Preface: The terrorist's attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001 has exposed the vacuous matrix from which all modern philosophy emanates. But even more striking has been the complete impotence of modern Christendom to articulate a theistic diagnosis when faced with the incessant 'why?'. After decades of rejecting its historical, doctrinal and theological roots, American Christendom stands isolated and unable to present even a faint silhouette of the Eternal Soveriegn to a nation devoid of an immutable foci. The Church by default has joined the voices of pop novelty to simply put an emotional bandage on stricken souls. May the events of September 11, 2001 provoke us to seek a theistic interpretation of national crisis.
Amid all the changes of life, the vicissitudes, there is one constant, one immutable reality, the faithfulness of God. The foundational reality that undergirds all of life and the believer, throughout time and eternity, is the faithful nature of God. "The very foundation and firm support of all wisdom is to know that there is a primary reality which caused all to be; and that all that exists in heaven and earth and all between heaven and earth could not exist without the truth of this reality." (Moses Maimonides, The Book of Knowledge, p. 1).
Tonight we will exegete a passage of monumental importance to us in this hour. "By faith we understand that the worlds (Gk. aions) were prepared by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible." (Hebrews 11:3). The Greek word "aions" is translated in the New Testament as "worlds, creation, eternal, everlasting, ages." It corresponds to the Hebrew word "olam" which is used over 250 times in the Old Testament and is translated "forever, everlasting and eternal." "Olam" emphasizes at its root "hidden, concealed and obscured." It conveys the idea of reality which is impenetrable by our perception, and can be translated "from vanishing point to vanishing point." From the polarity of the concealed past to the impenetrable future, olam emphasizes God's all-encompassing sovereign control of time and history. The earliest declaration of God's chronological Lordship is Exodus 15:18, "Yahweh malek laolam vaed." The Hebrew translation is "The Lord is King forever and to eternity and still more." The Hebrew text emphasizes the immensity, the boundless nature of God's Kingship over creation and time. King is not a titular appellation of God but the quintessence of His eternal nature. "Thy kingdom is a kingdom to the ages of the ages." (Psalms 145:13 Heb. trans.) The ages are all made by God and the constituted sequences of time. The inherent events both nationally and individually are all within His sovereign dominion.
Hebrews 11:3 is a pregnant, theological declaration of macrocosmic significance. The passage succinctly asserts that God made all ages of time. The indeterminate sequences of time, whether 100's, 1,000's, millions, or billions of years; that have transpired since God's fiat (Psalms 33:6, 9), He has minutely controlled every intervening second and all that has taken place within them. Aions is a word so immense that it encompasses everything from the moment of singularity, when time and creation came forth simultaneously, to time's finality, when time will expire before the dawning of the Eternal Day. Aion reveals God as ruling over all the dimension of time and its progressive sequences. "Now to the King of all the Ages (an intensive plural)..." (I Tim. 1:17). Whatever the variegated periods of time, scripture declares that God is their author, determiner and Sovereign Lord. "God is the creator and father of all the ages." (Clement of Rome, A. D. Corinth 35) "The mind staggers in endeavoring to grasp the vastness of the physical universe but much more overwhelming is the thought of those times and ages and aions through which the purpose of God is gradually unfolding, unhasting and unresting in the boundless life He has called into being." (Marcus Dodds, professor at Cambridge University, Expositor's Greek New Testament).
"...the worlds (ages) were prepared (Gk. "katartizo") by the Word of God." (Heb. 11:3) The Greek word "katartizo" means "to arrange harmoniously, to fit into a unified whole." In early First Century literature it was used in a domestic sense for fisherman mending their nets (Matthew 4:21). They would meticulously put each strand together so a net could be whole, readied for fishing. In Hebrews 11:3 the writer is asserting in a cosmic sense that God has harmoniously arranged all aspects of time, so as to be fitted in harmony, in perfect arrangement, with nothing out of alignment. Within the fabric of time there would be perfect precision in a progressive development until time reached its ultimate goal. All things will happen at the right time, God's time. This is a macrocosmic declaration in theology. We stagger at such a declaration. If God is a God of such immensity; creating, designing and orchestrating all time, then what does that pantechnicon proclamation mean to us who live in a micro world? If God can sovereignly control all the ages, is there one second or segment of our lives that is outside the providential control of God? Echoing down through the centuries is a resounding no! We rest secure tonight that our days of crisis are in the epicenter of the hand of God. Listen to an astute Rabbi, "Lord of the World if it were possible to imagine one fraction of a second without your influence, of what availed to us were the world, and what availed to us were that other world." (Rabbi Abraham, "The Angel", 1776, Tales of the Hasidim, p. 116).
