Thursday, January 03, 2008

Day 10: Christmas for the Lowly

The 12 Days of Christmas end on Sunday the 6th, so we're almost done with our "12 Days of Liberty." Here's what we've seen so far:

Day 1: Incarnation and Liberty
Christmas means the Advent of God; Jesus Christ is God incarnate.
Jesus demoted all emperors: the emperor is not a divine link between God and Man.

Day 2: I'm Dreaming of a Large Christmas:
Salvation means more than going to heaven when you die.
The American Dream of everyone dwelling safely under his “Vine & Fig Tree” was not invented by ancient Rome and Greece, but was revealed to the Hebrews centuries before.

Day 3: The Birth of the Anti-King:
Jesus was of "The House of David," and inherited the "throne of David."
"Christ" = "King." Jesus was King at the first Christmas, not to wait for a "second coming."
But not a 1 Samuel 8-type king "like all the nations."

Day 4: Defeating the Enemies:
Those who worshipped the King were "saved from our enemies" not by armed resistance, but by loving our enemies, and inviting them to repent of imperialism and violence and become libertarian capitalists.
Unbelieving Israel at the first Christmas was not "saved."
A new Israel was created to inherit the promises made to Abraham.
The promised land is not just Palestine, but the entire world.

Day 5: Peace on Earth:
Greater obedience to God’s Law -- even by unbelievers who hate Christ -- is the movement of history in the "A.D." years.
If Christ is not our nation’s deliverer, then the State steps in to be our savior

Day 6: Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Capitalists:
"The way of peace" = capitalism
Contrasted with socialism
Don't believe what socialists say about "capitalism."

Day 7: Kingmas: Christ = King:
Christ = the only legitimate King
Herod is not legitimate. Neither is Bush.
Christians are not to resist illegitimate kings with vengeance, but we are to deny their moral legitimacy.

Day 8: Let's Keep Christmas Commercialized:
Christmas is a public holiday that impacts government and society, not a "private" sentimentalism.
The Supreme Court's "war on Christmas"

Day 9: A Christmas Nagocracy:
How Christ exercises Kingship while in heaven at the Right Hand of God:
"Nagocracy" – censures, "judgmental intolerance"
Reminding each other of "The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" and continually raising the social standard.

Today, on the Tenth Day of Christmas, we continue learning about how Christ exercises the office of King, following the Wesminster Larger Catechism.

Q. 45. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself,
[174] and giving them officers,[175] laws,[176] and censures, by which he visibly governs them;[177] in bestowing saving grace upon his elect,[178] rewarding their obedience,[179] and correcting them for their sins,[180] preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings,[181] restraining and overcoming all their enemies,[182] and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory,[183] and their good;[184] and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.[185]

The meaning of Christmas is not that Christ came as a King, the Wise Men worshipped Him, He was executed, but He rose and went to heaven, and now we send each other Hallmark cards at Christmas, buy lots of stuff, think about religious things in private, but our public and commercial lives are based on violence and vengeance and controlled by kings "like all the nations."

The meaning of Christmas is that Jesus is now King, and is crushing all rival empires to powder.

"bestowing saving grace upon His elect"
[178] Acts 5:31. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.

There is no higher position of authority in the universe than at the right hand of God, where Christ is. He offered repentance and forgiveness to His own people, but they said "We have no king but Caesar!" (John 19:15) They rejected Christ and trusted Caesar to save them (John 11:48), but their savior destroyed their nation (Luke 21:20-24). Putting our trust in earthly kings is a recipe for destruction.

The next two ways Christ exercises the office of King, according to the Catechism, are "rewarding their obedience" and "correcting them for their sins." Another word for this is "Providence." The opposite view is "deism," the view that God created the universe and then stepped back, never to become miraculously or supernaturally involved in everyday affairs in history. Not a single person who signed the U.S. Constitution was a "deist" in this sense. They all believed that God actively intervened in history in response to prayer, obedience, and disobedience. Benjamin Franklin eloquently affirmed this belief during the Constitutional Convention. Regarding the injustice of slavery, Jefferson said, "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever."

The direct involvement of God in history was seen during the first century, when the Christmas King was rejected by His subjects.

[179] Revelation 22:12. And, behold, I am coming quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.

Compare Matthew 16:27-28:

`For, the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father, with his messengers, and then he will reward each, according to his work.
Verily I say to you, there are certain of those standing here who shall not taste of death till they may see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

This was not the Christmas gift Israel was expecting.

