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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Psalm 118; The Suffering King and the Help of Yah

04//07_Psalm 118; The Suffering King and the Help of Yah; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190407_psalm-118.mp3

Intro:

We are coming up on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Next week is Palm Sunday.

Last week we saw an echo of Psalm 118:17-18 in 2 Corinthians 6:9. This Psalm is connected directly with Palm Sunday, the day Jesus presented himself to Israel as their king, riding in to the city on a donkey while the crowds shouted ‘Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

Today I want to open up this Psalm, to see how it points us to Jesus.

Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10-11 and Luke 20:17 record Jesus quoting Psalm 118:22 after his parable of the tenants who killed the Master’s Son, rebuking the leaders of Israel for rejecting him.

Matthew 23:38-39 and Luke 13:35 record Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem’s rejection of him, and he quotes Psalm 118:26 promising the religious leaders that they will not see him again until he is welcomed with the words of this Psalm; ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ We see this fulfilled quite literally in Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9-10, Luke 19:37-38 and John 12:13

Jesus takes this Psalm and applies it to himself. He uses it to challenge people, particularly his enemies, to ask who he is.

Who Is The King?

Some psalms have an original superscription, sometimes including musical notes, the author and the circumstances. In the Hebrew text this is counted as the first verse. For example, Psalm 56 says “To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.”

Psalm 118 has none; it is anonymous, and it points to no specific circumstance that occasioned its writing.

The Psalm begins and ends with a responsive chorus of thanksgiving to the Lord for his unending covenant love, then it tells the story of a king, surrounded by enemies, in great distress, who cried out to YHWH for help, and YHWH became his salvation. This king then returned victorious to the city and then the temple, requesting the gates be opened to him, and he receives a victor’s welcome, culminating in worship of YHWH in the courts of the temple.

Who was this anonymous king, and what battle was this through which the Lord became salvation?

Egyptian Hallel

This is the final Psalm of what is known as the Egyptian Hallel (or Praise), traditionally sung at the 3 pilgrim feasts; Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles; at Passover, Psalm 113-114 were sung before the meal, and 115-118 after.

These Psalms are known as the Egyptian Hallel because they echo the Lord’s rescue of Israel from Egypt, leading them all the way to Mount Zion. There are echoes in this Psalm of the Song of Moses in Exodus 15, after the Lord conquered his enemies and brought deliverance to his people through the Red Sea.

Responsive Thanksgiving

The Psalm opens and closes with a vocal affirmation of thanksgiving. The speaker begins, and then calls for the people of Israel to respond, then the priests to respond, then all to respond together. We will try to do this this morning. You in the center section will be Israel, you on the sides will be the house of Aaron.

Psalm 118 [ESV]

1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

2 Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

3 Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

4 Let those who fear the LORD say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

The Suffering King and The Help of the Lord

Then the king tells of his deliverance: I will read from the Lexham English Bible translation, which retains the proper names of God; YHWH and its shortened form Yah.

Psalm 118 [LEB]

5 Out of my distress I called to Yah.

Yah answered me, setting me in a broad place.

6 Yahweh is for me; I do not fear.

What can mere humans do to me?

7 Yahweh is for me as my helper,

and so I will look in triumph on those who hate me.

8 It is better to take refuge in Yahweh than to trust in humans.

9 It is better to take refuge in Yahweh than to trust princes.

10 All nations surrounded me.

In the name of Yahweh I opposed them indeed.

11 They surrounded me; yes, they surrounded me.

In the name of Yahweh I opposed them indeed.

12 They surrounded me like bees; they were extinguished like a fire of thorns.

In the name of Yahweh I opposed them indeed.

13 You pushed me hard to make me fall, but Yahweh helped me.

The king is in a place of distress or affliction, being pushed hard; he repeats four times that he is surrounded, surrounded by the nations. This is no local conflict, no skirmish with one enemy; this sounds more like Psalm 2, where

Psalm 2:1 …the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against YHWH and against his Anointed [Messiah]…

He says that they surrounded him like bees; countless, close, persistent, angry, painful, chaotic, uncontrollable.

But he trusts in YHWH. YHWH is for me; I do not fear. What can man do to me? We hear this from the lips of David in Psalm 56

Psalms 56:4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? …9 …This I know, that God is for me. …11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?

