Saturday, January 30, 2010

Solomon's Idolatry

When Solomon became old, his wives shifted his allegiance to other gods; he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his God, as his father David had been. – 1 Kings 11:4 (NET)

As Solomon “had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines” (11:3a), it is not surprising to find that “his wives had a powerful influence over him” (11:3b). Israel’s God had warned His people that such entangling relationships “will surely shift your allegiance to their gods” (11:2b), but Solomon, unfortunately, did not heed this warning.

He had been very much a king in the mold that God intended for His covenant people. God had made Solomon a shining light. God had granted Him “firm control of the kingdom” (2:46b), while also giving him “supernatural wisdom to make judicial decisions” (3:28b). During his reign, “The people of Judah and Israel were as innumerable as the sand on the seashore” (4:20a), which is a hearkening voice to God’s covenant with Abraham to make his descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth. In another allusion to the promise that Abraham’s descendants would bless all peoples, we find that “People from all nations came to hear Solomon’s display of wisdom; they came from all the kings of the earth who heard about his wisdom” (4:34).

With that, our eyes are cast to the second Psalm, where we read, “So now, you kings, do what is wise; you rulers of the earth, submit to correction!” (2:10). In many ways, Solomon provides the model for Israel’s messiah; and the flourishing of God’s people under his rule points to the blessings bestowed upon the people of God in union with His anointed Messiah (Jesus the Christ). Yes, “King Solomon was wealthier and wiser than any of the kings of the world. Everyone in the world wanted to visit Solomon to see him display his God-given wisdom” (10:23-24). A shining light of God’s glory for the world to see indeed!

But then, idolatry. “The Lord was angry with Solomon because he had shifted his allegiance away from the Lord, the God of Israel, Who had appeared to him on two occasions” (11:9). By his idolatry, Solomon had broken faith (shifted allegiance). He had violated the primary terms of God’s covenant with His people, which were to avoid idolatry, to reverence His sanctuary, and to keep His Sabbaths. His entrance into idolatry is the context for God coming to him and saying, “Because you insist on doing these things and have not kept the covenantal rules I gave you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant” (11:11b). With that, “The Lord brought against Solomon an enemy” (11:14a).

The fact that idolatry was the issue at hand in the tearing away of the kingdom, and its eventual division into northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdoms, is reinforced by the message delivered to the man who would become the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. The prophet Ahijah speaks to Jeroboam, a man whom Solomon had made a leader of a work crew (11:28) and was thus one of Solomon’s servants, and says, “I am taking the kingdom from him because they have abandoned Me and worshiped the Sidonian goddess Astarte, the Moabite god Chemosh, and the Ammonite god Milcom. They have not followed My instructions by doing what I approve and obeying My rules and regulations, like Solomon’s father David did” (11:33). Furthermore, Jeroboam is told, “I will select you; you will ruler over all you desire to have and you will be king over Israel. You must obey all I command you to do, follow my instructions, do what I approve, and keep My rules and commandments, like My servant David did. Then I will be with you and establish for you a lasting dynasty as I did for David; I will give you Israel” (11:37-38). Naturally and not unexpectedly, “Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam” (11:40a).

So with the example of Solomon fresh in his mind and with the receipt of clear instruction from the Lord through His prophet, what did Jeroboam do? What was his first act as king of Israel? “After the king had consulted with his advisers, he made two golden calves. Then he said to the people, ‘It is too much trouble for you to go up to Jerusalem. Look, Israel, here are your gods who brought you up from the land of Egypt’.” (12:28) With this mention of Egypt, not only does he invoke memories of the disaster of the golden calf at Sinai, but couches the introduction of idolatry in the language of exodus, suggesting that Israel’s deliverance from real and potential enemies, and their deliverance from dominance by the tribe of Judah, was and will be connected with their worship of these idols, their newly minted gods.

God’s people rarely ever learn. With tremendous irony, it is almost immediately that Jeroboam engages in idolatry, while encouraging the people to do the same, which is the very thing that Solomon had done, and which had produced the result of Jeroboam becoming king in the first place. We read, quite plainly, that this action by Jeroboam “caused Israel to sin” (12:30a). That is, they traveled the same path that Solomon had traveled, submitting in worship to that which was created, willingly giving up their image-of-God-bearing-stewardship-over-God’s-creation. Thereby, it would be impossible for them to fulfill their covenant responsibilities to be lights to the surrounding nations (as Solomon and Israel had been for a time) that would bring glory to their God. This was sin.

Friday, January 29, 2010

In My Distress

In my distress, I cried out to the Lord and He answered me. – Psalm 120:1 (NET)

In this Psalm, we can see and hear Jesus. The Psalm begins plaintively. As we read these words in the searching light of our Lord and Savior, we hear Him saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it! Look, your house is left to you desolate!” (Matthew 23:37-38) Surely, this was a cry of distress on Jesus’ part.

The Psalmist writes, “I said, ‘O Lord, rescue me from those who lie with their lips and those who deceive with their tongue’.” (120:2) Turning again to the Gospels, Jesus says “Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, and they worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’.” (Matthew 15:7-9) Looking forward again to the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, we see Jesus repeatedly pronouncing “Woe to…experts in the law and you Pharisees,” doing so before reaching the words of that chapter that are quoted above.

Having uttered His cries of “woe” throughout chapter twenty-three of Matthew, the twenty-fourth chapter begins with Jesus’ declaration in regards to the Temple, that “not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!” (24:2b). With that, we revert back to the Psalm, where the question is posed, in regards to those who lie and deceive, as to “How will He severely punish you, you deceptive talker?” (120:3) The answer given is “Here’s how! With the sharp arrows of warriors, with arrowheads forged over the hot coals” (120:4). The experts in the law and the Pharisees---the blind guides that continued to lead the people of Jerusalem and all of Israel astray as they ultimately stood against Jesus---would most certainly come to experience the arrows and the arrowheads of Rome’s re-subjugation of their land during the revolt of 66-70 A.D. In that time, Jesus’ words of “All will be torn down” were brought to pass.

As Jesus looked forward to these things, the Psalmist’s simple declaration of “How miserable I am” (120:5) certainly rings true. Jesus mourned over Jerusalem. He wept over His people. He wanted His people to understand His message and the privileges of their covenant, but they did not. Perhaps they still do not truly understand?

The Psalmist continues, writing “For I have lived temporarily in Meshech; I have resided among the tents of Kedar” (120:5b). In John’s Gospel, we read that “the Word became flesh and took up residence among us” (1:14a). A literal translation could read that the Word, Jesus, “tabernacled among us.” The tabernacle, of course, was the temporary tent in which the God of Israel took up His residence among His people. When God took up temporary residence in a tent of flesh, “by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature” (Philippians 2:7b), He would become that which He had created in His own image. He temporarily took upon Himself the form of that which was precious in His sight. This is reflected in the use of the Hebrew word “Meshech,” which has the meaning of “precious.” Unfortunately, He also took flesh upon Himself and “resided among the tents of Kedar.” “Kedar” means “dark” or “darkness.”

With all of this said, we can now look to the Psalm and hear our Lord Jesus speaking directly, as we read, “For too long I have had to reside with those who hate peace” (120:6). The history of Israel leading up to, during, and following the time of Christ, was littered with those that attempted to accomplish God’s will through force of arms. They did not want to love their enemies, pray for those who persecuted them, or go the second mile when the Roman soldier legally requisitioned them to carry his pack for one mile. For too many of the people, Jesus was another chance at revolution and overthrow. He was indeed that chance, but not in the way that the people desired. He was there to overthrow death and to deliver God’s people from the exile of failing to bear Him image and to be lights for His glory. One can only imagine how many times the people, having heard the words and experienced the miracles of Jesus, attempted to make Him king by force. To that, we can hear Him say, with great frustration and wrenching of heart, “I am committed to peace, but when I speak, they want to make war” (120:7).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Christ's Peace

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; I do not give it to you as the world does. – John 14:37a (NET)

We find this statement from Jesus in the midst of what is considered to be part of His “parting words” to His disciples, before beginning His arduous trek to the cross and the grave. What would Jesus’ disciples have heard Him telling them with these words? To what was Jesus referring to when He spoke here of “peace,” and what did He mean when He said that He would give it to them, but not “as the world does”?

“Peace” would not necessarily have been used here as some type of existential term, denoting a certain way of feeling. The immediate context for its use would have been the way it was understood in that day. The peace of the day was the “pax romana,” or the “Roman peace.” It was a day in which “peace and security” were heralded. That peace and security, however, was brought about through Rome’s military might. It was a peace achieved through violent conflict and bloodshed. This understanding of “peace” would have been lurking in the background.

In that day, there was a great desire held by many Jews, to rid their land of the hated Romans; and many were looking to the miracle-worker and food-provider called Jesus of Nazareth to lead the revolution that would bring peace to their land in the form of the expulsion of their subjugating enemies. Not only would Jesus not bring this supposed form of peace to His people, saying that “I do not give it to you as the world does,” but He was intent on bringing a different type of peace, which would still have the effect of allowing all of His people---the ones that He said that the Father had given to Him---to overcome the subjugation of their greatest enemy, which was the one with which they would do constant battle, bearing the name of “death.”

