held at Wesel, 1568, agreement with it was demanded of the preachers [Chapter 2, §8 of its Articles], and finally, after some more revision, the Great Synod of Dordt, April 21, 1619, stamped it with its approval as one of the Standards of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands.
Since that time the Belgic Confession has become one of the recognized symbols of Reformed Churches of Dutch origin throughout the world, including those churches in the United States of America. Its translation into English was undertaken in 1788 by a Committee of the Reformed Church in America, of which Dr. J. H. Livingstone was a member. A Committee of the Christian Reformed Church went over it, and its report was approved in final form by its Synod of 1912.
It is our conviction that the Belgic Confession of Faith is squarely built on the Bible, its statements backed up by Holy Writ. We are also convinced that the welfare of Reformed Christendom in the New World will be promoted and maintained by a proper appreciation and loyal holding of this citadel of truth, erected in the Old World, in days when one jeopardized and often, as de Brés, forfeited his life, for rearing and defending its ramparts.In order to promote the appreciation and the maintaining of this time-honored creed, this book is written, hoping and trusting it will not only be considered a precious heirloom of the fathers, but continue to be raised and carried forward as a standard of the Lord, lifted up in the power of the Spirit, when the enemy comes in like a flood, Isaiah 59:19. We trust it may also be a flag around which shall rally the scattered members of our Reformed family of Dutch origin in America. May we experience the truth of the mottoes of our fathers, already well-known in the days of de Brés: "Eendracht Maakt Macht," and: "Concordia res parvae crescunt.
"Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased." (Ps 115:2, 3)
Who can resist the hand of God? The specific attribute of God is "transcendence," which means that He is above all power, glory, and honor. Or as Ephesians puts it, He is "above all" (Eph. 4:6), but the Bible teaches more than the transcendence of God. It also teaches "immanence." This means that God is not only above all, but he is "through all." Together, these two attributes keep us from falling into either Deism, which sees God as absent from the world, or from Pantheism, which does not distinguish between God and His creation.
The child of God must never confuse God with His creation, or he falls into idolatry, the worship of the creature. But it is equally fatal to deny that God is absent from Creation and does not rule it completely. As Q. 27 of the Heidelberg Catechism puts it: "What do you understand by the providence of God? The almighty, everywhere-present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand."
HC Q. 28 then asks: "What does it profit us to know that God created and by His providence upholds all things? That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move."
Louis Berkhof references from Scripture the following things that are directly under the control of God's providence:
The Universe at large: "The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all." (Ps.103:19) "And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the arm of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, what dost thou?" (Dan. 4:35) "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." (Eph. 1:11)
The Physical World: "God thundereth marvelously with his voice; great things doeth he, which we cannot comprehend....By the breath of God frost is given: and the breadth of the waters is straitened." (Job. 37:5,10) "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth." (Ps. 104:14) "Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places." (Ps. 135:6) " ...He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. 5:45)
The Brute Creation: "The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God....That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good." (Ps. 104: 21,28) "Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?" (Matt. 6:26) "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." (Matt. 10:29)
The Affairs of Nations: "He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: he enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again." (Job 12:23) "For the kingdom is the LORD'S: and he is the governor among the nations." (Ps. 22:28) "He ruleth by his power for ever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah" (Ps. 66:7) "And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation." (Acts.17:26)
Man's Birth and Lot in Life: "And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons." (1 Sam. 16:1) "Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them." (Ps.139:16) "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." (Is. 45:5) "But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother' womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood...." (Gal. 1:15,16)
Outward Success or Failure: "For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another." (Ps. 75:6,7) "He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts." (Luke 1:52)
Small Things: "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD." (Pro. 16:33) "But the very hairs of your head are numbered." (Matt. 10:30)
The Protection of the Righteous: "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety." (Ps. 4:8) "For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favor wilt thou compass him as with a shield." (Ps. 5:12) "My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me." (Deut. 8:3) "He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber." (Phil. 4:19)
The Wants of God's People: "And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together....And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen." (Gen. 22:8, 14) "And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live." (Deut. 8:3) "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19)
Answers to Prayer: "And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the LORD, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the LORD remembered her." (1 Sam. 1:19) "And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God." (2 Chron. 33:13) "O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come." (Ps. 65:2) "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you... " (Matt. 7:7)
Punishment of the Wicked: "If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors." (Ps. 7:12,13) "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup." (Ps. 11:6)
Because everything comes to us from the hand of God, we have two very important responses.
