Justice and Laughter

I have begun to read the Chronicles of Narnia with my children and wife. And I must commend these stories to you. They are wonderful.

We decided to start with The Magician’s Nephew, and I am not into the debate of which book goes in which order. Just read them. Anyway, we finished The Magician’s Nephew and there is one aspect of the book, among many, that reminded me of the importance of Christendom.

Drudgery often accompanies faith, and this should not be. Christians can be quite dismal, when they have every reason not to be. You know, God became Man for us, lived and died and lived again for us. He know has given all authority in heaven and on earth to the God-man and has promised that every nation will bow the knee to Jesus and every enemy, including death, will be done away with…and we chatter our teeth in terror.

But there is another aspect of banality among Christians, we simply lack joy and laughter for some reason. We act as though, because we belong to Jesus, we cannot laugh or tell jokes or what not. Do you remember that story about Herod in the book of Acts being eaten by worms? That’s funny. An Edomite who claimed to be the voice of God is then consumed as the dust of the earth. The symbolism is hilarious…I mean, hey! That’s not funny!

When Christendom is simply somber without joy we are dullards. However, we can have a sense of joyful sobriety. Don’t act like Herod, seriously don’t do it, because the Lord of heaven and earth will stoop down and laugh at you…and you just may be eaten by worms. See? Serious joy.

Well, anyway, back to Narnia. Aslan has just sung the world of Narnia into existence and he gives speech to the beasts, and one cracks a joke on accident and they are not sure whether or not it is acceptable to do so. This is an understandable question as Aslan had just went through the solemn act of creation, after all. And this is how Aslan replies,

Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with the speech.

The allegory here, I think, is that Jesus has made us Christian from once brute beasts. We followed the lusts of our flesh. We loved our sin. We desired the curse rather than life, and then Jesus gives us life, true life. He gives us a new way to see the world, the right way. And He gives us a new way to talk, the godly way.

This godly way is not devoid of laughter, but it is in the very marrow of our lexicon. Isn’t there something in the Bible about inexpressible and glorious joy? Oh yeah, 1 Peter 1:8. This is what is to characterize Christendom. I also think C.S. Lewis was onto something when he placed jokes and justice together. The reason for such joy is that justice is a guarantee.

In Narnia, the evil witch Jadis had invaded the world, and the guarantee is that Aslan will deal with her. Evil will be done away with, Jesus promised. Look at all that wickedness, Jesus already beat it, and promises to pulverize it.

Take an example. Have you noticed that our nation at this very moment is filled with Herods? Men and women who think they can dictate to other image bearers of God what liberties we do or do not have? Have you noticed that the Herods of our land have assumed the role of God? Thou shalt not eat a cheeseburger and drive, say some Herodian officials in Washington. Thou shalt have permission to murder babies and doctor-assisted suicide is A-ok, say the same tinpot Herodian hucksters from shore to shore and the masses are crying out, “The voice of God and not man!”

Ahem,

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against Yahweh and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
Yahweh said to Me, “You are My Son;
    today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron [or an infestation of flesh-eating worms!]
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve Yahweh with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
    lest He be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for His wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed [happy!] are all who take refuge in Him.
Psalm 2

Laugh and fear not, creatures.

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Paedobaptism Is Not An Empty Sign

So, I was listening to a podcast, from an apologist I greatly respect, and he and I differ on baptism. He is a Reformed Baptist, and I am just plain ol’ Reformed. He made a comment about Presbyterian baptism, which I am just going to label paedobaptism throughout the rest of this. He wished not to engage in a debate about, so that is why I am not putting his name in here. What I desire, is not to spark a debate, but to clarify a position.

To summarize his understanding of paedobaptism: baptism of infants is a sign of a future hope. We baptize babies hoping in the future that baby will grow up and have faith in Jesus, essentially it is an empty sign, as he says. This is contrasted with his view of baptism, namely, that only those who exhibit faith are baptized (children and adults, but not infants).

I want to argue that his understanding of paedobaptism (what he referenced as Presbyterian baptism) is wrong. That is not the understanding of paedobatism from this plain ‘ol Reformed guy.

Here is my thesis: Reformed/Presbyterian folk baptize infants of the church because we believe that infants have faith. We never baptize anyone who does not trust Jesus.

Now, let me support my thesis with Scripture.

In 1 Corinthians 7:14, Paul informs us that children of even one believing parents is hagios, holy. The same word used for “saint” elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul says a child (which would undoubtedly include infants!) are saints, even if only one parent is a saint. Why is this? Is the infant covered by the faith of his mother? Or, is the infant a saint because he has his own faith? Another point to remember about this is covenant. The mother is a Christian, and covenantally her children belong to the church. This infant is a saint because of his faith and membership in the church.

How can an infant have faith? Well, that depends on how you define faith. For example, a Reformed Baptist would probably define faith as an intellectual assent to propositional truths. Like this, Propositional Truth: Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead to forgive your sins and grant you new life. Now, do you intellectually assent (agree and believe) that Truth?  If yes, then welcome saint and be baptized. If no, then you’re still a pagan.

Now, I would like to offer a simpler definition of faith: trust. Faith is trust. Can an infant trust? Now, this question implies certain things. For example, this question implies that an infant can have a relationship. Well, can they? Does an infant trust his mother? Is there a relationship between a mother and child, or does that child have to grow up a bit more and intellectually assent to the propositional truth that his mother loves him? Well, most certainly not. Infants are relational beings, after all they are made in the image of the Triune God. Infants are capable of trust because they are persons.

So, back to the question: can infants trust God?

Well, what does the Bible say?

The covenant with Abraham, which is fulfilled in Jesus, is said to be given to children. Genesis 17:7 reads, “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.” God’s promise is rather plain. He promises to make covenant with Abraham and Abraham’s children, see Acts 2:38-39.