We can see further evidence that Jesus might very well have been thinking of “peace” in such a context when He appears before Pilate. While standing before the man who represented Rome and its might, and having been questioned as to whether or not He was “the King of the Jews” (John 18:34), Jesus replied by saying, “My kingdom is not from this world” (18:36a). He was not going to establish His kingdom as the world does. He continued on to say, “If My kingdom were from this world, My servants would be fighting to keep Me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities” (18:36b). Had they fought, then the “peace” of Jesus’ kingdom would have been achieved in the same way as the Roman peace had been achieved. This peace, as we can see as we look through the history of the Roman empire, was not terribly peaceful outside of the city of Rome itself, as the years at which Rome was not at war our putting down rebellions in order to extend or preserve its peace were few and far between.

Finally, Jesus adds, “But as it is, My kingdom is not from here” (18:36c). With this, He reinforces the point that He has just made, saying, “As you can see, I have no servants fighting for Me. So yes, though I am a King, as you have said, My kingdom is dramatically different from any that has come before, is going to be established and inaugurated in a radically different way than you could possibly imagine, and it will be extended through the foolish means of telling people about the fact that I was crucified and raised up from the grave.”

After His Resurrection, when Jesus appears to His disciples, He says, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (20:21). Could this not have served as a reminder of words that He had spoken to them previously in regards to the peace that He was leaving with them and giving to them? His crucifixion had just taken place at the hands of the Romans, so it would have been quite natural for His disciples to be harboring a substantial measure of hostility towards them. Jesus came and reminded them that His kingdom was to be established according to His means. He came and reminded them that they were to extend the knowledge of God, and of God in Christ, to the peoples of all nations, including those very Roman soldiers that had nailed Him to His cross. Indeed, the disciples would have had the very example that Jesus had provided them, not only in remembrance of His daily course of life in which He routinely engaged with Gentiles, but in that He had asked the Father to forgive those that were involved in the terrible ordeal.

How could they do this? How could they extend His peace? They were fearful of the Jews and angry at the Romans. Clearly, Jesus was special. Sure, it was easy for Him to say that they needed to put aside their fear and their anger, and to go out of that place with Jesus’ mindset of “as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” For them, doing this was going to be a bit more difficult. Jesus knew that, so “after He said this, He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” (20:22) By that, His disciples were empowered to carry the Gospel message of Jesus as Lord, of peaceful submission to Him and His claim to rule. This would stand in stark contrast to the Caesar of Rome’s demand, at the point of the sword, to bow the knee in exchange for peace.

Let Nature Sing!

Let the sky rejoice, and the earth be happy! Let the sea and everything in it shout! – Psalm 96:11 (NET)

Let the sky rejoice? Let the earth be happy? Let the sea and everything in it shout? We could probably agree that this is rather odd language. Is it hyperbole? Of course it is, but it is also points to God’s eternal plan, and is an interesting contrast to what we read in the eighth chapter of Romans. There, we are given a glimpse into a situation in which the sky is not rejoicing, the earth is not happy, and the sea is not shouting. We read “For we know that whole creation groans and suffers together until now” (8:22).

Why does the creation groan? It groans because “it was subjected to futility---not willingly but because of God who subjected it” (8:20). God subjected it because God gave dominion over creation to the being that He created in His image. That being, man, by not trusting God, brought the curse of death and decay upon his race, and also upon the creation. The creation was subjected to futility. It was cursed with thorns and thistles. So it groans “in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (8:20b-21).

What is the glorious freedom of God’s children? The glorious freedom is the eternal life that is finally consummated in our being resurrected from the dead in the same way that Christ was resurrected from the dead. The glorious freedom is a glorified body that experiences the Resurrection power of God, just like Christ, here in the midst of God’s creation (just like Christ), in which we are free from death and decay---free from sorrows, pain, and suffering. The creation itself hopes for that freedom, in the same way that we “who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). We eagerly await our adoption and redemption, when we will also finally be declared to be the sons of God, with this declaration becoming final when we fully experience the power that raised up Christ from the dead and gave Him a new, glorified body.

When will this take place? It will take place when our Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified and resurrected Messiah of Israel and Lord of the world, finally consummates His kingdom and its renewal of God’s good creation that was inaugurated when He burst forth from the grave. It will take place when it is truly and finally said among all nations, “The Lord reigns! The world is established, it cannot be moved. He judges the nations fairly” (Psalm 96:10). It is then that the sky is encouraged to rejoice, and the earth to be happy, and the sea and everything in it to shout. When this time of renewed creation takes hold, under the eternal Lordship of our God and Christ, which will be plain for all to see as every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, we will say along with the Psalmist, “Let the fields and everything in them celebrate” (96:12a), for they will have been freed from their subjection, their thorns and their thistles.

We will say, “let the trees of the forest shout with joy before the Lord, for He comes!” (96:12b-13a) Why does He come? Not only does He come to finally bring in the glorious freedom of God’s children, but “He comes to judge the earth!” (96:13b). The Lord’s act of judging is not merely a casting down in condemnation, for the Lord also judges with liberation! The Lord judged Israel and delivered them from the bondage of Egypt. The Lord sent forth His judges in Israel to deliver them from their bondage. The Lord poured out the judgment of His wrath upon Jesus as He hung on the cross, so as to deliver us from the inescapable bondage of death. Yes, when the Lord judges the earth, it is the final consummation of the judgment against death that was delivered through His crucifixion and Resurrection. In that judgment, His children and His creation will be finally liberated from their long, dark night.

Along with Paul, the Psalmist saw this clearly, as he would go on to write, “Let the sea and everything in it shout, along with the world and those who live in it! Let the rivers clap their hands! Let the mountains sing in unison before the Lord! For He comes to judge the earth!” (98:7-9a) If we have eyes to see, the message of God’s restoration and renewal of creation, because of His judgment, is written large upon the pages of His Word.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I Am The Light Of The World

Then Jesus spoke out again, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 (NET)

Though this is verse twelve of the eighth chapter of John, it should actually be the first verse of the chapter. In truth, it should be a part of the seventh chapter, as with His words, Jesus appears to be addressing an issue raised in chapter seven. The reason that it should be the first verse of the chapter is that it is generally agreed upon that the story of the woman caught in adultery, which appears in the section from John 7:53 through John 8:11, is not contained in the earliest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John. It was almost certainly not originally a part of John’s Gospel, and some manuscripts even place it after Luke 21:38. Now, this is not to say that the account is not true or that it did not occur, but that it should not rightly be found here in this Gospel.

Indeed, it appears to interrupt a singular train of thought on the part of the author, artificially and unfortunately disconnecting what is presented in chapter eight from what is presented in chapter seven. What is going on in the seventh chapter? Jesus has secretly come to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles. This is one of the three fall feasts of the Jewish calendar (Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles), that mark the beginning of the New Year. We are told that Jesus “went up, not openly but in secret. So the Jewish leaders were looking for Him at the feast” (7:10b-11a). There was an aura of expectancy around Jesus, and “There was a lot of grumbling about Him among the crowds. Some were saying, ‘He is a good man,’ but others, “He deceives the common people’.” (7:12). Either way, Jesus was causing a stir and making an impact.

So Jesus bursts on the scene in the middle of the feast, making His appearance and teaching in the Temple courts. His wise words provoked astonishment amongst the leaders of the people. Sensing this, Jesus said, “My teaching is not from Me, but from the One Who sent Me” (7:16). His public speaking was all the more astonishing in that there was great, personal risk in its undertaking. We learn that when we read that “some of the residents of Jerusalem began to say, ‘Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Yet here He is, speaking publicly, and they are saying nothing to Him’.” (7:25-26a) One can imagine how quickly such words would spread through the crowds, bringing the inevitable conclusion of “Do the rulers really know that this man is the Christ?” (7:26b) This, however, presented a dilemma, because as it pertained to the Messiah, there was a generally held proposition that “Whenever the Christ comes, no one will know where he comes from” (7:27b). The dilemma is to be found in the people saying, “But we know where this man comes from” (7:27a). Added to this was the growing consensus about Jesus, and the growing number of those that believed Him to be the Messiah, reflected in the question of “Whenever the Christ comes, He won’t perform more miraculous signs than this Man, will he?” (7:31b).

As we progress through the chapter, we reach the final day of the feast, on which “Jesus stood up and shouted out, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me, and let the one who believes in Me drink. Just as the Scripture says, “From within Him will flow rivers of living water”’” (7:37b-38). With these words, Jesus quotes prophecies from Isaiah and Zechariah that are unmistakably messianic in nature, as they are connected to God’s redemptive actions on behalf of His people. It is for this reason that, “When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, ‘This really is the prophet!’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ!’ But still others said, ‘No, for the Christ doesn’t come from Galilee, does He?’” (7:40-41) It was words like these that prompted the chief priests and Pharisees to want to seize Jesus with the intention of putting Him to death. In addition, this issue of Jesus’ place of origin was a sticking point. With that piece of information alone, believing themselves to be fully cognizant of the full story when it came to Jesus place of birth and residence, His opponents seized on this piece of information.

