Church Write-Up: Bread of Life, the Beast of Human Ambition

Time for this week’s Church Write-Up.

A.  At the LCMS church, the theme was Jesus being the bread of life, and the primary text was John 6.  Jesus feeds the multitudes but also talks about a different kind of bread, his body.  When people eat that bread, they will never hunger again, and they will have eternal life.

The youth pastor said that we never hunger when Jesus is in our lives because Jesus continually feeds our desire to be hugged and cared for, in short, loved.  But Jesus also brings us eternal life, and, when we are in heaven, we will never physically hunger again, and our spiritual desires will be met, as well.

The pastor and his wife were away celebrating their wedding anniversary, so we had a guest preacher, the professor who taught a Sunday school series on forgiveness and II Corinthians.

The preacher made a variety of points.  First, he said that Christ died for everything.  One facet of this is that Christ died for all of creation, and I am not entirely sure how this fit into the sermon.  August is Mission Month, which focuses on the good that the church does for the community, so perhaps the point was referring to that: Christ died for creation, so we should do our part in serving, caring for, and helping to renew it; the preacher was lamenting the tendency of Western society to treat Christianity as a private affair rather than as something that relates to the public sphere.  I thought of James B. De Young’s Exposing Universalism, which I read not long ago, and De Young was arguing against universalists who contend that Christ died, not just for the sins of humanity, but for the fallen angels, as well, meaning that demons, too, will be saved.  De Young maintained that, according to the New Testament, Christ died only for the sins of humanity.  Christ is the second Adam, after all (Romans 5), and Hebrews 2:16-17 affirms that Jesus helps not angels, but the sons of Abraham, for he became like his brothers in every respect.  Whether Jesus died for all creation, I do not know, but Jesus’ mission was to have an effect on all of creation, renewing it (Romans 8).

Another facet of Christ dying for everything is that he died for all of our sins, and we need Jesus, even when we feel that we are good.  We do not just need Jesus for the times when we feel that we do bad: for when we say the wrong thing, or know that we have screwed up.  We need Jesus just as much when we are sitting in church, as the drug-addicted prostitute on the streets of the city.  Sure, we sing to God, but God hears angels singing, so it is not as if our singing impresses God that much.  We are like children, who draw a picture for our Mom or Dad, and it is crudely drawn, but our Mom or Dad loves it anyway and sticks it on the refrigerator.  This point probably intersected with John 6 in that the preacher was affirming that we need the bread of life, in all areas of our life.  It is not the case that Christ died for most areas of our life, and left us on our own to be saved in one small area.

Later that day, I read more of Puritan Richard Baxter’s The Saints Everlasting Rest.  In a poignant passage, Baxter talks about how prone we are to sin, in times of fortune and misfortune, and that we will not have this problem in our heavenly rest:

“All our temptations from the world and the flesh shall also cease. Oh the hourly dangers that we here walk in! Every sense and member is a snare; every creature, every mercy, and every duty is a snare to us. We can scarce open our eyes but we are in danger of envying those above us, or despising those below us; of coveting the honors and riches of some, or beholding the rags and beggary of others with pride and unmercifulness. If we see beauty, it is a bait to lust; if deformity, to loathing and disdain. How soon do slanderous reports, vain jests, wanton speeches, creep into the heart! How constant and strong a watch does our appetite require! Have we comeliness and beauty? What fuel for pride! Are we deformed? What an occasion of repining! Have we strength of reason and gifts of learning? O how prone to be puffed up, hunt after applause, and despise our brethren! Are we unlearned? How apt then to despise what we have not! Are we in places of authority? How strong is the temptation to abuse our trust, make our will our law, and mold all the enjoyments of others by the rules and model of our own interest and policy! Are we inferiors? How prone to envy others’ pre-eminence, and bring their actions to the bar of our judgment! Are we rich, and not too much exalted? Are we poor and not discontented? Are we not lazy in our duties, or make a Christ of them? Not that God hath made these things our snares; but through our own corruption they become so to us. Ourselves are the greatest snares to ourselves. This is our comfort: our rest will free us from all these. As Satan hath no entrance there, so he has nothing to serve his malice; but all things there shall join with us in the high praises of our great Deliverer.”

Second, the preacher in his sermon talked about how people in first century Palestine were often hungry.  We see this from their archeological remains.  Jesus was feeding them, however, and, for that time, he was reversing a punishment of the Fall, specifically God’s statement in Genesis 3 that man will toil to get bread.

After the sermon, a representative from the Gideons spoke to us.  The Gideons distribute Bibles.  He talked about how exposure to a Gideons Bible turned a person who was hostile to a church into one who became a pastor of that very church.  God’s word is powerful, he was saying.

Something to add: in the church’s bulletin, I read that the person who sits next to me was donating flowers that week in memory of his daughter and his niece.  That was saddening to read, yet I admire his faithfulness to God, through the perils and heartbreaks of life.  That is something that I appreciate about mainline Protestant churches, which I do not get at evangelical churches (perhaps because I am not in an evangelical small group): I hear about people’s real life struggles.

B.  At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor was continuing his series through the Book of Revelation, applying it to the spiritual life of the believer.  His texts were Revelation 12-13.  In Revelation 12, Satan attacks the woman who gives birth to Christ.  The woman represents Israel and the church.  The pastor said that Christ takes into himself Israel: Israel was to save the world, and Christ did so, blessing Jews and Gentiles in the process.  When Satan attacks the woman, God leads her into a wilderness, and God does that for us when Satan attacks us, or when life’s perils come at us: we can go to the wilderness to be refreshed by God.

Revelation 13 is about the Beast and the False Prophet.  The Beast is ferocious and ruthless, and the False Prophet supporting the Beast appears to be a lamb but speaks like a dragon.  The pastor was saying that political systems talk a good game but underneath have a lot of ruthlessness.  The American system proclaims equality, for instance, but it has a history of oppression.  We should trust God rather than looking to politicians as our savior.

The False Prophet giving life to the image of the Beast and encouraging people to worship it, according to the pastor, represents how we idolize and publicize and try to give life to our ambitions.  It is not wrong to have goals, but we should not make these goals more important than God.  Regarding the number of the Beast, 666, the pastor referred to examples in Scripture in which the number six relates to human ambition or greatness, or human idolatry.  Goliath was six cubits and a span (I Samuel 17:4), meaning he fell short of the number seven.  At the sixth hour, Jewish authorities declared near the time of Jesus’ crucifixion that they had no king but Caesar (John 19:15).  I thought also of I Kings 10:14, which refers to Solomon’s 666 talents of gold.  Is that a coincidence?  Could that fit into the pastor’s scenario?  I have long doubted that, because Solomon’s gold was a sign of God’s blessing upon him, and some Christians (maybe even traditional Jews) see the glories of Solomon’s reign as a foreshadowing of the Messianic era.  At the same time, Deuteronomy 17:14 forbids the king to multiply to himself silver and gold, and there is concern that the king’s heart will turn away from God.  See here for additional comments.

The pastor reiterated a point that he made a few Sundays ago, but I had forgotten about it when writing my Church Write-Up.  It was a good point, though.  Revelation 7:14 states that those who came through the Great Tribulation washed their robes in the blood of the lamb.  A few Sundays ago, the pastor was saying that we continually cleanse ourselves of idolatry by remembering what Christ did for us.  Last Sunday, the pastor said that, through all of our trials and temptations, we should remember who we are in Christ.

I will leave the comments on, in case anyone wants to offer additional insights.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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