Cognitive dissonance ensues when we try to understand God's purposes in time, and of the aforementioned declarations, by relating time anthropocentrically. When we attempt to relate the nature of time to ourselves the immediate consequence is myopic confusion. The primary reason for time is God. Time exists primarily for God as its raison de' entre. "Time is beyond our reach, beyond our power. It is both near and far, intrinsic to all experience and transcending all experience. It belongs exclusively to God." (Abraham Heschel, Sabbath, p. 99)
God was not necessitated to create time. He was forever blessed within the communion of His own eternal essence (John 1:1). But He made time as the doorway of eternity. Time opens to creation, the revelation of eternity. Time becomes a proscenium upon which God would put on display the vast panorama of His eternal nature and essence; His mercy, grace, forbearance, righteousness, holiness, love, salvation and judgment, etc. To man, time becomes, in the words of William Blake, "The mercy of eternity." God reaches from eternity into time to call a people that He has chosen in eternity (Eph. 1:4, II Thess. 2:13, II Tim. 1:9). Within time, God reveals the essence of eternity and conforms a redeemed people for eternal communion with Him. Time becomes a pedagogic experience awaiting promotion into the countenance of God (Rev. 21:1-4, 22:4). Time is the symmetry of holiness that silhouettes the Eternal God. "It is the dimension of time wherein man meets God, wherein man becomes aware that every instant is an act of creation, a beginning, opening up new roads for ultimate realizations. Time is the presence of God in the world of space..." (Abraham Heschel, Sabbath, p. 100)
"...His all-controlling government is so far from capricious that it rests upon a well-defined purpose and is the expression of the eternal will of the purposive God. It is its design, in one word, to declare that the sequence of the events which constitute what we call the world's history, and in which we are enmeshed, dark and inscrutable as may be their nexus and meaning and issue to us, is after all, not the result of accident or chance. nor yet of necessity or fate, nor of human caprice or Satanic malice; but the orderly working out of the purpose of our Father in heaven, the infinitely wise and holy One, the infinitely righteous and loving One." (Benjamin Warfield, Princeton Theological Seminary, 1886-1921, Selected Shorter Writings, Vol. 1, p. 95)
In Acts the 17th chapter, the Apostle Paul confronted two schools of thought in the regnant city of Athens regarding creation and time, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophies. Epicurean cosmology discerned no order, purpose or design within creation. Everything was based on chance. Creation was the result of a fortuitous collection of atoms that happened to form matter. Every detail of the universe was the consequence of chance. Since Epicureans believed that there was no purpose within creation, narcissistic licentiousness became the goal of life. "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you will die," was their dying motto. Paul would sweep away such vacuous thinking quickly but his fiercest antagonists would be the Stoics. Stoic philosophy articulated a view of time and history. The Stoics believed that there was a spirit or mechanical law behind all creation, that held everything in a mechanical fate. Time was viewed as cyclical. All events were destined to be cycled over and over in repeatables until finally there would be an ultimate conflagration of fire, reverting back to its primal element, fire. It is not surprising that the founder of this school of thought committed suicide. Cyclicality was devoid of purpose and intent.
Paul stands alone against the intelligentsia of his day. He confronts the nihilism and licentious waste by a theology of history, a theistic interpretation of time. In such an hour we need to hear what scripture teaches regarding national crisis and epochs. Paul would capsulate the Judaic teaching of time and history. "...and He made one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined (Gk. "horizo") their appointed (Gk. "protasso") times (Gk. "kairos"), and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist,..." (Acts 17:26-28) Paul sets forth a linear view of time. He refutes the Stoic cyclical definition of time by presenting a theocentric design to time. From the inception of time there has been purposed development. Antecedent to all time is an eternal wisdom. Time is progressively moving toward a consummate goal, in Greek called a "telios."
Paul understood from the Old Testament that time was under God's sovereign dominion. "Who has performed and accomplished it, calling forth the generations from the beginning? 'I, the Lord, am the first and with the last, I am He.'" (Isa. 41:4, see also Isa. 44:6, 48:12, Rev. 1:8) Before the creation of matter and time God is portrayed as determining every generation that will live on the earth at each juncture of time. Where they (the generations) will be geographically located, what racial stock they will descend from, what economic and political condition they will live under and at what time they will live in. This declaration recognizes no constriction to God. "God determined their (generations) destinies and summoned each at the predestined historical time." (Iben Ezra, 1092-1167, Rabbinical Commentary) You're here tonight, in Chatsworth, California, at this confluence of events because in eternity God placed you here. Rest in that. The next phrase "I, the Lord, am the first and with the last, I am He," is an extraordinary declaration of God. God says He is the rishon (first) and the aharon (last). The title First and Last indicates that God is simultaneously at the beginning and the end of history, yet present in each successive movement therein. God stands at the initial inception of time and matter and also at the final expiration, simultaneously. He encloses all time and history as a circle. He boundaries all time and encloses it. God encloses and boundaries all time with His abiding presence and sovereign will. He initiates it, sums it up, and is present in all its movements. God is controlling every nanosecond. Directing it along to its consummate goal. Within each intervening second He saturates life with His providential preservation, direction and redemptive grace. The declaration, "First and Last" reveals the all-embracing control of history by God. "...since God Himself will be there at the end. But having been there also at the beginning He thus encloses all history in a ring." (George A. F. Knight, Deutero-Isaiah, p. 51) God is infinitude of nature. He is unlimitable, nothing can limit Him. Nothing made by God can boundary , abridge or augment His being. He operates in dimensions where there are no segments that can stop His movement. He not only boundaries all time as its sovereign Lord, yet His providential presence is never absent from His creation. When the Apostle Paul expounds a linear view of time, he has a substratum of theology ungirding Him from the continuum of Rabbinic scholars enshrined in synagogue teaching.
