RAPID THEOLOGY: Jesus, the Firstborn #003

This week’s Rapid Theology episode of The Backroads Baptist was inspired by Monday’s memory verses and questions that arise when one reads “the firstborn of all creation” concerning Jesus.

TRANSCRIPT:

Our scripture memory passage earlier this week came from Colossians 1, and focuses on the Second Person of the Trinity: The Son of God, Jesus Christ. There’s a very interesting and wonderful descriptor of Jesus included twice. Listen:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn [there’s number one; the firstborn] of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn [second time that word’s shown up; the firstborn] from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

Colossians 1:15-18

So, this word “firstborn”–does it mean Jesus is a created being? Does it mean he had a beginning? If not (and I think you all know Jesus is not created, but eternal; if not …), what does it mean? First of all, rest assured that Jesus is not caused. God the Son is most assuredly God. We affirm paragraph 2 of chapter 8 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith in Modern English:

QUOTE “The Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, is truly and eternally God. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, the same in substance and equal with him. He made the world and sustains and governs everything he has made. When the fullness of time came, he took upon himself human nature, with all the essential properties and common weaknesses of it but without sin.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary … Two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without converting one into the other or mixing them together to produce a different or blended nature. This person is truly God and truly man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and humanity.” ENDQUOTE If you have any doubt, look to the first verse of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As we look at a word like “firstborn” that without any qualification refers to a created being with a beginning, it’s important to look at the whole of scripture and indeed to let scripture interpret scripture. “Firstborn” appears elsewhere. There’s:

Revelation 1:4-5b

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

Now, here’s what firstborn means–conceptually we see three distinct reasons the Holy Spirit inspired the word “firstborn,” but bear in mind they are functionally inseparable in Christ’s role in our redemption. The first is Christ’s position. He is the firstborn in that he is the heir, the Prince of Peace, the King of kings.

Psalm 89:26-28

He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,
    my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
27 And I will make him the firstborn,
    the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 My steadfast love I will keep for him forever,
    and my covenant will stand firm for him.

The second is this: Jesus is the firstborn in his incarnation, in that he QUOTE “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, …”
John 1:14

Finally, Jesus Christ is the firstborn in his occupation–his finished salvific work:

Romans 8:29

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Time does not permit me to read other pertinent passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 and Hebrews 2:9-12. Read those and you will see more clarity in how Jesus is the firstborn in his position, incarnation, and occupation. But I do want to specifically answer one burning question you might, like I did, have about the “from the dead” part of “the firstborn from the dead” What about those resurrected before Jesus, like the widow’s son in Luke 7, Jairus’s daughter, or Lazarus? Weren’t they raised from the dead before Jesus? Listen to Paul in Acts 26:

22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

Acts 26:22-23

How can Jesus be the “first to rise from the dead” when those I mentioned–the widow’s son, Jairus’s daughter, Lazarus–when they were resurrected prior to Christ’s resurrection? The answer lies in understanding what it truly means to “rise from the dead” in the context of the redemption of God’s people. Back to the widow’s son, Jairus’s daughter, and Lazarus: what happened to them eventually? They died. Jesus, however, triumphed over death. He rose from the grave victorious, nevermore to die. The first to defeat death, and the victor on our behalf.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

Romans 6:5-8

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1 Corinthians 15:20-22

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Hebrews 2:9

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

RAPID THEOLOGY: Folly and God’s Name #002

This week’s Rapid Theology episode of The Backroads Baptist was inspired by the now infamous “A-woman” prayer by Rep. Cleaver.

TRANSCRIPT:

Read through Proverbs 26 and you might think you’ve found a mistake in the printing of your copy, or even what at first certainly appears to be a contradiction; listen:

(4) Answer not a fool according to his folly,
    lest you be like him yourself.
(5) Answer a fool according to his folly,
    lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs chapter 26, verses four and five.

So, verse 4 says to “Answer not a fool according to his folly,” while verse 5 says to “Answer a fool according to his folly.” What we have is not an error or conflicting directives, but general advice for how to answer the fool: sometimes, it is best not to respond in a like manner, and sometimes it is good to answer “according to … folly.” We must be wise and exercise discernment in determining what course of action is called for in a given situation. In a unique situation, I believe we can approach with both answers: pointing out foolishness with absurdity and pointing out foolishness with reason. In my humble opinion, we recently experienced such a case with Representative Emanuel Cleaver: one aspect can be critiqued with jest; another more serious aspect must be addressed with seriousness.

United States Representative Cleaver led a prayer to open the 117th U.S. Congress. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that he closed it with “Amen and a-woman,” which is folly that is absolutely deserving of the memes and tweets pointing out its ridiculousness. The word “Amen” has nothing to do with the male human after all, but is a word we get from Hebrew which means, “so be it.” It’s used to express agreement or confirmation. Representative Cleaver used the consecutive presence of the letters “m,” “e,” and “n” to attempt to draw out and correct an instance of inequality. But his absurd prayer closing has been justly met with humor.

That was absolutely not–or at least shouldn’t be–the most notable part of the prayer. What should get the attention of those in Christ is his taking our Lord’s name in vain. His attempt to pray to the One, True God of the Bible and include other gods by praying QUOTE “in the name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names by many different faiths” ENDQUOTE is sinful, and is the type of folly we must not answer in kind. In the Old Testament, one’s name referred to one’s character or reputation, and of course the Third Commandment makes it clear that God requires we treat his name with honor, with reverence, with awe, with respect. Therefore, we must not be afraid to publicly address those who impugn or profane God’s honor, God’s name. The Bible is replete with the idea of God moving on his people’s behalf and his saints giving him glory for the sake of his name.

Some examples:

Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
do not dishonor your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us. – Jeremiah 14:21

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive.
O Lord, pay attention and act.
Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. – Daniel 9:19

For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. – 1 Samuel 12:22

He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:3

Though I do not believe the Representative prayed to the I Am, our Almighty God, I do believe he intended to. His prayer was and will be heard by many who will consider this lumping of generic and pagan deities together to be perfectly fine. Many will find it acceptable to do likewise and will do likewise. That must be publicly corrected. This is not to say we are gatekeepers who dissect and discern every statement about God and pounce mercilessly on any notion remotely heterodox, but we must strive to see God honored and revered for the sake of his name.

Does God need us to defend him? No, of course not! But does God typically use human beings as the means to the end of his purpose for our good and his glory? Absolutely. Now do I think when you speak up privately or publicly—be it from the pulpit, during family worship, around your dinner table, on social media, in a group text—do I think that will effect a change in the person who dishonored God? No, but it will likely help someone think through it. It might correct a brother or sister confused or affected by dishonorable words or actions.

Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power. – Psalm 106:8

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