1. In everything we show patience and thankfulness, because all comes to us from God.
"Saying, "We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned." (Rev. 11:17) "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name." (Heb 13:15) "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1 Th 5:18) "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;" (Eph 5:20) "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of his knowledge by us in every place." (2 Co 2:14) "O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever." (Ps 118:29) "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High:" (Ps 92:1) "So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations." (Ps 79:13)
2. No matter what happens to us, our business is always with God.
"Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly." (Job 1:20-22) "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." (Heb 4:13)
"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child." (Lu 2:1-5)
There is nothing new about governments levying taxes, but there is a good story to tell about this particular tax increase.
Luke records precisely the time that this levy was made. It is questioned only by brilliant people who live twenty centuries after the fact who think they know more than Luke. Luke questioned those who lived through those days, but what did they know? That is also nothing really new, either. Some things can be believed or not believed only after attendance for many years at the "best" schools.
Octavian was the Grandnephew and heir of Julius Caesar who was assassinated March 15 B.C. Octavian became part of a ruling Triumvirate made up of Octavian, Lepidus, and Mark Antony; they warred with the Senatorial party, led by Brutus and Cassius, two of the murderers of Julius Caesar.
The Imperial Party won, in the name of the people, of course. Also in the name of the people they instituted a bloody purge and a reign of terror. They divided up the Empire: Octavian ruled Italy and won support of the Italians. Mark Antony married Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, and tried to build an empire in the East. Octavian defeated Cleopatra and Mark Antony in 31 B.C. Now master of the empire, he changed his name to Augustus. The name "Augustus" was not chosen by accident. It means "The Exalted." Never tortured by low self-esteem or doubt, and making sure that all the loose ends were tied up, Augustus Caesar composed a self-assessment of his accomplishments modestly titled, "The Deeds of the Divine Augustus."
It was widely believed that the poet Virgil had predicted that a savior would come and bring about the "turning point of the ages." Augustus saw himself as this savior. All of nature would rejoice in his glory. In 17 B.C. a new star appeared in the sky, and Augustus believed that Virgil's prediction was fulfilled. He inaugurated a twelve-day Advent in celebration. Augustus certainly believed that the political order was the manifestation of the divinity in all things and salvation was in and through this high point of power - Caesar. "Salvation could come only through the name of Caesar."
Augustus was the God-king. He coins bore the inscription, "Caesar Augustus, the Son of God." He believed that the state was the incarnation of God and voice of the people was the voice of God. He spoke for the people, of course; he was wise and benevolent and knew what the people would want if they knew what was best for them. Peace and prosperity would be brought in by statist action: every need would be met.
But the state that expects to meet every need of its people must be prepared to spend lavishly. To get the money for the programs that offer salvation it was necessary to tax and tax. Opposition to these taxes must be ruthlessly suppressed, for nothing could be withheld from the divine order. In order to make taxes efficient, the people had to be registered and this registration must take place in the place of their birth in order to maximize efficiency. No matter how much things change, some things stay the same. "Death and taxes never change," my grandpa used to say.
Not a thought was given to the inconvenience that such journey would entail to the weak, the pregnant, the sick and the old. All the money is Caesar's anyway, and the needs of the divine order must be met. The lowly must not ask how much their country can do for them, but ask how much they can do for their country. God requires total commitment and sacrifice, and the deified state can ask no less. Caesar didn't [ask no less], and neither do his descendants. Because of this, "small" tax increases are usually many times larger than "huge" decreases in the rate of tax growth.
The next time you get depressed listening to the modest proposals of candidates who want to be elected as high priest in the temple of humanism, just remember the story of Caesar Augustus and the long journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.
