In the original German edition of the catechism, the phrase here speaks of having guter zuversicht, it speaks of a good “confidence,” a good “trust,” or a good “faith” in our faithful God and Father. But what does it mean to have a “good confidence” or a “guter zuversicht” in God?
Confidence refers to the level of one’s trust in another. Perhaps one of the classic illustrations of this trust is found in a child jumping off the edge of a swimming pool into the waiting arms of his father — perhaps fearing the unknown of the water but trusting in the strength of his father’s arms and with the assurance that his father will keep him safe. When the prophet instructs us what God demands of us as believers, one of those things is that we “walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). That humble walk implies that we are walking having placed our confidence in God.
Interestingly, confidence in the western culture is sometimes viewed as being presumptuous and egotistical. Yet, this kind of overconfident attitude only comes when one is placing confidence in oneself. When one places his or her confidence in God by faith there is no room for bragging or pride. Instead, we are quietly relying on the strength of our God to deliver us from the threat of the situation.
The core of what the catechism is instructing us in question 28 can be found here. It is because God has ordered all things by his divine providence and because I belong to Him in Christ, I have no need to fear what is to come. I have good confidence in the plans and designs of Him who orders and ordains all things by his providence and I will not question his purpose. This, friends, is what it means to have a gut zuversicht.
Even so, sometimes the eighteen inches between the head and the heart can be a difficult bridge to cross. We understand an idea intellectually, but bring our hearts to a point where we live like it can often be a great challenge. We like to worry and fret over things, yet the scriptures and the catechism seem to make it utterly clear that we have a God who hears our prayers, who cares for us in our times of need, and who acts in this fallen world, ordaining all things that come to pass (Ephesians 1:11). So, in what shall we fear? We shall fear none but God alone and serve and love Him as our God and Father with good confidence because is our Father and will use all things to conform us into the image of his Son, Jesus.
“And Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negeb and he dwelled between Qadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar.”
After the fall of Sodom and the surrounding cities, Abraham returns back to the west and the land of his sojourning. The Negeb (sometimes written as “Negev”) is the region to the southern side of what would become Israel. Qadesh and Shur are both on the western coast with Gerar just a little inland (not too far from Beersheba). All of these regions are part of the broader Canaanite territory and they are part of the territory that God had promised to Abraham. This is Philistine territory as well, yet again, all of this region is part of the inheritance of Abraham. In addition to this area being part of what would become national Israel, some of the area is also the territory through which Israel would travel on their wilderness wanderings. Again, God preserving his people in a place where they are surrounded by pagans.
While we may not wander leading a caravan of livestock, in a similar way, we are also wanderers in a land not our own. The culture around us typically claims to believe in God, but by the way most folks live, little of that testimony has merit. Crime, pornography, false teachings being presented as Christianity, and oppression fill our land, yet God provides for us as we walk in the midst of unbelief. In light of this, though, we are given a message to share with those we meet—one of hope, one of life, one of salvation. Because God provides for us and protects us, we have nothing to fear and nothing to hinder us from a bold testimony of faith. How often we fall short.
An interesting side note can be found in the names of the territory that Abraham is traveling between. Qadesh is derived from the Hebrew word for “holiness”—something that has been set apart for divine use. Shur is derived from the word that describes a wall around a well— something that protects the well from being destroyed. Gerar is derived from the word meaning, “to sweep away.” Indeed, these are things that are promised to Abraham’s children though the pagan nations regularly have set their hands to make poor imitations of what can really only be found in God. We are called and set apart as holy and God indeed sets a wall around us to protect us. To that end he sent his Son to suffer and die on the cross so that our sins might be washed or swept away in his grace. How significant even the names of these ancient cities are; how sad it must have been for Abraham to see the bastardizations of truth all around him. How we also ought to lament at how often truth is warped and distorted in our culture as we sojourn in a land that is not our own.
“And unto Ishmael, I have heard you, so behold, I will bless him and will cause him to bear fruit and I will make him exceedingly great. He will bear twelve princes and I will give to him a great nation.”
