Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Preaching & Believing (part 2 of 2)

Though he would say that Israel’s history was instructive, especially in learning about the faithful God that would become embodied in Jesus of Nazareth, Paul would not necessarily want his Gentile readers to take Israel’s Deuteronomic curses into consideration when they considered their own cursing and exile. Those curses were associated with the covenant established with Israel at Sinai; and a better covenant had been enacted at Calvary, in line with the Abrahamic covenant and its directive towards all peoples. So Paul would utilize mankind’s curse, along with the curse on all of creation that began with Adam, as the point of reference for that from which they were being saved. Under the covenant of Jesus, salvation, for all mankind, Jew and Gentile, would involve being delivered from the curse of death, along with the end of exile from God’s fellowship, under which man was not truly able to rightly bear the divine image in which he had been created.

Salvation would involve regaining a lost dominion, doing so in union with Jesus, sharing in His rule over all creation. Most assuredly, for Paul, though it was part of a great hope, salvation had very little to do with an assurance of escaping hell and going to heaven when one died. Sharing in the Resurrection of Christ, and in His defeating of death, through a believing union with Him, meant that salvation and eternal life was at hand, and that God was at work, through the second Adam, to undo and reverse that which was wrought by the first Adam. This did not entail an escape from the world, but rather, an engagement with the world based upon God’s purposes, in hopes that the world, created as good, would one day be set completely to rights, restored, and renewed.

Moving along with that, as we focus on that which Paul preached and which brought belief---the Gospel, we see Paul begin to provide a practical definition for the term. He writes, in explaining what he will always mean by “preaching the Gospel,” “For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received” (1 Corinthians 15:3a). What we are about to read, Paul says, is “of first importance,” so we should probably pay careful attention. He writes, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (15:3b). He does not let this stand by itself, but continues on, attaching to this important proclamation of Christ’s death, “and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (15:4-5).

The whole of this statement is important. Without an inclusion of all of this information, in verses three, four, and five, the Gospel, as defined by Paul, is not preached. By definition, the preaching of the Gospel includes the preaching of death, burial, Resurrection, and appearances. This is effectively summed up by saying that the Gospel is that Jesus of Nazareth is the crucified, buried, and resurrected Lord of all. That is the message of the Gospel. That message is an announcement about Jesus, which would fit into the well-defined mold of the use of the term “gospel” in that day, which was that of announcements about Caesar.

Paul continues on, writing “Then He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (15:6-9). Paul makes this appendage to the primary Gospel proclamation, bolstering the factual basis of the Resurrection, while allowing himself to provide a bit of biography that points to what he believed to be evidence of the immeasurable grace of God---allowing him to preach the Gospel. He adds, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been in vain. In fact, I worked harder than all of them---yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (15:10). That grace of God that was at work in Paul was the Resurrection power of the Gospel.

By all means, we can teach the sayings of Jesus, but if it is not presented with the firm foundation of the Gospel proclamation, then it is not really preaching the Gospel. We can make presentations about Bible stories and characters, but if they are not tied together with the proclamation of Jesus as Lord, then we are not actually preaching the Gospel. Having pointed to the grace of God as that which even allowed him to come to belief and to preach the Gospel message, Paul comes to the point about the power to produce the faith for belief and transformation that is inherent in what it is that he has preached, saying that, “this is the way we preach and this is the way we believed” (15:11b).

If we truly desire to have an impact for our Lord and God in this world, then we must speak the very message that sends His transforming, renewing, re-shaping, re-creating, restoring, and saving power into the world. That message is the message of the Gospel. The proclamation of Jesus as Lord is what carries the power, and it never fails. If we will simply preach the Gospel---if we will preach the crucifixion and the Resurrection as fundamental to all that we dare to say---belief will follow.

Preaching & Believing (part 1)

…this is the way we preach and this is the way you believed. – 1 Corinthians 15:11b (NET)

Belief in the message of the Gospel is fundamental. Of course, this belief is wrought through the gift of faith. Belief in the Gospel is what brings change. Belief in the Gospel is what brings transformation. Belief in the Gospel, and a trust that the Gospel contains the power for these things, is what conforms a man or woman into the glory reflecting image of Himself that God desires for His children. This is something that is accomplished by preaching, as the hearing of the Gospel is fundamentally associated with the gifting of faith, which brings belief, which unleashes the transformative power of the Resurrection and the age to come in the believer.

So this begs the question as to what it is that should be preached. What message---whether we are a writer, or a teacher, or a preacher, or simply a person seeking to daily be a light and vessel for God’s use---should we preach? This, of course, is a question with which the preacher should wrestle regularly. A pastor, most especially, should desire to see changed lives amongst those to whom he has been called to serve and to teach. Because of this desire, a pastor should always want to preach a message that, without fail, produces belief in his hearers. This makes sense, since belief, rooted in faith that comes through hearing, is the vehicle for transformation. It is wonderful to know that there is a message that has never failed, and which will never fail, to do this. What is it?

The Apostle Paul provides a useful guide in this area, here in the fifteenth chapter of the first letter to the church at Corinth. In it, he writes, “this is the way we preach and this is the way you believed,” so what comes before that must be of some importance. The chapter begins with Paul writing, “Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the Gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you---unless you believed in vain” (15:1). Right away, we learn that Paul is referring to the Gospel.

