Terrific article that puts some crucial things in perspective for pastors and theologues alike!
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Terrific article that puts some crucial things in perspective for pastors and theologues alike!
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On the evening of April 3, 1968, a man stood up to a crowd gather at the headquarters of the Church of God in Christ in the city of Memphis, Tennessee. After a particularly difficult time of seeing black churches burned; having water hoses turned on black men, women, and children; having had marches broken up by violent Southern policemen; having had to deal with the general injustices of hiring practices by major companies in Memphis — he delivered a great speech which would turn out to be his last speech.
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!
Some of you may realize that just hours after that speech on the morning of April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed by James Earl Ray who was convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison. Though this excerpt that I shared with you this morning came at the end of about a 35-minute speech, the call he issued concerning his mountaintop view still resonates with all peoples, regardless of race, creed or color even today.
Here is the question: have you been to the mountain? Have you seen the glory of our Savior? Moreover, the only way that it may truly shine is for it to be lit, as Paul says, “with the light of the knowledge of the glory of our Savior” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Dr. King’s viewpoint had a bit of a different perspective. His speech called for equality among the races, a desire for all men and women to be treated like men and women. He had a dream that men “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” We as the church of Jesus Christ have a dream for all men and women to be led to the mountain where they see not equality necessarily, but authority. Where they not simply react to their travesty, but rejoice in His majesty.
We Must Savor the Majesty of God the Son
In Mark 9:2-3, we read:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.
This account begins “after six days” — but six days from what? Six days from the time God revealed to Peter that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God;” six days since He first told them that the Son of Man must suffer and be crucified and three days later would arise; six days from the time Jesus told the disciples and the crowd what it took to follow Him — a denial of self and a taking up of the cross! Six days from the time Jesus said that if one gained the whole world and lost one’s soul, that it would not profit them in the eyes of eternity! Six days from the time Jesus told them that if they were ashamed of Him, He would be ashamed of them when He returns in glory! Six days since the time Jesus told them in Mark 9:1 that “Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
What a roller coaster day that was! First, Jesus is revealed as the Christ! Then He told them He would be killed. Then He told them He would come in glory and in power! Up, then down, then up! It was with this in mind that Jesus took Peter, James, and John — the inner circle of disciples, if you will — to a mountain. All through the Scriptures, God revealed Himself in glory upon a mountain. God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush upon a mountain and later gave the Ten Commandments to Moses and the children of Israel upon a mountain. He came in power when through the Spirit’s power Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal as God came from heaven and consumed the sacrifice for all to see! It was on the mountain that Christ went to pray to seek God (Mark 1:31ff); and it was on the mountain that He chose His disciples (Mark 3:13).
Mark tells us that Jesus was “transfigured.” What does it mean to be transfigured? Warren Wiersbe says that transfiguration describes a change on the outside that comes from the inside (Wiersbe, p. 141). You see, Jesus willingly veiled His glory as part of His redemptive work here on earth. In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul tells us:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8, ESV).
John 1:14 tells us that the Word which was with God and was God (John 1:1) became flesh and made His dwelling among us. John goes on to say, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Apostle John who wrote that was the same John who was with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter tells his account as well:
For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”  we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:17-18).
Seeing and savoring the glory of Christ made an impression on those three didn’t it? In fact, if you read Luke’s account, you see that when the three went up on the mountain that they “were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory” (Luke 9:32). And when we see all that God did through Peter, James, and John in the early church, they moved and worked for our Savior and Lord as those who were awakened to His glory.
Friends, the church needs to awaken to the glory of Christ even now. This was a turning point in the disciple’s lives and must be a turning point in ours as well — seeing and savoring the glory that is in Christ! John 17:20-24 says:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
You see, Jesus was not up on that mountain merely showing off for His inner circle. He was showing His nature, but also showing us the glory we may share with Him! And when we see His glory, the church will arise and awaken and, as Jesus said in John 17, be one with Him as He is with the Father — and show the world the love that God shows to His people.
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“Since 13 of the 27 books in the NT are attributed to Paul, a separate book on how to do Pauline exegesis is warranted” (13). So starts Dr. Schreiner in his very helpful work, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles.Schreiner serves as the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville, Kentucky.
Prior to coming to Southern, he served as assistant professor of New Testament at Bethel Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Schreiner has contributed a number of books and commentaries on New Testament interpretation.
