Peashoot smoothie bowl, and Christ’s descent to hell

Holy Saturday, some call it. That day between the death of Christ and his resurrection from the dead.

Laryngitis still gripping me by the throat, the smoothie bowls continued with a shocking green peashoot smoothie, topped with the now-usual strawberries, blueberries, chia seeds, homemade gula merah granola:
peashoot yoghurt smoothie bowl topped with strawberries, blueberries, chia seeds, homemade gula melaka granola

There has been much speculation as to the whereabouts of Jesus on that interim Saturday. One of the Christian creeds states that he “descended into hell”, to rise again on the third day.

In his chapter on Christ’s Humiliation in Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck argues that there is no proof of this in Scripture:

  • Acts 2:27, citing Psalm 16:10 teaches that Christ, having died, was in Hades and belonged to the dead but contains no hint of the idea that he descended into hell
  • 1 Peter 3:18-22 about Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison, first does not speak of what Christ did between his death and resurrection, but of what he did either before his incarnation or after having revived his body. Second, there is no mention whatever of a descent of Christ into hell for this purpose.
  • According to Hebrews 12:23, the devout of the old covenant form the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven and have received heavenly citizenship before the believers of the New Testament.
  • The concept of Hades has changed through the centuries from merely denoting death to being equated to the concept of Gehenna (hell, a place of torment).

peashoot yoghurt smoothie bowl topped with strawberries, blueberries, chia seeds, homemade gula melaka granolaWhat we do know is this: that Christ drank the cup of suffering to the last drop and tasted death in all its bitterness in order to completely deliver us from the fear of death and death itself. Thus he destroyed him who had the power of death and by a single offering perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).

Good Friday, Dragonfruit Smoothie Bowl

After a week of heavy day-time negotiations (at work) and even-tide talking loudly in very noisy coffeeshops (about the Bible), my voice has called it quits and I’m laid up at home on Good Friday with the ‘flu.

In an attempt to get some vitamins into the body, I’ve very sniffily made a poor man’s/budget/frugal acai bowl (but still about S$2 (£1)): marked-down dragonfruit from the wet market blended with discount yoghurt, topped with half a banana, cheap about-to-go-off strawberries and wrinkly blueberries, chia seeds from Mustafa, and homemade gula melaka granola.

Good Friday frugal budget dragonfruit yoghurt smoothie bowl with bananas, bruised strawberries, wrinkled blueberries, homemade gula melaka granola (with cranberries and pecans), chia seeds

Good Friday frugal budget dragonfruit yoghurt smoothie bowl with bananas, bruised strawberries, wrinkled blueberries, homemade gula melaka granola (with cranberries and pecans), chia seedsBeing ill on Good Friday is a good time to consider the frailty of humankind, and our ephemeral impotent existence on this earth.

A Buddhist colleague was asking about Good Friday rituals over lunch yesterday. Her sister, a Catholic, was going on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the major Catholic churches in Singapore. Would I be doing the same?

I’d tried to explain that the locus of the Christian faith isn’t on the church buildings or church practices (or even on a holy man, the priest) but on the person of Jesus Christ and what he achieved on the cross. No merit is gained, as the Thai Buddhists believe, in visiting “holy” places or doing “good” or saying prayers.

As usual, the wisdom of hindsight kicked in today and I thought how much more could have been said. First, Christians do not belong to a BDSM cult that wallows in the blood and gore of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

But how can one then summarise the vast and multi-dimensional and cosmic work that was achieved by Jesus’ death on the cross?

Good Friday frugal budget dragonfruit yoghurt smoothie bowl with bananas, bruised strawberries, wrinkled blueberries, homemade gula melaka granola (with cranberries and pecans), chia seedsReading the chapter on Christ’s Humiliation in Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics in bed today was not much help in corralling Bible truths:

  • Christ’s death was not an accident of history, nor a ultimately the tragic consequence of the human cunning of his enemies. Jesus was not a human genius who made a great impact in world history. Rather, he was himself a special revelation and on a unique mission from God himself. He was handed over to those who killed him “by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). Jesus came to die.
  • Sacrifice was instituted by God in the Old Testament as atonement – covering for sin by means of shed blood. But the bloods of goats and bulls were incomplete and needed to be endlessly repeated. This anticipated the coming of the Suffering Servant who would make himself an offering for the sins of the people. Jesus fulfils the Old Testament law regarding sacrifices – he is the true covenant sacrifice and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
  • His death was payment, satisfaction of judgement, justification.
  • His death was propitiation of God’s wrath.
  • His death was for the expiation of sins.
  • Christ  is also the priest that makes that sacrifice. He is the perfect mediator between God and man because he is himself true God and true man.
  • Christ’s death was ransom paid.
  • Christ’s death was redemption obtained for us, complete redemption of the whole person, body and soul. The whole renewal of all things is the fruit of his obedience though we now experience it only in part, particularly as deliverance from sin’s guilt and power.
  • By Christ’s death, God showed his love and his justice
  • Christ’s death was also for the healing, reconciliation in our relationship with God.
  • By Christ’s death, we obtained righteousness and eternal life. Christ obtained for us the righteousness and life Adam had to secure by his own obedience. Christ’s obedience returns us not to the beginning but to the end of the road Adam had to walk.
  • By his death, we obtained sonship, confident access to God, gift of the Spirit, second birth and power to become children of God, sanctification, dying to sin, being crucified to the world, walking in the Spirit and in the newness of life, freedom from the curse of the law, deliverance from death and fear of death, victory over the world, resurrection on the last day, ascension and glorification, heavenly inheritance, new heaven and new earth, restoration of all things etc.
  • By Christ’s death, he achieved his own exaltation. (Bavinck: “What Christ acquired by this sacrifice is beyond description.”)