Now, some might say that “preaching the Gospel” is an obvious answer to the question as to what message never fails to produce belief and subsequent transformation. Along with that, it would probably be said that, as long as a pastor is preaching from the Bible, or preaching about God, or preaching about God in Christ, that he is preaching the Gospel. However, that may not necessarily be true. Preaching the “Gospel” is not simply preaching from the Bible, or about God, or even about Jesus. “Gospel,” as was well understood in the day in which Jesus lived and Paul wrote, had a specific meaning related to proclamations about the Caesar. Therefore, the use of “Gospel” by Jesus, Paul, or any of the other New Testament writers, would have a direct reference to proclamations about a King, that being Jesus. It is with this context, of Jesus as King, with claims on men and the world and power superior to that of Caesar, that Paul goes on to provide a basic definition of what it is that he means when he writes about his preaching of the Gospel.

Before going further, it is worthwhile to examine what Paul means when he speaks of “being saved.” As a Jew, when Paul uses this term he has a specific point of reference and definition. For Israel, God’s salvation was being delivered from bondage and exile, which represented God’s curse. Therefore, being “saved” implies a deliverance from cursing and exile. When God delivered Israel from Egypt and brought them into the land of promise, they were saved. When He repeatedly delivered them from oppression in the days of the Judges and made them to regain control of their promised land, each time, they would think of themselves as being saved. When Judah was spared from Assyria, maintaining self-rule under God’s anointed kings, they thought of themselves as being saved.

Whenever God entered in to defeat Israel’s enemies, ending cursing or staving off exile, that deliverance is spoken of as salvation. When God would save Israel, it would be related to being saved from the curses that are set forth in Deuteronomy, the culmination of which was exile from their land and subjection to foreign destruction and domination. Paul’s Jewish readers would have this in mind. In addition, they would have in mind the entire narrative of their Scriptures, and therefore, also take into consideration the cursing of all mankind that began with Adam.

What Would God Have Me Do? (part 2 of 2)

We waste so much time and energy in the quest for an answer as to how God expects His people to live, when God provides a straightforward response and merciful direction for the people of His choosing. After doing away with that which is purely pragmatic and self-serving, by rendering His clear judgment on the gods that have been providing a faulty foundation for His people’s ongoing justification for not carrying out His purposes for them, God sets forth His plan.

Quite simply, He says, “Defend the cause of the poor and the fatherless!” (Psalm 82:3a) Though poor can be a relative term depending on one’s country and culture, “fatherless” is easily understood. God expects His people to be an advocate for the orphaned and abandoned. Orphans are extraordinarily close to the heart of God, an assertion which is borne out by the repetition of Scripture concerning the fatherless, and of God being their supporter through His people. We can take this a step beyond the understanding of “fatherless” as referring to those that are orphans because they do not have an earthly father, and carry this conception into the spiritual realm as well. Because Israel (and renewed Israel through the covenant of belief in Jesus) can look to and speak to God as their Father, those outside of the covenant could be considered to be “Fatherless.”

How do God’s people defend the cause of and support and show concern for such Fatherless ones? They do so, naturally, both then and now, by preaching the Gospel. Prior to Jesus, Israel preached the Gospel by avoiding idolatry, reverencing God’s sanctuary, and by keeping God’s Sabbaths, looking forward to a messiah through whom God would put down evil and restore His creation. In doing this, they were a light to all peoples for God’s glory, and were blessed by God in a way that was designed to draw people to Israel and to Israel’s God.

Now, as we live within the kingdom of heaven that was inaugurated at Jesus’ Resurrection and is ruled by Him as He works through us by the Spirit so that we might serve as lights to all peoples for God’s glory, we preach the Gospel of Jesus. It is the very preaching and proclamation of that Gospel, which has power in itself according to the Apostle Paul in Romans (1:16), that gives a Father to the Fatherless, bringing men and women into the covenant through belief in Jesus. At the same time, as the Gospel takes root and inspires a trusting allegiance to its claims, God’s people are inspired to meet the physical needs of literal orphans. It is the power of the Gospel that brings us close to the heart of God, for preaching and for serving, carrying us into a devotion to what it is that God desires for His people if they truly seek to serve Him.

The Psalmist goes on to write, as He presents God’s plea to His people, causing us to hear God saying, “Vindicate the oppressed and suffering! Rescue the poor and needy! Deliver them from the power of the wicked!” (82:3b-4) With the inclusion of “the wicked” in this verse, we can return to the favoritism towards the wicked of the second verse and realize that, more than anything, man needs to be delivered from his idolatry. That idolatry is the idolatry of self, as man worships a harsh and cruel taskmaster that keeps him in subservience to a stream of desires that was brought into being when man, in Adam, renounced his purposes and his dominion and his bearing of the divine image, and chose to trust and serve the creation rather than the Creator.

Because of the fall, all that are under the curse that has been wrought by Adam can be said to be oppressed by the stalking specter of death, while suffering under the corruption and violence that is in this world. It is only in becoming people of the covenant, now through belief in Jesus as the One through Whom God has sufficiently dealt with these things, that the oppressed and suffering can be vindicated. This vindication only comes through sharing in Christ’s conquering of death---by being crucified with Him and being raised up with Him---and sharing in His Resurrection (His vindication) and eternal life through a Spirit delivered and empowered faith for belief in Him. Through a belief in the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, and through that alone, is a man delivered from the power of the wicked, by being given a faithful King to Whom he can render submission, and a God to serve that exists, that took human flesh upon Himself in order to suffer, that sympathizes with man as His brother, and that does not change.