Because of God’s promise to Abraham, God blesses Abraham’s firstborn and allows him to build a nation. Like Jacob, from Ishmael we are told that 12 princes would come (see Genesis 25:13-16 for the list of Ishmael’s twelve sons). These sons would grow in stature and influence and founded many of the nations that surrounded ancient Israel and which are even today seeking to destroy the rest of those who descend from Abraham. These, of course, are ultimately the current Islamic nations.
So why did God permit the rise of Islam? Couldn’t God have just cut off the line of Hagar as he did with Keturah (Abraham’s wife after the death of Sarah)? Indeed, God could remove all of the obstacles between us and glory, yet God uses those obstacles to refine us and to mature us in our faith. Islam is also designed to be a reminder to us of the grace and mercy of God. Their religion is law, law, law and it is as contradictory to the Christian faith as light is to darkness. If man’s natural bent since the fall were not legalism, Islam would have no appeal.
As we look at the political landscape of the world around us, one may be quick to wonder if life indeed would be easier if the Muslims were not a threat. Not only has there been centuries of warfare between Christians and Muslims but that warfare has been coupled with terrorist activities. In additions, Muslims are immigrating all over Europe and America and some are suggesting that one day these once Christian nations will be under Sharia Law.
So, indeed, what is the solution to this great dilemma that Christians are facing today? The answer is the same, beloved, as it has always been: be bold in your witness of the Gospel. Part of the reason that Islam, Humanism, eastern Mysticism, and other false religions are making such headway into the thinking of lands who have once been dominated by Christianity is that Christianity no longer dominates in the public square. We have sadly turned inward and have decided to focus more on building buildings, running programs, and having a following than in making disciples of all nations. Can you imagine what America would be like if we were so bold with our testimony of the Gospel that everyone who came would end up converting to Christianity? If that were the case, we would be excited about more Muslims immigrating from the Middle East because that would mean that they would soon be becoming Christian. Even many pastors have become defeatists, acting as if they are serving the church in Sardis, strengthening what is about to die, rather than engaging and breaking down the gates of Hell. God has given us the armor and weapons of warfare to do so; will we not use them?
Beloved, we have been called by our great captain to engage the enemy, let us do so with vigor and with boldness and proclaim that we will not lay down our arms before the foe because the war has already been won by Jesus Christ upon the cross. Let Christianity once again be on the march because it is through Isaac and through Christ that the promise is given, not through the other children of Abraham.
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!
At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.
Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.
Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages men and angels sing.
Recently, I heard a challenge to Christianity that was worded like this: “The only reason you identify yourself as Christian is because you were born in America; if you had been born in Iraq, you would be Muslim and if you had been born in northern India, you would be Hindu—religion is nothing more than a cultural expression of morality.” The person making the challenge was Richard Dawkins, a popular atheist in our culture today. Though I had not heard that objection worded in the same basic way, I have heard this objection of Christianity before, and thought that I would like to pose a response from two perspectives.
The first perspective is purely a practical one, for I know that there are many nominal Christian parents that are essentially banking on this principle, hoping that their children will remain Christian (at least in name), while never truly training their children up in the faith. They think that of course, America is a Christian nation, so of course, my children will remain Christians all of their life. This not only exposes a faulty understanding of Christianity (as I will mention below), but it is a dangerous assumption, for America is becoming more and more of a secular, atheistic nation, and not a Christian one. Thus, some are estimating that as many as 80% of teenagers leave the church when they hit their college years, often without returning. Don’t get me wrong, many of them still think of themselves as Christian, but their Christianity has no bearing on the way they live their lives and for all practical purposes, they are secular humanists in practice and thought.