Paul says in Romans 8

Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Hebrews 13:6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

The Lord is a more sure refuge than alliances or military strength. The king testifies that although he was surrounded by nations, in the name of YHWH he cut them off; they were extinguished like a fire of thorns. Dry thorns burn furiously, crackling loudly, and produce raging heat, but they burn out quickly. Thorns are a reminder of the curse on all creation because of our sin. The fire, quickly kindled, will be quickly extinguished.

YHWH’s Valiant Right Hand

He continues in verse 14

Psalm 118 [LEB]

14 Yah is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.

15 The sound of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous;

the right hand of Yahweh has done valiantly.

16 The right hand of Yahweh has exalted;

the right hand of Yahweh has done valiantly.

17 I will not die but live,

and tell of the works of Yah.

18 Yah has disciplined me severely,

but he did not consign me to death.

Verse 14 is an exact quote of Exodus 15:2a in the song of Moses: “Yah is my strength and song, and he has become my salvation”, and

verses 15-16 echo Exodus 15:6 ‘the right hand of Yahweh has done valiantly’; ‘Yahweh, your right hand is glorious in power; Yahweh, your right hand destroyed the enemy.’

The deliverance belongs to YHWH. He is the strength of the king, and he receives the worship of the king. Notice the connection between God’s salvation and songs of rejoicing. One naturally flows from the other. To experience God’s strength and salvation is to have a heart that overflows with rejoicing and song, telling of the works of Yah.

Open the Gates to The Righteous King

In verse 19, the king has returned to the walls of the city, and he demands that the gates be opened to him.

Psalm 118 [LEB]

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,

that I may enter through them and give thanks to Yah.

We see righteousness as a theme here. They are the gates of righteousness; Those who enter must be righteous. In Revelation 22 we read:

Revelation 22:14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

Who is this king of glory? Psalm 24

Psalm 118 is anonymous, leaving us asking ‘who is this king?’ Psalm 24 may give us some help. It begins by introducing YHWH as creator and owner of all the earth, and then asks:

[LEB] Psalm 24:3 Who may ascend the mountain of Yahweh? And who may stand in his holy place? 4 He who is innocent of hands and pure of heart, who does not lift up his soul to falseness, and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from Yahweh, and justice from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the sort of those who seek him, those who seek your face, even Jacob. Selah

Then the gates are addressed, and the question is asked of them:

[LEB] Psalm 24:7 Lift up your heads, O gates, and rise up, O ancient doorways, that the king of glory may enter. 8 Who is the king of glory? Yahweh, strong and mighty; Yahweh, mighty in war! 9 Lift up your heads, O gates, and lift up, O ancient doorways, that the king of glory may enter. 10 Who is the king of glory? Yahweh of hosts, He is the king of glory! Selah

The gates of the city, and now the gate of the temple stands open to receive the righteous King, the king of glory.

Psalm 118 [LEB]

20 This is the gate of Yahweh,

through which the righteous will enter.

Personal Thanks for Personal Rescue

Now we see the king in the courts of the temple, addressing the Lord directly, giving thanks. The introductory call to give thanks to the Lord for he is good has become a personal thanks because of a personal experience of rescue.

Psalm 118 [LEB]

21 I will give thanks to you for you have answered me,

and you have become my salvation.

YHWH is good and his steadfast love endures forever, but now you have answered me; you have become my salvation. God is good, but we must personally experience his goodness. Have you experienced the steadfast love of the Lord so that you can say ‘you have become my salvation’?

The Rejected Cornerstone

Verse 22 is the verse Jesus quoted about himself in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and it is quoted about him by Peter in Acts 4, and in Romans 9, Ephesians 2, and 1 Peter 2.

Psalm 118 [LEB]

22 The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is from Yahweh; it is wonderful in our eyes.

24 This is the day Yahweh has worked; let us rejoice and be glad in him.

Jesus the promised king was rejected even by the builders, the leaders of Israel. The nations that surrounded him included his own people. But the one who was despised and rejected of men has become the foundation stone ‘in whom the whole building, joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, …built up together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit’ (Eph.2:20-22); the ‘living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious’ on whom we ‘ like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (1Pet.2:4-7).

Hosanna!

In verse 25 the congregation, brought in to the courts of the Lord through the merits of the righteous king address YHWH for salvation, and bless the coming king.

Psalm 118 [LEB]

25 O Yahweh, please save; O Yahweh, please grant success.

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh.