Schreiner’s focus in this volume is stated in the book’s introduction, which is to “focus on the methodology that should be used in interpreting the Pauline letters” (22). He continues, “Methodology focuses upon the science of interpretation, that is, the principles and procedures that are essential for exegesis” (22). He sees that the goal of exegesis is “to gain a worldview based upon and informed by the biblical text” (17). He feels so strongly about this method that he notes, “If one has never trembled when doing exegesis (Isa. 66:2), then one is not listening for the voice of God” (18). Schreiner seeks to make the case for using exegesis as the interpretative tool for understanding Pauline
Chapter One deals with “Understanding the Nature of Letters.” Schreiner believes that “perhaps the most important issue in interpretation is the issue of genre. If we misunderstand the genre of a text, the rest of our analysis will be askew” (23). This initial step is crucial to accurate interpretation of the Pauline epistles. In this chapter, Schreiner addresses the structure of epistles by discussing its opening, body, and closing. He notes how Paul’s epistles are not intended to be systematic theologies, but rather “are pastoral works in which Paul applied his theology to specific problems in the churches”(42). Interpreters must understand this mindset of Paul in order to more accurately assess his message.
Chapter Two deals with textual criticism. In this short chapter, Schreiner makes a number of suggestions regarding “textual study” and will “highlight a few examples of the practice of textual criticism in Pauline literature” (51). Chapter Three, entitled, “Translating and Analyzing the Letter,” Schreiner strongly advocates the necessity for knowing the original languages. “The goal at this point is to have a good working knowledge of the text. Subsequent detailed exegesis may lead the student to revise the initial translation” (57).
In Chapter Four, Schreiner addresses “Investigating Historical and Introductory Issues” and is divided into two portions: a focus on “historical-cultural issues” and the second portion on “introductory issues that relate specifically to the book under consideration” (61-62). In Chapter Five, entitled, “Diagramming and Conducting a Grammatical Analysis,” Schreiner’s goal is “to present as simple a system [of diagramming] as possible” (79) in order to clearly understand the syntax of the particular
passage under review. He believes that understanding the syntax outside of diagramming is impossible.
In Chapter Six, entitled “Tracing the Argument,” Schreiner is convinced that tracing the argument in Paul’s epistles “is the most important step in the exegetical process” (97). The importance of this step lies in the challenge of reconstruction many of Paul’s complex arguments. In Chapter Seven, Schreiner
turns his attention to “Doing Lexical Studies.” He laments that this step has suffered “great abuse,” therefore this step is an important one.
In Chapter Eight, entitled “Probing the Theological Context,” Schreiner discusses whether it possible to discover a Pauline theology, or do Paul’s letters simplyaddress pastoral issues to distinct situations?
Schreiner believers “there is enough information [in these letters] to provide the reader with a very full-blooded picture of Paul’s theology” (136). Chapter Nine, entitled “Delineating the Significance of Paul’s Letters,” addresses the issue of Paul’s letters and their significance in contemporary times.
Schreiner provides an excellent work in the realm of New Testament interpretation, giving us a practical volume to help the student truly understand the Pauline Epistles. He laments that “one of the greatest weaknesses of students is an inability to read the Greek NT” (58) — to which he advises a program of “regular reading” to improve this necessary skill.
One of the many strengths of this work is Schreiner’s strong emphasis on authorial intent. In his definition of exegesis, he notes:
Exegesis is the method by which we ascertain what an author meant when he or she wrote a particular piece of literature. The meaning of Scripture cannot be separated from the intention of the author as that intention is expressed in the words of the text. . . .We aim to discover God’s meaning, but such a meaning cannot be known apart from the intention of the human author (20).
While Schreiner’s view directly opposes many contemporary scholars who advocate a reader-response method of interpretation in our postmodern society (this is where the meaning entirely comes from the response of the reader and none other), his view is infinitely practical and lines up accordingly with the way most people live their lives. When one receives a shopping list of items and is asked to purchase those items at the grocery, the shopper would be foolish to ignore the author’s intention. The same mindset holds for those under contract — whatever the terms the contract holds are based upon the intention of the author of that contract.
Schreiner advises when reading Paul that “we should recognize that we are all inclined to read our own preconceptions into Paul, and thus we should struggle to read Paul on his own terms first and then apply his word to our culture” (152). Schreiner rightly notes, “The more one knows about the culture, history, and literature of NT times, the greater will be the ability to put oneself into the shoes of the original readers, which is always a benefit in interpretation” (62). Exegetes must absorb these lessons in order to rightly divide the Word (2 Timothy 2:15).