Furthermore, many of these children will openly reject Christianity because they see how self-serving, jaded, lazy, and corrupt so many churches have become. Many embrace the atheism of their college professors, but others are embracing false religions like Islam because they are attracted to the self-discipline and rigid lifestyle that such religions offer. We should not need to be reminded that one of the reasons that the Byzantine empire fell so easily to the Muslim expansion was due to the corruption and self-seeking nature of the church—people saw its weaknesses and rejected it as diseased and dying. Such an observation has been made of much of the church in America. Thus, it is not enough that we are actively pursuing the Christian faith, it is essential for us to recognize that our children must be actively pursuing the Christian faith as well.
That is the purely practical perspective, now for the theological one… While many religions may very well be simply cultural expressions of morality, Christianity, by definition, is different. For in Christ, we are called “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17)—in other words, we are changed from the outside in. Christianity is not a mere self-help program, it is a total change of lifestyle that can only be accomplished if one is supernaturally changed by God—we refer to this as being “born again” (John 3:3). This change is impossible to do for oneself, but God must effectively draw us to Christ as well (John 6:44). God draws us from the world, God gives us new life, and God makes us a new creation. This is more than mere morality, it is transformation. And, it is a transformation that takes place all over the world, even in countries where you can be put to death for claiming Christ as Lord and Savior.
The sad thing is that too many Christians simply treat Christianity as a self-help program, and when that happens, they do not live like new creations and Christianity becomes nothing more than a social norm—a norm that is quickly being redefined in America.
Christianity and Literature: Outline
The Big Idea: What distinguishes Christian Literature? Answer: it clearly points to Christ
- Asked to discuss “Christian Literature” though unsure of value of this discussion
- Understands that Literature is a means for sharing the Gospel
- Rules for good writing are same for Christian and non-Christian
- Thus, does not see a value in a genre of “Christian” literature, just good literature or bad literature, both kinds reflecting the author’s perspective
- Is one a “Christian writer” or a “writer that happens to be Christian?”
One: What makes literature “Christian?
- Sacred in theme/starting point for devotion
- Value is subjective (rag may be sacred for some)
- Written by Christians for Christians, not for literary merit per say
- Christian approach to literature
- Creative vs. derivative
- Spontaneity vs. Convention
- Freedom vs. Rules
- Great authors are innovators, “breaking fetters,” not followers
- Jesus as Poet or Philosopher
- Jesus’ limitations
- Poetic in some senses
- More like Socrates than Shakespeare in analogy
- Man as head of woman, God the Father as head of the Son, Jesus as head of Church
- The subordinate is to reflect the head
- Just as son watches Father, so Jesus observed the Father to better communicate his being
- New Testament Literary Expression
- Originality is the prerogative of God
- Creativity discouraged and being conformed into the image of Christ
- “being as little as possible ourselves, in acquiring a fragrance that is not our own but borrowed, in becoming clean mirrors filled with the image of a face that is not ours
- Lewis’ rejection of Total depravity
- Derivative & reflective is good
- “pride does not only go before a fall—a fall of the creature’s attention from what is better, God, to what is worse, itself.
- Applied to Literature
- Purpose is not to create, but to reflect Christ
- Embody or reveal what is true of eternal beauty and wisdom
- Originality is not true originality as it comes from God
- Non-Christian writes for vain purposes, Christian for Christ
- Christian does not ask, “Is it mine?” but will ask “Is it good?”
- “The Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world”
- The strength of Christian literature comes not from the literature but from the God of Christian literature
Words to Define:
- Hagiological: of the Saints
- Proprement dite: French for “properly itself”
- Argumenta ad hominess: argument by opinions
- A fortiori: “From the Stronger”
- Catena: chain
- Redolere Christum: “to smell of Christ”
- mi/mhsiß is derived from mimhth/ß, meaning: imitator
- au moins je suis autre: French—“At least I am different”
- di se medesmo rise: Italian for, “I lauged at myself”
Oh how sober a garden that must have been. Here Jesus has come just prior to his arrest at the hands of the children of the Serpent; he has been betrayed by one of his twelve; he will soon be denied by Peter, the leader of the twelve; and abandoned, at least for a while, by all of the rest (John and the women make their way to the cross). Jesus is intentional. They have come into this garden so that he can retreat from the world and pray, seeking strength and an internally unified approach to the passion that was to come. Peter, James, and John, he has taken to the side to pray on his behalf as he seeks the Lord’s face.