[179 con't] Revelation 2:10. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

The Westminster Assembly used two passages to prove the point that God rewards obedience, and both are speaking of rewards to first century Christians who endure persecution. Most Christians have believed there are other passages that prove the point. For "correcting them for their sins," the Catechsim uses

[180] Revelation 3:19. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

As with the passages above, this verse has its direct and immediate fulfillment in the first century church – in this case, the church at Laodicea. Some have suggested that the messages to the seven churches in Revelation are representative of successive periods of history, or different on-going spiritual conditions, and so forth. But this imaginative interpretation is not needed to establish the doctrine that Christ the King corrects His people for their sins. See Hebrews 12. It would also be instructive to note how the Catechism uses such passages as Deuteronomy 28. Politicians in the past had the Bible upon which they took their oath of office opened to this chapter. It speaks in dramatic and concrete ways about the blessings God sends on the obedient, and the curses that fall upon covenant-breakers.

But what about when Christians are thrown in the Gulag? What about pastors of home churches in China who are imprisoned and tortured? How can Christmas be true with these things happening? One way mentioned by the Catechism is:

preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings
[181] Isaiah 63:9. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.

But there's more. Christ exercises His office of King by

restraining and overcoming all their enemies
[182] 1 Corinthians 15:25. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
Psalm 110:1-2. The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.

As we saw on Day 4, the immediate and direct reference to “enemies” in the New Testament is the apostate Jews who rejected Jesus as the Lord’s Christ. The Apostolic church prayed that the enemies of the Gospel would be restrained and overcome, and doors opened to spread the Kingdom (Colossians 4:2-4). We have different enemies today. But the same Christmas King promises "salvation" if we resist the temptation to resort to vengeance and violence; He is

powerfully ordering all things for his own glory
[183] Romans 14:10-11. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

and He is

powerfully ordering all things for their good
[184] Romans 8:28. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

If we don't perceive these benefits, it may well be because we are trusting in Caesar to be our savior. (But remember the account of Job.)

The final way Christmas manifests in our lives is when Christ the King is

taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel
[185] 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9. In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.

As we have seen, the direct and immediate application of this passage was to the Apostolic church, troubled victims of persecution and tribulation, against whose persecutors God promised vengeance and delivered in A.D. 70.

Psalm 2:8-9. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

Christians in the first century believed that Psalm 2 applied to them, notably after John and Peter were detained and then released by the religious authorities:

And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:
. ‘Why did the nations rage,
. And the people plot vain things?
. The kings of the earth took their stand,
. And the rulers were gathered together
. Against the LORD and against His Christ.’

“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
Acts 4:32-30

Psalm 2 is the second most frequently quoted Old Testament passage in the New.

"Dashing in pieces like a potter's vessel" is a common visualization:

Isaiah 30:14
Whose collapse is like the smashing of a potter’s jar,
So ruthlessly shattered
That a sherd will not be found among its pieces
To take fire from a hearth
Or to scoop water from a cistern.”

Jeremiah 19:11
and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial.

But those who trusted in Caesar and rejected the Christmas King were the ones who were dashed into pieces.

But hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—
. ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron;
. They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—
as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.
Revelation 2:25-28

Contrary to the views of the popular "dispensational" teachers, at both the beginning (Revelation 1:1; 1:3; 2:25; 3:10,11) and the end (Rev. 22:6; 22:7; 22:10; Compare Dan. 8:26; Rev. 22:12; 22:20) of the book, Revelation speaks of things which are "shortly going to pass." The terrifying destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans symbolized in that book was a vindication of those who obeyed the Christmas King rather than Ceasar.

They were "lowly," and it was to them the promises of Christmas were made. The Biblical definition of the Salvation Christ came to bring included “deliverance from our enemies.”
But this salvation is also described as God’s promise to “exalt the lowly.” This was particularly clear in Mary’s “Magnificat”:

Luke 1:51-53
He has shown strength with His arm;
. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
. He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
. And exalted the lowly.
. He has filled the hungry with good things,
. And the rich He has sent away empty.

Mary speaks in the present tense about the things that her Child would soon do.

There is a paradox here. How would a truly “lowly” person want to be "exalted?" Would a Christ-like person want to be "exalted" to the office of Caesar, F├╝hrer, Pharaoh, Big Brother, or “archist?” Jesus answered this question:

Mark 10:42-45
But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. {43} Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. {44} And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. {45} “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

The word translated “rulers” comes from the Greek word from which we derive our word “anarchist.” Jesus clearly says His followers are not to be “archists.” Christians are to be servants.

When God promises to exalt the lowly, He promises to save them from their enemies, and bless their works of service. This is another aspect of "salvation" in the holistic Biblical sense.