We bless you from the house of Yahweh.

27 Yahweh is God, and he has given us light.

Bind the festal sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.

This Psalm provided the vocabulary for the crowds as they cast their cloaks and branches in the road before the King who came humbly, riding on a donkey.

The Psalm climaxes with sacrificial imagery. Derek Kidner writes:

What those who took part in such a ceremony could never have foreseen was that it would one day suddenly enact itself on the road to Jerusalem: unrehearsed, unliturgical and with explosive force. In that week when God’s realities broke through His symbols and shadows (cf. Heb.10:1), the horns of the altar became the arms of the cross, and the ‘festival’ itself found fulfillment in ‘Christ our passover’ (1 Cor. 5:7, AV).” [Kidner, p.415]

Some sacrificial animals no doubt were difficult to handle may have necessitated binding them with cords. But Jesus said:

John 10:17 …I lay down my life… 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down voluntarily….

Jesus bound himself to the cross with cords of love (Hosea 11:4).

A Personal and Public Response of Praise

Verse 28 completes the quotation from Exodus 15 which began in verse 14, but in a more personal and direct way:

Exodus 15:2 [LEB] Yah is my strength and song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him—the God of my father—and I will exalt him.

[LEB] Psalm 118:28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you.

You are my God; I will exalt you.

The deliverance from Egypt points to our greater deliverance from a greater enemy by one greater than Moses; our deliverance out of greater bondage and lead by a greater king to a greater promised land and into a greater sanctuary.

The Psalm concludes with the refrain with which it opened:

[LEB] Psalm 118:29 Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good,

for his loyal love is forever.

Let’s say this together:

[ESV] Psalm 118:29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;

for his steadfast love endures forever!

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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April 8, 2019 Posted by | occasional, podcast, Psalms | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:14-16; The Aroma of Christ to God

04/15_2Corinthians 2:14-16; The Aroma of Christ to God ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180415_2cor2_14-16.mp3

2 Corinthians 2:12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

Paul’s spirit had no rest in Troas because of the unresolved tension in his relationship with the Corinthian church, so he said goodbye and headed to Macedonia, leaving behind an open door of gospel ministry.
Yet instead of expressing his frustration, or rebuking them, he thanks God who always triumphs over us in Christ, and who displays the odor of the knowledge of Christ through us in every place.

The triumph put on display the military might of Rome. A triumphing general in a display of his victory would parade the spoils of war through the streets of Rome, along with the chief enemies he conquered and any Roman citizens he had freed. This parade would appeal to all the senses, with blasts of trumpets, the clanking of weapons, the rumble of horses and chariot wheels, and songs of soldiers, with gold and silver and jewels, with colorful banners and garments, even with clouds of fragrant incense wafting through the streets.

Paul sees himself as a conquered enemy of Christ, but now a glad participant in the parade. The triumph had a political aspect, increasing the fame and promoting the popularity of the triumphing general. And Paul is glad to promote and display the fame of his new Lord.

Spreading the Knowledge of Jesus in Every Place

God is displaying the odor of the knowledge of Christ through the apostles in every place. God is triumphing and God is spreading. These are the two main verbs in the sentence; triumphing and spreading. ‘Spreading’ translates a word that at its root means to show or shine out, to make manifest, to cause to appear, to display. But what is put on display is something invisible; a smell, the odor of the knowledge of him; hence the translation ‘spread.’ The odor of knowing Jesus is made perceptible through them. The scent of knowing him is being sensed everywhere through the ministry, especially through the suffering of the apostles.

And this speaks to Paul’s itinerary. The Corinthians accuse Paul of changing his plans on a whim. God is marching Paul around in triumph. God is the one ultimately dictating where the apostle goes and when and for how long. God through the apostles is spreading the aroma of the knowledge of Christ in every place. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the ends of the earth. God intends that the scent of knowing Jesus be smelled in every place through the lives of his people. Paul makes his decisions as best he can, with a view to the advance of the gospel and the good of God’s people. And I’m sure he questioned; ‘should I have walked away from an open door for the gospel? Should I have toughed it out and stayed?’ And yet he can sleep at night thanking God that God is spreading the fragrance of Jesus in every place though him.

The Aroma of Christ to God

Notice what kind of smell this is, where it comes from, and who smells it. In verse 14 and again twice in verse 16 he uses a neutral word for smell; an odor. As we will see in verse 16, this could be a pleasant odor or a foul one. But in verse 15 he uses a distinctly positive term, with the prefix ‘good.’ This is a pleasing smell.