From there, we go on to read about Nicodemus, who first appeared in the third chapter of John. Nicodemus, having obviously become a believer, defends Jesus, saying “Our law doesn’t condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” (7:51). Their response to this was “You aren’t from Galilee too, are you? Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!” (7:52) They were certain that the Messiah would not spring from that region, which brings us to our main point, and the fact that, with the elimination of the story of the woman caught in adultery, it is immediately following these words that the author has Jesus diffusing the entire “Galilee issue” by saying, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12). How so?

Turning to Matthew, we find him quoting from Isaiah in regards to Jesus and the fulfillment of messianic hopes, as he writes, “Galilee of the Gentiles---the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, and on those who sit in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned” (4:15b-16). To “Galilee of the Gentiles” and the associated “great light,” we can add Simeon’s prophecy from the second chapter of Luke, in which he calls the Messiah “a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel” (2:32). While we know that Jesus is the light and hope of the world, His words in this context were pronounced with a clear, prophetic and historical referent. This was not simply a spiritual saying, disconnected from the very realistic situation that Jesus was addressing. By saying what He said, He was making it clear that He was the Messiah, but only for those with ears to hear.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Noah & Abraham

By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. – Hebrews 11:7 (NET)

Such an interesting character, this Noah fellow. We love to tell the story of him and his ark, of God’s judgment upon wickedness through the flooding of the world, and the miraculous preservation of the animals, as they, along with Noah and his family, rested safe in the ark. Here in Hebrews, we learn something quite interesting about Noah. We learn that “he was warned about things not yet seen.” Essentially, in this, though it was negative, Noah was given a promise of something to come. Having received this warning, Noah, “with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family.” So Noah, though he could not look out and see what God had promised, responded in faith to the promise by building an ark for the purpose of delivering his family. What was the result of this? We can see that “he condemned the world,” but more importantly for our purposes here, through this response of faith to the unseen promise of God he “became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”

Who does this sound like? It sounds a lot like Abraham. If we look into the fourth chapter of Romans, what is it that we find there in regards to Abraham? We read “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (4:3b). With this, of course, the Apostle Paul is quoting from the fifteenth chapter of the book of Genesis. Before we can get there, however, we need to know why this is said of Abraham. In chapter of twelve of Genesis, God speaks to Abram and says, “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing” (12:1b-2). Here, we could safely pause and say that Noah, in the salvation that God offered to him, most assuredly exemplified divine blessing.

God continues speaking to Abram and says, “I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name” (12:3). With this, we can further connect Abraham and Noah, as Abraham stands in the line of covenant speaking and covenant language that begins with Noah, because there is only a people to be blessed through the nation into which God has promised to make him, because God told Noah, and Noah was faithful to, “be fruitful and multiply; increase abundantly on the earth and multiply on it” (Genesis 9:7).

Continuing on, we arrive in chapter fifteen, where Abraham, still childless though having a promise from God, says “O sovereign Lord, what will you give me since I continue to be childless, and my heir is Eliezer of Damascus?... Since you have not given me a descendant, then look, one born in my house will be my heir!” (15:2-3) Abraham was taking God very seriously. He was not wavering at the promise. These are questions rooted in faith. Because of that, God does not rebuke Abraham but says to him, “This man will not be your heir, but instead a son who comes from your own body will be your heir… Gaze into the sky and count the stars---if you are able to count them!... So will your descendants be” (15:4-5). Here is where we find the source of Paul’s quote in Romans, where we then read “Abraham believed the Lord, and the Lord considered his response of faith as proof of genuine loyalty” (15:6). Here, along with seeing that righteousness is equated with a genuine loyalty to God, we learn that just like Noah, Abraham was given a promise of things not yet seen, reverently regarded the promise of God, and through faith became an heir of righteousness.

Going forward in Romans, we find that “Against hope Abraham believed in hope with the result that he became the father of many nations according to the pronouncement, ‘so will your descendants be’.” (4:18) Like Abraham, did not Noah believe God against all reasonable probability? For Noah, what God was talking about seemed highly unlikely, based on mankind’s experience up to that point, and it was no different for Abraham. Yet Abraham, and Noah likewise, “did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God” (4:20). God received glory through Noah’s faith-motivated construction of the ark, in confident expectation that his God would deliver on His promise. Both Noah and Abraham were “fully convinced that what God had promised He was also able to do” (4:21). This “was credited to Abraham as righteousness” (4:22), which is what the Hebrews’ author says of Noah as well.

So what is it to which all of this is leading? Just like Noah, and just like Abraham, who became the heir of righteousness (Noah) and the father of many nations (Abraham) when they believed, so we too become heirs of God’s promise of a resurrection just like Jesus when we believe, by Holy Spirit gifted faith, in His new covenant of the Gospel message that Jesus is Lord. We become recipients of the down payment and heirs of the complete inheritance of eternal life that is set forth in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul writes, in the same way that Abraham was credited with a complete trust in God’s covenant faithfulness, it is us “to whom it will be credited, those who believe in the One Who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:24). Though Noah became an heir of righteousness that comes by faith, “God had provided something better for us” (Hebrews 11:40a), as we live and walk and serve in Christ’s Resurrection power, as instruments for the out-raying of God’s glory.

Splendor & Amazing Deeds

Tell the nations about His splendor! Tell all the nations about His amazing deeds! – Psalm 96:3 (NET)

Why? “For the Lord is great and certainly worthy of praise; He is more awesome than all gods” (96:4). Along those same lines, the Psalmist goes on to write, “For all the gods of the nations are worthless” (96:5a). What gods were those? Well, the history of religions throughout the world shows us the answer, as we see men worshiping the moon, the sun, the stars, the planets, comets and even the sky itself, ascribing divine powers and attributes, mythologies and legends, to such things. Men looked to the heavens and imagined that the things that filled their view, and even the things that filled the sky, such as lightning and thunder and even the rain itself in some cases, were there to be worshiped. In that light, we hear the Psalmist saying, “but the Lord made the sky” (96:5b). We can hear the writer mocking such ideas, and saying, “You think thunder and lightning is impressive? You think that the sun and moon are to be worshiped because of the light that they give?” His rejoinder to that is “Majestic splendor emanates from Him” (96:6a).

As we move through this Psalm, we must recognize the underlying emphasis on the covenant. The covenant, of course, was for God’s chosen people---the ones that would have this Psalm as part of their Holy writ---to be a blessing to all peoples. The telling of His splendor and the telling of His amazing deeds was partly for the purpose of dragging men away from the idolatrous worship of the creation, rather than the worship of the Creator, and to re-direct them from the ongoing self-subjugation of divine image-bearers that is evil’s distortion of God’s good, created order.

From the moment that God laid hands upon Abraham and set Him apart for His covenant purposes, God intended the message of His faithfulness to be shed abroad to all the peoples of the world. We can see that in God’s strategic positioning of Abraham, in the land of Canaan, that would enable him to interact with the peoples of the world. Abraham’s message was to be the testimony of the promises of His faithful God. Unfortunately, as time progressed, this message became isolated. This message became restricted. God’s people, those that were to be light-bearers for the purpose of the increase of God’s glory, became cities on a hill that were actually hidden, and candles that had been lit and actually placed under a basket. This happened in spite of their possession and memorization and recitation of Psalms such as this one, in which God’s all-nations plan and intention is clearly set forth.

We see it in the first verse, which exclaims to “Sing to the Lord, all the earth!” (96:1b). Why was all the earth to sing? Why should the earth, the nations, do so? This was to occur because Israel would tell of what their God had done for them, in demonstration of His strength, His power, and His worthiness to receive praise. They were to “Announce every day how He delivers! (96:2b) Talk of deliverance must, of necessity, be connected to exile, subjection, imprisonment, and enslavement. It is Exodus language. Through telling their story of their deliverance from Egypt, God was to be glorified. This was to be a major component of their praises. For Israel, what could be more splendid and amazing than what He had performed for them in fulfilling His promise to rescue His people from Egypt? Because of the celebration of Passover, this story would always be fresh in their memories and ready to be told.

We can see what God intended for this world when we read, “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the nations, ascribe to the Lord splendor and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the splendor He deserves!” (96:7-8a). This could only take place if God’s people are telling “the nations about His splendor,” and informing “all the nations about His amazing deeds” (96:3). Unfortunately, just like Israel, who turned inward upon themselves and were more concerned about their place and their land and their blessings, God’s people still turn inward, becoming focused on themselves and make personal, individualistic spiritual experiences the end of the Gospel.

