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revelation

March 10, 2008

I am about to spiritualize (and very possibly even trivialize) one of the great laws of physics. As you no doubt remember from your days in school, Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, in its simplest form, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Take a look around and you will see this law in action every day.

Have you ever seen a slow-motion replay of a big boxing match where the broadcasters show the punch that finished the match? A gloved fist flies towards a face and at the moment of impact you can see the law in effect. As the glove meets the face, it reacts according to the amount of force applied to it. When the fist meets flesh, the point of impact is compressed inwards - perhaps a cheek is pressed into the boxer’s mouth. As that happens, the force of the punch pushes the entire head in the same direction as the fist is traveling. The opposite cheek sags eerily outward and a spray of sweat flies off the man’s body. The action of the fist striking with stunning force produces an equal and opposite physical reaction.

While this law is true in the physical world the framework of this law applies equally to truth. Through history we have seen that for every truth God reveals about Himself, there arises an equal and opposite error. Whenever God has chosen to reveal new truth about Himself, an opposite falsehood has arisen to lead people astray from the Lord.

The history of truth’s progressive revelation to mankind is not constant. Through history we have seen that for truth to progress, God must first reveal it in an objective sense. There must then be a combined effort on the part of God and men to subjectively reveal that truth to church or society. Where the objective revelation may take place in a moment or a day, the subjective revelation may take years or ages. Consider God’s revelation of His Law to Moses. In just a short while He wrote the Law on the tablets, objectively giving His Law to a particular man. It was then the combined task of God and Moses to subjectively integrate these Laws into society.

History, then, when viewed through a wide lens, is a series of these great epochs as God first makes an objective revelation and men then slowly integrate this truth into society. The first is an action on God’s part and the second is a reaction on the part of men. While there is always a positive action in reaction to truth, there is also an opposite negative reaction that arises in direct opposition.

J.A. Wylie describes the waves of action and reaction as being similar to the tide rising on a beach. A great wave crashes down on the beach, and for a moment it seems that the beach and the land beyond must be flooded. But in a moment the ocean’s fury is spent and the wave retreats, washing back towards the sea. But a careful observer will see that not all the ground that was gained by the great wave has been lost. Before long another wave crashes on to the beach and more land is gained by the ocean. And thus, by a series of advances and retreats the tide flows in and the beach is gained. And so it is with truth.

I want to briefly consider this in the contexts of four of the great epochs in history: God’s original revelation, God’s revelation to Moses, early Christianity and the Reformation.

Revelation After Creation

At the close of Creation God created a man in His own image and placed him in the Garden of Eden. The crowning achievement of His Creation, man was given a position of great honor and responsibility. Man was given dominion over the earth and entrusted with the responsibility to tend it. Everything was given to him but a single tree - the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man walked in perfect communion with God. We do not know what truths God revealed to man at that time, but we can presume that it was just exactly what he needed - no more and no less. God told man what he needed to know to thrive in a perfect world. It was in this beautiful world that there arose the first error as Satan convinced man that He could be like God. In opposition to the truth that man is limited and God is infinite, arose the opposite error. Satan convinced man that he could be like God. The waves receded so that by the time of Noah the Bible tells us everyone on the earth, with the exception of Noah and his family, hated God and sinned continually.

Truth gradually progressed in society. But as truth had progressed, so had error. Paganism took root as the opposite of the pure worship of God. The tower of Babel arose as men reached to the heavens to usurp the glory due only to God. We see that paganism, though in a primitive form, arose and thrived as the evil alternative to God.

Mosaic Revelation

Many years later God’s children found themselves in bondage to the Egyptians. It must have seemed like the world contained nothing but darkness and surely the Israelites must have felt that God had abandoned them to their sin. But this was not so. Just when it seemed that things could not deteriorate any further, God providentially raised up Moses. After leading the people from their slavery, God gave Moses new revelation about truth. Over the course of many years, this truth was subjectively integrated into the Israelite society. The tabernacle and later the temple were built as places to worship God. The feast days were integrated into the calendar and the ceremonies into times of worship.

During this time error also increased in direct opposition to the pure truth of God. Baal worship progressed in its influence and in its evil. The ceremonies of pagan worship grew in proportion to match the ceremonies of god-ordained worship. God’s people were continually led astray by more developed forms of pagan idolatry that directly contradicted true worship.

The Early Church

Jesus’ death marked the end of the Mosaic era. The ceremonial and judicial laws were fulfilled in the Savior. In place of law and ceremony God planted a church - a church that was not merely an extension of His plan for His people but was the fulfillment of His plan. His eternal plan led to this church, composed of men and women, Jew and Gentile, black and white - a church of people from all races united in their love of God. But the laws of truth were in effect even then, and there quickly arose opposite errors. The simplicity of the early church was polluted as jealous men fought for rank and position. Whatever God instituted was quickly matched by a corrupt opposite. Simplicity gave way to symbolism, free grace to man’s work and sacrament to ritual. The early church gave way to a Roman religion that for over a millennium seemed to hold back the tide of truth’s progress.

The Reformation

Once more the waves receded so that the beach again appeared to be bare. Once more it seemed that God had allowed the shadow to cover the earth. But there, in the 16th Century a great wave crashed against the shore. God allowed one man, Martin Luther, to take a stride forward in truth. Following in Luther’s footsteps other men came to rediscover great truths that had seemingly been lost since the time of the apostles. Within just a few years this truth had been integrated into Christianity in the movement that came to be known as the Reformation. Similarly, within a few years, there had arisen errors to match these ones. As truth unfolded in a more complete form, so more complex errors were invented. Arminianism arose as a means of lessening the terrifying prospect of God’s absolute sovereignty. Catholicism continued its corruption, attacking the principles of Protestantism - Christ’s sufficiency, His completed work and God’s free grace.