There is a Gospel, and an empowerment to belief in the Gospel, so that God’s people can carry out His purposes in this world, to be what He would have them to be, and to do what He would have them do. It is only through that Gospel and its power to grip and to change and to conform a person into the divine image that had been previously forfeited, that we can make just decisions, defend the poor, support the orphan, vindicate the oppressed and suffering, rescue the poor and needy, and deliver them from the power of the wicked. If we find ourselves engaged in this battle, motivated by our allegiance to the Gospel proclamation, then we can trust that we are close to His heart and serving according to His will.

What Would God Have Me Do? (part 1)

God stands in the assembly of El; in the midst of the gods He renders judgment. – Psalms 82:1 (NET)

What is it that God would have me to do? It is one of the most important questions that we can put forth. So often, we speak of putting things in God’s hands, searching out the will of God for our lives, attempting to live within God’s plan for our lives, trusting in Divine providence, and so on. Each person that considers himself or herself a member of God’s covenant family, through belief in Jesus as Lord, must wrestle with such things. Too often, the response is to make a determination about things that we are going to do, or things that we are going to avoid, so that we can feel comfortable, in an inducement towards behaving in a certain way, that generally has far more to do with the perception of those around us than with an honest reflection on God’s true plans and purposes and intentions for His redeemed people.

Here in this Psalm, we are presented with some significant answers for the questions and concerns by which we are dogged in our attempts to live a “Christian life.” The Psalmist begins by writing that “God stands in the assembly of God.” Here, “El” is the high god of the Canaanites. Effectively, the Psalmist presents Israel’s God as supreme to all other supposed deities, and speaks of His power to enter into the assembly of other nation’s gods and render judgment. So not only is this applicable to the Canaanites that surround Israel, but it can be applied to any and all nations that look to an assembly of gods, whether Egypt, Greece, Persia, or Rome.

Israel’s God is supreme, so whether He is rendering judgment on the gods of the Canaanites, or on those who look to their gods in order to justify their actions, judgment is justly rendered. Of course, because there are actually no other gods on which to pronounce judgment, and no other gods to which Israel’s Creator God can approach in order to prove His superiority, we can know that God is speaking to the people who have created their gods in their own images (as opposed to the God that created man in His image). Therefore, here, when God speaks, though He is said to be in the assembly of “El,” we can be confident that He is speaking to the men behind the idols and false gods. God pronounces His judgment on all that men wrongly worship, whatever that may be. Not only is He then speaking to the people that looked to these gods, but without a doubt, God is pointedly speaking to His people as well.

With that said, we can return to the issue with which we began so as to determine what it is that God would have us do. In answering that question, God starts with a question, presented in a negative manner. He speaks and says, “How long will you make unjust legal decisions and show favoritism to the wicked?” (82:2) Here, because the question is posed as to why favoritism is shown to the wicked, and because what is wicked can only be understood in juxtaposition to that which is not wicked, we can assert that God is speaking to the people to whom He has provided a revelation of Himself. We can see a picture of God, entering into the pantheon of gods that are worshiped by the nations surrounding His people, all of which would, at some time, be worshiped by His people. He stands in the midst of representations of these gods, looks around, holds out His arms and says, “How long will you continue showing favoritism to what is wicked? How long will you worship these gods?”

To the leaders of His people, we can hear God saying, “How long will you attempt to live and rule based on the subjective whims presented in the stories of these fickle and always changing gods? If you are attempting to honor these gods, and to live and rule and judge by precepts that you believe will be pleasing to them, rather than based on the firm foundations of the covenant God that does not change, then you will forever be making legal decisions that are not just, but rather, unjust and capricious. Because these gods represent wickedness, with stories of their rule full of pragmatism and a self-serving ethic, then your decisions will favor that which is wicked, because you are doing nothing more than following in the patterns of the myths of man-created gods, who have sprung from the imaginations of men of wicked and deceitful hearts that have been corrupted by evil.” Clearly, this will not do for God’s people. God demands that His people act in justice.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

David & Goliath: A Battle With Death (part 4 of 4)

When it came to fighting His battle, Jesus did not forget David’s example. He would join with David and say, “the battle is the Lord’s, and He will deliver you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:47b). Jesus would defeat death and usher in His kingdom in a way unlike that of all of the kingdoms of the world. Rather than engage in violence, doing battle with sword and spear, He would suffer violence. He would take all of the blows that His enemy could deliver, and still emerge victorious through a Resurrection. Truly, in His arrest, His trial, and His crucifixion, He proved that the battle was the Lord’s; and though it seemed as if Jesus was delivered into the hands of His enemy, just as it would have seemed to everybody in David’s day that he was marching forward to his own destruction and to what would result in Israel’s subjection to its enemy, the Lord did indeed deliver Jesus’ enemy into His hands, as He would be said to have claimed the keys of death (Revelation 1:18). Because Jesus took those keys, death would no longer be able to lock away a people and keep them in exile from their God. Both David and Jesus would engage in battle as representatives for their people, and both would emerge victorious. Their peoples would gain victory in their victory. In Jesus’ victory, all the people of the land (that being the land of Israel) should have recognized that Israel has a God, and that its God was their resurrected Messiah King, Jesus of Nazareth.