When the message becomes what we need to do or be or avoid in order to be good and holy people, then it is nearly impossible to tell about His splendor and His amazing deeds. If such is not happening, then people of God’s choosing that are waiting to hear the Gospel, will never come to the point at which they are able to do anything that remotely resembles the ascribing to the Lord that is the evidence that they have become people of His covenant, sharing in eternal life, as they “bring an offering and enter His courts!” (96:8b) In the telling of His splendor and deeds, all the earth would “Tremble before Him” (96:9b). It is only as we proclaim “The Lord reigns!” (96:10b), will it be confessed that “The Lord reigns!” The question presents itself at all times: are we announcing our God and telling about Him and therefore doing that which generates and brings Him praise and allegiance? Or do we go on speaking of ourselves?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Subject To Rulers & Authorities (part 2 of 2)

After recounting his own position, that of his people, and undoubtedly that of humankind in general as part of his insistence that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ rightfully submit themselves to rulers and authorities, in spite of foolishness, disobedience, being misled, enslavement, evil, enviousness, and hatefulness, Paul writes, “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of His mercy” (Titus 3:4-5a). Effectively, for Paul, the kindness of God appeared when Christ, the Messiah, appeared. He adds to that, that the kindness was applied “through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (3:5b). This washing and renewing, again, demonstrating the kindness of God, was fully manifested in “Jesus Christ our Savior” (3:6b), for it was in Him that God “poured out on us in full measure” (3:6a), the Spirit that would lead to the reception of His salvation.

With the possibility of multiple underlying meanings, and in what is perhaps yet another hearkening back to considerations of the covenant and the responsibility of God’s chosen people within God’s covenant plan, Paul notes that “He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of His mercy” (3:5a). Throughout his writings, when Paul uses the term “righteousness,” he is not doing so in a broad-based way or in a nod to performance of what might be considered to be “good works” in the moral sphere. Almost without fail, when Paul writes “righteousness,” he is making a direct reference to God’s covenant faithfulness. Here, in light of what comes immediately before it, as he is both encouraging believers to be submissive to authorities while at the same time remembering his own people’s failure to be properly submissive to those authorities, it is reasonable to hear Paul extolling God’s covenant faithfulness yet again, by reminding his readers that neither God’s people Israel, who had been given the knowledge of God’s covenant, nor God’s people of renewed Israel in Christ, had entered into righteousness. That is, none had been faithful to God’s covenant requirements to be a light to the nations so as to bring Him glory. In spite of that, God proffered His salvation, dragging His people out of their long exile in the realm of death and separation from Him, and gifting them with His eternal life through belief in the Lordship of His Christ. This was done entirely through His mercy.

Looking again to the fifth and sixth verses, and the all-important Resurrection power that is shared with us through our union with Christ by the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith (washing and renewing), we are propelled forward to verse seven, and find that “since we have been justified by His grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (3:7). In other words, by the work of the Holy Spirit we are justified. We are made faithful to God’s covenant. We are made faithful to the message of the Gospel, and its message of the eternal Lordship of Jesus Christ, which began when He was shown forth for all to see that He was the Son of God by the power displayed through His Resurrection. Naturally, this justification, this being brought to the place of trusting that God has been faithful to His covenant because of Christ, is the result of the gracious gift of faith that is delivered through the hearing of the Gospel. That gift of faith is delivered through the preaching of the Gospel that is the very power of God for salvation.

The confident expectation of eternal life is based on the Resurrection of Christ Himself. Because He was raised, we also expect to be raised, overcoming the power of death in the same way in which Christ overcame that power. We enjoy that expectation because we have been given a measure of His eternal life, which we know that we have as we believe the Gospel by the Spirit’s empowering gift of faith, enjoying that measure of God’s Resurrection power right here and right now, and serving Him by that same power. We are raised with Christ in confident expectation and hope of a renewal to come, and our hope is such that death has no victory over us, for we know in Whom we have believed.

This confident expectation of eternal life is why it should not be a challenge to be subject to rulers and authorities, and why Paul can comfortably urge citizens of the present, inaugurated kingdom of heaven to present request, prayers, intercessions, and thanks “on behalf of all people, even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity,” adding that “Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1b-2). This demonstrates what must be the highest form of submissiveness, that of praying for those that might very well be enemies. Not only that, but submission in such ways furthers the spreading of God’s kingdom and the blessing of all peoples, as Paul reminds Timothy of God’s desire to draw peoples to Himself from all nations, writing that “He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2:4). This stands in accordance with the directives found in Titus, understood in the context of not only his and Israel’s own failures to live up to this ideal, but their active fight against doing so.

To this saying that is to be found in verses four through seven of the third chapter of Titus, which begins with the kindness of God our Savior and concludes with the confident expectation of eternal life, and is contexted by subjection, obedience, and a reminder of God’s people’s failure to be faithful to the covenant, Paul adds: “This saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on such truths, so that those who have placed their faith in God may be intent on engaging in good works. These things are good and beneficial for all people” (3:8).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Subject To Rulers & Authorities (part 1 of 2)

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work. – Titus 3:1 (NET)

Why would the Apostle Paul need to write such things to Titus? If we give it a moment’s thought, we’ll realize the eminent practicality of this communication. We can embark upon the process of realization by asking what it was that was the substance of the message that Paul preached? He preached, above all things, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Along with that over-arching message, Paul preached the crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. For Paul, Christ’s Resurrection is what demonstrated His Lordship over all things. Paul posited that the power that raised Christ from the dead was carried into the world for and through the preaching of the Gospel message, for the purpose of gifting eternal life to those who would believe that message, doing so by a faith gifted through the working of the Holy Spirit. Those who believed the Gospel, and thereby acknowledged Jesus as supreme Lord and Master and Savior, were then said to be in union with Christ, transferred from Satan’s kingdom into the kingdom of Christ.

With his understanding of human nature, Paul would have been keenly aware of where it was that such a realization could lead. As we come to terms with the substance of this message for ourselves, we’ll have to admit that it would be quite easy for us to take the position that, since we are under the Lordship of Christ, and seeing as how He is Lord of all, with all principalities and power and rules and authorities under His feet, then we no longer need to submit to the human rulers to whom we find ourselves subjected. “If we are a part of Christ’s kingdom,” some might think, “then we are in union with Christ and rule with Him, so we do not need to indulge any human authorities with our continued obedience or support.” Such thoughts that would have naturally arisen are why it was so practical and appropriate for Paul to tell Titus to “Remind them,” that being the believers in his charge, “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.”
Of course, this is not the only time that Paul touches on this subject. In his letter to the Romans, Paul instructs the recipients of that letter, believers that are located in the power center of the world, writing “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (13:1). “Yes,” Paul would say, “Jesus has had all things put under His feet, and yes, all are subject to Him, even the Caesar;” but also, “there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment” (13:1b-2). By way of digression, we could note that the truth of Paul’s communication would be remarkably displayed during the Jewish revolt of 66-70 A.D., which resulted in the devastating destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the banishment of Jews from their promised land.

Returning to Titus, Paul adds to his instructions regarding subjection, obedience, and readiness, writing that “They must not slander anyone, but be peaceable, gentle, showing complete courtesy to all people” (3:2). This is Paul’s charge to those that call Christ Lord. The question of “why” would probably have been ventured at this point. Answering that question, Paul writes, “For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another” (3:3). Paul could very well have been speaking biographically here, reflecting on his attitude towards the Roman rulers and authorities to whom he had been subject for the entirety of his life.

If he was speaking biographically, then it would have been natural for him to extend his thinking beyond his own mindset and to consider the attitude towards Rome held almost universally by the nation of Israel. In that attitude and mindset, in which hopes of rebellion and revolt played such a large part---with its narrow focus on the nationalistic benefits to be obtained through God’s action on behalf of Israel through a warring and conquering Messiah---words such as foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved, evil, envious, and hateful could have sprung to mind. If Paul was indeed reflecting on God’s covenant with His people who were given the responsibility to be a light to the nations and a blessing to all peoples, and their failure to come anywhere close to that ideal though given repeated warnings and experiences of God’s power that should have jolted them on to that path, then perhaps such thoughts were entirely appropriate.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


“Every seven years each of you must free any fellow Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. After they have served you for six years, you shall set them free.” – Jeremiah 34:14a (NET)

This seems simple enough, and is prefaced with God’s reminder to His people, through Jeremiah, that “I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt where they had been slaves” (34:13b). The text above is what follows. Because the people of Israel had been in perpetual slavery in Egypt, God wanted to be sure that His people did not perpetually enslave any of their fellow countrymen. Just as God had entered in to their situation in order to free them from their slavery to Egypt, having heard the groaning of His people in their oppression, so God was here entering in, in a sense, to make sure that a state of slavery among His people would not be persistent. Not only was the basis for the freeing of slaves rooted in the remembrance of their Egyptian slavery and subsequent deliverance, but the act of freeing the slaves would be a great reminder of God’s saving power. Unfortunately, we go on to hear God saying “But your ancestors did not obey Me or pay any attention to Me” (34:14b).

What was the basis for this communication? During the reign of King Zedekiah there was an agreement that the people of Jerusalem were “to grant their slaves freedom” (34:8b). It had been the case that “All the people and their leaders had agreed to this” (34:10a). We read that, “They originally complied with the covenant and freed them. But later they had changed their minds. They had taken back their male and female slaves that they had freed and forced them to be slaves again” (34:10c-11). “That was when the Lord spoke to Jeremiah” (34:12), expressing His displeasure at this situation.