Schreiner makes an excellent observation in noting that “the capstone of exegesis is theological synthesis” (135). This theological synthesis is foundational in shaping the worldview of the interpreter. Schreiner believes that “exegesis will not be the passion of students unless they see that it plays a vital role in the formation of one’s worldview. . . . If one’s heart never sings when doing exegesis, then the process has not reached its culmination. And if one has never trembled when doing exegesis (Isa. 66:2), then one is not listening for the voice of God” (18). What an incredible reminder he gives in showing how the exegete must engage in worship as he uncovers the meaning of the biblical text.
Schreiner notes the pastoral intention of the letters as well:
One of the most crucial points to remember in interpreting Paul’s letters is that they were written to address specific situations. They are not systematic treatises that were intended to present a complete Christian theology. They are pastoral works in which Paul applied his theology to specific problems in the churches (42).
The reader will appreciate Schreiner’s references to other works that deal specifically with the subject under discussion. He stays focus to his particular area of emphasis rather than trying to say something about every possible area. He uses a helpful method by directing the reader to other helpful works in case the reader would like to delve in deeper to another angle which Schreiner does not cover.
Schreiner details a great amount of this work to the method of diagramming in order to understand the grammar and syntax of a particular passage. His conviction is clear with this particular statement in the first paragraph of Chapter Five:
It is true that one can understand the Greek text without diagramming, but no one can comprehend the Greek text unless the grammar and syntax of the text are understood. And no one can claim to comprehend the syntax of the passage unless he or she is able to diagram the
The concern with Schreiner’s statement lies in the absolute nature with which he endorses this method, as if to say that no other method ever devised may provide the interpreter with an understanding of the text and its grammar and syntax. He may be correct — but to the novice, Schreiner sounds like a salesman:“Other methods have tried — only this one succeeds.” Yet, having sat under Dr. Schreiner’s teaching and preaching at Southern Seminary, this reviewer knows first hand of the humble nature with which he not only ministers but also lives his Christian walk. While he may not mean to convey this mindset, too many readers may be put off by the absolute nature of his comments.
Schreiner’s work stands as a great help for the pastor and seminary student alike. His work remains accessible to the average pastor and his busy schedule because he does not overload the pastor and student with extraneous material. Schreiner maintained focus in communicating basic helps which will
benefit the pastor throughout his entire ministry. Having read this entire work thoroughly, I would highly recommend this work to every pastor.
R. Interpreting the Pauline Epistles:
Guides to New Testament Exegesis. Grand Rapids, MI:
Baker Books, 1990. 167 pp. $18.99.
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St Louis Blues by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, 1961. Dave Brubeck, piano; Paul Desmond, saxophone; Eugene Wright, bass; Joe Morello
Just a quick word of advice: if your child is on Facebook or MySpace, it is imperative that you get an account on these community websites and those like them. Why?
Well, for whatever reason, far too many who are on these community sites feel very free to be transparent about everything in their lives — not only about where they work, go to school, favorite songs, and fellow friends. Sadly, they feel free to share their thoughts on everything that comes across their way.
As a result, we can see a blurry line between their faith and their lifestyles. The thoughts that too many share indicate that their faith may be relegated to just a set of facts. And in one sense, this is true, for does not Jude commend us to “contend for the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3)? This is a body of truth that God handed to the prophets and ultimately to Christ and His disciples to hand to us. So in essence, there is some truth to our faith being a body of truth to believe.
The problem is, many miss the connection between holding to the truths and the truth holding them. Some learn the truth, yet do they live that truth they learned?
We as parents primarily and the church supportively must teach the connection between truth (Bible) and life (well … life)! Facebook, MySpace, and others like them are not inherently evil. In fact, I find Facebook to be a crucial component in keeping up with my college students here at Boone’s Creek.
But Facebook and MySpace are rather enlightening. There is a freedom these community sites give for teenagers (and some adults, even) to express themselves when the ‘real’ world (read: parents, teachers, even churches!) fail to hear what they are trying to express. The fear many have in expressing actual thoughts with their actual mouths to actual people may overwhelm and be overcome by expressing actual thoughts on their profile pages to everyone in cyberspace.