Goliath, employing his training, methodically marched toward David. He “drew steadily closer to David to attack him” (17:48a). On the other hand, “David,” with complete trust in His God to deliver his enemy into His hand, “quickly ran toward the battle line to attack the Philistine” (17:48b). Jesus could have put off His confrontation with death. He could have delayed it. At His “trial,” He could have asserted His rights, defended Himself, demanded witnesses, or engaged in any number of procedural technicalities in order to push back the time of confrontation. However, He did not answer His accusers. He did not attempt to defend Himself or explain Himself. He merely said all that needed to be said in order to hasten the inevitable. Yes, He “quickly ran toward the battle line to attack” the enemy force that had been arrayed against Him.

When David dropped his enemy to the ground, he “did not even have a sword in his hand” (17:50b). Having felled his opponent, “David ran and stood over the Philistine. He grabbed Goliath’s sword, drew it from its sheath, killed him, and cut off his head with it” (17:51). How does this fit with what it was that Jesus did? Well, just as David utilized Goliath’s own weapon against him, by cutting off his head with his own sword---the very weapon that Goliath had planned to use to strike down David and thereby bring God’s people into subjection---Jesus defeated death by going down into death. In that, He gained all power by being subject to the weapon of death that had been used to strike fear and terror into the hearts of people throughout the world. He conquered that which was designed to foster subjection and subservience to the claims of power. Jesus used the very cross of Caesar---the great symbol of the world’s power and Caesar’s power of death over life---as the means by which He would enter into the conflict from which He would emerge victorious by Resurrection.

With their champion defeated and dead, the Philistines ran away. How did Israel respond? How did God’s covenant people respond to the defeat of their enemy? Before David’s victory, Israel saw Goliath and the Philistines as a curse, very much in line with that promised by God in Deuteronomy. Had David been defeated, they would have been subject to the Philistines, and therefore under God’s curse, in exile from God’s promises. Trembling in fear before that enemy, the men of Israel had no hope. Figuratively, they saw themselves as dead men. Now, with Goliath’s defeat and the enemy’s retreat, they were able to walk into the realm of God’s blessing. They were not going to be in subjection. Death was not going to come to them. They were resurrected! “Then the men of Israel and Judah charged forward, shouting a battle cry” (17:52a). When Jesus defeated His enemy, being raised from the dead, all those in union with Him through believing in Him (the mark of God’s covenant people) were moved from cursing and exile and death and hopelessness in the face of its relentless march, into eternal life through the power of the Resurrection, with no more fear. As did Israel, those that now find themselves as God’s covenant people charge forward, with a battle cry. What is that cry? The cry is the proclamation of the Gospel. The cry is Jesus is Lord, for He has won the battle!

Friday, March 26, 2010

David & Goliath: A Battle With Death (part 3)

Un-intimidated by the imposing warrior that stood before him, David boldly declares, “This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand! I will strike you down and cut off your head” (1 Samuel 17:46a). Answering Goliath’s assertion that he would feed David’s lifeless body to the birds and the beasts, David adds, “This day I will give the corpses of the Philistine army to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the land” (17:46b). Jesus too would fling Himself headlong into battle. With supreme trust in the faithfulness of God, He too would confront His enemy, brushing off the attempts at intimidation, and saying “The Lord will deliver you into My hand.” Because He trusted that He would be resurrected, according to the promises concerning Israel’s messiah, and that His Resurrection would signal the defeat of death and its decapitation, He could confidently insist that He would strike death down and cut off its head.

His defeat of Goliath, David would add, would prove to one and all that “Israel has a God” (17:46c). Why would that be the case? Because it was inconceivable that this young man, inexperienced in battle and in the art of war, could actually topple this proven warrior. Yet we know that that is exactly what happened. As nobody had ever been able to overcome death, Jesus’ defeat of death would be just as inconceivable; but it would be proven by a physical Resurrection. Then, as now, everybody was well aware that people do not come back to life. So when Jesus returned to life, demonstrating death’s defeat, it was God’s victory over death that was made manifest. Because Jesus’ Resurrection showed Him forth as the Son of God in power---as the King of Israel now ruling in the inaugurated kingdom of heaven on earth---all observers that were willing to be honest with themselves would know and understand that Israel has a God. Furthermore, the fact that the preaching of a crucified and resurrected man had power to convince people to believe in Jesus, submit to His claims in allegiance, and be willing to go to their own deaths for holding to such a claim, was further evidence that death had truly been overcome. If the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had the power to loose its claimants and adherents from the grip and hold of death, supplanting all fear and replacing it with the truth and hope of eternal life through a trusting allegiance to Jesus, then yes, Israel, God’s people through the covenant, has a God.

David continued and said, “all this assembly will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves!” (17:47a) Of course, we know that David was armed with only a slingshot and some stones, whereas Goliath was undoubtedly out-fitted with what passed for the day’s state-of-the-art military equipment. Those that were in a position to observe David’s going out to meet Goliath would probably have not thought very highly of David’s hopes of victory. Since Goliath’s issued challenge had been a man-to-man battle, with two men representing their respective peoples, in which the loser’s people would become slaves to the victor’s people, one can imagine the grumbling that would have been taking place. Just imagine the attitude of men of Israel’s army as David marched out with no shield, no armor, no sword, and no spear. We can see Saul’s generals and advisors pleading with him, not to be so foolish as to allow this boy to determine the fate of Israel. David however, was sure of the Lord’s salvation and vindication.

