In His Presence

The priest Zechariah was burning incense in the temple as part of Israel’s worship of God when an angel appeared to him. The angel gave him good news that his prayers for a child would be answered. However, Zechariah expressed doubt when he said: “How shall I know this?” Another translation renders it: “How can I be sure?” He used his age and that of his wife for an excuse. To this, the angel said:

“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. Luke 1:19 English Standard Version (ESV)

Because he disbelieved his words, Gabriel announced that Zechariah would be unable to speak until the child, John, was born.

What was the significance of the angel Gabriel’s remarks? For this, let us consult John Calvin:

I am Gabriel …By these words the angel intimates that it was not his veracity, but that of God who sent him, and whose message he brought, that had been questioned; and so he charges Zacharias with having offered an insult to God…

…’Gabriel’ means the strength, or power, or pre-eminence of God, and this name is given to the angel on our account, to instruct us that we must not ascribe to angels anything of their own, for whatever excellence they possess is from God.

The Greek participle, παρεστηκὼς, (standing,) is in the past tense, but everybody knows that the past tense of such verbs is often taken for the present, and particularly when a continued act is expressed. The word εὐαγγελίσασθαι (to convey glad tidings) aggravates the crime of Zacharias; for he was ungrateful to God, who kindly promised a joyful and desirable event.

So, when we pray to Him, we should not be rash, but believe:

Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24 (ESV)

“Christmas Story” Countdown – 12 Days till Christmas

Why Do You Look at Me That Way?

Don’t you hate it when your significant other gives you that look? You know what they mean. Maybe what you’re doing is something they warned you off months ago and there you are doing it again. They told you about how it hurt them when you did it. You even had words over it. May be you told them you’d never do it again.

The Apostle Peter had a similar experience but the stakes were much higher. Warned by Christ that the devil sought to have him and sift him like wheat, Peter said he’d follow Him to prison and death, if necessary. Then the Lord told Peter he’d deny Him three times.

He followed the Lord into the High priest’s courtyard after His arrest. There, Peter was confronted by three people about his association with Jesus the Galilean. He denied Him each time. The final encounter went like this:

And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:59-62 English Standard Version (ESV)

All four Gospel accounts report Peter’s denial.

The pastor and preacher, John Calvin, draws insight from Peter’s denial and repentance.

And Peter remembered the word of Jesus. …Which of us does not pass by with indifference and with deaf ears…[to] even the voice of God, which is heard clearly and distinctly in the doctrine of the Law and of the Gospel? Nor is it for a single day only that our minds are held by such brutal [senselessness], but it is perpetual until he who alone turns the hearts of men [condescends] to look upon us.

…Observe, however, that this was no ordinary look, for he had formerly looked at Judas who, after all, became no better by it. But in looking at Peter, he added to his eyes the secret efficacy of the Spirit, and thus by the rays of his grace, penetrated into his heart…Therefore know, that whenever anyone has fallen, his repentance will never begin, until the Lord has looked at him.

As Calvin says, this was no ordinary look that Christ gave Peter but one leading to repentance.

And he went out and wept bitterly. It is probable that Peter went out [to weep] through fear [and weakness] …We infer that he did not deserve pardon by satisfaction, but that he obtained it by the fatherly kindness of God…By this example, …we ought to [have] confident hope [that] God does not despise even weak repentance, provided that it be sincere.

…For we see many who shed tears purposely, so long as they are beheld by others, but who have no sooner retired than they have dry eyes. …Tears, which do not flow on account of the judgment of God, are often drawn forth by ambition and hypocrisy.

But, is weeping requisite in true repentance? …Believers often with dry eyes groan before the Lord without hypocrisy, and confess their fault to obtain pardon; but in more aggravated offenses they must be in no ordinary degree [thoughtless] and hardened, whose hearts are not pained by grief and sorrow, and who do not feel ashamed even so far as to shed tears…

Though tears should flow at our grieving the Lord with our sin, He is gracious to forgive us in light of even the weakest repentance if it proceeds from a sincere heart. My wish is for His look to drive me to repentance as often as I need. Is that yours?

Peter's Denial - Rembrandt

St. Peter’s Denial, Rembrandt (1606–1669), public domain in the United States

Why Are There Four Gospel Accounts?