And the source of this pleasing aroma is Christ. The apostles are not going around spreading the knowledge of themselves everywhere. They are spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus. They are making him known. They are spreading his fame. Everywhere they go, they smell like Jesus, and Jesus smells like sacrificial service for the good of others.

Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The apostles are being crushed and poured out as the fragrant aroma of Christ. When the saints of Caesarea urged Paul to avoid the dangers that awaited him,

Acts 21:13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

He tells the Philippians:

Philippians 2:17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

The smell of genuine Jesus shaped ministry is a life broken and crushed and poured out for the sake of others.

And notice who is smelling this pleasing aroma.

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God…

The smell is the smell of Christ, and it is a pleasing fragrance to God. In the Roman triumph, incense was burned creating a fragrance to attempt to please the Roman gods. In the Old Testament, sacrificial animals offered in faith on the altar were said to be a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:2 uses this sacrificial imagery when it says that Jesus “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

God is smelling the life of the apostles, and to him it is a pleasing aroma. Their weakness, their suffering, their afflictions, their ‘not my will but yours be done’ smell like Jesus to the Father. And this is well pleasing to the Father.

Remember in Genesis 27, when Isaac thought he was going to die, so he sent his firstborn son Esau to hunt and bring him game so that he could bless him, and Isaac’s wife and his other son Jacob schemed to deceive him? Rebekah dressed him up in Esau’s clothes, and put goat skin on his hands and neck. Isaac was suspicious; he said “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” It wasn’t until “he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of this garments and blessed him and said, ‘See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed!”” It was the aroma of Esau that pleased his father, and caused him to bless him. It is the same with us, although there is no deceit. We are clothed with the clothes of our older brother, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and we have the smell of Christ about us, and when the Father smells the pleasing aroma of his only Son on us, we are included in the inheritance that belongs to Jesus.

Two Kinds of Noses

The sense of smell is a powerful sense. I was driving through town the other day, and someone somewhere was barbecuing. I don’t know who or where or how far away, but I smelled it through the rolled up windows of the car. And it smelled wonderful. I thought about trying to locate the source and inviting myself over for dinner. Just last week my nose woke me up. The savory smell of sausage and bacon was wafting from the kitchen all the way up the stairs to our bedroom.

The sense of smell is an interesting one. Smells are perceived differently by different people. There are these little glass plug-in fragrance things that are supposed to make your house smell nice. And some of them I like. But I have noticed that certain aromas I can’t handle. It’s not just that I don’t like the smell. It’s that when I walk into the room, I feel like my throat is closing off and I can’t breathe anymore. To other people it smells pleasant. But I have to leave the room.

This aroma of Christ is one kind of aroma, and it is always pleasing to the Father. But there are two kinds of noses in the world.

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. …

This is the same dividing of humankind Paul pointed out in the beginning of 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

There are those who are perishing, and those who are being saved. There is no third group, no neutral category. The word of the cross divides humanity into two groups.

1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Christ crucified divides humanity. There are those who are perishing, to whom Christ crucified is foolishness, a stumbling block, an offensive aroma of death. And there are those who are called, those who are being saved, to whom the word of the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God, a sweet fragrance from life to life. In 1 Corinthians he contrasts wisdom with foolishness, power with weakness. Here in 2 Corinthians he compares this to the sense of smell.

He is talking about how things are perceived. It is the same word of the cross that is perceived by some as foolishness, which is perceived by others as wisdom and power. It is the same smell of the knowledge of Christ that is perceived among some as the smell of death to death, and by others as the smell of life to life.

In the Roman triumph, there were often two groups. There was the conquered enemy led captive and put to open shame, and the smells of the triumph would be for them the smells of death to death. They had been conquered in battle, and now they were being marched as slaves, likely to their deaths. And then there were the Roman citizens who had been living as slaves to the enemy. They too were led in the triumph, but the sights and sounds and smells would mean something entirely different to them. To them, this was the smell of an end of slavery; it meant liberty, freedom, victory. They owed their freedom and their allegiance to the conquering general. This was the smell of life to life. They had been rescued, saved out of slavery to the enemy, and were now being restored to their homeland as freed men. Same fragrance. Same odor. Two very different perceptions, depending on which side of the battle you were on.