When people think of the word “capitalism” they often think of ultra-rich and powerful CEO's, paid millions of times more than the lowliest worker in the corporation. "Captialism" also brings to mind the term “competition.” Sometimes they use the phrase “cut-throat competition.” The picture here is of a “robber baron” like John D. Rockefeller, crushing his competitors, putting “the little guy” out of business. The modern example is the allegation that Wal-Mart puts “mom and pop stores” out of business.

Surprisingly, in both cases, the lowly are exalted. In both cases the Christmas King is rewarding the lowly and dashing the proud to pieces. This is the wonder of capitalism.

There is a great deal of mythology surrounding Rockefeller and Wal-Mart. The actual facts are seldom discussed. Neither Rockefeller nor Wal-Mart can be accused of doing anything un-Christian. Most of what they do is even exemplary, a model of what Christians should be like.

Rockefeller began working at age 16 as an assistant bookkeeper for less than $10 a day (adjusted for inflation). He was fastidious about working and saving, and by age 23 had saved enough to invest in an oil refinery in Cleveland, Ohio, along with a fellow church member, Samuel Andrews.

Rockefeller paid meticulous attention to every detail of his business, constantly striving to cut his costs, improve his product, and develop new products. He sometimes joined in with the manual laborers to gain a more through understanding of the way his business worked. His work habits inspired his business partners and managers, which helped his business become more successful. The firm of Rockefeller, Andrews and Flagler became Standard Oil.

Sociologists have long spoken of this way of life as “the Protestant work ethic.” Because of it, Standard Oil

prospered quickly in the intensely competitive industry due to the economic excellence of its entire operations. Instead of buying oil from jobbers, they made the jobbers’ profit by sending their own purchasing men into the oil region. They also made their own sulfuric acid, barrels, lumber, wagons, and glue. They kept minute and accurate records of every item from rivets to barrel bungs. They built elaborate storage facilities near their refineries. Rockefeller bargained as shrewdly for crude as anyone has before or since; and Sam Andrews coaxed more kerosene from a barrel of crude than the competition could. In addition, the Rockefeller firm put out the cleanest burning kerosene and managed to profitably dispose of most of the residues, in the form of lubricating oil, paraffin wax, and Vaseline.[1]

Rockefeller’s chemists developed about three hundred other products from petroleum. And in every product line, Rockefeller purged all waste and inefficiency. Profits soared because consumers valued Rockefeller products.

Then Rockefeller began buying smaller firms which were not as efficient, and transformed those inefficient firms into effective servants of the consumers, using resources less wastefully than before.

Prices of petroleum products dropped dramatically during these years. Kerosene replaced whale oil as the primary source for fuel for light in America. This may seem trivial today, but it revolutionized America. Prices fell so low that working class people could afford what only the rich could afford a few years earlier.

Working and reading became after-dark activities new to most Americans in the 1870’s.[2]

The lowly had been exalted. New products and greater demand for old products at a lower price meant thousands upon thousands of new jobs created by Rockefeller. Lower prices brought about by greater efficiency raised the standard of living for millions of lowly Americans.

And yet Rockefeller the businessman and entrepreneur is almost universally vilified by economics textbooks in government schools. Back in his day, some competitors began spreading lies about Rockefeller. They asked the government to use its coercive powers against Rockefeller so that their inefficient firms could stay in business. They put their own firms ahead of efficient service to the consumers.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that because Standard Oil was big, it was bad. Rockefeller’s competitors, who sought to use the government for business advantage, won, while consumers lost. The very “bigness” that made Standard Oil efficient was broken up, and oil production became less efficient. But many businessmen learned a lesson: pay less attention to serving consumers and pay more attention to lobbying government for protection against competition. Pay less attention to working efficiently and creatively, and pay more attention to working risk-free, with government protection.

Genuine capitalists, whose genius and energy fueled extraordinary economic achievement and also brought tremendous benefits to Americans, should be recognized for their achievements rather than demonized, as they so often are. Men like James J. Hill, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt were heroes who improved the lives of millions of consumers; employed thousands and enabled them to support their families and educate their children; pioneered efficient management tech­niques that are still employed today; and donated hundreds of mil­lions of dollars to charities and nonprofit organizations of all kinds, from libraries to hospitals to symphonies, public parks, and zoos. It is absolutely perverse that historians usually look at these men as crooks or cheaters while praising and advocating “business/government partnerships,” which can only lead to corruption and economic decline.[3]

Let’s remember the Biblical definition of salvation:

Yasha and its derivatives are used 353 times. The root meaning . . . is “make wide” or make sufficient: this root is in contrast to sarar, “narrow,” which means “be restricted” or “cause distress.” To move from distress to safety requires deliverance. [T]he majority of references to salvation speak of Yahweh granting deliverance from real enemies and out of real catastrophes. That which is wide connotes freedom from distress and the ability to pursue one’s own objectives. Thus salvation is not merely a momentary victory on the battlefield; it is also the safety and security necessary to maintain life unafraid of numerous dangers. [4]

Americans live in large homes. They enjoy safety.[5] But more than momentary victories on the battlefield, America has enjoyed a salvation which is “the safety and security necessary to maintain life unafraid of numerous dangers.” Capitalists like Rockefeller have made us safe from disease, safe from the cold, safe from the dark, safe from malaria,[6] safe from everything the authors of the verses we’ve read wanted to be safe from.