For a moment, by freeing their slaves, the people showed God something different than what He had been consistently shown by their ancestors. Through Jeremiah, God says to His people that “Recently…you yourselves showed a change of heart and did what is pleasing to Me” (34:15a). They actually showed some trust in their God, relying upon His just decrees and trusting that things would work out just fine even if they were to suffer what might seem to be financial loss in releasing their slaves. God says that they pleased Him in that “You granted your fellow countrymen their freedom and you made a covenant to that effect in My presence in the house that I have claimed for My own” (34:15b). However, they quickly returned to form, as God says “But then you turned right around and showed that you did not honor Me. Each of you took back your male and female slaves whom you had freed as they desired, and you forced them to be your slaves again” (34:16).

This turn of events was not going to go well for them. They violated the terms of their covenant. They went right back to being oppressors. They did not want to remember Egypt and God’s saving power. God’s response to this is to grant His people freedom. Yes, in the midst of this continued rebellious forsaking of covenant, God says “Therefore, I will grant you freedom, the freedom to die in war, or by starvation or disease. I, the Lord, affirm it. I will make all the kingdoms of the earth horrified at what happens to you” (34:17b).

Since there has been talk of Egypt, we should not be surprised to find ourselves being reminded of Egypt and Moses and the dealings with Pharaoh. What happened in those dealings? Effectively, Pharaoh would agree to release the slaves, in essence granting them freedom in expectation; but then, he would have a “change of heart,” and turn right around, taking back the people that had been given a proclamation of freedom, and forcing them to be slaves again. Ultimately, what was Pharaoh able to earn through this? God granted Pharaoh and Egypt the “freedom to die in war,” which we see when they attempt to re-take a freed people back into bondage. We see that along with the freedom to experience “starvation and disease,” as they most certainly did because of the plagues that God brought upon the land, in which locusts ate up the crops, and in which the peoples were afflicted with painful boils.

Is there an application for us in all of this? Certainly there is, as each of us can consider ourselves to have been slaves, earning nothing more than death, with no hope for liberation. Through the hearing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Lord, “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son He loves, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). For God’s people, throughout the Bible, the state of non-forgiveness of sins is equated with the state of exile (enslaved by oppressors). Like Israel, God reaches into that state of exile, and removes a people that He has chosen for Himself and for His glory. Before God exercises His saving power towards us, by grace, we share that state of exile from Him and from the blessings of His covenant, with every other person. Now obviously, we know that some of us are delivered from exile before others. For some reason, there is a tendency on the part of those that have already experienced their liberation, when they see others experience their deliverance from exile and slavery---when their fellow countrymen are granted freedom and enter into a covenant to that effect---to turn right around and attempt to enslave those that have been newly liberated, to traditions, creeds, subjective requirements, and supposed standards of Christian performance that somehow reflect true holiness.

God’s response to this, and to those that attempt to re-enslave their fellow countrymen, to re-enslave those with whom they shared exile (just as all Israel had been slaves), is to say “I will grant you freedom, the freedom to die in war, or by starvation or disease. I, the Lord, affirm it” (34:17b). Let us cease and desist from playing God and becoming Pharaohs to His chosen ones. Let us really and truly believe, perhaps for the first time, that there is a God, that there is a Holy Spirit, that the Gospel message that we purport to believe truly is the power of God unto salvation, and that “the One Who began a good work” (Philippians 1:6b) is also capable of completing the work by the same power that raised Christ from the dead, empowers the preaching of the Gospel, and gifts transformative faith.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Finger of God

The magicians said to Pharaoh, “It is the finger of God!” But Pharaoh’s heart remained hard, and he did not listen to them, just as the Lord had predicted. – Exodus 8:19 (NET)

As we read this verse, we find ourselves in the midst of the plagues that came upon Egypt prior to Israel’s exodus. The statement above, in regards to the finger of God, was made in relation to the plague of gnats. With this plague, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron, “Extend your staff and strike the dust of the ground, and it will become gnats throughout all the land of Egypt”.’ They did so” (8:16-17a). As we would expect, this is what happened, as gnats did indeed come upon the land. To that point, each time there had been a miraculous demonstration of power, be it the turning of a staff into a serpent, the conversion of water into blood, or the bringing of frogs on the land, we are told that the magicians of Egypt were able to accomplish the same by their secret arts. Likewise, when it came to the production of gnats, though it is difficult to understand why they would want to continue to follow suit, “When the magicians attempted to bring forth gnats by their secret arts, they could not” (8:18a). Finally, a point had been reached where they could no longer go point for point against God, and they came to realize that they were dealing with a power that was beyond them. This elicited the cry of “It is the finger of God!” However, even with these words from his magicians, Pharaoh did not listen, thus again fulfilling God’s prediction that “although I will multiply My signs and My wonder in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you” (7:3b-4a).

The term “finger of God” is used elsewhere in Scripture. We actually find it on the lips of Jesus, in the eleventh chapter of Luke. Jesus had cast out a demon, and some of the witnesses of this event attempted to explain this occurrence by saying “By the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons, He casts out demons” (11:15). Jesus responded with an indication that this made no sense, saying “So if Satan too is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” (11:18a) It is logical to ask why in the world Satan would go about casting out Satan (himself). Going further, Jesus says, “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has already overtaken you” (11:20).

As we peruse the pages of the Bibles, we will find “finger of God” used four times, two of which we have already seen. The other two are Exodus 31:18, where Moses recounts that the tablets of stone that he received on Mount Sinai had been “written by the finger of God;” and in Deuteronomy 9:10, where, recounting the events first recorded in Exodus, Moses speaks again about the tablets that were “written by the very finger of God.” Three of the usages of the term are explicitly connected with the exodus of Israel, with two of them being found in the book of Exodus itself. Therefore, because we know that Jesus would have chosen His words quite carefully and purposefully, it is reasonable to conclude that when Jesus uses the phrase, and Luke reports Jesus using the phrase, that it is meant to be a reminder of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the power of God that was on display in that exodus, and the deliverance of Israel. The exodus from Egypt is a constantly recurring theme throughout the whole of the Old Testament, so it would make sense for it to be a theme in Jesus’ ministry as well, especially as the exodus was the act and is a picture of God’s rescue, redemption, salvation, and deliverance of His people, according to His covenant faithfulness.

So is it reasonable to hear echoes of Exodus here in Jesus’ words? Let’s examine what follows so as to be able to find out. Jesus says, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his possessions are safe” (11:21). Reflecting on Pharaoh, we could certainly understand him to be a strong man, fully armed, guarding his palace and his possessions (the enslaved Israelites). Continuing on from there, Jesus says, “But when a stronger man attacks and conquers him, he takes away the first man’s armor on which the man relied and divides up his plunder” (11:22). Because the plagues were the result of Pharaoh’s stubbornness, they were primarily directed towards him so as to influence his thought and actions, though they dramatically affected his people as well. Clearly, we are able to see Israel’s God as the stronger man attacking and conquering him. Initially, Pharaoh had the armor of his magicians being able to match the displays of power, which allowed for a hardness of heart, but that armor was eventually removed. Furthermore, when the point is reached that Israel is going to be released from its bondage, we find that “The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, and they gave them whatever they wanted, and so they plundered Egypt” (Exodus 12:26).

This use of exodus language was readily connected to thoughts about Israel’s messiah and the establishment of the kingdom of God. Just as God worked on behalf of His people to deliver them from the oppression of Egypt and bring them into their promised land, so there was an expectation that their messiah, God’s representative, would deliver them from the subjugation of foreign rule and deliver Israel’s land back to them as their own sovereign possession. So with these echoes of Exodus, we can understand Jesus making a messianic claim for Himself, when He concludes His thoughts in connection with the finger of God and the kingdom of God, by saying, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters” (11:23). Jesus’ hearers, if they were making the exodus connections, would likely hear Him talking about God being the stronger man that would attack and plunder the Romans. However, Jesus had a greater enemy in mind, with that enemy being death.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


During that long period of time the king of Egypt died, and the Israelites groaned because of the slave labor. They cried out, and their desperate cry because of their slave labor went up to God. – Exodus 2:23 (NET)

This king of Egypt was the king mentioned in the first chapter of Exodus. It is said that he “did not know about Joseph” (1:8a), and “put foremen over the Israelites to oppress them with hard labor” (1:11a). This king “made the Israelites serve rigorously…by hard service with mortar and bricks and by all kinds of service in the fields” (1:13, 14b). It was in the midst of this subjection that the Israelites were said to have groaned and cried out, with that cry going up to God. “God heard their groaning, God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (2:24). This is part of the story that is told in association with Passover. Passover is the yearly remembrance of the deliverance of God’s people from the oppression of Egypt. Though the story culminates in redemption and rescue and the destruction of their enemies, the story begins with the groaning of the people and progresses through God’s miraculous intervention on behalf of His people.

This use of “groan” and “groaning” is quite interesting. It is quite the evocative word, as it conjures up a depth of emotion that is reserved for describing truly great suffering. We find “groan” used in the New Testament, in the eighth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, with Paul employing these words in a clear connection to the story of the Exodus. If we are paying attention, we can find the Apostle Paul using the language of exodus throughout his writings. In this, he is merely following in the line of the great prophets that came before him, as reference to the exodus from Egypt, along with imagery designed to evoke thoughts of exodus, is regularly used throughout the Old Testament.