Caesar would not even have known their names, and wouldn't have given a fig if someone had told him. Herod the Great cared about the news that a king had been born, but who names his newborn son "Herod"? His new dog, maybe.
Caesar died when our Lord was a teenager in Nazareth, growing in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man. There were the usual ceremonies of a magnificent state funeral and the decree of the senate enrolling him among the gods. But He who sits on the true throne of the universe laughed and had them in derision. And so should we.
Hallelujah! How manifold is the wisdom of God! He makes the power of man foolishness: The most lasting thing that this arrogant Caesar did was to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, to fulfill prophecy and provide for the establishment of the real Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of pipe dreams. I am sure that God has a sense of humor, but His laughter is no comfort to the wicked. I am also certain that you didn't read this in your college history book.
"But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (Mic 5:2)
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." - Genesis 1:26-28
In any discussion of man's proper relationship to the earth, these verses ought to be at the forefront of our minds. Here we see God's "vision statement" for man. This is what man is supposed to be in relation to the creation that he was put into.
In God's creative act, we see an important application of the idea that some of God's attributes are communicable (meaning that we share in some sense in those attributes) and some are incommunicable. God's attributes of love, knowledge, justice, and others are ones that we share in some sense, though we never equal God in any of those attributes. Other attributes such as God's omnipotence and infinity are not attributes we share in any sense. So too in creation, we see two basic activities undertaken by God. One is the creation ex nihilo, creation from nothing, the bringing into existence of something which did not exist before. This act is something which man cannot do in any sense. The other aspect, though, of what God did in the creation is to bring order to chaos. Before the creation, the earth (everything that was) was, according to verse 2, without form and void. That means it was empty (void), and chaotic. God brought substance into that void, and then he ordered it. He made distinctions, separating the day from the night and the water from the land. He set the stars and planets in their course to distinguish between different seasons and times, and He gave names to what He had created.
Man in God's Image
His final act of creation was to create man. And man was created after His own image. One would think that the creation of one after God's own image would include engaging in the very same acts in which God Himself engaged, in some fashion, and one would be right. God's very first command to Adam is that Adam continue and finish the work of creation. Adam was to go into the world and subdue it. To subdue something is to rule it, to bring it under one's control. And just like God, part of this work was naming. Adam was given the work of naming the animals.
What we see in Genesis 1-2 is that God, in His creative act, deliberately left His creation unfinished. He created man, in His image, to finish it. This is no diminishing of His glory, rather, it amplifies it. Not satisfied with simply creating rocks and birds and trees and stars, as if that were not enough, He also created a being that was like God, a representative of God, to finish the work of ordering the chaotic creation.
All useful work that man does is essentially bringing order out of chaos. A farmer orders a field, tills it, fertilizes it, works it, to bring it out of its natural chaotic state and into a state where it can be more useful. A construction worker shapes chaotic natural materials into ordered structures that are more useful for man. A lawyer or a policeman works with the chaotic materials of human relationships and shapes them into something that can fit more usefully into a properly ordered human society. In all of this work, man bears testimony to the image of God within him, and glorifies God who made him.
But fallen man hates God and therefore hates the image of God. He rebels against that image in a million different ways. We are seeing one particular instance of that rebellion in the modern environmentalist movement.
The Earth is the Lord's, Not Man's
Of course, nobody needs to tell a Christian to take care of the earth. We know it's a fundamental principle that the earth is the Lord's, and anything that the Lord has given us we are to use to His glory, not for our own selfish purposes. God told the ancient Israelites to let even their land rest one year in seven, which we know serves an important purpose for the health of the land. But the modern environmentalist movement goes much farther than that. To see how far this bias has shaped us, just think of the automatic assumption that something that is natural must be better. "All-natural" food must be healthier for you, we think. Yet, why should that necessarily be so? The world is under a curse, and we have to do a great many things to overcome the effects of sin on creation. And indeed, even in the garden of Eden, creation in its untouched state was not in its ideal state. Man was given the job of "subduing" nature, which means that nature needed order and rule. If that was true even before the curse, how much more so after?