What Nose Have You?

How Jesus smells to you, how the word of the cross sounds to you is a good test of what category you are in. Do you hear the gospel message, the word of the cross; that the Omnipotent God became human to die a shameful death that we deserved in order to rescue us; does that sound like foolishness, a fairy tale, nonsense? Do you take offense at the implication that you are so bad a sinner that you deserve to die? That you are utterly incapable of contributing to your own rescue? Does all the talk of death and blood and crucifixion seem like a morbid fascination?

Or does the message of Immanuel, God with us, come to rescue us from our sins, not only make sense, but fill your heart with joy? Do you, as the old hymn goes, ‘cling to the old rugged cross?’ How do the words of this old hymn, penned in 1771 by William Cowper smell to you?

1 There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains…

2 The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away…

3 Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r,
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more…

4 E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die…

[William Cowper, 1772]

There is a fountain filled with blood; Drawn from Immanuel’s veins; And sinners, plunged beneath that flood; Lose all their guilty stains. Is that the sweet aroma of life and hope? Does your soul resonate with those words, or is that distasteful and offensive imagery to you?

Here is just one verse of another hymn written just over 100 years later; ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus’

2 O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
just to trust his cleansing blood;
and in simple faith to plunge me
neath the healing, cleansing flood!

[Louisa M. R. Stead, 1882]

Is it sweet to you to be plunged beneath the cleansing blood of Jesus, to trust him, to depend on him completely? Is the blood precious to you? Is the cross to you a symbol of foolishness and death, or a symbol of life and power?

Gospel Call

This is one way to diagnose where you stand with God. The fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus, who he is, why he came, what he did, the message of the cross, smells different to different people. To some it is the stench of death and it results in death, to those who are perishing. To others, to those who are being saved, it is the sweet fragrance of life and it results in eternal life.

Which is it to you? If it is sweet to you, thank God! He has given you the ability to savor the knowledge of Jesus rightly. And if you are in the other category, if you can’t honestly say that the cross is precious to you, that would seem to indicate that you are perishing.

But here is some good news for you. God loves to take those who are perishing and rescue them. Ask God to give you a heart to receive the word of the cross as wisdom and power for salvation. Ask God to give you a nose to smell the fragrance of the sufferings of Christ as the sweet aroma of life to life. Ask God to save you. Ask God to grant you to perceive Jesus as life, and receive his free gift of life.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

April 17, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:14; God’s Triumph in Christ

04/08_2Corinthians 2:14; God’s Triumph in Christ ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180408_2cor2_14.mp3

2 Corinthians 2:14. We are coming to the heart of the letter, the meat of what Paul wants to say. He wants them to understand the true nature of Christian ministry; what it means to be a minister of the gospel. It is not what they think. Corinth is enamored with power, prestige, persuasive speech, popularity. This is not the nature of Christian ministry.

Overview of the Introduction

So far, in the introduction to this letter, he has blessed God who, in the midst of affliction brings comfort, in order to comfort others who are sharing in the sufferings of Christ (1:3-7). He explained (1:8-10) the afflictions they experienced in Asia, afflictions so severe they despaired of life itself, but this was to wean them from self-sufficiency and cause them to rely completely on God. He invites his readers to help him by prayer (1:11). He appeals to his own clear conscience, that in all of life he follows as a ruling principle the grace of God. And he looks forward to that final day when the church will boast in their apostle, and he will boast in them (1:12-14). He defends his changing travel plans in this light, that his goal was to extend them grace, and that God’s gracious answer to us is always yes in Christ. He anchors their hope in the concerted operations of the Father, Son and Spirit in securing our acceptance (1:15-22). He tells them that his decision not to visit them earlier was for their joy, to spare them; and his letter was to communicate his abundant love for them (1:23-2:4). In the context of his seeking to spare them a painful visit, he urges them not to cause further pain to the individual who had repented of his sin, but rather to forgive, comfort, and re-affirm your love for him (2:5-10). He warns that the enemy is always on the offensive, and unforgiveness is a favorite foothold (2:11). In 2:12-13 he lets them know of an opportunity; an open door in the Lord for preaching the gospel, but because of the turmoil in his spirit, he said goodbye and headed on to Macedonia to find his co-worker. He doesn’t come right out and say it, but it was the Corinthian church that was the cause of his unrest. He had sent Titus to Corinth to help work things through, and to bring news of their response to his previous letter. He loved this church so deeply, that he couldn’t take full advantage of a gospel opportunity because he was emotionally torn over this church.