So how do we find these words used in Romans? Paul uses them in relation to the creation---the natural world. He begins by writing, “For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God” (8:19). Here, we can begin tying this to the Exodus account, in that there had been a prophecy that Israel would sojourn in Egypt for a set number of years. Much like the people of Israel in the first century knew that the time was drawing near for God to act on behalf of His people through His Messiah (owing to the 490 year prophecy of Daniel), God’s people in Egypt knew that the time was drawing near for their long sojourn in Egypt to come to an end. They merely awaited a deliverer to lead them out. He goes on to write, “For the creation was subjected to futility---not willingly but because of God Who subjected it” (8:20). Again, we have here an echo of Israel’s subjection by the Egyptians. Just as the people of Israel were subjected against their will, owing to king that did not know Joseph (having forgotten what Joseph did for Egypt), so too was the creation subjected to futility against its will, owing to Adam’s forgetting of God. However, in both cases, there is a reminder that God is in control.

This subjection came with a hope “that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (8:21). Here, the analogy to Israel in Egypt is quite clear. Just as Israel was going to be set free from their bondage, and returned to their land of promise, so also will the creation be set free from its bondage to death and decay, from its thorns and thistles, and returned to that state for which God intended it, and which He had originally declared to be good. Like Israel in Egypt, Paul writes “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now” (8:23). Just as God heard His people and remembered His covenant with Israel’s forefathers, He hears the groans of His creation, in its futile subjection and oppression and rigorous servitude. Not only does Paul set forth creation’s groaning like Israel, he also connects the groaning to the people of God in Christ, renewed Israel, writing “Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23).

As the Passover narrative of Exodus culminates in the redemption and rescue of Israel, along with the destruction of its enemies, so too does the use of exodus language as applied to both the creation and renewed Israel in Christ. Through the Resurrection, death was defeated; and though all living things still die, death has no ultimate power. Because of Christ’s Resurrection, we have the sure and steadfast hope and promise of a resurrection to come, when the kingdom of heaven, already inaugurated through the ruling Lordship of Christ, is fully consummated upon His return.

Because of Christ’s Resurrection, death can no longer oppress. Through that same power for resurrection, the creation also escapes oppression. Just as redeemed humanity regains the image of Himself that had been God’s intention, so too will the creation experience the benefits of God’s covenant faithfulness. As God reverses the curses pronounced against man upon his fall, so too does God reverse the curse pronounced upon His good creation. As God’s work for His people in Egypt began with groaning and progressed through God’s miraculous intervention on behalf of His people, so too can we see God’s work for His people---for though we groan, and though the creation groans, we experience His eternal life in the midst of hope, because of the miraculous intervention that God performed through His Christ.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Defaming A Symbol

They said to them, “We cannot give our sister to a man who is not circumcised, for it would be a disgrace to us.” – Genesis 34:14 (NET)

In the thirty-fourth chapter of Genesis, we are presented with pictures of brutality. The brutality begins when “Dinah, Leah’s daughter whom she bore to Jacob, went to meet the young women of the land” (34:1). The land here is that of “the city of Shechem in the land of Canaan” (33:18b). Shechem was the name of the place as well as the ruler (or the son of the ruler) of the area in which Jacob settled his family. He saw Dinah, “grabbed her, forced himself on her, and sexually assaulted her” (34:2b). Interestingly though, following the rape, something unexpected happened, in that “he became very attached to Dinah” (34:3a), falling “in love with the young woman” (34:3b). It is even said that he “spoke romantically to her” (34:3c). Though he had done this unseemly thing to her, his heart turned in such a way that he wanted her to become his wife.

As the story progresses, the sons of Jacob hear about what has been done to their sister. Understandably, we learn that “They were very offended and very angry” (34:7b) about what had occurred. Shechem, not at all surprised at this response, to his credit, was willing to do what was necessary to make things right, saying “Let me find favor in your sight, and whatever you require of me I’ll give” (34:11b). He said, “You can make the bride price and the gift I must bring very expensive, and I’ll give whatever you ask of me. Just give me the young woman as my wife!” (34:12) As we can see, Shechem’s love for this girl made him quite serious.

Having deliberated amongst themselves, Jacob’s sons provide their answer to Shechem. We’ll notice that even though Shechem (and his father) had been speaking to Jacob and his sons up to this point, that the dealings continue between Shechem and the sons, apart from Jacob’s knowledge. In utilization of character traits that had obviously passed to them from their father, they answered “deceitfully” (34:13), saying, “We cannot give our sister to a man who is not circumcised, for it would be a disgrace to us. We will give you our consent on this one condition: You must become like us by circumcising all your males…But if you do not agree to our terms by being circumcised, then we will take our sister and depart” (34:14-15, 17). Clearly, Shechem’s love for Dinah was quite strong, as we find that “Their offer pleased Hamor and his son Shechem” (34:18), and “The young men did not delay in doing what they asked” (34:19a).

Before going any further, we need to take a look back at this whole circumcision thing. What was its purpose? It is introduced in the seventeenth chapter of Genesis, when God speaks to Abraham and says, “As for you, you must keep the covenantal requirement I am imposing on you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My requirement that you and your descendants after you must keep: Every male among you must be circumcised…This will be a reminder of the covenant between Me and you” (17:9-10, 11b). With that said, we look back to the first announcement of the Abrahamic covenant, in chapter twelve of Genesis, where God informs Abraham that the purpose of His choosing and making a covenant with Abraham would be the blessing of all peoples. Ultimately, being a blessing to all peoples, for the purpose of revealing the glory of God, was the covenant responsibility of Abraham and his descendants. Circumcision, above all things that it would symbolize, was to be a reminder of that charge to be a blessing.

Returning to our story, what do we find? We find the continuation of brutality. Owing to the benefits to be had, the men had all agreed to the circumcision. However, “In three days, when they were still in pain” (34:25a), in obvious need of recovery time following a painful procedure, “two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and went to the unsuspecting city and slaughtered every male. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. Jacob’s sons killed them and looted the city because their sister had been violated. They took their flocks, herds, and donkeys, as well as everything in the city and in the surrounding fields. They captured as plunder all their wealth, all their little ones, and their wives, including everything in the houses” (34:25b-29). Now it is relatively easy to sympathize with Dinah’s brothers. We can understand their anger. We can understand their desire for revenge. We can probably also agree that their response was extraordinarily excessive, even if they tried to rationalize it by saying, “Should he treat our sister like a common prostitute?” (34:31b)

The deceit, though, was not the worst part. The killing and the looting, though impossible to justify, was not the worst part. The worst part was that these sons of Jacob, descendants of Abraham and progenitors of two of the tribes of Israel, defamed the symbol of God’s covenant. They took the very thing that was designed by their God to be a reminder of their call to be a blessing to all peoples, and through deceptive means, put it to use as the means to bring forth death and destruction. The very thing that should have signaled a people’s entry into the blessings of the covenant God, was used as a weapon of condemnation. Is there a lesson to be learned from this? Absolutely! How often do we take the message of the Gospel---that Jesus is the Resurrected Lord of all creation---and rather than understand and rejoice in the faith-gifted belief in that message as the signal of a believer’s entry into the blessings of the covenant God, use it as a weapon of condemnation to force a conformity to a subjective standard of righteousness and “Christian behavior”?

Rebuking & Rebuked

He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered Him, “You are the Christ.” – Mark 8:29 (NET)

It had been nearly five hundred years since the time that the prophecy of Daniel’s seventy weeks of years (four hundred ninety years) was said to have commenced. There was a general understanding that the time had come for God to act “to put an end to rebellion, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in perpetual righteousness, to seal up the prophetic visions, and to anoint a most holy place (Daniel 9:24b). These things were said to Daniel, by the angel Gabriel, “concerning your people and your holy city” (9:24a), so at the time of Christ, in connection with messianic expectation, it was intimately connected with what God was finally going to do for His people, for Jerusalem, and for His Temple.

Owing to this, many would-be messiah’s had risen up in Israel before Jesus’ day. Because Jesus was ultimately rejected as Israel’s Messiah, other would-be Messiah’s would rise up after Him. When men would rise up and begin to draw followers to themselves, one could almost naturally expect the claim of messiah to be either claimed by the individual or applied to him by his devotees. Once the claim was verbalized, it would be spread around and draw more people to his movement. Now generally, this movement was revolutionary and violent in nature. That is because Israel, at that time, believed that God was sending His messiah to them for a few specific reasons. They believed that in the messiah, God would bring Israel’s history and purpose in and for this world to a climax. They believed that the messiah was going to lead Israel to defeat its pagan oppressors and drive them from their land. They believed that through the messiah, God was going to re-establish His Temple and His presence in that Temple, so that the Lord God would dwell in their midst as had been long-promised. They believed that God was going to establish a new creation. They believed that at long last, Israel’s exile, in which they did not control their land---their inheritance---was going to be brought to an end. They believed that Israel was going to be set in power and authority over all nations.

