Four Branches January 2019

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Exegetical Theology: The Holiness of God

The doorposts and thresholds were shaking. The temple was filled with smoke. The seraphim were covering their faces and their feet. And Isaiah “saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne” (Isaiah 6:1).

Isaiah 6:1-8 is the Old Testament reading for Epiphany 5C. The account highlights the holiness of God. “Holy, holy, holy (קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ) is the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:3). The word “holy” (קָדוֹשׁ) means to be “set apart.”[1]

In his commentary on Isaiah, John Oswalt discusses a couple different senses in which God is “set apart.” God is the Creator whereas we are the created.[2] He is sinless whereas we are sinful.[3] Isaiah cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).

But then the seraph applied the gospel directly to Isaiah by touching Isaiah’s mouth with a live coal taken from the altar and saying, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). Here we see another sense in which God is “set apart.” He is our Savior from sin.

One of Isaiah’s favorite names for God is “the Holy One of Israel.”[4] In his article, “Holiness in the Book of Isaiah,” John Oswalt gives a survey of Isaiah’s usage of this name.[5] The name “Holy One of Israel” is sometimes paired with terms like “Savior” and “Redeemer” (43:3, 14). Another way in which God is “set apart,” then, is that he is our Savior from sin.[6] This sets him apart because he alone is our Savior from sin.[7]

Even though God is “set apart,” he is certainly not absent. Isaiah 57:15 says:

“For this is what the high and exalted One says –

he who lives forever, whose name is holy:

‘I live in a high and holy place,

but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,

to revive the spirit of the lowly

and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”

Jaap Dekker explores the links between Isaiah 6, 53 and 57.[8] The verbal links between 57:15 and 6:1-8 are “high and exalted (רָם וְנִשָּׂא)” (6:1; 57:15) and “holy (קָדוֹשׁ)” (6:3; 57:15).[9] Through the atoning work of the suffering Servant, the holy God is able to dwell with us. As the communion hymn says: “Though he reigns above most holy; Deigns to dwell with you most lowly” (CW 311:1).[10]

From this study we have seen that God is “holy,” “set apart,” in several senses. He is the Creator whereas we are the created. He is sinless whereas we are sinful. He does not tolerate sin. But he is also “holy” in the sense that he is the Savior from sin. Though he is high and exalted, he also dwells with the lowly and contrite. We can call to mind all of these ways in which God is holy and perhaps more when we sing “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty.”

[1] See the entries for the noun קֹדֶשׁ, the adjective קָדוֹשׁ, and the verb קָדַשׁ in the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon, pages 871-873.

[2] John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1 – 39, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 33.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See the references given in BDB קָדוֹשׁ 1c.

[5] John Oswalt, “Holiness in the Book of Isaiah,” in The Holy One of Israel: Studies in the Book of Isaiah (Eugene: Cascade, 2014), 41-58, here 43-48. There is much good material in this article. However, on pages 54-55 Oswalt seems to downplay the forensic character of justification in order to emphasize that forgiveness and cleansing from sin result in transformed living. I certainly agree that the gospel results in transformed living. However, because our lives of sanctification will always be incomplete in this life, it is important to emphasize that God declares us righteous because the perfect righteousness and holiness of Christ has been imputed to us (See Rom 1:16-17; 3:21-28; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21).

[6] See also John Braun, Isaiah 1 – 39, The People’s Bible (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 2000), 88-89.

[7] See Oswalt, “Holiness in the Book of Isaiah,” 56.

[8] Jaap Dekker, “The High and Lofty One Dwelling in the Heights and with his Servants: Intertextual Connections of Theological Significance between Isaiah 6, 53 and 57,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 41 (2017): 475-491.

[9] Ibid., 476-478.

[10] Johann Franck; translated by Catherine Winkworth.

For further reading:

  • Dekker, Jaap. “The High and Lofty One Dwelling in the Heights and with his Servants: Intertextual Connections of Theological Significance between Isaiah 6, 53 and 57.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 41 (2017): 475 – 491.
  • Oswalt, John. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1 – 39. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986. Pages 32-36; 170-186.

Daniel Waldschmidt serves as pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Burlington, WI.

Systematic Theology: God’s Love and God’s Anger

God’s love is sometimes expressed in (what we might consider) unconventional ways. Last month we focused on God’s love combined with God’s hatred. Next time we will see how God’s love is shown through his jealousy. Today we take a look at God’s love displayed in his anger.

The problem with anger, of course, is that it is fraught with emotion in the hearts of human beings. It is rarely contained and it is highly volatile. A person might yell in anger, hit in anger, curse in anger, or brood, connive, and take revenge in anger. Rarely can a person – even a mature Christian – control their anger so completely that it is actually thoroughly God-pleasing. Anger might be initially aroused for a legitimate reason, but oftentimes it will linger far too long and show itself in ways that have nothing to do with love.

God himself gets plenty angry throughout the pages of Scripture. But his anger is always an extension of his love, even at those times it seems just the opposite.

Throughout history God “burned with anger” at his Old Testament Israelites when they constructed false gods (Exodus 32:9-11), when they complained about his plans and provisions (Numbers 11:1), and when they abandoned him altogether (Judges 2:11-14), just to name a few. It seems as if God was always angry with his own people. His anger was even revealed in severe punishment on many of those occasions. Plagues, supernatural disasters, and enemy nations demonstrated how angry God was at their insolence and rebellion.

