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Covenant Reformed News - January 2023 Featured

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Covenant Reformed News


January 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 9


 

The Blessings of the Messianic Era

New Testament believers, Galatians 3:26 asserts, “are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” The word “children” here is literally “sons.” According to its context, God’s (human) “sons” are contrasted with unbelievers (e.g., Heb. 12:5-8) or the contrast is between the New Testament church as a mature son—and in which believers are “sons” (Gal. 4:5-6)—over against the Old Testament church as an immature child.

The latter is the idea here (1-7). The New Testament church is a grown-up, mature, adult son, whereas the Old Testament church, was an immature child who was placed under the Mosaic law as a “schoolmaster” to guard, discipline and supervise him (3:24, 25; cf. 4:2). Thus Galatians 3:26 begins with the word “For,” indicating that it gives the reason for verse 25: “after that [the] faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children [i.e., sons] of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (25-26).

Consider a man who wants a babysitter or a childminder to look after himself! He desires to get back into the playpen and start playing with a rattle again. He longs for someone to walk him by the hand to kindergarten or primary school. Everybody would rightly think, “That guy has a massive psychological problem!”

Likewise, what are we to make of groups in the New Testament age who want to go back to keeping the Mosaic law, including the ceremonial and/or civil laws? The Hebrew Roots movement seeks to bring back the system of laws in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy! The Christian Reconstructionists desire to restore the civil laws in the Pentateuch! The dispensationalists look forward to the return of the ceremonial and civil laws of Moses in their future, earthly, literal millennium!

Don’t any of these groups understand the glorious privileges and dignity of the New Testament church? The full and profound faith concerning the incarnation and cross of the eternal Son of God has come (Gal. 3:25)! Don’t you get it? The days of the Mosaic pedagogue are over for “we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (25)! Don’t you see? The New Testament church is now grown-up and mature, “For ye are all the children [i.e., sons] of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (26)!

Paul explains, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (27). This refers to our real, inward, spiritual baptism into the Lord Jesus, which is signified and sealed by the sacrament of water baptism in the name of the Triune God.

Our baptism is far better than circumcision. First, unlike the rite of circumcision, baptism is not bloody or painful. Second, unlike the Old Testament ceremony of circumcision, water baptism is catholic or universal, for females as well as males.

By God’s grace, we “have put on,” and so are clothed with, “Christ” Himself (27). In Him alone, we have both imputed righteousness and imparted sanctification, and all the blessings of salvation. We do not physically wear the rough garment of a prophet, the white linen of a priest or the royal robe of a king. We are clothed with Christ Himself. Thus we appear before God clothed in Him, with His standing, character, graces and life.

What a garment! Consider its extent: it covers us completely. Consider its permanence: it never wears out and it is never taken off. Consider its possession: it is really and truly ours by faith alone in Jesus! This heavenly clothing covers my nakedness, protects my weakness, expresses my allegiance and makes me beautiful.

One could argue that the “For” at the beginning of Galatians 3:27 gives a reason why New Testament believers are God’s sons: “ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (26-27). It is also true that the “For” at the beginning of Galatians 3:27 gives a reason why New Testament believers are not required to keep the Mosaic civil and ceremonial laws: “But after that [the] faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster … For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (25, 27).

The apostle adds, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (28). This is one of the most foolishly and wickedly perverted texts in Scripture. It is often appealed to as if it supported unbelieving feminism’s usurpation of church office by women (cf. I Tim. 2:12).

Galatians 3:28 has been abused in this way for many decades by extremely liberal churches and theologians, like Krister Stendhal, a Swedish Lutheran. But this text is not dealing with church office; deacons, ruling elders and teaching elders are treated in I Timothy 3, Titus 1, etc. The subject in Galatians 3:28 is salvation in Jesus Christ in the New Testament age for the catholic or universal church! It is dealing not with the special offices of pastor, elder or deacon but with the office of believer!

In its context, Galatians 3:28 speaks of the development of the history of redemption from the age of the Mosaic law to that of the New Testament gospel. The salvation which we have in our incarnate, crucified and risen Lord Jesus is far richer and deeper than that presented by Mosaism!

“There is neither Jew nor Greek” (28) for, in the Christian era, there is no national or ethnic distinction in salvation. Hence all the Old Testament laws regarding unclean foods (Lev. 11; Deut. 14), the land of Canaan, worship at a physical tabernacle or temple, etc., are abrogated. There is now full equality of salvation in Christ irrespective of all nationality!