Jesus would take up similar words. He was clear and direct in His message to His people, as He would effectively tell them that “it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves.” In Jesus’ day, the enemy that embodied death, and that embodied God’s continued cursing of Israel, was Rome. As long as Israel was in subjection to a foreign power, then they were still in exile from their land, regardless of geographic location. Foreign subjection implied God’s cursing. Extended to all of mankind and all of God’s creation, subjection to death and its corrupting power implied that man continued to stand under the curse inflicted upon it by Adam’s rebellion in the Garden. For Israel, because of this, it was believed that a movement must take place to overthrow the Romans and to drive them from their land, so as to re-assert Israel as autonomous and independent. This would come, they believed, through the leadership of their messiah, who would be a king in the mold of their great warrior-king David. They believed that their messiah would rise up, in revolution, and lead a military revolt that would conquer the Romans and drive them out, thus ending God’s curse and their exile. This led to many false messiahs, many uprisings, and many needless and fruitless deaths. Apparently, they had forgotten that their beloved King David, when confronted with an enemy whose defeat seemed like a hopeless cause, stood and said, “it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

David & Goliath: A Battle With Death (part 2)

As the young David continued to make his inquiries in regards to Goliath, his brothers became somewhat irritated with him. In fact, “When David’s oldest brother Eliab heard him speaking to the men, he became angry with David and said, ‘Why have you come down here? To whom did you entrust those few sheep in the desert? I am familiar with your pride and deceit! You have come down here to watch the battle!’” (1 Samuel 17:28) Stinging words for sure. They remind us of words that were spoken to Jesus, when the elders of Israel, the older brothers of Jesus (in a manner of speaking), challenged His teaching, demanding to know by what authority He was doing the things He was doing and saying the things He was saying. In essence, Israel’s elders rebuked Jesus, saying, “Why have you come down here? Who do you think you are? What do you think you are doing?”

Continuing his press for information, as he is intent upon engaging this Philistine, David dismisses his brother’s accusation. Jesus would one day do the same. Despite accusations and opposition, He would press on in His mission, never wavering from His intention to engage the enemy that stood against and continued to bring ruin into God’s creation. Eventually, David is brought before Saul, where he recounts events in his life concerning a lion and a bear, insisting that he is ready, willing, and more than able to engage Israel’s enemy. David expressed confidence that “The Lord Who delivered me from the lion and the bear will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!” (17:37a) Once again, these words of David cause us to hearken to the life and voice of our Savior, as through the numerous instances in which He spoke of His death and Resurrection, Jesus expressed supreme confidence that the Lord would deliver Him from the grip of the enemy with which He intended to do battle on behalf of all of those that would come to believe upon Him.

With this said, David set out to face the enemy. As he did, “The Philistine kept coming closer to David, with his shield bearer walking in front of him” (17:41). Though his enemy approached, David did not waver. We must imagine Jesus, in His final days, as he marched forth boldly toward His cross. His enemy came closer and closer, holding forth the accursed and shameful and humiliating cross as the instrument with which Jesus would be engaged in the battle. Jesus, of course, did not waver. He never once faltered, and thankfully, He did not fail, nor did the One in Whom He placed His trust.

“The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you are coming after me with sticks?’” (17:43a) As this analogy has been developed, it is ironic that it is the enemy of God’s people and God’s man that utters these words, as when Jesus would set His face against His enemy and its chosen weapon (the cross), He is the One that could rightly ask, “Am I a dog, that you are coming after Me with sticks?” In addition, “The Philistine said to David, ‘Come here to me, so I can give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the field’.” (17:44) To Jesus, death also said, “Come here to me.” With this, it is interesting that death would be employing crucifixion against Jesus, as on many occasions, the bodies of the crucified victims were left on the cross, to be picked over by scavenger birds. Along with that, the traditional conception of crucifixion has the body set several feet above the ground, whereas in actuality, the victim was set just a few inches off the ground, so that the victims were left exposed to scavenging animals as well.

David’s reply is that “You are coming against me with sword and spear and javelin. But I am coming against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel’s armies, Whom you have defied” (17:45b). Indeed, death thought that it had weapons that would serve to defeat and destroy, but ultimately, it’s weapons lacked power. Jesus also stood in the face of His adversary, and just as David reminded Goliath that he was attempting to defy the Lord God of Israel, so too would Jesus remind death that it was an illegitimate and unintended usurper inside God’s created order. Death had defied God and His plans long enough, and God, through His Messiah, was going to deal death its mortal blow.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

David & Goliath: A Battle With Death (part 1)

Goliath stood and called to Israel’s troops, “Why do you come out to prepare for battle? Am I not the Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose for yourselves a man so he may come down to me!” – 1 Samuel 17:8 (NET)

“There is no need for the entirety of our armies to go to war,” says Goliath. Continuing, he said, “All that is necessary if for one man from each side, representative of our respective peoples, to do battle. The peoples of the winning side will be served by the peoples of the losing side.” Though David would here take up the challenge and face Goliath in battle, there would come a time at which another man, the Son of David, would go forth in battle as a representative of His people. Yes, Jesus would willingly engage in a battle against the curse of death, and of course, He would emerge victorious. The people for which He stood as representative would be victorious, while death and the grave would be defeated. The story of David and Goliath---the story of a faithful Israelite doing battle against the enemy of God’s covenant people---is but a foreshadowing of the great and decisive battle that would be waged and won by the faithful Israelite to come, stripping the power of death from off of the chosen people of the covenant God. No, His people would not be ruled by death. They would not be participants in the dissemination of corruption. They would not serve death.