But God is not a surly God. He is not a God who cannot control his temper. He is and always will be a God of love. In fact, he was so angry at times because he loved them so much. And so God never let his anger get out of control. That doesn’t mean he let the guilty go unpunished of course. “God is a righteous Judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day” (Psalm 7:11). But when it came to his people, his goal was always that they would repent and turn back to him.

“I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry,” God says. “I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him” (Isaiah 57:16-18). God’s very nature is to forgive his people. It is his nature to love them. “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime” (Psalm 30:4). 

This month I would recommend Psalm 85 for your extended learning, as the Sons of Korah interweave God’s anger and his love in poetic form.

Pastor Matthew Frey serves Living Word Lutheran Church & Preschool in Montrose, CO, and as chairman of the Colorado District Mission Board.

Historical Theology: Teaching with the Christological Controversies

During Epiphany, we have the privilege of walking with our Lord from the River Jordan all the way to the Mount of Transfiguration. As we go with him, we have the added grace of inviting God’s people to “come and see” Jesus as he shows himself again and again to be the very Son of God.

Last month, we noted how an understanding of the early church’s Christological conflicts brings spiritual blessing to each of us. This month, I’d like to consider how those blessings don’t stop with us. As we grow in our understanding, those blessings extend to those we’re privileged to serve in our congregations and communities.

I think of the Bible Information Class student who was visually pleased because he finally thought he had “gotten” the doctrine of the person of Christ. “So, basically in Jesus, God’s nature took the place of the human soul, right?” It was a joy to see this man really thinking through the lesson for the day, and for someone new to the faith, the comment displayed genuine insight.

But you and I know that an accurate explanation of the person of Christ must reflect the fact that Christ was true God and also true man in every way. In other words, Christ was true man with both human body and human soul. Is that dogmatic point too obscure for the average Christian to bother with?

Someone new to the faith may not need to know the name Apollinaris. This fourth-century bishop was a staunch opponent of Arianism; however, in his zeal to defend Christ’s divinity and oneness, he went too far and taught that Christ had no human soul because the divine Logos took its place in Christ’s human body. The real tragedy of Apollinaris’ teaching is that it makes our Savior less than true man.

All believers, even those new to the faith, can find special comfort in the truth that Christ became true man for us. It means that Jesus is like we are in every way yet is without sin, and so, because he knows what we face and endure, he can sympathize with us in our weaknesses not just as Lord but as our flesh-and-blood brother.

As under-shepherds of Jesus’ lambs, especially those lambs still needing spiritual milk, we don’t need to know everything about the Christological conflicts to carry out our work, but don’t overlook what a useful arrow in your quiver a working knowledge of that history can be. It prepares us so that we can be on the lookout to carefully and lovingly correct when appropriate and to follow that correction with the comfort and joy that only the good news of Jesus provides.

For a simple yet effective review of some of this history, consider reviewing the pertinent pages of the seminary’s dogmatic notes. The modest effort can result in blessings not only for you but for your people.

Jacob Behnken serves as pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Midland, MI.

Practical Theology: Dear Pastor, We Don’t Need Another Messiah

Pastors answer six questions at their ordination and any subsequent installation. If a seventh question would be added, perhaps it should be this:

Installing pastor: Are you the Christ?

Pastor Elect: No, I am not.

St. John confessed freely that he was not the Christ. We should too. While I am unaware of any messianic claims among our pastorate, I am well aware of the messianic tendencies in my own heart. I confided to a friend while deliberating a call, “If I would take this new call, things might fall apart here.” My wise friend reminded me that Christ is the one in whom all things hold together, not me.

When pride creeps in, when guilt weighs down, when individualism takes over, it is good to humbly confess with St. John, “I am not the Christ.”

As we continue to grow by listening to what church members want their pastor to know, God’s people remind us that they don’t need another Messiah as their pastor. They need humble pastors who point them to the Messiah. They need humble pastors who boast in their weaknesses and model what it means to rely on God’s sufficient grace. They need humble pastors who recognize their own limitations and utilize their members’ strengths.

Dear pastor, your members want you to know:

  • Your family and children don’t have to be perfect…model for them the same forgiveness that you consistently proclaim to your members.”
  • “Show us your heart. Share your personal experiences / struggles and how you dealt with them. We learn a lot from seeing how a Christian leader deals with hard stuff in life. Plus, it makes you ‘human’ to us and much more approachable when we need to go to someone for help with our own hardships.”
  • “Trust in our Lord! We will all continue to make mistakes and sin, but Christ paid for that sin…”
  • “Know your strengths and limitations and use members accordingly for the good of the ministry. This may involve ‘handing off’ some things that members have more experience with or working together with them. It may also mean taking things you excel at and training others how to do them.”
  • “Don’t try to do everything yourself. Identify capable members and task them.”
  • “We know we will never do things as well as you do, but we cannot grow as contributors unless we flex our wings.”

These comments set the stage for further listening and growth. Reach out to trusted members and ask what tasks of yours could be handed off. Reach out to wise friends in the ministry and ask what keeps them humble, yet eager to serve in gospel ministry.

Rev. Joel Russow serves Faith Lutheran Church in Tallahassee, FL.