Textualism

Scalia

Antonin Scalia passed away in his sleep last Saturday (February 13, 2016). As I have been reading a bit about his life, one thing caught my attention: his view of the Constitution. He was a textualist. That is, he looked intently at the ordinary meaning of the words of the constitution to determine how to apply it. This is in contrast with the view of judicial activism, where a judge’s personal views impacts his (or her) decisions.

Scalia famously said, “If you’re going to be a good and faithful judge, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.”

The issues surrounding the interpretation of the Constitution are similar to the issues surrounding the interpretation of the Bible. The text of the Bible stands as God’s Word to us. Our task is to understand the ordinary meaning of the words of the Bible and act upon them. There will certainly be some things that we don’t like, especially when our well-loved sins are confronted. At these moments we can either accept the authority of the Bible or reject it. We can either be a textualist or a judicial activist.

The Bible clearly understands these two positions. First of all comes the textualist. This one will read the Bible and seek to apply in. Whenever something difficult to believe comes his way, he will cry out, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). When he fails, he will confess his sin, admitting that his behavior was in error and seeking the forgiveness of our gracious God (1 John 1:9).

On the other side is the judicial activist. He will interpret the Bible in accordance with his own views. So, if there is something he reads that he doesn’t like, he conveniently denies the Bible. Of these people, Paul writes, “Although they know God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking” (Romans 1:21). If something confronts his lifestyle, he will suppress truth so he can continue to live as he wants. Paul said that these are those who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).

When it comes to the Bible, are you a textualist or a political activist?

Heart Transplant

Heart

In 1967 a South African grocer named Lewis Washkansky was dying from chronic heart disease. When a 25 year-old woman died in a car accident, he became the first human being to receive a heart transplant. He died 18 days later from pneumonia as the anti-rejection drugs left him susceptible to sickness.

After a decade of anti-rejection drug research, heart transplants were more successful, with many patients living for up to five years with their new hearts. Today, the prognosis for a heart transplant is for an average of fifteen years of extended life. As successful as this operation has become (3,500 annually worldwide), the greatest difficulty is the availability of donors. There are far more people who need hearts than there are hearts to give.

Would the truth be known, each of have a heart disease—not our physical hearts, but our spiritual hearts. The prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jesus said that the heart is the source of sin, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).

We all need a spiritual heart transformation. The good news is that God is a spiritual heart surgeon. He promised the people of Israel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26). Rather than taking a spiritual heart from another, God creates anew. Jesus likened this to a “new birth” (John 3:3). Paul called it “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

He will give a new heart to those who seek it.

Twenty Years of Pleasure

Allen Stanford was the chairman of the Stanford Financial Group. He and his father made a fortune for themselves by purchasing depressed real estate and selling it years later when the market recovered. He then became involved in investments and amassed a great fortune for himself, worth over a billion dollars. But, for the past few years, he has been under investigation for operating a Ponzi scheme, returning to investors the money that others have invested, rather than returning profit earned with the money. On June 14, 2007, Allen Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison for cheating investors of more than $7 billion over two decades. During these decades, he lived a lifestyle of pleasure. He owned yachts and private jets. He resided in the Caribbean and was able to sponsor cricket tournaments for his enjoyment.

Anyone who is involved in a Ponzi scheme knows that the doomsday is coming. The time when you can no longer attract the investors needed to sustain the scheme. And for Allen Stanford, his time has come. All the wealth that he enjoyed for decades is all gone. In exchange, he will live in a jail cell, where he will spend the rest of his life.

I ask you, what does it profit a man like Allen Stanford to live in luxury for a few years, only to live the rest of his life in prison? Perhaps one might argue that the 20 years of pleasure are worth the 20 years in prison. Now, what if he spent eternity in prison? Would the 20 years of pleasure be worth it? Twenty years compared to billions and billions of years in eternity? Nobody would argue that this is worth it. Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Sensation and Perception

On Sunday I preached from Mark 8:22-26. The text tells the story of the healing of the blind man. Jesus heals the man in two stages. In the first stage, Jesus gives the man the ability to see, but he couldn’t see clearly. In the second stage, Jesus gives the man the ability to see clearly. It has caused many people confusion. Why did Jesus need two attempts to heal the man? Why didn’t Jesus heal the man fully?