And So On

And so it continues. Even in our present day, hundreds and thousands of years after these great revelations, truth marches on. The truths God revealed to Adam, to Moses, to the apostles and to the Reformers continue to challenge the church. There is little reason to doubt that more epochs will unfold, or perhaps are unfolding even now, as God more fully reveals truth. As truth progressively unfolds, error continues to oppositely assert itself.

It is of foundational importance to understand that while each truth further strengthens its position, each error further corrupts the attempts to undermine God’s revealed truth. Each truth draws closer to perfection while each error draws closer to destruction. Just as a child lies to his parents and as his fictitious story progresses it becomes less and less plausible, so error upon error progressively undermines the position of those who fight against truth. Truth is a constant—what is true today will always be true. But error is fleeting—errors arise and fall, they are constructed and dismantled in quick succession. We love and study truth because it never changes. God’s truth must and shall prevail. In the end error will be destroyed; truth will reign supreme and shall be fully revealed. We will know truth even as truth knows us. Truth will win in the end.

This is based on an article I wrote years ago and one that somehow got lost in my archives. Funny how that works…

December 10, 2007

Have you ever considered what it must have been like for Adam and Eve to walk and talk with God in the Garden of Eden? Have you thought of the things you would say to God if you were to hear His footsteps today? What Christian hasn’t experienced a pang of jealousy when he reads “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” And what Christian hasn’t experienced a pang of remorse when he reads how Adam and Eve squandered that unique privilege. There was God, walking in the garden as He had done before. Adam and Eve recognized the sound of his footsteps. But this time, instead of rushing to Him and rejoicing in His presence, they fled and they hid from Him. They had sinned and they knew that there were consequences for such tyranny. They feared their Maker.

Ever since this fall into sin, the history of God’s people has been a history of mediation. Mediation is a concept we encounter quite often today. We hear of sports contracts being settled by mediation; we hear of lawyers becoming involved in mediation between divorcing couples; we hear of strikes being settled by a mediator who stands between the workers and the corporation and handles communications between them. These hint at mediation as we understand it from the Bible. In rejecting God’s goodness and benevolence and in putting himself in place of God, Adam erected a barrier between himself and God. The close communion that had once existed was ruptured and destroyed. No longer would God come walking to them in the cool of the day; no longer would He allow them to stay in His Garden. He forced them out and barred the way so they could not return. The very next passage of Scripture relates the first murder. Human history had taken a drastic, horrifying turn for the worse. The lines of communication were shattered.

From that time, God no longer allowed people to commune with Him in the same way. From that point on, man could no longer approach God as they had in the Garden. They had to approach God through a mediator. When we think of mediators we may think first of Moses, a man to whom God revealed Himself and a man whose task it was to then make the will of God known to the Israelites. After Moses was Joshua, and after Joshua were judges and prophets. There were priests to stand between God and man, offering to God sacrifices on behalf of the people and bestowing God’s blessings and curses on His behalf. Always there were mediators, always there were people standing between God and man. Always people must have realized their inability to approach God as they were. Always they must have wondered, “how can we approach God directly?”

There are some words whose meaning we understand without difficulty and some that seem to require a little more work. When we think of the word immature we understand that the prefix -im is equivalent to -un or not. A person who is immature is a person who is not mature—he displays a lack of maturity. But a similar word, immediate does not often strike us in the same way. If we break off the prefix it begins to make sense. Im-mediate harkens back to an older and perhaps less common understanding of that word. The American Heritage Dictionary defines immediate as “acting or occurring without the interposition of another agency or object; direct.” Immediate indicates access that does not require mediation. It is immediate access to God that we so wish to have, but that we cannot have.

Since man’s fall into sin, we have longed to be able to approach God directly. And well we should, for God made us to enjoy this unbroken communion with Him. We were made in the image of God and were made to know God. We long to enjoy an unmediated relationship. But even today, even in this New Testament era, we still rely on mediated revelation. God has been gracious in giving us His Word and His Spirit to communicate truth to us. But even this is mediated truth, truth mediated through the Spirit.

God sent a better mediator in Jesus Christ—a mediator that was better than Moses and better than the priesthood, judges and prophets. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the mediator of a new and better covenant.

Jonathan Edwards says this about this great mediator:

The redeemed are dependent on God for all. All that we have—wisdom, the pardon of sin, deliverance, acceptance in God’s favor, grace, holiness, true comfort and happiness, eternal life and glory—we have from God by a Mediator; and this Mediator is God. God not only gives us the Mediator, and accepts His mediation, and of His power and grace bestows the things purchased by the Mediator, but He is the Mediator. Our blessings are what we have by purchase; and the purchase is made of God; the blessings are purchased of Him; and not only so, but God is the purchaser. Yes, God is both the purchaser and the price; for Christ, who is God, purchased these blessings by offering Himself as the price of our salvation.

We rejoice that God has accepted the mediation of His Son. We rejoice that we can approach the throne of God. But still we realize that there is a mediator. To speak to the Father, we speak through the Son. To hear from the Father, we rely on the Spirit. Still we need someone to stand between. Still we long for the im-mediate. We long to see God as He is. We long to approach Him directly. We long to have the relationship fully and finally restored. We look in that dim mirror, always wishing we might see face-to-face.