The Missing Thanksgiving

What comes next is quite unexpected. We would anticipate a scolding for their causing a missed gospel opportunity in Troas. We would expect a stern rebuke for their self-centeredness and insensitivity to God’s work.

Instead, in verse 14 he gives thanks to God. “But thanks be to God.” This is the missing thanksgiving from the introduction of the letter. That would have been a glaring omission to anyone familiar with Paul’s letters. Normally, he introduces himself, he addresses his readers, he asks God’s grace and peace to be on them, and then he thanks God for them. But in 2 Corinthians, he omits the thanksgiving, and instead blesses God who brings comfort in afflictions.

For this thanksgiving, he uses the normal word for ‘grace’ in the sense of freely given gratitude to God. Instead of anger and frustration over a missed opportunity, Paul’s heart overflows with thanksgiving to God.

The Roman Triumph

And the content of this thanksgiving is even more shocking. He does not thank God for what he is doing in his readers, but rather what God is doing in and through his apostles. And he uses a startling picture.

2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

The triumphal procession was very well known in the Roman world. Ancient Greek and Roman literature record over 300 of these triumphs The returning victorious general whom the senate had granted the right to a triumph entered Rome standing on a high, two-wheeled chariot drawn by four horses.

Josephus describes the triumph for Vespasian and Titus after their victory in the Jewish war.

and when they had put on their triumphal garments, and had offered sacrifices to the gods that were placed at the gate, they sent the triumph forward, and marched through the theatres, that they might be the more easily seen by the multitudes.

5. Now it is impossible to describe the multitude of the shows as they deserve, and the magnificence of them all; …and all brought together on that day demonstrated the vastness of the dominions of the Romans; for there was here to be seen a mighty quantity of silver, and gold, and ivory, …and did not appear as carried along in pompous show only, but, as a man may say, running along like a river. …The images of the gods were also carried, being as well wonderful for their largeness, as made …[of] very costly materials; and many species of animals were brought… The men also who brought every one of these shows were great multitudes, and adorned with purple garments, all over interwoven with gold; … Besides these, one might see that even the great number of the captives was not unadorned, while the variety that was in their garments, and their fine texture, concealed from the sight the deformity of their bodies. But what afforded the greatest surprise of all was the structure of the pageants that were borne along; for indeed he that met them could not but be afraid that the bearers would not be able firmly enough to support them, such was their magnitude; for many of them were so made, that they were on three or even four stories, one above another. The magnificence also of their structure afforded one both pleasure and surprise; for upon many of them were laid carpets of gold. There was also wrought gold and ivory fastened about them all; and many resemblances of the war, and those in several ways, and variety of contrivances, affording a most lively portraiture of itself. For there was to be seen a happy country laid waste, and entire squadrons of enemies slain; while some of them ran away, and some were carried into captivity; with walls of great altitude and magnitude overthrown and ruined by machines; with the strongest fortifications taken, and the walls of most populous cities upon the tops of hills seized on, and an army pouring itself within the walls; as also every place full of slaughter, and supplications of the enemies, when they were no longer able to lift up their hands in way of opposition. Fire also sent upon temples was here represented, and houses overthrown, and falling upon their owners: … Now the workmanship of these representations was so magnificent and lively in the construction of the things, that it exhibited what had been done to such as did not see it, as if they had been there really present. On the top of every one of these pageants was placed the commander of the city that was taken, and the manner wherein he was taken.” [Flavius Josephus: The Jewish War. VII. 3-7]

One author describes: “The part of the procession which entered the city ahead of the triumphator’s chariot gave the spectators an idea of the victory. Not only were spoils of war carried along – weapons, gold, silver and jewellery – but also pictures of battle-scenes, of towns conquered, and boards with the names of the peoples subjugated. …White oxen, to be sacrificed to Jupiter, were brought along. The procession marched to a flourish of trumpets. …Aromatic substances were also carried. The chained prisoners, the most prominent of whom were as a rule killed in the dungeon before the sacrifice was made to Jupiter, walked right in front of the triumphator. …The chariot was followed by the Romans who had been liberated from slavery, wearing the pileus of the liberti. The soldiers, wearing laurel-wreaths on their heads and singing songs deriding their commander, brought up the rear. [Versnel, 1970, p.56-57, 95; cited BECNT p157-8]

Josephus continues: “6. Now the last part of this pompous show was at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, whither when they were come, they stood still; for it was the Romans’ ancient custom to stay till somebody brought the news that the general of the enemy was slain. This general was Simon, the son of Gioras, who had then been led in this triumph among the captives; a rope had also been put upon his head, and he had been drawn into a proper place in the forum, and had withal been tormented by those that drew him along; and the law of the Romans required that malefactors condemned to die should be slain there.