The oft-stated aims of the modern environmentalist movement is to reduce as much as possible the "footprint" or "environmental impact" that man has on nature. If a particular species of plant or animal is harmed by the activity of man, that is automatically assumed to be evil, with any possible benefit to man being simply irrelevant. The word "evil" is appropriate, since if it were simply a practical negative, one might think of practical positives that could outweigh it. But we all know examples of cases where the survival of one tiny variant of mouse, snail or owl has been weighed to be more important than the livelihoods of thousands of people. That's not a weighing of practical benefits. That's the application of a religious principle. And the religious principle that drives the modern environmentalist movement is that nature is perfect, and any alteration of nature is therefore evil. No evidence is produced or needed to support this idea. No cataloging of statistics showing how industry and economic development has improved the lives of millions, and even improved the health of the environment, will ever change this principle in the minds of those who hold it. It is a matter of faith.
The idea that nature is perfect and must be altered as little as possible might not sound so terrible. But what makes this religious principle so pernicious is that it directly attacks the image of God. The idea that man's job is to rule and subdue the earth is an absolute heresy to the mind of the modern environmentalist.
How else does one explain the irrational hatred of power plants, strip malls, commercial farming and the like that permeate this movement? These things are all absolutely necessary for the modern environmentalist to live the way he does. None of them actually practice what they preach. If they did, they would kill themselves, or at least go live in a cave and eat roots and berries. We are told that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, leading to the warming of the earth. Yet carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of every single human activity. The only way for you to truly become carbon neutral is for you to die. But God commanded man to "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth." The idea that we must reduce our carbon footprint is tantamount to saying that God made a mistake.
Genesis 8:21-22 fundamentally contradicts the tenets of the modern environmentalist movement: "...Then the LORD said in His heart, "I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease."
It is fashionable these days for Christians to jump on this bandwagon, with many in the evangelical world echoing the same kinds of things we hear from very godless elements in our society. There is a great deal of contrary science disproving the theory of man-made global warming, but the Scriptures ought to be all we need to recognize its pagan roots. Just as with the question of the earth's origins, science must always support our understanding of Scripture. Science never determines our understanding of Scripture. The well-grounded Christian ought not put away his Bible when wondering about a question like this, and the Bible clearly defines man's role in the earth. He is to fill and subdue it. He is to finish God's work of creation by continuing to bring order out of chaos. He is to be a good steward of that with which God has entrusted him. The creative, organizing, industrial, economic impulse in man is not an evil impingement on pure and perfect nature, but is in fact the fulfillment of just what God created man to be. The belief that any industrial or economic activity of man is an evil to be suppressed as much as possible is driven by the hatred of God and the hatred of the image of God within man.
As my father has frequently pointed out to me, the story of God's redemption begins in a garden, but it ends in a city. Let us remember always to worship the creator, and not the creature. Let us worship Jehovah rather than the world which Jehovah made.
One heresy the kids always learn about in confirmation class is Docetism-the belief that Jesus was not truly human, or only appeared to be human. It was a common belief and a major source of controversy in the ancient church. Unlike some of the ancient controversies such as the proper date of Easter, this one was important. If Jesus was not human, then He could not be a substitute. He could not demonstrate that human nature could be redeemed, could be righteous. He could not taste death for us and thus could not be a propitiatory sacrifice.
Monophysitism was a variation of this. This ancient error taught that Jesus had one nature, instead of two-a kind of hybrid God/man nature, a blending of the two. In most of its forms, Jesus' human nature is simply absorbed into the divine nature and loses any real significance, with the same result: that Jesus is not truly human and therefore cannot be a substitute and cannot be a sacrifice.
These errors were condemned by the church, and for good reason. The ancient church recognized these errors as an attack against the nature of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. It was not just idle curiosity or intellectual speculation but a threat to the gospel itself.
