of the Nephilim
Testament Reading: Genesis 6:1-4
Testament Readings: Colossians 1:19-20; 1 Peter 3:18-20
one takes the trouble to tie together some of the intriguing loose ends of
the Bible, those verses and passages which seem to suggest odd
implications that hardly fit into any familiar theological system,
sometimes one discovers strange things indeed. The three passages we just
read are an example. Together they suggest the exotic notion that other
beings besides Homo Sapiens once fell into sin and that, stranger still,
they were redeemed by Jesus Christ.
These are the mysterious
entities called the Nephilim, the mythic titans of the Bible from whom
Nimrod and Goliath of Gath were descended. Colossians says Christ died to
reconcile the heavenly beings called Principalities and Powers to himself
and to end their estrangement from God. And before Easter Morning he went
in ghostly form to the unthinkable place of their imprisonment, as if pure
spirit can be confined, and there he preached to them some alien gospel.
What sort of gospel would
it have been? And can we picture these vast superhuman intelligences
passing the ages spinning out theologies of the Cross based on that
unknown redemption? Was there an Anselm, a Gregory, among the ranks of the
Alas, it is a secret
forever closed to the prying eyes of mere mortals, as when in the Book of
Revelation the Seven Thunders sounded forth some message too potent for
human ears, and John the Seer was bidden seal it up! If there were in fact
a Gospel of the Nephilim, we could never know it. Our own redemption is
enough to occupy us for a long time to come.
What I have just said may
seem to be nothing but the vainest variety of speculation, yet I think the
notion of an unknowable Gospel of the angels and Giants is a useful foil,
a kind of missing piece, an implicit benchmark by which our religious
expectations and disappointments are often measured. Before I am done
this morning I hope you will see what I mean.
You see, I am convinced
that the great temptation for religious seekers is to strive for a gospel
not meant for them. If, as 1 Peter says, the angels longed to look into
the things concerning our salvation, it is equally true that the eyes of
mortal man seek with Promethean curiosity to seize a religious reality too
great and too high for them. God's great messengers have always had to
deal with this lust.
"The Pharisees came and
began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him.
And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, 'Why does this generation
seek a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign shall be given to this
generation.'" (Mark 8:11-12)
"For Jews demand signs
and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block
to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and
Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians
"Those who disbelieve
say, 'If only a portent were sent down upon him from his Lord!' Lo, Allah
sendeth whom he will astray, and guideth unto himself all who turn unto
him." (Quran 13:27)
What is the matter with
this demand? It is just that it is Promethean, Faustian. It is seeking a
salvation, a revelation, never intended for it, and such seeking is sin.
Here is what Arthur Machen says on the subject in his classic tale, "The
"The essence of sin
really is ... in the taking of heaven by storm.... It appears to me that
it is simply an attempt to penetrate into another and higher sphere in a
forbidden manner. You can understand why it is so rare. There are few,
indeed, who wish to penetrate into other spheres, higher or lower, in ways
allowed or forbidden. Men, in the mass, are amply content with life as
they find it. Therefore there are few saints, and sinners (in the proper
sense) are fewer still.... Yes; on the whole, it is, perhaps, harder to be
a great sinner than a great saint.... There is something profoundly
unnatural about sin... Holiness requires as great, or almost as great,
an effort; but holiness works on lines that were natural once; it is an
effort to recover the ecstasy that was before the Fall. But sin is an
effort to gain the ecstasy and the knowledge that pertain alone to angels,
and in making this effort, man becomes a demon.... The saint endeavours to
recover a gift which he has lost; the sinner tries to obtain something
which was never his. In brief he repeats the Fall."
In short, those who
demanded a sign from Jesus, Paul, Muhammad, all sought a superhuman
gospel, a salvation fit for angels, a gospel written in the heavens and
engraved in miracles.
In Corinth there was
prevalent a Christianity of this type. Its members called themselves the
"spiritual ones." Church historians called them Gnostics, for they had,
they thought, attained that knowledge (gnosis) that is beyond the
heavens, beyond the angels, even beyond the Old Testament God himself!
And such knowledge, they
claimed, elevated them to the height of the Nietzschean Superman, beyond
worldly good and evil.
Their worship consisted
of pneumatic ecstasies, prophetic rantings, boasts of visions and
revelations -- and contempt toward those not similarly enlightened.
Paul, who was by no means
himself opposed to displays of the Spirit, bade them think again-- were
they really so superhuman? Had the mundane world really ended for them?
