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12/19 Monday Morning Quarterbacking

In a follow-up to yesterday’s sermon, I have written a little more detailed explanation about how Mary does and does not fit with the woman in Revelation 12, which you can read about by clicking below. I also wanted to follow up about praying for the persecuted church. The Voice of the Martyrs is a great organization I have found helpful in keeping up with our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world with information, prayer, and even financial support. One of the neatest resources they have is an interactive map of the world that highlights various places in the world and how to pray for them. Maybe it might be a good idea to get online this next week and look at it as a family, maybe let it guide your prayer time.

Mary and the Woman of Rev 12 – Extra

Mary and the Woman of Rev 12 – Extra

So what’s the deal with the woman in Rev 12? Is the woman in Rev 12 Mary or someone else? This can be a hotly debated issue between Catholics and Protestants. Here’s the issue, as it is often presented by Roman Catholic scholars:

  1. The birth of the one ‘who would rule with a rod of iron’ (Rev 12:5) is obviously the birth of Jesus. Therefore the woman who gave birth to him is obviously Mary.
  2. The Dragon is a spiritual manifestation of Satan’s power, and in the Christmas story stands for Herod.
  3. Therefore we can read back into the story a spiritual statement of Mary; that she is a queen of heaven as the chosen vessel of Jesus who was immaculately conceived (i.e. Mary was conceived with original sin). She was also was free from sin during her whole life, and she was taken up to heaven without dying. And because she was without sin, she did not suffer the pain in childbirth (since the curse to Eve after the Fall in Gen 3 was the pain in childbearing it follows: no sin, no pain).

You can see now why Protestants might have skin in the game! My response to this is two-fold: 1) Mary cannot be not identical to the woman as Roman Catholics claim, but 2) Mary does resemble somewhat the scenario in Rev 12.

To the first response, Mary cannot be identical to the woman, and this can be shown easily from just looking more closely at Rev 12. First of all, the woman in Rev 12:1-6 is in the pain of childbirth, yet according to Roman Catholic theology, she cannot experience pain because Mary is supposed to be without sin (See Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part 1: The Creed, Article III). Many Catholic scholars counter that the ‘pain’ here is symbolic; but if the pain is symbolic, then why can’t the rest be symbolic also? One can’t have it both ways. Secondly, the woman of Rev 12 sees her child born, taken up to his throne and THEN flees to Egypt, while Mary gives birth to Jesus, flees WITH him and Joseph. The ‘assumption to the throne’ in the Gospels doesn’t take place until after the death and resurrection of Christ some thirty years later. The timing doesn’t make sense if we are to read this as a picture only of Mary. Third, this woman must be more than one single woman since her children are those who hold to the testimony of Jesus (Rev 12:17). If this passage were showing the spiritual motherhood of Mary, then it is doing so without any hint in the Gospels, in the life and practice in the church in the Book of Acts, the writings of Paul, or Peter or John.

A better model would be that this woman is representative of the Old Testament church i.e. Israel. Israel is sometimes portrayed in the OT as a woman, sometimes unfaithful (Isa 1:8, Jer 6:2,23, Joel 1:8, Amos 5:2), sometimes as a restored woman (Isa 54:1-4, Isa 62:1-5). Paul describes ‘our mother’ as ‘Jerusalem above’ (Gal 4:26-27), in which he cites Isaiah 54:1. This shows that there is precedence for speaking of OT Israel as a singular woman (and the NT talks about the church in this manner too, see Eph 5:23-27).  A hint of this type of use is in the crown of twelves stars (Rev 12:1), signifying the 12 tribes of Israel. What makes much more sense is that her birth pangs are the yearnings and longings of the OT people, expressed in Simeon’s song (Lk 2:29-32). As commentator Greg Beale says, “The woman’s labor also partly represents the imminent, agonizing expectation of the Messiah’s birth and assumption of kingship, which is about to take place within the OT community of faith.” (The Book of Revelation, p.630)

So is there ANYWAY Mary is connected to this passage? I think so, but only as in a shadowy sort of way. Just like King Herod may be a small agent of the demonic force of the Dragon, he can only, in a shadowy, incomplete, and analogous way mirror the dragon, so too Mary does for the woman. She is in birth pains, gives birth to the Messiah, and does flee to Egypt. So instead of reading back into the character of Mary spiritual realities that don’t fit her, perhaps we should see the Christmas story is a miniature version of the greater reality talked about here in Rev 12. It is far more fruitful to talk about Mary being a part of the OT people who get to witness the coming of the Messiah, rather than somehow the people are a part of her.