There are many things that we can learn from this passage; a few are worth noting:
1) For the Christian, when preparing to face great trial, prayer must be our primary retreat. Here, even Jesus, the very Lord of Creation is seeking his father’s face. Oh, how we make a mess of this principle. Prayer so often is our last resort, when for the Christian it must be our first. Look here, dear Christian, if the Lord of the heavens needs to pray for strength before trials, then how much more do we, the frail and sinful, need that same prayer.
2) Jesus shows us the value of intercessory prayer. Here Jesus has taken three of his trusted apostles to the side. Jesus continues on to pray for a spell and leaves the three of them to wait. What, dear Christian, do you think that they were meant to be doing while Jesus prayed? If they were meant to be chatting about the day’s events in Jerusalem or swapping jokes, then why was Jesus so upset when they chose to take a catnap? No, these three were meant to be praying for Jesus that he would have strength to lift his prayers and burdens before his father. Brethren, do you want to know who your faithful friends are? It is those brothers and sisters who agonize with you in prayer before the father’s throne.
3) Times and trial and tribulation can cause us to have great internal struggles of faith, but disunity of spirit and body will cause us to stumble. Our Lord had two natures, a human one and a divine one. His petitions before the Lord were partly out of a desire to approach the coming suffering with the assurance of a unified witness. His human nature would not fail him, but would be faithful to the divine will. It is times when we are filled with indecision that we fail in our appointed task. As terribly important as Jesus’ next days were, not merely to his mighty work, but to the very future of mankind, Jesus was aligning his human and divine natures together for this task.
Yet what strikes me about this passage is how sad a place the garden must have been that night. There was a time that the Garden would have been a place for celebration and joy amongst the olive trees, but that night was quite different. Oh, the weight, not only of the task ahead, but of disappointment in his faithful apostles for their lack of faith even after all they had seen.
It must have taken Jesus back to another garden, Eden, recalling the disappointment that must have been felt at the time of the fall of our first parents. That garden as well was turned from a place of joy into a place of sadness. How often we do this with the gardens of blessing in our own lives. We take the gifts of God for granted and we bring sin into those gifts. We bring sin into our homes, or jobs, and our families. And we bring sin into our churches. Psalm 128 paints a picture of the blessing of work, family, and Church fellowship that God gives to those who fear him; we bring sin into all of these areas.
That same psalm describes our children as olive shoots. I want to be careful about how the analogy it draws, so as not to spiritualize the connection of olive shoots and the mature garden of Gethsemane, but it is worth noting the garden imagery. As with any garden, olive shoots need care and they need a strong fence to support them as they mature. If they do not have that fence to support and mold them, the shoots will creep across the ground and quickly become diseased, rotten, and die.
The sadness of Gethsemane came as a result of our sin. Adam and Eve sinned and fell, and Jesus, in this next garden, is preparing for the task of making right that which we made so wrong. As he leaves his time of prayer, he does so with a renewed determination. Notice that Jesus does not hide from the people coming to arrest him; he does not seek out just a few more minutes of prayer. He lays his prayer before his father three times and then, with renewed determination sets forward and presents himself to the children of darkness. It is as if he is saying, “let’s do it…” and entering into the belly of the beast—offering his life before them. And this he does on that lonely cross.
Loved ones, this was a path we could not walk; yet, Christ walked it so that we might not have to. This is the promise of the Gospel—we who deserve death are offered life and he who is the Lord of Life went to his death on our behalf. What wonder that this should raise in our heart, what amazement it should birth in our souls, yet how often we go through this time of the year thinking only of our own desires and wants. For you who are already trusting in Christ, let this Passion Week renew your adoration of and commitment to the Lord of your life; for those who are suffering in your own futile struggle against sin and guilt, know that Christ offers life—come to him and live!