Christians today often unknowingly fall into the same errors. This is one of the reasons we study church history in our own church, so that we can understand and avoid these errors today as they reoccur. They will not come under the same names. They may not come as a formal movement or doctrinal position at all, but out of ignorance and neglect we can simply slip into attitudes that are equivalent. If we fail to give any weight to Jesus' human nature and believe that His suffering and His obedience on earth were not true suffering and not true obedience, since, after all, He was God, then we will put the weight of His work on the idea of a moral example or a message from God and fail to put our faith in His sacrifice on our behalf.
Christ Is Fully Human
Perhaps the greatest of all of God's mercies is this-Christ was not ashamed to be one of us. Considering what Scripture has to say about humanity and our state, what remarkable mercy that demonstrates! He became one of us, with all our weakness and frailty: we, who are like grass, like the flower of the field, here one day and gone the next.
He dwelt among us though we had rejected Him. It is not for nothing, then, that he was called humble, meek, and mild. He would have been completely within His rights to destroy us, or to dwell among us as a conqueror, an angel of light come to put down humanity's rebellion. But He came to save us. He saved us by being one of us.
Hebrews 2:11 shows that humanity is not the problem. God created man good. God looked at His work, after He had created man, and said that it was very good. When we blame our sin and our failure on our human nature, we slander God's good work. God didn't make a mistake when He made human nature.
Yes, we fell into sin, and our nature was corrupted, but even in this fallen state, it is not human nature itself which is the problem, but rather the alienation of our human nature from God and the effect that such alienation has on our human nature. Jesus took upon Himself the same human nature that we have, and He was righteous. Human nature, when in fellowship with God and supported by God's grace and power, is perfectly capable of being righteous. He did not just appear to be like us. He was like us, fully like us, only excepting sin. This did not mean that His nature was therefore not truly like our nature, but that His nature did not suffer the corruption and distortion that is the result of being born into alienation from God.
So He did not stand aloof from us. He entered into humanity truly. He became part of the family of humanity, becoming what we are. And by doing so He saves us.
Made Perfect through Suffering
Our text in Hebrews 2 even goes so far as to demonstrate that Jesus was so human that He changed, grew, matured, and developed. He was made perfect through suffering, according to verse 10. He was never imperfect in the sense of having sins or flaws. But He was imperfect in the sense of being incomplete. He had a process that He went through, characterized by suffering and learning to conform His will to the will of His Father in heaven, which is seen most clearly in His great agonizing struggle in the garden of Gethsemane.
Now none of that was in any sense necessary, for Jesus is God. He possessed all perfection before the incarnation. Nothing can be added to God. Yet He became one of us in order to save us. And He did not just appear to be like us. He was one of us, truly. He learned, He grew, He suffered, and He triumphed. That triumph is our salvation. And so Hebrews says that for God it was fitting, appropriate, to accomplish our salvation in this manner, demonstrating His great wisdom and love, that our salvation was accomplished by God Himself becoming one of us and suffering what we suffer.
He tasted death for us. He experienced the whole range of human suffering and pain, of human corruption and fallenness. He lived as one of us, among us, and He had all of our weakness. He experienced sin and all of its curse when He was made sin for us on the cross, when He took on the sins of mankind and became the sacrificial lamb, bearing all of God's wrath against sin. By doing so, He triumphed over it, was crowned with glory and honor, redeemed human nature, saved all of His people, and became the head of the new human race. This is His triumph and perfection.
This is God's grace to us, for in tasting death for all of us, He removes that taint from us so that we are clean and pure in God's eyes by His act.
Now we are becoming like Christ. In the first place, He who works this work of sanctification and purification, and we who are the beneficiaries of that sanctification, are one, according to Hebrews 2:11, "For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one..." The Greek here shows that the act of purification or being made holy, sanctified, in verse 11, is a progressive ongoing work in our lives. And so we are one with Christ, and because of that oneness, we are progressively being made like Him.