God Triumphs Over Us

This is the background of Paul’s jarring thanksgiving:

2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

God takes center stage. God is the conquering general. God is the one the parade is for. God is worthy. The triumph is to recognize him, giving thanks and praise to him.

But where is Paul and the apostles? Where does Paul see himself? Over this there has been much debate. Does Paul see himself as a soldier in God’s army, who helped him to win the battle? This is how Tyndale translated it ‘thankes be vnto God which alwayes geveth vs the victorie in Christ;’ and the King James followed: ‘which always causeth us to triumph in Christ’. There is a big question if that is even a legitimate translation linguistically or grammatically, and that hardly fits. The apostles didn’t help God win the victory.

Does Paul see himself as a defeated enemy, conquered by God, displayed as a trophy of war, being led to his execution? As troubling as that sounds, that fits the evidence much better. Paul was an enemy of the cross. In his own words, “I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Gal.1:13) until Jesus conquered him on the road to Damascus while he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1).

Paul describes the apostolic ministry in 1 Corinthians 4

1 Corinthians 4:9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. …13 …We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

And in 2 Corinthians 4 he says:

2 Corinthians 4:8 We are afflicted… perplexed… 9 persecuted… struck down… 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

This was the Corinthian problem. They viewed the ministry and the Christian life as a triumph; they expected to ‘have all they want …to become rich …to become kings and reign’ (1Cor.4:8), and they expected a leader who was powerful and polished, a man of status who carried himself well, a rhetorical genius, a victorious general. Instead, Paul comes “in weakness and in fear and much trembling,” “I …did not come …with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor.2:1-3). Paul is not the victor. He has been conquered by Christ. The NIV translates it this way: “who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession”

How the Victory was Won

Paul has been captured, and God’s power is displayed in his weakness (2Cor.12:9). And he is being ‘exhibited …like men sentenced to death’ (1Cor.4:9). In some ways, Paul’s life and testimony is like a pageant or a portrait being carried along, a vivid mural displaying the triumph of Christ over his enemies.

Right here in the context (v.11), there is a reference to the war between Satan and God; we are not to be ignorant of his designs and outwitted by Satan. We are to defeat him by forgiving one another.

We must keep in mind how Jesus won this victory.

Colossians 2 is the only other place in the New Testament where this word ‘triumph’ is used. Paul warns there:

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

And then he talks about Christ, and how we are united with Christ.

Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

God triumphed over Satan and the demonic hordes, he disarmed them of their ability to accuse us by ‘forgiving us all our trespasses, by nailing it to the cross.’ God triumphed over his enemies, he put them to open shame, by allowing Christ to be ‘despised and rejected by men …as one from whom men hide their faces’ (Is.53:3). He canceled the record of debt that stood against us by nailing it to the cross.

Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; … 6 …the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. …10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; …

God triumphed over his enemies in Christ, by having Christ put to death in the place of rebels and enemies against him. And he took an enemy like Paul and transformed him and put him on display as a trophy of his grace. And he ‘showed him how much he must suffer for the sake of his name’ (Acts 9:16). And through people like Paul he ‘spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere’

Paul, as he loves to do, seems to mix his metaphors. He is a captive conquered by God in Christ, he has died with Christ, yet he is raised with Christ and his life is a mural displaying God’s triumph; and in his sufferings, he becomes an incense bearer in the triumphal procession; he spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. Fragrant herbs must be crushed or ground or burned to release their sweet smell.

And he thanks God that it is so. God is worthy to be praised, because God is spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere through the weakness and afflictions of his apostles. Paul’s passion is to make Christ known everywhere, and if he must be crushed to release this sweet odor, then thanks be to God! This is what authentic Christian ministry looks like; this is what authentic Christian ministry smells like.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

April 10, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment