Change You Can Believe In
Wednesday of Pentecost 13
11 September 2019

While touring among the ruins of the temples of classical Greek antiquity, our tour guide clucked often about the habit of the early Christians either to turn such temples into Christian churches or to deface and destroy them. It seemed such a shame that these paragons of architectural virtue should have been so abused. The ruination of the temples offended our modern aesthetic sensibilities. What would God think of such things? While God certainly had a love of architecture, as the Old Testament testifies (1Chron 28-29), He also had a deep disdain for the kind of kingdom building and the showy architecture that only glorified human achievement instead of divine grace. He was willing that His Son should come into the world born in a peasant hovel (Lk 2). I found it interesting, despite all the clucking against the Christians, that so many more Greek temples were ruined by the periodic earthquakes that shake up the Greek peninsula than by Christian vandals. Many of the temples we saw were just ruins knocked over like a child knocks over a Lego house; columns laid out slice by slice. So much for nice architecture. God saw to pagan temples using His own means, just as He had seen to the ruin of the temple in Jerusalem in His own way (Lk 21:6). Human pride and self-righteousness is torn down by God one way or another.


The early Greek Christians looked upon the classical temples with a high suspicion, recognizing them as places dedicated to the worship of demons. They recognized that the local outcroppings of the Greek pantheon, which changed with place and time indicated the false and faithless nature of the gods of that pantheon. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who became incarnate of Mary was quite different, faithful as He is toward us and unchangeable in that faithfulness. Athanasius of Alexandria (c. A.D. 293-373) showed remarkably good historical consciousness, understanding the actual functioning of the Greek pantheon. He contrasted the stability of God's faithfulness in Christ to the waxing and waning of the local godlings, who in various places changed roles, functions, names, and sometimes fell out of favor and were forgotten. What sort of god is that impermanent? None at all (1Co 8:4-6).


God's unchangeableness is not merely one of those "Greek" divine characteristics attributed to the Christian God for philosophical reasons (as some scholars assert), but God's unchangeableness contrasted directly with the Greek gods, who were not merely changeable, but capriciously so. The Christians understood that God's unchangeableness was deeply related to God's promises to save His people in Christ. God's attributes were not just borrowed nor did they spring from philosophical considerations. God's permanence vouched safe God's gospel to us, His people. Christ's permanence would have been brought into question if Arius had triumphed in his opinion that Christ was not fully God but a lesser creature of God. How could such a mere creature escape the impermanence characteristic of the Greek pantheon? How could such a mere creature assure a permanent faith and unchangeable salvation to us humans, prone as we are to change and all the ravages of time? We are saved because He promises to save sinners and He cannot go back on His promises because He is not subject to change as God. His changelessness makes an enormous change for us poor sinners; declared right in God's sight as He promised in Christ. Now that's change you can believe in.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Athanasius of Alexandria
"The so-called gods of the Greeks, unworthy as they are of the name, are faithful neither in their essence nor in their promises; for the same are not everywhere. In fact, the local deities come to naught in course of time, and undergo a natural dissolution. Therefore, the Word cries out against them, that faithfulness is not strong in them, but they are 'waters that fail' (Is 58:11). But the God of all, being one really and indeed and true, is faithful, who is ever the same, and says, 'See now, that I, even I am He' (Deut 32:39) and I 'change not' (Mal 3:6). Therefore His Son is 'faithful,' being ever the same and unchanging, deceiving neither in His essence nor in His promise. The Apostle writing to the Thessalonians says, 'He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it' (1Thess 5:24), for in doing what He promises, 'He is faithful to His words' (Ps 145:13). The Apostle defines the word unchangeable: 'If we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself' (2Ti 2:13). Therefore, the writer to the Hebrews, while discoursing about the bodily presence of the Word, reasonably calls Christ an apostle and faithful to Him who made Him (Heb 3:1-2) showing us that, even when made man, 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever' (Heb 13:8) is unchangeable.
"Since the writer to the Hebrews makes mention of His being made man when mentioning His high priesthood, so too he did not keep silent about His Godhead, but rather mentions it immediately, furnishing to us a safeguard on every side, and most of all when he speaks of His humility, that we may from the beginning know His loftiness and His majesty which is the Father's. For instance, he says, Moses is a servant, but Christ is a Son (Heb 3:5-6). Moses was 'faithful in his house,' and the Christ 'over the house,' as having built it Himself, and being its Lord and framer, and as God sanctifying it. For Moses, a man by nature, became faithful, in believing the God who spoke to Him by His Word. But the Word was not as one of things created in a body, nor as a creature in a creature, but as God in flesh, and framer of all and builder in that which was built by Him. Men are clothed in flesh in order to be and to subsist. But the Word of God was made man in order to make holy the flesh. Though He was Lord, He was in the form of a servant; for the whole creature is the Word's servant, which by Him came to be, and was made."

Athanasius, Four Discourses Against the Arians, 2.10
Psalm 119:97-104

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. (ESV)
Dear Lord Jesus, You have been unchangeable in Your faithfulness to us poor sinners. You have come to serve us bearing our flesh of little Mary and in that flesh You have raised us from the fear of Your wrath to peace in Your loving arms. Help us to await the fulfillment of Your promises to us, that we might receive all that You want us to have. Amen.
For Jim Keller, who has been diagnosed with cancer, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength and healing
For Ann Olsen, that she would be granted peace and strength from her gracious Lord
For all active duty military personnel who are in serving their country, including Andrew Coulter, Jack Ogden, Troy Gaub, Heidi Baker, Robert Baker, Chaplain Donald Ehrke, Alyssa Brim, and Nathan Hunt, that they would be kept safe as they carry out their duty
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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