And yet this salvation––this “safety and security necessary to maintain life unafraid of numerous dangers,” came in an unexpected way. The prophets lived under empires that promised salvation by conquering and plundering weaker nations around them. But looking at America during her first 300 years, we see an explicitly Christian nation exercising dominion by working and building industries, creating and producing rather than confiscating from others. We see hundreds of millions of ordinary Christians and non-Christians around the world, benefitting from the division of labor under capitalism, who enjoy the benefits of Christian dominion –– and see the salvation promised by the prophets when the Messiah would come. Those prophets would say that we experience the salvation promised on the first Christmas. Studying Christmas in this light helps give us Some Fundamental Insights Into the Benevolent Nature of Capitalism.

The Godly servant, a man of a lowly and humble heart, need not fear the Empire, need not fear oppression. Jesus is not on the side of the one who is a destroyer or a conqueror. He does not reward those who initiate force or violence against others. He rewards the lowly.

Zechariah 9:9 9
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
. Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
. Behold, your King is coming to you;
. He is just and having salvation,
. Lowly and riding on a donkey,
. A colt, the foal of a donkey.

Job 5:11
He sets on high those who are lowly,
. And those who mourn are lifted to safety.

Psalm 116:66
The Lord preserves the simple;
. I was brought low, and He saved me.

Job 5:15 15
But He saves the needy from the sword,
. From the mouth of the mighty,
. And from their hand.

Psalm 12:5
5 “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy,
. Now I will arise,” says the Lord;
. ”I will set him in the safety for which he yearns.”

Psalm 34:6
6 This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles.

Psalm 69:29
29 But I am poor and sorrowful;
Let Your salvation, O God, set me up on high.

Psalm 72:4
He will bring justice to the poor of the people;
He will save the children of the needy,
And will break in pieces the oppressor.

Psalm 72:13
He will spare the poor and needy,
And will save the souls of the needy.

Psalm 109:31
For He shall stand at the right hand of the poor,
To save him from those who condemn him.

1 Samuel 2:1
1 And Hannah prayed and said:
”My heart rejoices in the Lord;
My horn is exalted in the Lord.
I smile at my enemies,
Because I rejoice in Your salvation.

The story of Christmas shatters all the vain pretensions of Emperors and Empires, Presidents and Republics, Dictators and Tyrannies. All these rulers claim to bring salvation, deliverance, and health through the initiation of force, conquest, compulsion, extortion, and redistribution of wealth. But the Christ of Christmas rejects these illusions, and has brought about a salvation that the prophets could barely imagine, without raising a sword, but by lowly service. Ironically, many of the most powerful and highest-paid CEO's and those who fit the stereotype of the "greedy capitalist" are often slaves to the corporation and serve the lowly masses, whose standards of living are raised by the CEO's unemancipated lifestyle. (Proverbs 13:22)

Everything about the Christmas story and the provision of the salvation promised by the prophets turns the myth of Empire on its head.

[1] Dominick Armentano, Antitrust and Monopoly: Anatomy of a Policy Failure (New York: Wiley, 1982), p. 58.
[2] Burton W. Folsom, Jr., Entrepreneurs vs. the State: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America, 1840-1920 (Herndon, VA: Young America’s Foundation, 1987), p. 22.
[3] Most of the preceding was plagiarized from Thomas J. DiLorenzo, How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, from the Pilgrims to the Present, (New York, Crown Forum, 2004). Every Christian should read this book.
[4] John E. Hartley, “yasha,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament . Vol. 1, pp. 414-15.
[5] The architects of war will take credit for making us safe from terrorism, but there were no more terrorist attacks in the five years before 9-11 than there have been since. Before 9-11, the odds of any given individual being attacked by a terrorist were less than being struck by lightning. We were safe.
[6] DDT is a petroleum product. In the 1940’s malaria killed hundreds of millions of people. By the 1960’s DDT had reduced that number to hundreds. The environmentalists’ war against DDT is responsible for the deaths of millions, as malaria has again become a threat.

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