So, then what do the children of Abraham, covenant children, say?

Psalm 22:9-10 informs us, ” But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God.”

Which we must remember would be sung by all the people of Israel in the Temple, not just adults. Infants would have grown up listening to this song and singing it with their parents. This infant faith is seen as normative in the Bible, as seen throughout the songbook of the church. The children of Israel would have thought Amazing Grace sounded odd, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.”

They would say like David, “I’ve always been with my God because He has always been with me.”

Then there is Psalm 71:5-6, “For You are my hope, O Lord GOD; You are my trust from my youth. By You I have been upheld from birth; You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb. My praise shall be continually of You.”

Within the covenant people of God, it would begin to seem that infant faith is normative, not exceptional. In other words, it would be common to hear this testimony in the church, “Well, I have always been a Christian.” And we would all praise God for that most glorious grace.

And Psalm 139:14-15 says this, ” I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.”

This is covenantal language.  C. John Collins suggests translating these verses like this would be better, “I praise You for the fact that I have been awesomely distinguished [that is, as a member of Your covenant people]; You works are wonderful, and my soul knows it well.” For God to distinguish someone or something is to covenantally set them apart (see Exodus 9:4). The Psalmist is certainly praising God for forming him in his mother’s womb, but also giving praise for the fact that he has always been a member of God’s covenant of salvation (See, C. John Collins, “Psalm 139:14 ‘Fearfully and Wonderfully Made?'”).

And in Psalm 8:2 we read this, ” Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, Because of Your enemies, That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.”

This only makes sense if the babes in question have faith. What would God receive from an infant that was faithless? After all, whatever does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). God receives the praises of covenant infant noises because they are saints, holy to the Lord, because they trust Him.

And don’t forget Psalm 127 (would faithless children be a gift or a reward?), Psalm 128 (would faithless children be olive plants of peace around the table of Christian parents?), and what Jesus has to say about children and infants in the Gospels, for example Matthew 18:1-14 and 19:13-15.

It would seem to be clear that from the biblical testimony of covenant infants, babies born in the church, that they do indeed have faith. This is why we baptize them, we believe what God says about them.

We do not practice infant baptism because we hope that one day they will have faith, rather we baptism them because we believe what God says about them, namely that they already have faith.

**After posting this blog it came to my attention that I should attribute the formulation of my thought pattern here to whom I owe much. If you would like to read a more robust exposition of children and faith, go and grab Rich Lusk’s book, Paedofaith. He has greatly helped me in this, and I owe much to his work.** 

His Name Is Jesus, Our Emmanuel

His Name is Jesus, His Name is Yahweh Saves and He will save His people from their sins and…and what? And His people will look to Jesus and say, “God is with us.”

God is with us. This is the Good News of the victory of Jesus in this world. In Jesus, God is with us. In Jesus, we have our Emmanuel.

Now, how does this happen? Well, He has to be born to die. The glories of the Incarnation end in the darkness of a tomb. Peace and good will toward men is only possible because the birth of Jesus, leads to the salvation of Yahweh, which is the cross and tomb.

I’m not sure if Joseph and Mary knew what was going to happen to their son. I’m not sure if they knew He would suffer as He did. What would they have thought knowing the end of the baby boy that was to be born?

But we can’t forget that this is the way Jesus saves His people from their sins. He saves them from their sins because He receives their sins upon Himself.

This, I think, is the majesty of the Incarnation. The Son of God in heaven, looks down on this world, for the time has come, and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit see their world filled with sin, the curse, and death, and the Son of God looks to the Father and says, “I’ll take it all. Put it on me and kill Me. My blood will pay for a new world.”

Remember these words from Philippians 2,

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This was the plan all along.

Jesus, Yahweh Saves, was born in the world to take away the sins of His people, so that they may proclaim, “God is with us” Emmanuel. The Son of God emptied Himself of His heavenly glory and was born in the likeness of man and was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus came to this world, born of Mary and the Holy Spirit, a sinless man in a curse-filled world and He took that curse upon Himself and that is how He saves.God with us. Now, let me say that again. God with us. Or, God with us. Or even, God with us. Take your pick, emphasize any of those three words, and it baffles the mind.

God with us. Do you know who we are? Hold the mirror of the Scripture up to your heart and see what is there. Guilt, greed, envy, lust, anger, impatience, pride, rebellion, and that is just a small list. And the Incarnation is the Good News that God came to us. He chose a wretch as His own.

Whenever you are feeling crumby, down about yourself, a little depressed, anxious, guilty, ashamed, whatever it is, remember that God came to be with you. Yes, you. You with all your remaining sin and fault and ugliness. God came to be with you. This news is beyond value and ought to comfort your hearts even in the darkest night of your soul.

Let’s emphasize another word. God with us. This hardly needs to be expanded upon. The Triune God, the only uncreated being, the timeless, eternal, unchanging, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God, the God who is holy, holy, holy, the God who can allow no unclean thing in His presence, came. This God with us.

How about the middle word? God with us. Oh the joy in such a statement! This is Christmas! God with us. Not God over there, not us in the pit. Not God over us, not God at a distance, not God outside the camp, not God distanced through complex ceremonial laws, not God separated from His people by sin, or the curse, or death.

This is Christmas! God with us. And think about our biggest enemy, that faceless reaper, death. Not even death can break that promise. The Son of God, born in a cursed world, took it all upon Himself. Brought it in the grave with Him, and left it there. Sin, the curse, and death have nothing on you.

God with us.

This is Advent, and the good news of Advent will never cease to be amazing. The gift of Christmas is Emmanuel, our salvation,

Do not fear; God with us.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.