Had they attained final glory? He tried to bring them down to earth, to
show them that the bands of flesh and blood, of community and the mutual
obligation to love and serve, still bound them to planet earth.
The Gospel of the
Nephilim is not for poor mortals, for we are lower than the angels. And as
Machen says, the attempt to transcend that humble status makes us into
demons. At least into obnoxious and destructive fanatics. Have you ever
met the believer in "Christian Perfection" who believes he has transcended
sin? True, he is no longer aware of sinning, but his first sin of
pride blinds him to all others.
Enough about those
deluded souls who imagine themselves to live among the angels already in
this life. I think the greater tragedy is that of those who turn away
from the Christian preaching because it is merely that of human beings,
merely for human beings, not for angels, not for Titans.
They will not believe in
the gospel unless a resurrected man shows them the nail-holes. They want
nothing to do with it if it is not encased in an inerrant book that
dropped from heaven.
Listen to the scene of
Jesus' return to the Nazareth synagogue as Mark tells it. Jesus preaches,
and no one can deny he is quite impressive. But still they are offended at
him. Why? Simply this: "They said, 'Is not this the carpenter, the son of
Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his
sisters here with us?' And they took offense at him" (Mark 6:3).
Jesus' prophethood is
discredited by the simple fact that he is one of themselves, a man like
them. In their minds, that settles it. He can be nothing more, and it
seems to them an intolerable putting on of airs to imagine more! John
7:27-28 says pretty much the same thing: "Can it be that the authorities
really know that this is the Christ? Yet we know where this man comes
from; and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from."
In other words, he is not
mysterious enough! That's why a sign from heaven would go a long way
towards enhancing his credibility!
But the word of God does
not come with signs to be observed! It is not so weak that it must rely on
extraneous fireworks and miraculous advertising! It carries its own
convincing power for those who have ears to hear. Those who are on the
side of the truth hear its voice.
This is what Paul said,
congratulating his Thessalonian converts: "When you received the word of
God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but
as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers"
(1 Thessalonians 1:13).
Why does the word of God,
the message of a new life in Christ, come to you in this humble,
unverifiable, distinctly unmiraculous way, simply through stammering human
witnesses like me? Because you do not speak with the tongues of angels.
What the Seven Thunders have said is not for the likes of you.
The Jesus rejected at
Nazareth for being merely a Nazarene comes to you in that guise, because
you too are no more than Nazarenes! "For consider your call,
brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not
many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is
foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the
world to shame the strong" (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).
It is a gospel not for
some imaginary world where there is no pain for Christians. Any gospel
that promises such things is a deception and a sham. It is a gospel that
gives something to cling to when there is pain -- even if that
something is the splintered cross of Christ!
It is not a gospel for
those beyond all strictures of good and evil. For no one has gone
beyond them, Promethean arrogance or Bohemian cynicism notwithstanding!
It may be that in some
far-off day, when God is All-in-All, that the distinction between good and
evil may become obsolete and stultified. But until then, you cannot
transcend morality. If Nietzsche tells you you can, he is wrong! If Ramtha
tells you you have, you have not! God, I think, is beyond good and
evil, but you, my friend are not!
It is not a gospel that
propels its believer into a never-never land where the soul communes alone
with Jesus Christ to the exclusion of all outside, for there is no such
zone except your own religious narcissism. You cannot have a relationship
with Christ in a cozy devotional womb cut off from others, since the only
Christ we know of was the one sent into the world. He never was the
property of any one devotee, and he is no more now! You may wait for him
in your devotional closet built for two, but he will never join you there
in its cloying confines!
The gospel for you is a
gospel for your brothers and sisters as well. You cannot define your
Christianity without them! You must factor in their weaknesses and
sensitivities as you make your Christian decisions, and not be like the
Corinthians who forgot they lived on the planet with everyone else!
The cross has a bottom!
It is firmly rooted in the profane earth, the earth soaked with the
violently shed blood of the Messiah who died there, and your devotion has
no business straying very far away! It can never rightly soar free into
the higher spheres of the Principalities and Powers! The Gospel of the
Nephilim is not your Gospel!
The gospel is a great
power, yet it comes to you with no form or comeliness that you should
desire it. It commands but does not compel your belief. No heavenly signs
emblazon its coming. It does not launch you off into the third heaven, but
leaves you firmly down on the earth. Because that is where human life is
to be lived. That is where you will find those Christ wants you to serve
and love. And though he may have preached a different gospel to fallen
spirits in their ultramundane prison, for you he has appeared only on your
earth, and you can meet him nowhere else.
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