Knowing God as Father
Knowing that God is our Father is one thing; understanding how we should relate to him as such is another. In this episode of Light + Truth, John Piper opens Malachi 1:6–14 to demonstrate how knowing God as Father should lead us to honor him.
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By Greg Morse — 2 years ago
Her time had come, unexpectedly. The morning through the lattice shone with a bright and soft melancholy. In her arms, her second son. The fruit of the night’s long and anguished labor. Gentle tears fall; the child has her eyes.
A former life pressed in upon her. Leah, her sister, Leah. The feud between them over Jacob — for his love and for his offspring — had availed neither. So much of her married life, she now realized, glowed with envy — she wanted more than Jacob’s heart and eye. She wanted his heirs (Genesis 30:1). She remembered her desperate cry to her husband, a lifetime ago now, “Give me children, or I shall die!”
Even at the birth of her first son, Rachel already began to look for another: “And she called his name Joseph [literally, “May he add”], saying ‘May the Lord add to me another son!’” And now, she held him — for the first and last time. The midwife aimed to comfort her with the fulfillment, “Do not fear, for you have another son” — consolation to a dying mother.
How many such golden mornings would this son grow to know without her? How many grandchildren would her wilting arms never hold? As her soul made ready for its unwilling exodus, tears showered the plant just sprouted. She sighs a name, “Ben-oni, son of my sorrow.”
Jacob sat beside his great love, grief gripping him by the throat, yet managing to say, “He shall be called, ‘Benjamin, son of my right hand.’” Son of my right hand, as though to say, “As you depart, my Rachel, my dove, this son — this life you brought forth from death — shall be in favor at my side. He shall be closer to me than a shadow; as close as your memory. This, the last token between us on earth, I will cherish.”
And with that, Rachel departed from the world and was buried on the way to Bethlehem.
A Ghost, Crying
It moves the soul to imagine a mother saying hello and goodbye to her child in the same moment. We can see her with our imagination, gazing around longingly at loved ones, her eyes resting upon her son with a look to bring water from the hardest heart. Ben-oni, Ben-oni.
And it moves us to hear the other two mentions of this mother’s tears in Scripture. As the blood of Abel continues to speak, Rachel too continues to cry.
In the first incident, Israel has fallen bloodily to Babylon. Amid the stunning note of hope given in Jeremiah 31, we hear her:
Thus says the Lord,“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15)
Near the place of Rachel’s tomb, her voice cries out at the devastation of Benjamin and the other Israelite tribes. The Lord speaks poetically, resurrecting Rachel, as it were, to picture her as an Israelite mother weeping without remedy for her slain and exiled children.
In response, Yahweh comforts her, “There is hope for your future, and your children shall come back to their own country.” He will relent of his judgment, and depicts himself as a Father to Israel, saying, “Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? . . . I will surely have mercy on him” (Jeremiah 31:16–20). In other words, he shall be called “Benjamin” — a son at my right hand.
She Refuses to Be Comforted
Hundreds of years later, her consolation is again disturbed.
Herod has done the unthinkable. Furious at the wise men for not divulging the location of baby Jesus, “he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Matthew 2:16). The dragon devoured many to ravage the one.
Matthew writes of the infanticide,
Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation,Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:17–18)
“She weeps, and refuses to be comforted, because they are no more.”
As the brutes went door to door, Rachel again raised her anguished cry. These tears did not signal exile, but extermination. She does not die with her healthy child in her arms — bequeathing her son with a hope and a future — she watches, as baby boy after baby boy is ripped from his mother’s arms and done away with. She weeps, and refuses to be comforted, because they are no more.
Do We Weep with Her?
Because they are no more.
There is a discomforting calm in these words: The deed is done; the violence spent. The water is again calm over the sunken ship. The dreadful stillness; an unholy hush. Little giggles, gone. Creaking floors cease playing the music of pattering footsteps. They are no more.
“Because they are no more.”
“If a pitiless culture will not mourn for the missing, she will. If we live too busy to mind the brutality, she isn’t.”
What a word to echo through the empty corridors of the world today — and in the United States alone, a child misplaced every minute. Though not ancient Israel, I hear Rachel, from a forgotten corner of the world, weeping. If a pitiless society will not mourn for the missing, she will. If we live too busy to mind the brutality, she isn’t.
Day after day, she mourns as a mother bereft of more children. As one after another is stolen from behind fortress walls, she begets tears without number. Final punctuations fall; biographies end. Nothing left to read, nothing more to say. Towns and cities and even nations full of people — gone — “Ben-oni.”
She looks out from the lattice, daylight rests upon her with a bright and terrible melancholy. How many have never lived to see this dawn? Will we not weep with her — because they are no more?
