Luke 9:46-48

I wrote this as my chapel message this week. It went a lot better than the last one. The idea was struck by a recent sermon I heard and an old blog post from Tim Challies.


46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

Jesus has just finished remarking that he is going to be handed over to the Romans and crucified. He is about to make himself least for the sake of his disciples. What do the disciples do upon hearing this? Luke tells us they did not understand what he was saying and they were too afraid to ask him what he meant.

And it’s quite clear that they hadn’t understood the words of Jesus from the next passage, there we read that the disciples were arguing among themselves over who was the greatest. Previously Jesus gave them the power to heal and cast out demons, as our Lord himself had been doing; then he told them to take up their cross and follow him; a little later they witnessed the transfiguration and saw the Messiah in his glory. Perhaps the powers granted to them had puffed them up and caused infighting among them. After seeing the Messiah in his glory and hearing the voice of the Father, they must have learned something about the one they were following, but perhaps they took it to mean something about themselves too. That there was something in themselves that made them worthy of being Christ’s disciples.

Regardless of the reason, it’s clear that pride was at work in the hearts of the disciples. The brothers began fighting among themselves and arguing about who was greatest. And what does Jesus say to all of this? How does he respond when he sees what is happening?

“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

Receive the least. Be welcoming to everyone, show hospitality to all, even the little children who can’t repay you. Take care of the ones you would otherwise overlook. Ultimately the message of Jesus here is: stop fighting about who is the greatest and follow my example by becoming the least.

So what is the message for us? We did not witness the casting out of demons and we haven’t been granted – as far as I know – the power to heal or exorcise unclean spirits. I haven’t heard anyone arguing they should be appointed as Archbishop of CRTS.

Yet I think we all face the temptation to compare ourselves to one another. We each have different gifts and talents, and these can become sources of envy and competition.

Instead we should focus on the fact that we bear witness to the work of God in us. You and I are living testimonies of God’s mercy. We are living testimonies that God does indeed receive the little children.

And if one person thinks they are better than another, how do they go about showing that? I have no one else to compare myself to because I can’t speak to the sins of others.

There’s a saying from William Law, “We may justly condemn ourselves as the greatest sinners we know because we know more of the folly of our own heart than we do of other people’s.” And this rings true. No person can know the reasoning or motivation or cause of another person’s sin. In the Christian context, if one person thinks he is better than another, he does not truly realize the depths of his sinfulness.

We can’t see what is going on in another person’s mind or in their heart. We can’t see if they have wept over their sins and repented of them, or if their heart has been hardened. What we do know, at least in part, is the motivation for our own sins. We do know how quickly we fall to temptation, it’s much more difficult to speak of how long our brother or sister resisted before falling. We aren’t witnesses of all of our brother’s or sister’s sins, but we have witnessed each one of the sins we committed. With that perspective how can we dream of arguing who is the greatest?

And the beauty of the gospel is that Jesus died for the greatest of sinners. He died to cleanse us of our sins and of our evil. He redeemed us by his blood but it didn’t stop at redemption from sin.

He redeemed us by his blood so that we could be called children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. Before we were Christians there may have been some worldly value in finding out who was the greatest, some temporary benefit. Now that we are in Christ we are all co-heirs with him, we all serve the same King. We all have the same objective. We’ve all been given the same chief end by the one who is indeed the Greatest.

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Week 2

I’ve finished my last classes of the week and thought I would post another update. Probably wont be doing this every week, but I’d like to post when I can. As I told a friend, it’s a good way for me to go over what I’ve been taught and keep it fresh. It was a good week, with most of the time spent progressing in my language studies. It is still review for the most part, although we have now translated 1 John 1-2 from Greek to English. Vocab and grammar rules are slowly starting to come back to me. We had a Hebrew test today which focused on transliterating from Hebrew to English and English to Hebrew. It went well and I’m looking forward to getting my mark back.

In Intro to Theology(Systematic Theology/Dogmatics) we reviewed the basic concept of Theology. Looked at what makes it a science, rather than an art, and discussed what relationship Theology has with the other sciences. It was an interesting discussion, with the only thing we could really agree on was that when we as humans work within any area of science, we ought not to and are not generating our own thing. Rather we’re studying what already exists.

One thing that was fascinating to look at was just how well preserved the Old Testament text has been. After comparing the Dead Sea Isaiah b scroll, with the Leningrad Codex of Isaiah, scholars have found that there are less than 200 discrepancies. These discrepancies are incredibly minor. 107 different spellings of words, were the meaning is still obvious; 29 discrepencies over a waw (a Hebrew conjunction), 4 definite articles, 10 consonants, 5 misspellings, 24 different grammatical forms are used, 9 times different prepositions are used. It’s quite remarkable to see just how faithful the scribes were in copying the scriptures, and also assuring to know that Critical Text theory is a useful field and it’s not all in vain. We do text criticism because we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and by comparing the various manuscripts we can gain more knowledge about what the original autographs looked like.

In Ecclesiology we looked at the importance of Creeds and Confessions of faith, and how they have been used by the Church to summarize the Word of God. They steer the church away from works righteousness and legalism by emphasizing the fact that deeds are an important part of our thankfulness. Our Reformed confessions summarize and compare scripture and put it in logical form. Of course there are times when people use creeds erroneously, for instance often logic is applied back onto scripture – that’s a mistake as it forces one to read scripture in light of the confession instead of vice versa.

