Twenty years after Zerubbabel led the first exiles back to the Promised Land, the Temple still lay in ruins. The Lord sent the prophet Haggai to exhort Israel to remember the Covenant and to finish rebuilding His house. In this class, we consider the background of the prophet Haggai and study through his first two oracles.
I’m working through 2 Peter in my preaching ministry right now (the blog lags quite a bit behind my preaching schedule), and I’ve just hit 2 Peter 2, which focuses on false teachers. Peter calls out these ψευδοδιδάσκαλοι (pseudodidaskaloi) primarily for their behavior rather than for what we might call “doctrinal error.” They rejected Christ’s ethics, His way of life.
Why would someone join themselves to the Way if they had no intention of leading a morally upright life? That’s what the Way is: a way of life, not just a body of doctrine. Joining up with the Way while intending to be a libertine makes about as much sense as enlisting in the military with no intention of being deployed. Why not be a libertine in your own place and on your own time?
2 Peter and Jude supply the same answer: false teachers stand to gain something from their enterprise. They get influence, money, pleasures from reveling with their followers–in a word, they get power. They have co-opted the Way. No longer is it about living after the pattern of Christ; now it is about false teachers getting what they want while surrounded by a crowd of supporters.
False teachers still appropriate the Way. The sea change in American culture over the past couple of decades started a similar sea change in American church culture. This is our first sign, by the way, that the churches have allowed themselves to be co-opted, for why else would a change outside the church trigger a congruent change within the church?
So now those of us who didn’t go along with the American culture are looking around at all of these people in our churches who have gotten on the LGBTQ+ bandwagon, and we’re wondering, “If all of these people don’t want to get on board with the Way’s sexual ethics, why are they here?” The answer is the same now as it was then: heretics stand to gain influence, prestige, and other forms of power by co-opting the Faith.
We could talk about what to do about these newly-minted false teachers, but today I want us to consider whether we have logs in our own eyes. Remember, if the churches changed with the culture, then they had already been co-opted by the culture. We’re just now noticing because we’ve become the odd men out. We hold time-honored beliefs that happen, by fault of our birth, not to be honored in our own time. The question before us is, “How many of our beliefs and practices are there because they are the Way, and how many of them are there just because they are ‘time-honored’?” If we want to remain faithful to Christ and to His Way, then we have to find where we have allowed foreign schools of thinking (i.e., heresies) to co-opt our faith, and we have to eliminate them.
“It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.”
Christians sometimes treat the resurrection of Jesus as an apologetic “ace in the hole.” Luke’s Gospel shows us that even Jesus’ disciples couldn’t understand the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection until they had it explained to them–three times!
Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray.
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
in the fear of you.
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.
For there is no truth in their mouth;
their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
they flatter with their tongue.
Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against you.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield.
The fifth psalm, like the two before it, plead for God’s intervention. The psalmist is assaulted by wicked men, so he leans on the Lord in prayer and sacrifice. He focuses this psalm on voices: his voice cries out righteously to God; his enemies’ voices lie.
Is there anything that a voice lifted up in prayer cannot accomplish? The Lord turned the rain off and on like a spigot because of Elijah’s prayers. James, the brother of Jesus, cites the power of those prayers when he encourages us to pray: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (Jas 5.13-16). Let us never be timid in bringing our requests before the Lord.
In contrast, is there nothing that the perversity of the human tongue cannot ruin? The men who assault the psalmist boast and lie and thus heap up the wrath of God against themselves. The psalmist focuses especially on their lying. “Their inmost self is destruction,” he writes. All that comes out of them is disorder and death; “their throat is an open grave.” In the Ancient Near East, an open grave was considered to be one’s access to the dead. The liar is Sheol on legs. To speak with him is to speak with the dead.
The worst thing the psalmist can imagine happening to these wicked men is their own schemes falling back on them. God has a big enough poetic streak to do just that. Remember Haman.
Most of the psalm focuses on God’s blessings for the psalmist rather than on His curses for the enemies. Whereas the Lord “destroy[s] those who speak lies,” He leads His faithful to His house. If the enemies get death and destruction, the psalmist gets life. He finds that life in the Lord’s house, learning the Lord’s ways, offering prayer and sacrifice.
God protects the spiritual life of His faithful. “Let all who take refuge in you rejoice… spread your protection over them… you cover him with favor as with a shield.” Let us all appeal to the Lord’s favor when the Adversary presses us. May he fall by his own counsels! And may God strengthen our faith when we call on Him in prayer.
Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin turns on a tragic irony: though the Sanhedrin has everything it needs to confess Jesus as Lord, and even though they have arrived at the conclusion themselves, they use Jesus’ words to condemn him.