In their minds, the coming of messiah, and the working of messiah, was quite naturally going to involve and require a popular uprising. Many in Israel looked forward to being able to participate in such actions. So it is natural to conclude that any man who believed himself to be that messiah, and whose followers believed him to be that messiah, would want to noise such things abroad, in order to draw men in for the purpose of fighting in the battle to come, in which God Himself was going to have a heavy hand. Indeed, that had been the case up to that point, so why would it be any different for Jesus? Since Jesus had already drawn huge crowds and fed thousands of people at a time, and since, without a doubt, such things would have been being said about Him already, the disciples probably figured that Jesus represented the best opportunity to rally enough support to meet all of those prevailing expectations.

When Peter called Jesus “the Christ,” he was acknowledging Him as potentially being Israel’s Messiah. Peter was saying that he believed Jesus to be the long-awaited King of Israel, in the line of David, on which rested the hope of so many. Having said these words, Jesus’ response was probably thoroughly surprising for Peter, as Jesus “warned them not to tell anyone about Him” (8:30). In that day and time, and in Peter’s mind (along with the rest of the disciples), what Jesus just said would have made very little sense. Why keep this quiet? As if it was not bad enough that Jesus issued them a warning not to tell anyone about Him, contrary to every urge that they would have had, “Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man (messianic title) must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31).

What? Jesus’ disciples would have been stunned by this. By saying what He said, Jesus was speaking the language of failure. God’s messiah was not supposed to suffer. A suffering Messiah, with that suffering usually taking place on a Roman cross, was a failed Messiah. He was supposed to make Israel’s enemies suffer, and bring Israel to the place of exaltation. “So Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him” (8:32b). Undoubtedly, this rebuke consisted of Peter informing Jesus that they needed to make Him known, to tell people that He was the Messiah, to remind them of the miracles that He had already performed, so that they could gather allies, start an uprising, keep all of these things that He had just mentioned from happening, and usher in the kingdom of God in which Israel was indeed exalted above all nations so as to rule the world. Indeed, the mindset of the disciples would not have been altogether different from most people of the day. Even after Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection, we get a glimpse of what they believed His Messianic purposes to have been, when they ask, “Lord, is this the time when You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b).

It is with all of this in mind that we can understand what follows, when “after turning and looking at His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind Me, Satan. You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s’.” (8:33) Jesus’ disciples were focused on what God was going to do for Israel. Jesus was focused on what was going to be done by God, through Him, for all peoples.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Transgressions & Sins (part 3 of 3)

Though all of God’s people had been dead in transgressions and sins, in exile from God’s promises because of that fact, that exile is ended, life is gifted, and death is overcome through the power that was sent forth by the Resurrection. This salvation, this being saved, which is a sharing in the gift of eternal life in union with Christ because of the Gospel while in the hopeful expectation of the Resurrection to come, is a gracious gift of God.

Paul makes a further elaboration on this idea of being “saved,” writing that “He raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). This raising, being made alive together (2:5), is the resurrection from death into Christ’s kingdom, as the people of God in Christ. Does this mean that the point of the salvation is a dis-embodied existence in a far-away place, having escaped the evil world and the chains of mortal flesh? If we want to be consistent with all of the Apostle Paul’s writings, we must understand the “heavenly realms” as yet another way in which he makes reference to the kingdom of God on earth that was inaugurated by Christ’s Resurrection, and which is extended by the power of His Resurrection through the operation of the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit brings men and women to the place of a submissive belief that Jesus is Lord, through the gift of faith that is made possible by the preaching of the message of the Gospel.

Being raised and seated with Jesus is being delivered from the exile of death apart from God, and delivered into the kingdom of heaven that has been established on earth, enjoying a measure of eternal life as we believe and proclaim the Gospel (Jesus is Lord), and experience its power for salvation (eternal life). This measure of eternal life that is enjoyed, and of which we can be assured that we are sharing, in the union with Christ that is sealed by the Spirit’s inward working to make it so that we truly believe and live as if Jesus is Lord, is the guarantee of the eternal life to come. Maintaining that consistency, we bear in mind that for Paul, the eternal life to come is when the believer ultimately shares in Christ’s eternal life, experiencing the power of God in the same way in which Christ experienced that power, by being raised from the dead and given a new, physical, glorified body, in this world, that cannot and will not see death. It is in this light that we can truly understand Christ being the first-fruits of a new creation, as the beginning of the final movement of God’s plans to redeem and restore His creation.

Reaching what most see as the pinnacle of this chapter, we go on to read, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (2:8). Here, we actually find Paul repeating something already written just a few lines ago, while adding a short but important thought. He repeats that it is grace that brings about salvation, and that this is by faith. The grace for salvation, the deliverance from exile owing to transgressions and sins, into the eternal life of union with Christ in His already established kingdom of heaven on earth, is the demonstration of God’s faithfulness in fulfillment of His covenant.

As we continue to remember the context of the kingdom of God that was the foundational premise for this section of Paul’s letter, we hear Paul reminding a portion of his readers that this was not something that they had brought about or would bring about through their own endeavors (revolutionary overthrow) to usher in God’s kingdom and the rule of His Messiah. We have to remember that “salvation” was not an ethereal term, denoting a spiritual experience or a certain way of feeling, but that it meant forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins was a concrete term, connected with the return of God’s people from exile and their placement in their land of promise. When this land of promise was ruled by God’s Messiah, that was when it was understood that the kingdom of God had been established. The Jews had been expecting this in conjunction with the land of Israel---with the Messiah ruling Israel, and Israel ruling the world. However, because Jesus is to be understood as Lord of all the earth, then the kingdom of God encompasses the entire world, and all peoples (Jew & Gentile) can experience forgiveness from sins, as God’s faithfulness is now demonstrated in the new covenant that has been set forth in Christ.

Because it is the gift of God, with God establishing His kingdom in a way that was unheard of by Gentiles, and completely antithetical to the way in which it was expected by the Jews (which we can imagine was well explained to their Gentile brethren), Paul can safely add that, “it is not from works, so that no one can boast” (2:9). In this kingdom, no one is going to be superior to another. No one is going to be able to claim special privilege or that they had a hand in bringing this about. Neither Jew, Gentile, slave, free, man, or woman would have a reason to boast, because God, through Christ, did something completely unexpected by His grace, as a gift, because He is faithful. This people of God can then be said to be “His workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them” (2:10). Now this people of God, by the power of Resurrection at work in them by the Spirit, can take up the task of being God’s image-bearers, stewarding His creation and being a blessing to all peoples, just as God had intended for the creatures made in His image (Adam), and just as He promised to the first man that He called to Himself (Abraham).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Transgressions & Sins (part 2 of 3)

Having looked at the first three verses of the second chapter of Ephesians, and having laid the groundwork for a fuller understanding of what is presented there (as well as what is to come), we can now move forward. Upon that forward movement, we read “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (2:4-5a).

So even though Israel was still in exile, having been unfaithful to their covenant God’s intentions for them, which was to be a light to the Gentile nations; and even though in that unfaithfulness they sought not to reveal God’s glory to them, but rather harbored animosity and resentment as part of a desire to drive them from their land rather than being a beacon that would draw them to their God and His temple, God was rich in mercy. Even though all men from all nations, due to Adam’s fall in which man willfully submitted himself to worshiping what was made rather than the Maker of all things, were in exile from God’s intention for them to bear His image and have dominion over His creation, God was rich in mercy.

Why was He rich in mercy? Because Israel was His chosen, covenant people. He was rich in mercy because He had another chosen people, with which He was making a new covenant through Christ. God had a renewed Israel that He was bringing forth, a people in union with Christ through belief in the Gospel, that He would empower by His Spirit to proclaim God’s glorious rule through Christ’s Lordship over all creation, and so establish and extend the kingdom of God, thereby being a blessing to all peoples. This had been Israel’s charge, based on the Abrahamic covenant that had been passed to them through their forefathers, but which had been almost completely abandoned due to their turning inward and erecting barriers and walls of separation between themselves and the peoples of the world. Nevertheless, God exercised His great love for those that He had gone forth to redeem for Himself, doing it in the midst of their transgressions.

Paul, being part of two camps, Israel by descent and renewed Israel through belief in Christ as Messiah by the gift of faith, speaks of all being dead in transgressions. Effectively, the transgression of both camps was exactly the same, with that transgression being rooted in idolatry. Israel’s continuing exile was engendered by idolatry, and though idol worship had ceased from the land, the idolatry was manifested in an exaltation of the marks of national identification that set themselves apart from the other nations whom God sought to bless. For those that would be renewed Israel, the idolatry is easier to understand, as we can simply scan the pages of history up until that time and since, to see the lengths to which men will go in their creation of beings to worship, rather than worship the One being Who was their Creator.