In Ministry and Mission (Practical Theology/Diaconiology) we had a brief explanation of what to expect in the course. Basically we’ll be looking at the work that occurs within the church, especially the office bearers. Essentially all the things that are studied in the other courses, ecclesiology, exegesis, etc., are applied here.

The other courses were uneventful, at least according to my notes 🙂 I’m still working on my speech for the public speaking workshop. Haven’t made much progress but I’m confident it will come together. I also settled on the topic for my research paper and am going to be working on the introduction this weekend already. Start early finish early right?

As for my schedule, a friend of mine asked what my days are like so I figured I’d post that here too: Basically each morning is spent in class and then in the afternoons I study. I’m memorizing a Lord’s Day every day and got the Nicene Creed down pat. I spend a fair bit of time preparing for my language courses. With all that I still do have some free time – most is spent studying while doing something else. I’ll also be joining a Young People’s Bible study with my church. We’ll be studying Growing in the Gospel by Jason Van Vliet. It’s a great book and there’s a free preview available here: http://www.canadianreformedseminary.ca/news-and-events/Growing-in-the-Gospel.html

The End of Week One

Well, the first week of school has come to a close. What did I learn so far? Well, I’ve learned that I have a lot to learn! In the next three months I’ll be enrolled in seven classes. Two of these classes meet for two hours a week, namely Ecumenical Creeds and Intro to Ministry and Mission. Intro to Theology, NT Textual Criticism, and OT Textual Criticism are all one hour a week. The Final two courses, OT Hebrew and NT Greek, meet for 3 hours a week.

The bulk of the work will come from our Hebrew and Greek language classes, as expected. By the end of the semester we should know all the vocabulary used more than fifty times in the scriptures. So far the language classes have focused on seeing exactly how much knowledge the different students have, and working towards getting us all on equal footing. In Hebrew we’ve started by reviewing the basic grammar rules. Because I’ve studied Hebrew for three years I seem to be doing quite well. In Greek we worked on translating a passage in 1 John. The whole class seems to be having difficulty right now, as our vocabulary and grammar is a bit rusty. Some students have never read Greek out loud while others, like me, have done ample amounts.

Our textual criticism and Intro to Theology classes seem to be quite heavy on the readings with minimal assignments. Which is great except that the final exams are worth 60-80% of the course grade… Let the note taking begin 🙂

In Ecumenical Creeds we’ll be studying the importance and history of Christian Creeds, as well as their function in the church.  As far as assignments go, this course has quite a few. First up is memorizing the Apostles’ Creed (done) and the Nicene Creed (working on it), we also have to know the outline of the Athanasian Creed and its main points. In early November we will be tested on our knowledge of the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 1-31 (I’ve learned up to 11 so far). Final we have to write a 4000 word research paper addressing an aspect or article of a creed. I think I will look at the history of the descendit, (He descended into Hell), but I’m not totally sure right now.

We also have a Sermon Session which meets for a two hour block on Wednesdays. Freshman don’t prepare any sermons in the first semester thankfully, so it is basically an opportunity to think critically about the structure and delivery of a sermon. To help with this we have a public speaking workshop once a semester. In two or three weeks I’ll by taking the opportunity to tell about an event that happened to me in the past. I’ve already started working on that assignment and have decided to right about a minor car accident I was in a few years ago.

Our first Intro to Ministry and Mission class will be on Monday. I suspect that it will have a similar structure to the Ecumenical Creeds course. Overall it’s been a very exciting week. I’ve really enjoyed the reading assignments and am looking forward to the weeks to come.

In my Reading I came across a nice quote by John Calvin that I thought was relevant

“Let us show ourselves to be such disciples as our Lord wishes to have – poor, empty, and void of self wisdom; eager to learn but knowing nothing, and even wishing to know nothing but what He has taught[.]” – John Calvin, Psychopannychia

New Beginnings

I’m about to begin, if the Lord is willing, four years of graduate level education as I study at a Theological College. I’ve moved across the country and away from almost all my friends and family. It’s certainly a daunting time for me and also quite stressful. I definitely don’t feel prepared to pick up my Hebrew and Greek, or memorize the Heidelberg Catechism. I thought I would be one of the older people in my class but it turns out that at 25 I might be the youngest (there’s one student I haven’t met yet). The other students are married, some have one or two children, and are in a different place in life. Even though they’ve also moved and had to leave friends behind, they also took a support group with them. I’m somewhat envious of their situation.

There’s also a bit of excitement as I look forward to digging deep into God’s word. Each day at school the focus will now be on how to better understand, interpret, and apply God’s word to my own life and the lives of others. What a prospect!

Tonight is convocation, I’ve been asked to help usher and seat people. It’s a good opportunity for me to meet new people, something which I would rather not do but at the same time want and need to do. Then we have our new student orientation day on Monday, followed by a BBQ. Finally on Tuesday regular classes begin. So it will be an exciting, daunting, and whirlwind of a weekend! And as I’m about to begin a new journey I’ve been reflecting on Psalm 121, a psalm traditional used by travelers on their way to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem.

 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

NIV