Just as Goliath stepped forward to the battle line saying, “I defy Israel’s troops this day! Give me a man so we can fight each other” (17:10), so too did death, when confronted with the claims of Israel, and God’s purpose to use this people (beginning with Abraham) to bless all the world, to deal with the problem of evil, to set His world to rights, and to ultimately be the people through which God would send His promised deliverer into His fallen creation. In response to Goliath, just two verses later, David is introduced into this story. Immediately, we know that David is the one that is going to respond on behalf of God’s people. As David is going to stand against Israel’s enemy, Goliath, so too will Jesus stand against mankind’s mortal foe.

Corruption and death seemed to defy all of God’s plans and purposes for His creation, as Goliath did Israel. Just as Goliath was the Philistine champion, death had reigned undefeated from the fall of man until the moment that Jesus stepped forth from His tomb. Goliath was supremely confident in his ability to withstand any challenge, and death was not the least bit lacking in confidence. With boldness, Goliath said, “Give me a man so we can fight each other,” though the first one that answered the challenge would prove the foolishness of this challenge. Unchallenged and undefeated, with foolish and unsuspecting boldness, death presumptuously shook its fist at God and exclaimed, “Give me a man so we can fight each other.” God’s answer to this was Jesus; and yes, a bloody and decisive battle would be waged.

David was not a part of the army. He was a shepherd. His father sent him to find out how his brothers were doing, as they had followed King Saul into a confrontation with the Philistines. When David went to the Israelite camp, he did so in order to bring gifts to his brothers. He came bearing gifts. A shepherd, sent to his brothers, bringing gifts---truly, a picture of our Lord. When David reaches the place of the army’s encampment, “he ran to the battlefront” and “asked his brothers how they were doing” (17:22b). While there, he hears the defying speech of Goliath, and witnesses the retreat and fear of his countrymen. This has been going on for forty days. King Saul is desperate to deal with this problem, but there is no one from all of Israel that is willing to represent the people. Enticements are offered. “The king will make the man who can strike him down very wealthy! He will give him his daughter in marriage, and he will make his father’s house exempt from tax obligations in Israel” (17:25b). David was unafraid. Jesus was unafraid. Because he emerged victorious in his battle against Goliath, David ultimately earned a bride for himself, eventually marrying a daughter of the king. Jesus, who would also emerge victorious from His pitched battle with death, also earned a bride.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Veil Of The Temple (part 5 of 5)

The first Adam, upon his failure to live up to His purpose, died in that failure, according to what it was that had been promised to him by God. The second Adam, completely fulfilling His purpose, faithfully carrying out God’s intention for His people Israel, was resurrected to a new life, also according to God’s promise. This is why the Apostle Paul can write, “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22), and will be raised up with a new body, for a new creation, in the exact same way in which Jesus was raised, according to God’s promise. The torn veil demonstrated that God had fulfilled His promise, and that new life in a new and changed world was coming. Pointing to this, Matthew follows up his report about the torn veil, writing that “the tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised” (27:52). Jesus’ death, as we would expect, seems to have had the effect of reversing the curse of death, and for all time, this raising of saints will be associated with the tearing of the veil. Matthew does not leave it at that, but goes on to write, “They came out of the tombs after His Resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (27:53). Though they were raised at His death, when the curse was clearly broken, which we know from the tearing of the veil, they did not come out of the tombs until after His Resurrection.

Until Jesus’ Resurrection took place, and the power of the Resurrection---that would begin to renew and restore a corrupted creation---was unleashed into the world, those that were raised were not allowed to enter into the world in which Christ was King and the creation was being renewed. This has a number of implications. Those of us that have been crucified with Christ, going down into the curse of death with Him as our representative, just as we were born into a world in which death reigned because of our first representative Adam, have been raised with Him. Believing in Him, by a faith that is gifted to us by our Father and made operable by His Holy Spirit, we are made alive, but waiting in our tombs, ready to enter into His new creation when the final Resurrection takes place, in conjunction with the consummation of Christ’s kingdom on earth.

Now, one might wonder why it was that only “many saints who had died were raised.” If the power of Christ’s death truly had the effect of shredding the veil of separation, and moving the cherubim aside, signifying that the curse was broken and Eden was once again accessible to man as part of God’s plan, why only “many”? Why not all? This probably has to do with then-current burial practice, in which the dead were laid in a tomb until the flesh decomposed from the body. Once that had occurred, the bones of the deceased were then placed in an ossuary. Those that were raised at the death of Jesus and the rending of the veil, were most likely those that had recently died, but had not decomposed. They were not given a new body, as Jesus received. They were not given a Resurrection body, but had been raised in much the same way that Lazarus had been raised, with a body still subject to death and corruption, in the midst of a creation that was still subject to death and corruption.

So it is for us at this day. In another implication, we can understand that even though we are raised with Christ, and we take part in the kingdom of heaven as we call Jesus Lord and King, believing in His Gospel, we are very much subject to death and corruption, still living in a world that is subject to the same, though it is constantly being re-shaped by the power of God as He works through us to accomplish His good. We await our new bodies, our glorified bodies, which we will receive when Jesus returns, when death is given its final defeat, and when the curse of death is finally completely removed from this world, which is that for which the entire creation groans. We experience new life, fellowship with God through union with Christ, with the curse broken. If we believe in Jesus as Lord and King, then we can know that God chose us for Himself from before the foundation of the world. Figuratively, we have been made alive in our tombs. When the power of the God’s Spirit breaks in and causes us to submit to the claim of the Gospel, and His choosing is made manifest for all the world to see and know, we are then sent forth into the world, to appear to many and to preach that Gospel. We are dead men walking, while at the same time, sharing in the gift of eternal life. We have a hope!