As a result, a pseudo-community ensues. In the Cyber-Informational Age we live in, everyone, anywhere can get online and find someone who sympathizes. Therefore, all one has to do is put out certain information (for many, it’s TMI — too much information) about themselves, and they will always have a “friend” who understands where they are coming from without the risk of being judgmental. This can have its positives and its definite drawbacks.
Parents, this is where you come in. Get a Facebook account — get a MySpace account! Be up to speed on what your children are putting up on their ultra-transparent pages. They will scream, “But I need privacy.” Yet, no one needs privacy to their detriment. When you see someone driving and their car is on fire, you don’t simply acknowledge their privacy to have their car on fire. You say, “Dude! Car! Fire! Here’s the water! Come back to the bounds of the right temperature!”
Multiply that by about a hundred trillion when talking about your offspring!
Son! Life! Fire! Come back to the bounds of what God has for you! They may immediately resent you for invading their space — but you answer to God who entrusted them to your care. Make sure you know how and where to care.
Extending Christ’s love to you and your child,
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Pray for the 23 Christian hostages captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Afghan and South Korean governments have been given until 10:30 a.m. EDT deadline today to respond to their demand to exchange 23 captured militants for 23 South Korean hostages.
Please pray. Click here for the entire article. Picture provided by Yonhap/Sammul Church via the Christian Post.
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Dr. Grant Osbourne provides a comprehensive volume on biblical interpretation in the second edition of The Hermeneutical Spiral. Osborne (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen) serves professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He also serves as series editor for the IVP New Testament Commentary Series.
This book serves as a response to scholars of the New Hermeneutic who advocate biblical interpretation as a “hermeneutical circle” (22) in which the reader can never understand the true meaning nor intent of the author. Osbourne states, “The major premise of this book is that biblical interpretation entails a ‘spiral’ from text to context, from its original meaning to its contextualization or significance in the church today” (22). Osbourne adopts a “meaning-significance format” (23) in which the author intends one meaning yet the implications and significance are numerous for the individual readers.
Osbourne deals with General Hermeneutics in Part I (Chapters 1-5). He first addresses the area of context, calling this “the first stage in serious Bible study … [grasping] the whole before attempting to dissect the parts” (37). Within context, he deals with two particular areas: the historical context and the logical context. In the next chapter, Osbourne speaks on the issue of grammar, which “denotes the basic laws of language behind the relationship between the terms and the surface structure” (57).
Next, Osbourne addresses semantics which looks at “the meaning of individual words as each functions in the sentence” (57). He notes that only since the 1950s has this realm of study come to the forefront of academics and that this area involves “not only syntax but also the historical-cultural background behind the statements” (83). In the following chapter, Osbourne discusses the role of syntax in interpretation. He refers to syntax as “all the interrelationships within the sentence as a means of determining the meaning of the unit as a whole [and] includes compositional patterns, grammar and semantics, and so forms a valid conclusion to the previous three chapters” (113). In Chapter Five, Osborne deals with historical and cultural backgrounds. Osborne notes that “background knowledge will turn a sermon from a two-dimensional study to a three-dimensional cinematic event” (158).
Chapter Ten deals with biblical prophecy, an area in which there is a “widespread misunderstanding” (258) about its nature and purpose. Osborne clearly states that is “not just to correct these erroneous views but to enhance the value and power of biblical prophecy for today” (258). Chapter Eleven helps the exegete understand the apocalyptic genre, who may find himself “caught between the literal and the symbolic, not knowing quite how to approach these works” (275). In Chapter Twelve, Osborne addresses the genre of parables. He notes that “few portions of Scripture [are] as exciting and relevant for preaching, [yet] they have been among the most written about yet hermeneutically abused portions of Scripture” (291).
In Chapter Fifteen, Osborne addresses what he believes “constitutes the first step away from the exegesis of individual passages and toward the delineation of their significance for the church today” (347) — that is, biblical theology. Chapter Sixteen deals with systematic theology, which Osborne defines as “the proper goal of biblical study and teaching. Every hermeneutical aspect … must be put into practice in constructing such a theology for our day” (374).
In the Preface to the Second Edition, he states:
The purpose of this volume is to provide a comprehensive overview of the hermeneutical principles for reading any book, but in particular for studying and understanding the Bible, God’s Word. … The one thing of which I am certain is that Christians want to be fed, and my goal is to enable pastors and teachers in the churches to know how to discover these precious biblical truths and then turn them into sermons and Bible studies for the flock God has given them (15).