Paul then proceeds to outline God's sovereign control on a national and individual scale, and the crisis He engenders for His ultimate intent. "...having determined (Gk. "horizo") their appointed times." (Acts 17:26) Paul uses the word that signifies to mark out a boundary, set limits, encircle. Horizo is used in Luke 22:22 where Jesus speaks of the predestined pathway of His suffering. Paul says within God's control of the nations there is a horizon, that He has pre-set for each nation. God has pre-set a boundary to everything that will take place in every nation under the sun. Then he proceeds to say God has determined their "...appointed (Gk. "protasso") times." Paul utilizes a word made up of a preposition and a root stem, literally translated, "to prearrange," "before appointed, to pre-fashion." God has prearranged the character of time from eternity that will transpire in all nations. We facilely believe, because of the technological advances of our day, that things are happening without precedence. But theology teaches that events are happening as an unfolding of a prearranged design. Unfolding according to an eternal ordination. It is obnoxious hearing the plethora of voices since September 11, 2001, decrying that the will of man is tying the hands of God. With great bombast these reductionists declare that evil exists independently of the sovereign control of God and that Satan is unrestrained in vengeance. This picture of God is so pathetically moribund that it warrants revulsion not obedient love. Yet contrary to such compost, scripture declares that God's purposes cannot be withstood by any power in heaven or on earth. "But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does. For He performs what is appointed for me, and many such decrees are with Him." (Job 23:13-14) Nothing can influence the execution of the unfolding of the purposes of God, either for the nations or for individuals. In theology this is called "the eternal counsel of God." "I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted." (Job 42:2) The will of man cannot hinder the purposes of God. Human volition is incapable of restraining the eternal counsel of God. Theoretically, every power within heaven or earth arrayed against God could not influence His will a centilla. This immutable truth should give you confidence tonight when you bow before Him, for His will will be done.
"...there is a time that turns a corner and everything this side of it is new. Times do not go backward."
--C. S. Lewis
"...having determined their appointed time (Gk. "kairos"), and the boundaries of their habitation." (Acts 17:26) The word kairos occupies a prominent place in the vocabulary of time in Greek literature. It signifies crisis, critical turning points. Junctures in time of criticality that come to nations or individuals with divine opportunity. In eternity, God has preset, preordained for every nation, all of the myriad crises that they are destined to experience. In the national crisis, time is opening up from eternity and God is giving an opportunity to perceive Him, as He unveils His redemptive nature. The national crisis in its inchoate stage has been ordained from eternity. National crises emanate from the matrix of God's will with redemptive intent.
"...that they should seek (present tense, habitually, incessantly) God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us..." (Acts 17:27) God intends to disturb, provoke, shake, the false foci in which a people trust, that from desperation they would clearly perceive the only object of faith, their Creator and Redeemer. God leads us into a cul-de-sac of despair so that every vacuous prop of false trust will be exposed and swept away. God exposes the illusions of a society that rests on its wealth, civil liberties, freedom and pride. These are the passing shadows that we value as enduring, but in the sobering light of the divinely sent crisis our resources are seen as fleeting as a breath. All national crises have a transcendent intent, that we would seek God! The divine opportunity within crisis is solely a gift of the graciousness of God. To stagger after God as a drunkard is far better than the state we're presently in, somnambulant death. God shakes us from such anesthetizing slumber (Luke 4:14-16).
A Biblical philosophy of history teaches very clearly that the times for every nation and every individual is in the Sovereign hands of God. This is the theological datum of all Orthodox Judaism and historic Christianity. Every crisis of life is in the controlling hand of God. "My times are in Thy hand..." (Ps. 31:15) God has set the time in eternity for each one's death. "Since his days [man's lifespan] are determined, the number of his months is with Thee, and his limits Thou hast set so that he cannot pass." (Job 14:5) All the experiences we go through in life have been fashioned by God in eternity as minutely as He has fashioned the human body. "Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them." (Ps. 139:16) God's divine authority controls our next breath. "In whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind." (Job 12:10) "...but the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified." (Daniel 5:23) All crises of life have a perfect symmetry, that viewed from God's perspective, is beautiful. "There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven. A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build up..." "He has made everything beautiful in its time..." (Eccles. 3:1-2, 10) We do not see the beauty of God's symmetry within time, but from God's perspective it is harmonious. We view events in isolation, disjointed from each other, but God sees all historical events in a unified whole. It is a mural of indescribable beauty to Him. For all things are moving toward the final consummation of the revelation of the glorious Son of God (Eph. 1:9-10)
May the national crisis that God has bequeathed on America not be squandered by recalcitrance and rejection of His gracious call. "Today is the day of salvation."
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