The torn veil is why Paul can write to the Romans and say, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory” (5:1-2). That faith by which we have been made righteous, or justified, or brought into God’s covenant as part of His covenant people, or rendered legally “not guilty,” or put right before Him and now aligned with His purpose for us, is accomplished by God’s faith (not our faith), but His faithfulness to His promises. We are given access to Him, cherubim with flaming swords taken out of the way, because of His faithfulness. We rejoice in a hope that will not disappoint us, because we are empowered by the Spirit, because of His choosing, to trust that God will consummate His plans, complete our salvation, which is our exodus, our redemption, and end of our exile and being subject to cursing, and raise us up in the same way that He raised up Christ.

In Christ the Messiah, God put Himself on display. It is said that Jesus led God out from behind the veil. Truly, this was so, because the veil was torn and man was reconciled to God, with God doing all of the reconciling through belief in Jesus, because God is faithful to His promises.

Veil Of The Temple (part 4 of 5)

This now brings us to Jesus’ death. As we know, the death was accompanied by the tearing of the temple’s veil, from top to bottom. That veil, and all that it represented for God’s people, and which had been in place for so long, was destroyed. That veil, with its cherubim, that served as an ever-present, physical reminder of the blocking of the pathway to the source and giver of life, was taken out of the way. The veil, which spoke of man’s fall and God’s curse, and the death that entered into this world at man’s hands, was put aside. Of course, it is also significant that the tearing was from top to bottom, because, yes, God did the tearing.

God did the tearing because of what had been accomplished by the long-promised and expected Messiah. Because there is a clear and direct association between Jesus’ death and the tearing of the veil, and because the veil, as we have seen from the Garden of Eden through the second temple, was the reminder of cursing and separation, its tearing meant that the curse had been broken. This is what would have been understood by those that witnessed the event, and by those that would read about the event. It was yet another chapter in Israel’s long, narrative history, and in God’s single plan of redemption for all of mankind.

Adam had been placed in the Garden of Eden. He had been created in God’s image. He failed and fell and brought a curse upon himself and this world. He was expelled from Eden and God placed cherubim at the entrance to that Garden, veiling man’s access to God’s place and to man’s purpose for which He had been created. Because Adam was the father of all of mankind, all that would follow from him would share in the curse that descended upon him. Because Adam had been given dominion over all of creation, the curse extended to the whole of creation as well. From that point in Genesis, up to and through the eleventh chapter, we see a world in decay, with murder and corruption and a flood of judgment that would ultimately serve to produce the even greater rebellion of the tower of Babel and its defiance of God, rather than repentance.

In chapter twelve of Genesis, we are introduced to Abraham, and through a covenant with Abraham, all of which points to the singular seed of Abraham to come, as God begins to fulfill the promise of the seed to come that was given to Adam and Eve, God commences His providential working through history to deal with the evil that had been introduced into the world by the rebellion of those that He had created. That story progresses through Isaac and Jacob, on to as a whole Israel, is concentrated into the God’s dealings with Judah, and is consummated in Jesus, as the promised seed fulfills the promise of the Gospel that had been set forth in Genesis chapter three, crushing the serpent’s head while His own heel is bruised in the process.

Jesus, the One to Whom Paul refers as the second Adam, did not fail. He was faithful. By willingly going into death, He entered into the curse which Adam had wrought. His death, and the tearing of the veil in conjunction with that death, as it took the cherubim out of the way, re-opened mankind’s path to fellowship with God. The curse was broken. Death would no longer reign. New life was coming. Where the first Adam, and all that followed from him, were expelled from Eden, the second Adam, and all that follow Him through a unifying belief in Him as Lord and Savior and Redeemer, are now allowed to re-enter Eden. Where the first Adam had rejected and given up his rightful dominion of God’s perfect creation, the second Adam re-claimed that dominion, ushered in the long-expected kingdom of God on earth with the Messiah as its King, and introduced the renewal of creation through the power of the Resurrection. The veil had been torn.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Veil Of The Temple (part 3 of 5)

These are good and important questions. With these numerous and regular presentations of cherubim, what was it that was being communicated to God’s people? When they would see the cherubim, what would come to mind? Likewise for the veil. As we consider the veil of the temple, along with the veil of the tabernacle, what was it that made the veil so important? Quite obviously, it was something that served to keep God’s people from the place where He was to be encountered. It was designed to limit fellowship with God.

We know from the Scriptures that God’s promise was to meet with Moses, and the High Priest of His people, above the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant, between what must be considered to be guardian cherubim, and that this took place behind the veil that was adorned with guardian cherubim. This forces us to reflect upon and consider where it is that we are first introduced to the cherubim. Where does this take place? For our answer, we go to the book of Genesis, and in the third chapter, we read “When He drove the man out, He placed on the eastern side of the orchard in Eden angelic sentries who used the flame of a whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life” (3:24). Those angelic sentries, of course, were cherubim.