The mind, whether groggy or not, is blown by the magnitude of what happened that Good Friday.

Even the rather rich lyrics of Samuel Crossman’s My Song is Love Unknown seemed insipid in this light (but still rather lovely when sung by King’s College Cambridge to John Ireland’s “Love Unknown” tune):

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then Crucify! is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

Stress Baking: Fruit Tart

I am a stress baker – I bake mostly when there is too much going on and I need time to think; when it feels like I’m just barely plugging in the cracks in the pie.

making a fruit tart in Singapore

Here’s what’s on the plate at the mo, on top of a full-time “secular” job 5 days a week:

Romans – weekly Bible study
Romans – monthly youth training
Luke – weekly children’s ministry
Philippians – monthly Indonesian ministry
Revelation – weekly intern/apprentices’ training
Psalm 119 – S
Revelation – D and G (from another church)
Ephesians – a bunch of medical students
Hebrews – S and D (who lead groups in a university)
Genesis – M (who leads student groups in secondary schools)
John – J (who leads student groups in primary schools)

Graham Beynon’s “Last Things First” – book club

making a fruit tart in Singapore
As always, there is that tension between:

(i) the awareness of what a formidable responsibility it is to be saying “thus says the Lord” and so wanting to be absolutely sure that what I’m teaching is what God is saying in his word, the Bible; and

(ii) acknowledging the I am a sinful human with a mind that has yet to be completely renewed, and so can never attain perfect knowledge of what God is saying (though, we can expect to get quite close – after all, the purpose of the Bible is that it is to be heard/read, understood, and responded rightly to); and
making a fruit tart in Singapore

(iii) relying on the fact that God knows who are his, that all believers are already (in one sense) united with his Son, and that it is the Spirit who, in changing our minds and hearts as the word is taught, conforms us to the likeness of God’s son and helps us to persevere.

SDG. I’m going to bed.

Avocado Toast, the Members of the Body, and How Avocado is Not Bacon

JST had been nagging me to stop being such a fruitist and to give the avocado another chance. As a child, I’d detested the texture of the thing – tasteless, fatty, mashable. When compared with the exciting crisp sweet tartness of the apples that I adored or the rich umami sunshine of the tomatoes I ate by the basketful, the avo was a dud.

Flat White Coffee and Brunch in Melbourne - Dr. Jekyll Cafe (107-113 Grey Street, St. Kilda) - avocado and Meredith feta mash, with mint and lemon on rye toast, with a poached eggMy first taste of the thing again in adulthood was in Melbourne just last month, where avocado toast was a hipster cafe menu staple. At the Dr. Jekyll Cafe (107-113 Grey Street, St. Kilda, Melbourne) with HM, I tried their rendition – an avocado and Meredith feta mash, with mint and lemon on rye toast, with a poached egg. Delicious.

avocado toast with bacon
Regent's CanalThen in London, LH kindly had me round for breakfast, and there, gloriously, was avocado toast with crisp bacon. Arguably, anything tastes better with bacon, but this demonstrated an important fact of life that fools like me keep forgetting: we measure everyone by some arbitrary standard (eg. must have tartness) and dismiss those who don’t conform as failures. But it would be silly of us not to consider how to use the unique characteristics of different things to fulfil other purposes (eg. avocado as foil to dry toast, as a neutral base for other flavours).

avocado toast with cherry tomatoes and prosciuttoI guess that’s very useful wisdom for all of life: when managing colleagues at work, when bringing up the children, when comparing ourselves to others, etc.

Of course, in last decade, the world has tried to correct this by damning any sort of standard as hegemonic and as causing the victimisation of anyone who doesn’t/can’t conform. But the worldview that undergirds this is fundamentally rusty – a sort of postmodernism that insists (when convenient) that every view is right, every trait is good, and that the self-affirmative happiness of the individual is paramount.

avocado toast with salamiIn many evangelical circles, perhaps in a wholesale stand against postmodernity, the opposite is the norm. Not only do we concern ourselves with a ranking of churches with good doctrine and teachers with good Bible handling skills, we categorise the rest of the congregation too so that on the top-most layer are the people we consider “sorted”, or “blokes/birds worth watching”.

Certain Standard, Erroneous Observation/Communication

Certainly godliness and Christ-likeness is the standard we must, as God’s saved people and adopted children, all conform to. But we will all fail at this time and again, either publicly or in the privacy of our hearts.

Further, how godliness is expressed in the minutiae in everyday life might differ. In this fallen world, there is probably wisdom in allowing for the misinterpretation of the speech and actions because of our own fallenness and/or the inadvertent miscommunication by others.

Erroneous Standard/Attribution

Evangelical circles also highly prize those with teaching and preaching gifts. Those gifts are certainly very important for the life of the church and individual Christians, because we grow by feeding on the word of God  teaching.

Perhaps our first error is to conflate godliness with good Bible-handling skills. Ability to teach is merely one of the many characteristics required of an overseer in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and is not expected of all Christians.

Perhaps our second error is to assume that only one sort of gift is valuable. What about the almost enviable gifts of encouragement or administration?

And perhaps our third error is to esteem the gift and the gifted, rather than the gifter.

And perhaps our fourth error is to forget that the gift is not for the individual (and his/her ego) but for the good of the church.

1 Corinthians 12:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body”, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body”, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”, nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honourable we bestow the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honour to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way. (and on to 1 Corinthians 13…)

Loads of wisdom needed. One thing is sure: avocado is not bacon.

Royal York Crescent, Clifton, Bristol

Anyway, just a mind-dump before heading out into the Bristol sunshine. JB suspects my week of working inside on Proverbs at his dining table (while the beautiful symmetry of the Royal York Crescent beckoned outside) means I don’t like Bristol much!