By Ref Cast — 3 years ago
Water baptisms are joyful occasions for believers of all stripes. We delight in the sound of the water, the ritual motion of the participants, the sight of the glistening smiles, the oddity of the entire scene. Sacraments make the intangible tangible, and memorable. Baptism makes the gospel splashable.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains that baptism is one of the “ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption” (question 88). Unfortunately for many of us, baptism has become quite ordinary — and not in a Westminster Catechism kind of way. (I write this as a baptist, who can be some of the worst offenders!) Though the sight of a baptism may give us joy, we can fail to see the many redemptive benefits God gives through this ordinance — and to grasp them for ourselves again. The memory of our baptism may be fresh or may have faded, but this punctiliar event in the life of the believer should grow sweeter with time.
God’s past, present, and future grace awaits us at Jordan’s stormy banks, if we are willing to take the plunge (2 Kings 5:10–14).
Plunged into the Past
A teary sentimentality often accompanies a baptismal ceremony. Each one we witness reminds us of our own. Moreover, each one we witness reminds us of Christ’s. Baptism is backward-looking by nature — a proclamation of faith in God’s grace demonstrated to us in the past.
In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of an obvious but profound fact about the cross: Jesus has not died and been raised in the modern era. To find saving grace, we must look to the past: “I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ” (54). Baptism makes us a participant in that history. Baptism puts us into the Jordan with the repentant sinners, where we watch a sinless man come down and join us in the water (Matthew 3:6, 13–17).
“As we are united with the Son, we hear the Father’s divine favor spoken over us.”
In God’s gracious providence, baptism is the place where our lives intersect the narrative of Scripture. Plunging beneath the water, we pass through the pages and become characters in its plot. At baptism, our lives are eclipsed by the life of Christ — his death and resurrection: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. . . . We have been united with him” (Romans 6:4–5).
As we are united with the Son, we hear the Father’s divine favor spoken over us: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). His pleasure in us is a past proclamation, resting on our identity in Christ — not on our present performance. Whether we waver, doubt, sin, succeed, overcome, do good, the Father’s grace echoes over the waters of time from the moment our lives were “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
Surrounded in the Present
Baptism is not always a lighthearted affair, especially in non-Western contexts. During Amy Carmichael’s ministry (1867–1951), Indians realized — rightly — that baptism was the end of supreme loyalty to caste or family. When she spoke with the brothers of a young lady who wished to be baptized, they responded, “Baptized! She shall burn in ashes first. She may go out dead if she likes. She shall go out living — never!”
While most of us may not face imminent death, following Christ does mean losing one’s former life (Mark 8:35). “But he gives more grace” (James 4:6); we are baptized into a people. This is part of God’s present grace: instant family! We receive mothers and fathers to carry us along in our discipleship and brothers and sisters to feast with along life’s pilgrim way (1 Timothy 5:1–3).
Paul reminds us that baptism also places us in the stream of orthodoxy: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). The cloud of witnesses encourages us to run today’s leg of the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1–2). The writings of Athanasius, Augustine, and Cranmer; the hymns of Steele, Watts, and Crosby; and the orthodox creeds of Nicaea, Chalcedon, and the Apostles help us to faithfully “guard the good deposit” entrusted to us in the present (2 Timothy 1:14).
In the new covenant, we join a company of priests who have been baptized with the Spirit (Mark 1:8). And to borrow a line from Kendrick Lamar, the Spirit makes sure “the holy water don’t go dry.” In other words, baptism reminds us of the continual work of the Spirit today. James B. Torrance puts it this way in Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace: “The water exhibits not an absent Christ, but a Christ present according to his promise. The Christ who was baptized at Calvary in our place, as our substitute, is present today to baptize us by the Holy Spirit, in faithfulness to his promise: ‘Lo I am with you . . .’” (80).
Assured of the Future
For all baptism’s past and present grace, a not-yet element remains. Baptism is a public declaration of hope that grace awaits us on the final day.
“Baptism is a public declaration of hope that grace awaits us on the final day.”
Although God’s focus in the new covenant is more internal (compared to the external focus of the old), Christians do not abandon hope for the renewal of the outside. The author of Hebrews insists that baptism — the washing of our bodies with pure water — gives us great confidence as we see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:19–25). Why? Our salvation is not yet complete. Our union with Christ holds one final, eternal grace: “the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).
Christ’s baptism was a Trinitarian prophecy of his death and resurrection. Our baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is too. The Christian life begins with a bold proclamation about the end; baptism is a statement of faith in the future grace of resurrection, when all of God’s people will rise to receive a body like Christ’s (Philippians 3:20–21).
Our Passive Amen
Through baptism, God brings past grace near to contemporary believers, secures us in a state of abiding present grace, and excites in us hope for future grace at the resurrection from the dead. In baptism, we do nothing to add to God’s full acceptance of us in Christ. As Torrance reminds us, “There is nothing more passive than dying, being buried, being baptized” (77). As we wash in the water, we proclaim our passive amen of faith to God’s past, present, and future grace: Let it be so — I believe!
By John Piper — 2 years ago
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