From an historical perspective, theologian Louis Berkhof explains that:

…Matthew wrote for the Jews and characterized Christ as the great King of the house of David. Mark composed his Gospel for the Romans and pictured the Savior as the mighty Worker, triumphing over sin and evil. Luke in writing his Gospel had in mind the needs of the Greeks and portrayed Christ as the perfect man, the universal Savior. And John, composing his Gospel for those who already had a saving knowledge of the Lord and stood in need of a more profound understanding of the essential character of Jesus, emphasized the divinity of Christ, the glory that was manifested in his works…

Recently, I ran across an interesting conjecture about this question while researching my next book. However, while it was compelling, I thought it best to test this conjecture against what Calvin penned about the four gospels in his Commentaries.

The first thing to notice is that Calvin values the Gospel of John differently from the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Concerning John’s Gospel in relation to the other three, Calvin says:

Yet there is also this difference between them, which the other three are more copious in their narrative of the life and death of Christ, but John dwells more largely on the doctrine by which the office of Christ, together with the power of his death and resurrection, is unfolded.

…And as all of them had the same object in view, to point out Christ, the three former exhibit his body, if we may be permitted to use the expression, but John exhibits his soul.

On this account, I am accustomed to say that this Gospel [i.e., John’s] is a key to open the door for understanding the rest; for whoever shall understand the power of Christ, as it is here strikingly portrayed, will afterwards read with advantage what the others relate about the Redeemer who was manifested.

About Mark’s gospel, Calvin says:

Mark is generally supposed to have been the private friend and disciple of Peter. It is even believed that he wrote the Gospel, as it was dictated to him by Peter, and thus merely performed the office of an amanuensis or clerk. But on this subject we need not give ourselves much trouble, for it is of little importance to us, provided only we believe that he is a properly qualified and divinely appointed witness, who committed nothing to writing, but as the Holy Spirit directed him and guided his pen.

Of Luke:

Luke asserts plainly enough that he is the person who attended Paul.

And of Matthew, Calvin says:

Matthew is sufficiently known [from the Gospel accounts].

Summing up for all three:

…For we will not say that the diversity which we perceive in the three Evangelists was the object of express arrangement, but as they intended to give an honest narrative of what they knew to be certain and undoubted, each followed that method which he reckoned best. Now as this did not happen by chance, but by the direction of Divine Providence, so under this diversity in the manner of writing the Holy Spirit suggested to them an astonishing harmony, which would almost be sufficient of itself to secure credit to them, if there were no other and stronger evidences to support their authority.

Note that John had intimate access with God and man and later in life, much knowledge and love.

Matthew (called Levi) was a Hebrew civil official collecting Roman taxes, despised by his countrymen, and was grateful to leave all behind.

Peter (and perhaps Mark) worked with his hands, was bold, impulsive, and spoke well  extemporaneously.

Luke was a physician who set out to document both the life of Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles meticulously.

The conclusion of the preceding exposition brings us to the source of the conjecture.

David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me is a useful reference for writers who want to fully flesh out their characters.

He says Hippocrates and Galen observed that there are four personality types. Later scientists refined their observations by identifying four distinctions within each type. We’ll review Keirsey’s take on the four personality types via several posts over the next few weeks (possibly interspersed among other postings on different topics).

In the book’s notes section, Keirsey relates the four main personality types to the gospel writers:

Artisan (SP) — Bold, Works with Hands, Extemporaneous, Present Oriented — Peter (with amanuensis Mark)

Guardian (SJ) — Administrative, Works with Resources, Desires Respect, Past Oriented — Matthew

Rational (NT) — Reasoning, Works in Sciences, Seeks Knowledge, Period Oriented — Luke

Idealist (NF) — Empathetic, Works with People, Sagacious, Future Oriented — John

These are the Gospel author’s predispositions. Their experiences molded them, as far as they were willing and able, so that they acquired attributes of the other personality types. These attributes in total could be said to be their overall dispositions.

Although God may choose to relate to our predispositions through the Gospel writers, once He gets hold of us, He conforms us to His Son’s likeness as His sons and daughters.

None of the four writers seemed more transformed than Peter who, in his second letter to the churches, documents instruction for and prophesy of the future as his provision for the saints:

I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. 2 Peter 1:13-15 English Standard Version (ESV)

Of course, the number “four” is a common theme throughout the bible.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalype

Death on a Pale Horse is a version of the traditional subject, Four Horsemen of Revelation, 1796, Benjamin West (1738 – 1820), in the public domain in the US