Moreover, “there is neither bond nor free” (Gal. 3:28). This declares the end of the Mosaic laws regarding the children, wounding, goring and releasing of slaves (e.g., Ex. 21). There is full equality in Jesus in the New Testament church, for we are all Christ’s slaves and the Lord’s free men (I Cor. 7:22).

Also “there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). The days in which females do not partake of the initiatory sacrament (i.e., circumcision) are over, for now both genders are baptized. The Mosaic legislation concerning men and women as regards purification after childbirth (Lev. 12), bodily discharges (Lev. 15), pilgrimage to an earthly holy place, inheritance, military service, etc., is rescinded.

Why? “for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28)! The full equality in salvation of all believers in the New Testament age and the unity of the catholic or universal church rest upon our spiritual union with Christ! Rev. Angus Stewart

 

Relics and Elisha’s Bones (2)

We continue with this question, submitted by one of our readers: “If God forbids us to have relics or to venerate the dead, why was the soldier resurrected from the dead after touching Elisha’s bones in II Kings 13:20-21?”

We have seen that the veneration of relics is both foolish and sinful. Though spittle and clay, handkerchiefs, garments, Peter’s shadow and Elisha’s bones were used in healing the sick and raising the dead, there is no power in them and they may not be worshipped. They were only means used by God and by those He sent. He alone, in Christ, may be worshipped, as the first two commandments require.

It is worth noting that God does not work such miracles or any miracles through men any more, miracles such as were done by Elisha’s bones, by Peter’s shadow or by handkerchiefs and aprons from the hand of Paul. In the New Testament, such miracles were signs of an apostle: “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (II Cor. 12:12). Though there are those who claim to be apostles today, their claims are bogus, for one of the qualifications of an apostle was that a man be an eyewitness of the risen Christ (I Cor. 9:1).

Do we not believe in miracles, then? We do. All God’s works are miraculous. He works every day in the sea what Jesus did by the Sea of Galilee when He multiplied fish. God performs every year in the fields what Christ did when He fed the 5,000 and the 4,000 with miraculous multiplications of bread. God also does things in our lives for which there is no “natural” explanation. Some are healed by God’s hand when the doctors have given up and all available medicines have failed. Some are rescued from death when there is no human power that could have rescued them. God still works miracles, but not now by men and never by relics.

What, then, is the point of the narrative in II Kings 13 and what is its purpose in God’s Word? A correct answer to this question will help us see that the story of the man raised by Elisha’s bones has nothing to do with the veneration of relics.

II Kings 13:20-21 reads, “Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.” That is one of only ten such miracles in the Bible (counting the resurrection of Jesus) and of three in the Old Testament.

The miracles of the prophet Elisha are unique in the Old Testament. More than any of the other miracles of the Old Testament, they pointed ahead to Christ’s miracles. No one in the Old Testament except Elijah and Elisha raised the dead; only Elisha multiplied food (II Kings 4:42-44); he alone healed a leper (5:1-14); only he paid someone’s debt by a miracle (4:1-7). The correspondence is not perfect but many of Elisha’s miracles are similar to those of Jesus. Also, apart from Moses, Israel’s great lawgiver, the miracles of Elisha are more numerous than those of any other Old Testament figure.

Is there, then, a correspondence between the miracle recorded in II Kings 13 and the work of Jesus? We believe there is: that what happened when that man was raised by Elisha’s bones is similar to what happened at the death of Jesus: “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (Matt. 27:50-53).

In both cases, we see the victory over death that Jesus brings and the power of God in Jesus to bring life out of death. His death is the death of death and the beginning of our new life. This is the point of the story of Elisha’s bones. It is not an encouragement to look for and keep relics or to put our trust in things, but a reminder that death is swallowed up in victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, a reminder that “if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him” (II Tim. 2:11). Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). That is the good news of the gospel, not the fact that handkerchiefs and aprons, clay and spittle, and old bones were once used by God to heal or to bring people back to this life.

Raised from the dead by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we begin already in this life to live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven and to experience a severing of the ties that bound us to this fallen world: “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “For our conversation [i.e., citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).

When we die, it is the death of Jesus that makes the burial of our bodies only a “sleep” until He comes again. It is Christ’s death that ensures our presence in Paradise at the moment of death and that guarantees the resurrection of our bodies at the end of this age. This is the point of the narrative in II Kings 13. Having begun already in this life the life of heaven, we “go on unto perfection” and to that glory which no eye has seen or ear heard—all by the power of Jesus’ death and His resurrection!  Rev. Ron Hanko

 

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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