Community Caroling

This past Sunday, we decided to do something a bit unusual. A bunch of us went out to a local shopping center (we asked permission first, don’t worry) and sang Christmas hymns as people were walking around and shopping. We didn’t ask anything from anybody (though we did hand out candy!). The reactions were interesting:

Some people were at various levels of amusement / interest. I saw someone filming us as we sang “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. Drivers might give a little wave as they drove by.

Some people tried not to make any eye contact whatsoever. And that makes some sense. Most people are a little skeptical about anyone outside a store: they must be selling something, and whatever they are selling, I don’t want it.

Similarly…

Some people assumed we were collecting donations. There were some very sweet folks who came to us with wads of cash in hand, ready to give to whatever cause we happen to be singing for. As they approached, somebody from our group usually responded with, “Nope, we’re not taking anything, we are just here to bless you.” What followed was an expression of shocked-yet-pleasantly-surprised.

And as I am watching these reactions, I couldn’t help but think this was like a little microcosm of most people’s reaction to the Gospel. Here is Jesus: singing his song of love, no strings attached, pure unmerited favor. Some people are slightly amused, but go back to their lives. Others assume there must be some sort of catch and try not to make eye contact. Still others come genuinely grateful, money and good works in hand, ready to pay Jesus back. Only they find there’s nothing to buy back, just a gift we could never afford, bought with blood for you and for me.

There was one other person who we met along our little caroling adventure. One lady was so excited and thankful she wanted to join us in singing. So we gave her a caroling book and she joined the chorus. And isn’t that what Jesus wants? For us to know His love, shown on the cross, to have our sins washed away, so that we would join the chorus of His praises through all eternity.

12/5 Monday Morning Quarterbacking

I’m not sure how many of you caught it, but this past Sunday we sung a very familiar song (“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”) with some very unfamiliar lyrics. Most versions take the Charles Wesley’s Christmas hymn and cut it down to three verses. But the original had five verses, which we included this past Sunday’s worship. As I was thinking about yesterday’s sermon where I encouraged everyone to pay more attention to the words that we sing, so I thought I might lead the charge by describing these two ‘lost verses’:

4. Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in us thy heav’nly Home;
Rise the Woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent’s Head.

Verse 4 references the ‘conquering seed’ of Gen 3:15, where God promises that the ‘seed of the woman’ will ‘crush the head of the serpent’. This was the first promise of the Gospel after the Fall, and we can now look back on those words and see that Jesus was that ‘seed/child’ who would put an end to Satan’s/the serpent’s reign. Yet Charles Wesley cleverly adds two words that apply that theological concept straight to our hearts: “Bruise IN US the Serpent’s Head”. The hold of sin and temptation is in our hearts, that’s where Satan’s head is, and it is there that the battle must take place. Jesus doesn’t just conquer sin and death ‘out there,’ but the good news of the Gospel is that he conquers those things in us, personally and profoundly.

5. Adam’s Likeness now efface,
Stamp thy Image in its Place;
Second Adam from above,
Work it in us by thy Love

 The fifth verse has some unfamiliar language that might be confusing at first blush. Adam’s likeness is the image of God from Gen 1:27, which was perfect at Creation. But after the Fall, the image of God is ‘effaced’- or ruined. Imagine a beautiful statues that someone painted graffiti and has thrown stones at till its nearly unrecognizable. That is the image of God in us: still there, but broken. The rest of the song asks the ‘second Adam’ i.e. Jesus (1 Cor 15:45, Rom 5:15) to work in us, by his love his own image in place of the broken one. This reminds me of Rom 8:29 that says we are being conformed into the image of Christ. The hope of Christmas doesn’t end with the baby Jesus in the manger, but points to the renewal of our very humanity as was created good in the Garden, tarnished in the Fall, and in need of redemption and renewal.

Angel Tree Thank You!

Thank you Harbor church family for participating in this year’s Mooresville Christian Mission Angel Tree! We were able to provide some pretty neat stuff for 20 underprivileged kids this Christmas in our own local community. The above picture is a snapshot of all that we sent this past Friday.