Christ is here presented to us as supreme and preeminent, because He is the goal of our present process. In our moral nature, we are becoming like Him. As we have been declared holy by His act of substitution, and His righteousness is imparted to us, resulting in the forgiveness of sins, so too His righteousness is being worked in us so that we can actually become that which we are declared to be. Christ is pulling all of us up to Himself. And if I am now being made like Him, then He is the most important force and factor in my life. I need look nowhere else for some other guidance or inspiration. I need the approval of no other man. I need no other education or instruction or empowerment. All that I need is in Christ.
We think of sanctification as being the work of the Spirit of God, and indeed it is. But the Holy Spirit is directly referred to twice as "the Spirit of Christ" in 1 Peter 1:11 and Romans 8:9. Jesus said in John 14:26 that when the Spirit of God comes to us, He will call to our remembrance all that Jesus said. The Spirit does not come with a separate message, but with the message of Jesus. So the Spirit is the means by which our sanctification is accomplished, but the content of that sanctification is Christ.
Partakers of Flesh and Blood
This becoming like Christ is more than just intellectual or moral. He took on our nature, and then His nature was glorified and transformed when He rose from the dead. Our nature likewise will be glorified and transformed, so that our being conformed to be like Christ will involve our very nature. In verse 14, Hebrews says we have partaken in flesh and blood, that is, we share the nature which Christ took upon Himself. Christ on our behalf tasted of death and was glorified. But if we are united to Him, then we likewise will be glorified in the same manner, the point which Paul makes so clearly in 1 Cor. 15:35-57.
Jesus told Mary Magdalene in John 20:17 that He was ascending to "my Father and your Father, my God and your God"-indicating clearly that what was happening to Him would likewise happen to us.
Freed From the Power of Death
Paul said, "O death, where is your victory? O grave, where is your sting?" The curse of death is taken away from us. Death is now a victory for the believer, for in death we achieve what Christ has achieved for us.
The fear of death is a universal fact of human existence. All mankind lives in terror of death. People go to tremendous, ruinous lengths to extend their lives just a few more months. People consult witch doctors and sorcerers to try to extend their lives. Hebrews tells us in vs. 15 of this text that the devil uses the fear of death to enslave people. Indeed, to avoid death or to avoid thinking about death, people run to every kind of vice and wickedness.
People fear death because of guilt. They know, deep inside, that they stand condemned before God for their sin. Death is the moment when we go to give account. That is a terrifying thought. But for the believer, we have no fear. Condemnation is taken away by Christ, and therefore the power of the devil is removed. With no condemnation, no guilt, no fear of what will happen after we die, by faith in Christ, we can face whatever comes with confidence and boldness. Our hope is not in this life only, but because Christ became one of us, conquered death and now is in glory, we know we will be in glory as well, when we put our faith and trust in Him.
All of this means that Christ is our model for what it means to be fully human. He was fully human, and in being fully human and obedient to God, He redeemed human nature itself and has imparted that redeemed human nature to us. This is what the Lord's Supper fully symbolizes, and why we learn that in eating this bread and drinking this cup, we signify the fact that by faith we eat Christ's flesh and drink His blood. We partake of His nature. He became like us, died on the cross, rose again and was glorified. He became like us so that we could become like Him. And so He is now our benchmark, our goal, for what it means to be fully human.
Salvation doesn't mean escaping our human nature. Our human nature is not the problem. Our alienation from God and the corruption which that alienation works on our nature is the problem. Our nature has been tarnished, broken and perverted by sin and rebellion. But by God's power, it can be saved. It has been saved. Christ's human nature, the life-giving spirit, now becomes the source of our life and our new nature. As the old nature dies with Christ on the cross, the newly born humanity which is worked in us by regeneration, by the power of the Spirit comes alive. That new nature is fed by Christ and grows and grows until we die in this life. Our death in this life is then, to use Paul's analogy, like a seed falling into the ground, which springs forth into something new and wonderful.
It is Christ being formed in us. As the firstborn among many brethren, as the captain of our salvation, He has released us from the power of sin, death, and the devil, and charted the way to the new world, the new, glorious humanity which is forever united inseparably to God. Man and God can never again be separated, because they are forever united in Christ Himself, fully human and fully God, forever.