This overview is indeed comprehensive. In this volume, Grant Osborne provides a picturesque method of a hermeneutical spiral that seeks to take the meaning of the biblical text and contextualize the text for the contemporary church. As stated earlier in this review, Osborne uses this picture in response to advocates of the New Hermeneutic and their picture of the Hermeneutical Circle. He notes:
I am not going round and round in a closed circle that can never detect the true meaning but am spiraling nearer and nearer to the text’s intended meaning as I refine my hypothesis and allow the text to continue to challenge and correct those alternative interpretations, then to guide my delineation of its significance for my situation today (22).
While Osborne succeeds in this endeavor, anyone who does not possess a scholarly intelligence able to process this vast amount of information will find this work intimidating and cumbersome due to the intricate detail he uses to make his case. One understands however why this work remains a mainstay in theological academic circles. Osborne takes the exegete from the very beginning of the process in dissecting a passage’s meaning and context to the very end of the process in helping the preacher deliver his sermon based on the research.
The main strength of this work is the balance with which Osborne makes his case for his hermeneutical spiral method. He possesses a dogged determination to find the intended meaning of the author while also using his exegetical tools to help find the significance for the author’s message for today. He presents this in his introduction beautifully. As he advocates deductive study, he notes that this method
… take[s] us away from the contemporary meaning of the word symbols in the text, which, because of our preunderstanding and personal experiences, we cannot help but read back into the text. Our effort then is to get back to the meaning the ancient author intended to convey (32).
In the next paragraph, he rightly notes, “the contextual or theological research completes the task of interpretation” (32). With this mindset, he holds that this method will lead to a development toward biblical, then systematic, then homiletical theology that will bring forth the text’s significance.
In the section on General Hermeneutics, he gives some helpful and thorough information dealing with each initial step of exegesis. As he begins with context, he rightly notes that the exegete must understand the big picture before he examines the parts of the whole. “Without a situation to give the command content, it becomes meaningless. In Scripture the context provides the situation behind the text” (37).
He takes his understanding of context too far in his examination of the debate on inclusive language. He defines this debate in these terms:
The issue is whether all masculine-oriented language in Scripture should be translated literally or in accordance with the larger intentions. . . . Inclusive language translation replaces male pronouns or terms that refer to more than men in the context with inclusive substitutes like one, you, they, people and such unless the context is describing the ancient cultural setting (153).
While Osborne admirably brings out both sides of the issue, his conclusions are troublesome. While he is correct in saying “inclusive language is better because it makes the meaning clear when a passage is intended inclusively” (157), he misses an important dimension when he said, “In conclusion, neither formal nor functional translations are wrong. In fact, they should be used together in studying the Word, the one for the form and words used in the original, the other for the intended meaning of that language” (157). Osborne earlier contends, “It is not form but meaning that matters” (156). Yet, at the beginning of the chapter on syntax (where Osborne’s excurses of the inclusive language debate is contained), he notes, “Individual grammatical decisions likewise are based on the structural development of the whole statement. . . . Word have meaning only as part of the larger context” (113). Osborne seems to say in one area that form does not matter, but earlier he believes that the structure or form is crucial in understanding the whole statement. Since God inspired all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then God would also inspire the structure or form be inspired as well as the meaning.
In his section on Applied Hermeneutics (chapters 15-17), he expertly defines biblical theology as, “That branch of theological inquiry concerned with tracing themes through the diverse sections of the Bible … and then with seeking the unifying themes that draw the bible together” (349). Osborne comes to this particular area with a great deal of honesty in how we approach the Scriptures. “The answer is a proper ‘hermeneutical circle’ or spiral within which the text is reconstructed on the basis of our theological system, yet challenges our preunderstanding and leads to a reformation of our tradition-derived categories” (352). Seldom will the reader find an author of hermeneutics to encourage him to approach the Scriptures with his theological system in full view. Yet Osborne understands that all of the people of God are reared and trained within certain Christian communities with distinct beliefs and traditions. Rather than ignore those traditions, he advocates bringing those beliefs to the text, yet balances this mindset with a willingness for the reader to be challenged. Only this way may the believer and the church of Jesus Christ find reformation.