My take on it is that Jesus performed two miracles. In the first miracle, Jesus gave the man sensation (i.e. the ability to sense light with his eyes). In the second miracle, Jesus gave the man perception (i.e. the ability to discern the meaning of the light impulses that he received in his eyes).

I believe that Jesus did this as an illustration of the disciples. They saw the miracles of Jesus, but they weren’t able to perceive what it meant. That is, they could see, but they didn’t see. Furthermore, when Peter professed Jesus to be the Christ (in the next section in Mark’s gospel), he could see. But, when Jesus made known his plan to suffer and die, Peter rebuked Jesus, thereby showing that he didn’t perceive what this meant.

This article was a great help to me. You can hear my sermon here. You can read my notes here.

You Don’t Understand?


One of my all time favorite Sesame Street videos has Grover teaching his audience the simple concepts: around, over, under, through, near and far.  He teaches by running around a set of swinging doors, then showing his face over the doors and under the doors.  Finally, he walks through the swinging doors.  He then says, “Near” and runs away from the camera, saying “Far” from a distance.  All the time he does this he sings a catchy little song, …

Around, around, around, around,
Over, under, through.
Around, around, around, around,
Over, under, through.
Near, … Far, … Near, … Far.

 At the end doing his little jig, Grover is obviously winded from his running. He says how nice it is that his audience understands everything.  Incredulously, he discerns that they don’t understand. And so he asks, “You don’t understand?!!” At which point, he does his entire around, over, under through, near and far routine again, obviously fatiguing along the way.  He then expresses his gladness that now his audience understands.  But, they don’t!  So, again, Grover exclaims, “You don’t understand?!!” And so, off he goes on his routine again. However, this time, he falls over from exhaustion.

This reminds me of Jesus’ feelings as He dealt with His disciples. Over and over and over again, Jesus explained to his disciples that He was going to suffer and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). He told them. But, each time, they didn’t understand. So, Jesus repeated his future. And they still didn’t understand. I can hear Jesus exclaiming to the disciples, “You don’t understand?!!” (Mark 8:17).

We can be thankful that Jesus was patient with his disciples, and that these things actually took place. For, in doing so, Jesus “became a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Missing the Emotion

 

Last Sunday, I was preaching from Mark 7:31-37, in which Jesus heals a deaf man. Can you imagine his emotions at being able to hear and speak for the first time?  When reading through texts like this, it is often too easy to miss the emotions that would be involved in the text. For that reason, I showed the above video of a woman who received a middle-ear implant. Her emotions at hearing for the first time overwhelmed her. I believe that the deaf man that Jesus healed must have felt similar emotions.

Deprived or Depraved?

When it comes to thinking about our sin, there are really two options.

The first is to think of our sin being externally caused. In other words, we sin because of what others have (or haven’t) done to us. We have been deprived of the love we needed. Or we have been deprived of a supporting environment. Instead, we have found ourselves in a sinful environment. Our sin is an imitation of the sin around us.

There is some truth to this. When you gather around sinners, you will be tempted to sin with them (Proverbs 1:10). But, environment isn’t the driving factor in our sin. Rather, environment helps to bring out what’s already within us.

The second way to think about our sun is to look within. Fundamentally, we sin because of something within us. In other words, we sin because we are depraved beings. Our environment will induce our sinful hearts to do what they want to do. We are depraved beings, not deprived beings.  Jesus said, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man” (Mark 7:20).

This is why we need our hearts transformed, rather than mere moral improvement. Our hearts are bad. We are depraved. This is why the New Covenant included promises like the following: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).