It was in spite of all of this that the love of God broke on to the scene of history, was demonstrated through Christ’s crucifixion, and unleashed into this fallen world as part of the power that raised up Christ from the dead. That Resurrection power, which includes the love of God that makes one alive together with Christ, is contained in the message of the Gospel, and is made manifest in the Gospel proclamation that Jesus is Lord. Those who adhere to this grand statement, who hold to this confession by God’s gift of faith through the Spirit, have been exodus-ed out of the realm of death, delivered from the exile attendant upon their transgressions, and now share in the eternal life of the resurrected Christ in the inaugurated kingdom of God, in full expectation of a coming consummation of that kingdom, along with the renewed physicality of a bodily resurrection (just like Jesus) in a renewed and restored creation (just like the one that God pronounced very good) upon Christ’s return.

Because of that hopeful expectation which exists because, as Paul says, “by grace you are saved” (2:5b), meaning that his readers have been redeemed from exile and delivered from death into eternal life (here and now and in the age to come) as God’s gracious gift to, there is an obligation by the same type of love to bless all peoples through sharing the message of the Gospel, continuing the powerful, onward, life-altering march through the simple affirmation that yes, Jesus is Lord.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Transgressions & Sins (part 1)

And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience… - Ephesians 2:1-2 (NET)

Before we embark on an attempt to understand Paul’s communications here in the second chapter of Ephesians, it is imperative that we find its context. To do so, we revert to the first chapter of Ephesians, where we find Paul in presentation of the establishment of God’s kingdom in and through Christ. He writes: “…He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (1:20b-21). Those “heavenly realms” can be thought of in terms of both Christ’s throne in heaven, as well as Christ’s throne of dominion in the kingdom of heaven that was inaugurated on earth in the power of His Resurrection. To aid us in this, we can think of Jesus’ statement of the Father’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10b).

Additionally, we must make note of Paul’s statement in regards to “this age” and “the one to come.” Paul wants his readers to avoid any possibility of thinking that Christ’s reign as something limited only to the future, but that it is very much present in this age, owing to history’s climactic events of cross and Resurrection. His talk of the age to come, in which all things will be renewed, of which we are given a taste in this age in the power of His eternal life in union with Him as we preach the Gospel and experience its power, points us to the hope of our faith. To drive home the point that Christ reigns in this age, with His kingdom very much present, Paul writes, “And God put all things under His feet, and He gave Him to the church as head over all things” (1:22). Yes, all things are under His feet. There, that “all” means “all,” as in “Jesus is Lord of all;” and His Lordship is extended through His people of this confession.

Having established that Paul is referencing Christ’s kingdom, Paul engages in the presentation of a contrast. We can sense both a subversive counter-imperialism to be understood by all of his readers, along with a polemic directed at those of his readers that would have been Jewish, and therefore steeped in a Jewish, nationalistic mindset as it relates to the kingdom of God. We can know that his audience consisted of both Jews and Gentiles, because in the eleventh verse of the second chapter, he directs his words specifically to “you, the Gentiles in the flesh.”

When it came to the establishment of kingdoms, what was this world’s present path? The path was war. The path was violence for overthrow. Specifically, Caesar’s path for the expansion of his kingdom was “war, victory, peace.” Jesus’ path was far different. Of course, we can all well understand that peace attained through the constant threat of violent death is a shaky and transient peace indeed. It is in this light that Paul addresses the Jews in his audience, when he says that “you were dead in transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path.” These were the transgressions and sins of seeking to violently expunge their pagan oppressors from their land, and in that way to establish the promised kingdom of God, with national Israel as its exalted nation and its people as its supreme rulers. These were the transgressions and sins, based upon hatred and spite, from which John the Baptist, and Jesus in His first recorded proclamations in Mark’s Gospel, urged the people to repent.

This was not God’s method, as clearly revealed in Christ. This was the method of “the ruler of the kingdom of the air,” the rulers and authorities and powers and dominions (earthly and spiritual), of which we read in the first chapter. This was the continuing spirit that was energizing those of Paul’s fellow countrymen, in ongoing disobedience to God’s plans and purposes and intentions for His people to be a light to the Gentiles, who were refusing to embrace Jesus’ kingdom message, and instead, were persisting in their headlong rush towards revolutionary activity that was eventually going to result in the destruction of Jerusalem and its people.

In this message, Paul does not stand separate, merely throwing accusations, but hearkening back to his former days as a Pharisee of Pharisees, he lumps himself in with those that were on the same path. Bearing in mind the kingdom of God context, he wrote that “all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind” (2:3a). Here, he confesses that he too had a desire to pursue the violent route to national independence and the violent ushering in of God’s kingdom through a Davidic messiah that would run roughshod over the enemies of Israel. Indeed, in his violent persecution of the church, Paul was actively attempting to eliminate those that were saying that the kingdom had been ushered in through Jesus and who were encouraging their brothers and sisters to drop their nationalistic desires. It is quite possible that, in Paul’s thinking, this acceptance of Jesus as Messiah and Lord, along with its recognition of God’s entering into history to establish His kingdom through a renewed Israel that preached the Gospel of Christ, would merely lead to fewer people being willing to take up arms when the time for rebellion against Rome presented itself. Now though, Paul looks upon such cravings and desires of the flesh and mind as serving to create a generation of his fellow Jews that were going to be “children of wrath” (2:3b), who would eventually be utterly conquered by Rome.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Joseph & Jesus (part 2 of 2)

Though sold into Egypt as a slave, we know that Joseph did not remain a slave. He first found favor in the house of Potiphar, and then found favor in the eyes of the warden of the prison into which he had been unjustly cast. Finally, due to God’s gift of dream interpretation, Joseph found favor in the eyes of Pharaoh. Owing to the Spirit that was to be found in Joseph, Pharaoh said to him, “Because God has enabled you to know all this, there is no one as wise and discerning as you are! You will oversee my household, and all my people will submit to your commands. Only I, the king, will be greater than you” (Genesis 41:39b-40).

Thoughts of Jesus should not be too far removed from our mind upon reading these words of Pharaoh. What do we find in the Ephesians letter? “And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and He gave Him to the church as head over all things” (1:22). This is so because the great and powerful God “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (1:20b-21). There was a people of God, a household of faith, chosen “in Christ before the foundation of the world” (1:4a). It is these people, identified by their adherence to the Gospel, and their submission to its claim that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, that faithfully submit to the commands of Jesus to love one another and to preach the message of the Gospel, through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

Returning to the book of Genesis, we find that “Joseph was thirty years old when he began serving Pharaoh” (41:46a). Likewise, Jesus was presumed to have been about thirty years old (Luke 3:23), when He begins to make His presence felt among His people in service of His Father. It is written that “Joseph was commissioned by Pharaoh and was in charge of all the land of Egypt” (41:46b). When Jesus appeared, He did so with the announcement that “the kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15b). To this, Jesus added that it was time to “Repent and believe the Gospel” (1:15c). In His day, the people would have known that word “Gospel” to refer to proclamations concerning Caesar, concerning the then ruler of the world, concerning the one called lord and savior. For His people, the connection of “Gospel” with “kingdom of God” was an unmistakable reference to the time of their God’s action on behalf of His people, to restore national Israel to sovereignty and independence, and to set Israel and its messiah-king over all nations. The call to believe the Gospel was to believe in the Lordship of God’s Messiah, in complete trust that God was fulfilling His covenant promises through that Messiah; and that this Messiah, as ruler of the people and nation that was destined to rule all peoples, had now been given charge of all the land.

Looking again at the life of Joseph, we see that “While the famine was over all the earth, Joseph opened the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians. The famine was severe throughout the land of Egypt” (41:56). Joseph limited the provision of grain to the land of Egypt only. Turning to Jesus, we think about the fact that even though the entire world was gripped in the famine of the effects of death, and though all the world was in need of His touch and His healing presence, in the Gospels we find Jesus confining His ministry to the area of the land of Israel. However, returning to Genesis, we go on to see that “People from every country came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain because the famine was severe throughout the earth” (41:57). Similarly, though Jesus first instructed His disciples to direct their own ministries to the house of Israel, His parting commandment was to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19a), and that they were to be His “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8b).

Because Egypt was the one place in the region that had food (as indicated by people from every country coming to Egypt to buy grain), Egypt would have ascended in its might and power. Just as we are able to read that the people of Egypt sold their livestock, their lands, and even themselves in order to obtain food from Joseph’s hand, so too could we expect the people from other countries to be doing the same types of things. Because Joseph held such great power, being a ruler of Egypt and second only to Pharaoh, when the people would come to buy grain, they would bow down to him. We know this to be the case because, though they were sons of a wealthy and powerful man, “Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the ground” (42:6b).
Not only do we see this administration of grain to many nations at the hands of Joseph as yet another fulfillment of God’s covenant to bless the families of the earth through Abraham’s family, but more importantly, we are pointed to Jesus, as “the bread of life” (John 6:35a). As we can see in the case of Joseph’s brothers, throughout the duration of the famine, people had to come to Egypt multiple times to obtain their sustenance; but Jesus said “The one whom comes to Me will never go hungry” (6:35b). Additionally, we are directed to the letter to the Philippians, where it is said “that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow---in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (2:10). Not only will they bow, but all will acknowledge His power and His rule---just as many did before Joseph in acknowledgment of the power and growing rule of Pharaoh and of Egypt---and submit to the authority of His kingdom, when all are made to hear “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father”