Sadly, the average busy pastor would find this work intimidating and inaccessible. While this book gives thorough detail in every aspect of hermeneutics, this book may serve well as a reference book but will overwhelm pastors with little formal theological education. Osborne seems to sense this objection. In his chapter on grammar, he predicts for the reader, “There will probably not be a more boring ‘read’ than this chapter” (58). Elsewhere, Osborne says, “The pastor does not have the unlimited time necessary for such detailed research” (140).
Osborne rightly notes that his method will be helpful as the exegete “can utilize the secondary tools with greater expertise (commentaries, background books, lexicons, and so forth), noting when the commentator has done his homework or has made a shallow decision” (140). The concern remains that this method’s detail is so extensive that much of the value of this work will be lost in the minutia.
Having read all the assigned sections, I would recommend Osbourne’s work as a key reference work for expository preachers and hermeneutics professors alike. Although this work does not serve as a book in which the average reader may sit and read straight through, The Hermeneutical Spiral could serve as a very valuable resource for pastors, students, and scholars who wish to dig deeper into this field of study.
(Osbourne, Grant R. The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006. 624 pp. $25.00)
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Stephane Grappelli Plays “How High the Moon”
Many of you know I love jazz. Here, Stephane Grappelli and McCoy Tyner play the violin and piano, respectively, on this standard, “How High the Moon.” Just amazing interplay between the members. Keep in mind, Grappelli is 83 years old!
(You can listen to this sermon in its entirety by clicking on the link in the sidebar entitled, “Reformed, Yet Always Reforming.”)
One woman wrote a very candid assessment of our views on the Sabbath:
Do you rush, push, shout and become generally unpleasant on Sunday mornings? Do you complain about church? Are you irregular in your attendance? Are you over-conscientious about matters that are not really important? Do you always criticize the pastor, the choir, the length of services and the usher crew? Then don’t be surprised if your children grow up to look at Sundays as the worst day of the week.
Notice verse 22, “Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy.” It is not just the Levites who needed to guard the gates of the city, but all of God’s people from all ages need to guard our hearts in order to keep our Lord’s Day holy. Otherwise, we may find ourselves treating this day just like any other day.
The fourth commandment given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai was this:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11, ESV).
Under the Old Covenant (that is, the Old Testament), the people of God were to remember this day as a reminder of all that God did to create all that there is. God made this day holy as a way for us to spend time in reflection on what God did — just as God may have. He ceased from his work not because he was tired, but because he gave us an example to recharge ourselves not just physically but spiritually.
The issue here in Jerusalem was an issue that was just addressed back in Nehemiah 10:
And if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. And we will forego the crops of the seventh year and the exaction of every debt (Nehemiah 10:31).
So not only did they celebrate the Sabbath each seventh day, but they celebrated it each seventh year and would have what is called a Year of Jubilee, when for 49 years (“seven weeks of years, seven times seven years” – Leviticus 25:8”). Why?
The idea behind the Sabbath is not simply a day of rest and reflection but a day where we free ourselves to minister His holy name. Look with me at Leviticus 25. During the Sabbath year, after the Lord establishes that no physical labor is to be done, here is a perk:
The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired servant and the sojourner who lives with you,  and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food (Leviticus 25:6-7).
Now look down at the Year of Jubilee rationale in Leviticus 25:10-12:
And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.  That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines.  For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.
Now some think, “That’s Old Testament.” Doesn’t Paul say in Colossians 2:16, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. Therese are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17, ESV). So do we need to observe the Sabbath?
J. Vernon McGee one time noted that the Sabbath had not changed, but that he had and he now celebrates this on the Lord’s Day — Sunday. And the majority of Christians choose to observe it on Sunday, which John in Revelation 1:10 refers to it as “The Lord’s Day.” Soon after Christ arose, Christians began worshiping and taking their Sabbath rest on Sunday to remember the greatest event ever in the history of the universe — Christ being raised from the dead. He came to provide us a grand Sabbath rest, yes?
One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.” “But you didn’t notice,” said the winning woodsman, “that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest.”
The Sabbath serves as a time of reflection, of ministry, and of ax-sharpening. Are you like me, looking forward to spending your Sundays worshiping in the morning, and watching the Bengals (or whatever other activity) in the afternoon? I wonder if this is the best way to reflect on all that God has provided for us in Christ.
May God help us never to forget the holiness of the Sabbath.
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