The LORD of Hosts Is with Us

We think of October 31, 1517, as the birth date of the Protestant reformation. It was likely a decade or more later that Luther wrote the hymn we know as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” While we may think of it as the battle-hymn of the reformation, Luther likely saw it as a hymn of comfort and confidence in trials. Around 1527–1528 the plague was resuming. Radical fringe movements were threatening to undermine the reformation. His daughter, Elizabeth, born a sickly baby in December of 1527 died months later in 1528. A friend of Luther’s was martyred. Luther turned to the Psalter for comfort, paraphrased Psalm 46 ,and apparently wrote the music for the hymn as well. Focus on that Psalm today.

Trust the God who is your refuge and strength. Chaos may surround you. This is a Psalm of trust. Problems, even chaos, surrounds the author, one of the sons of Korah, but the language is general enough that we don’t know the circumstances. The imagery of 2 and 3 is that of an earthquake. Mountains being tossed into the sea sounds drastic to us, but especially for someone in the ancient Middle East, where the sea pictured chaos (roaring and foaming), but the mountains were what stood firm. While we can’t rule out a literal earthquake as part of the background, the language also suggest that this is a picture of the chaos that results as an invading army wreaks havoc. Where do you turn when the relatively tiny nation of God’s people has the might Assyrians or Babylonians sweep through their territory? The language of cosmic unsettling brings to mind the end of the created order as we know it, cataclysmic judgment. Even at that point you are secure. You may face disruption, even chaos in your life. When the doctor says, “I’m sorry, it’s malignant,” that seems to put everything else in life on hold. When your secure job vanishes, when you’re left alone by the death of a spouse, what happens to your life? And sometimes it’s not the big things, but the little details that seem to go far differently than we expect, and we feel that we’re losing control. Whether the problems we face are the direct result of sin, or the result of living in a sin-cursed world, God is still your refuge.

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The Greatest Commandment

What does a life lived in fellowship with God look like? The way the Pharisees put their question in Matthew 22:34–40 points entirely in the wrong direction, looking at life with God as a burden.

Love God and your neighbor. Love God with your whole being. The background reflects the continuing rivalry of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The questioner this time is an expert in the law. The Pharisees listed over 600 laws, and assumed that whatever response Jesus gave, there would be room to dispute him. Love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. Jesus quotes from the Law (Deuteronomy 6:5) as he gives this command to love God. Don’t try to distinguish too sharply among these aspects of your being. The point is that God requires of you nothing less than total commitment. The command to love God is absolute and unqualified. Examine your life for areas which you may be reluctant to submit to his sovereign rule. “[T]he concept of sin and the sense of sin is sharpened and deepened by Jesus. Precisely by moving away from human ordinances and going back to the law of God in the Old Testament, he again makes that law known to us in its spiritual character (Matt. 5), reducing it to one spiritual principle, namely, love (Matt. 22:37–40) and communicates it to us as a single whole (cf. James 2:10).” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, p. 135)

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The God of the Living

A woman married to (and in turn widowed by) seven brothers! Whose wife will she be in heaven? The Sadducees use this strange story found in Matthew 22:22–33 to try to trick Jesus.

There is life after marriage! The Sadducees came to Jesus with a problematic question. The Sadducees denied the resurrection. They came to Jesus in the context of increasing opposition to him. The Sadducees held that only the books of Moses were authoritative. They denied the resurrection and the existence of angels. They asked Jesus the question about marriage. They had seen the Pharisees (their rivals) fail with their trick question about taxes. Now they are going to try to trap Jesus. The background for their question (see verse 24) is the practice of levirate marriage, Deuteronomy 25:5,6 (though there is question as to whether it was still being practiced in Jesus’ day). See Genesis 38 and Ruth 4. The story is probably too strange to be true. Their hope is to embroil Jesus in an error and to discredit the idea of the resurrection. The view of marriage reflected in the presentation is superficial and deeply problematic. It focuses simply on the physical relationship (all seven had her).

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Living As God’s People in a Hostile World

Jesus, in Matthew 22:15–22, used the image and inscription on a silver coin to respond to a trick question about taxes. But his answer deals with much deeper issues than paying taxes. How do you relate to governing authorities and a culture that is antagonistic to the kingdom of God?

Give to Caesar what belongs to him. How should you, as a citizen of the kingdom of God, relate to civil government? The Pharisees combined with the Herodians to trick Jesus with a question. Their flattery helps to bait the trap. The very language of “give money to Caesar” may imply that they “gave” money, but did not acknowledge that they owed it to him. Although their motives were false, and were recognized by Christ as such, the question as to what is owed to civil government, particularly an ungodly civil government is a legitimate question. Josephus, the historian, records a rebellion against the Roman poll tax, led by a Galilean named Judas. Christians ask similar questions: Is it right to pay taxes that are used for sinful purposes (such as funding abortions)? How do you as a Christian, relate to the government? When do you submit? When do you have to obey God rather than man?

Christ commands you to obey the government. Jesus, after rebuking their insincerity, asks for a coin, the coin used for paying taxes. Interestingly, Jesus (in his poverty) did not have such a coin on him. But the questioners were able to produce one, despite their objection to the image and engraving on it. They bring a denarius, a coin with an image of the emperor, and an inscription describing him as divine. Jesus asks whose image (portrait) and inscription is on it. They answer, “Caesar’s.” Jesus commands you to render or pay to Caesar what is his. The very use of the emperor’s coin indicated at least a de facto submission to his authority. The money was issued by Caesar, and as his subjects, taxes were owed to him. The government does have a legitimate authority. It has the power of the sword, and is owed taxes and honor, Romans 13. You owe the king submission, 1 Peter 2:13,14. Pray for those in authority, 1 Timothy 2:1,2. Christians are not anarchists. Nor are they tribalists. Keep priorities straight. “Tribalism thrives on fear: the fear of losing our freedom, our safety, or our country. But the gospel reminds us that our true freedom is not freedom from persecution (2 Tim. 3:12), but freedom from the guilt of sin and the fear of death (1 Cor. 15:55–57). Our true safety is not found in the things we hold in our hands, but in the reality that we are held in the hands that hung the stars (John 10:28–29). Our true country is not even our beloved nation, but rather the new creation (Rev. 21–22).” (Jeremiah W. Montgomery, “Christianity and Tribalism,” “New Horizons” October 2021, p. 17)

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