As part of the curse that came upon Adam, when he failed in his commission to steward God’s perfect creation, to have dominion over the earth, and to bear the divine image as he was created to do, he was banished from the Garden of Eden. When Adam rebelled against his divine purpose, and allowed death and evil to enter into this world, he was banished from the place where he would have fellowship with God. He was removed from the place of access to God. Not only was he removed from this place of fellowship and purity and perfection and the tree of life, but two cherubim were stationed at the east end of the Garden in order to bar his way from returning to that place. Those cherubim stood with whirling swords of fire, figuratively veiling mankind from the place of God’s presence. God had openly walked in the midst of His creation, and freely had fellowship with the creatures that had been made in His image, but this was brought to an end and would happen no more. Adam, as the representative of all of humanity, had accomplished this.

When God took it upon Himself, based on His promise to Abraham, with whom He had entered into a covenant, to redeem a people out of the bondage of Egypt, to separate them for Himself, to appoint them to be the reflectors of His glory, to be a shining light to the nations, and to be the instruments of His service, He once again chose to place Himself in the midst of His creation. He chose to enter into fellowship. This time, however, there would be limitations. It was not open and it was not free. There were boundaries. When the tabernacle was erected, with its Holy Place and its Most Holy Place, God limited Himself to appearing in the Most Holy Place. He limited Himself to fellowship with Moses. Furthermore, it was decreed that only the High Priest would be able to enter into His presence, and that, only once a year, as the representative of God’s people. Where did this take place? It took place behind the veil. It took place behind the veil that was decorated with angelic sentries---cherubim. What was the penalty for a presumptuous entrance behind the veil? The penalty was death. The penalty was being cut down, figuratively, by “the flame of a whirling sword.” This was true of the tabernacle, and of Solomon’s temple, and was held to as a tradition of the second temple, which stood in Jesus’ day. There was no entrance behind the veil. Cherubim guarded the way. There was to be no direct access to or fellowship with God by man. This was mankind’s ongoing curse.

In Jesus’ day, when the people saw the cherubim, read about the cherubim, and contemplated that veil of separation, quite rightly, their thoughts would have to turn to Adam, to Eden, to the fall of man, to God’s curse, to the expulsion from Eden, and to the cherubim that were sent forth as a result of that fall. The veil of the temple was so much more than something that prevented people from seeing what stood behind it. The veil was so much more than a reminder that man was separated from his Creator. The veil of the temple, with its cherubim, would remind the people of God’s narrative story of creation, of fall, of cursing, of a way now barred, of covenant, of promises, of slavery, of exodus, of redemption, of a promised land, of their responsibilities to their God, of exile, and of a promised messiah that would be the physical embodiment of their God, and of His coming to set things right, to end their exile, to empower them to fulfill His intentions for them, to give them their land, to redeem them from oppression, to grant them another exodus, to fulfill His promises, to establish a new covenant, to grant access to His presence, to reverse the curse that man had wrought in the earth, to bring man back into right standing with Him, and to restore creation to the state of perfection in which it had been created.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Veil Of The Temple (part 2)

As we continue to progress through the Hebrew Scriptures, we find out about another temple. This temple is what is known as “Ezekiel’s Temple.” This temple has no veil of separation from the Most Holy Place. Though Ezekiel’s temple differs from the others in many ways, this is probably one of the more significant differences. So make no mistake, this veil is an important feature, therefore, the lack of a veil is an important feature as well. In the ninth chapter of Hebrews, the author mentions the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, speaking specifically of the tabernacle, though his audience could have easily connected it with the veil of the two temples, while also remembering the tearing of the veil upon the death of Jesus. He also writes about the fact that the high priest could only enter behind that veil but once a year, with the blood that he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance (Hebrews 9:7).

So now that we have discussed these veils, the question is posed as to why this matters? Why is the veil important? Those who witnessed the tearing of the veil were obviously supposed to draw a specific conclusion from the event. Also, because the Gospels continue the narrative of the Scriptures, those who read about the tearing of the veil were supposed to come to some type of enlightening position based upon what was known about cherubim. Was the tearing just supposed to illustrate the dramatic event that had just taken place? Clearly, it was far more than that. To understand why, we have to examine what could be seen on those curtains.

So what was on the curtains? We have already seen that they were made with blue and purple and scarlet and fine white linen, but they also bore an image. What image did they bear? Returning to Exodus, and the directions for the veil of the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle, we read that “it is to be made with cherubim” (26:31b). Images of cherubim were embroidered into these curtains. Not only that, but they were also worked in to the embroidery of all of the curtains of the tabernacle, as we read a few verses earlier that “The tabernacle itself you are to make with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet; you are to make them with cherubim that are the work of an artistic designer” (26:1).

Cherubim are an extraordinarily prominent feature of both the tabernacle and the temples. It is another one of those topics that seem to receive an inordinate amount of ink in the Bible. We first read about cherubim, in relation to the tabernacle, in connection with the Ark of the Covenant. In the twenty-fifth chapter of Exodus we read, “You are to make an atonement lid of pure gold… You are to make two cherubim of gold… Make one cherub on one end and one cherub on the other end; from the atonement lid you are to make the cherubim on the two ends. The cherubim are to be spreading their wings upward, overshadowing the atonement lid with their wings, and the cherubim are to face each other… I will meet with you there, and from above the atonement lid, from between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will command you for the Israelites” (25:17a,18a,19-20a,22). The very place where God said that He would meet with Moses was to be, effectively, guarded by two cherubim, not only on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, but on the curtains that marked off that place of meeting.

Later in the book of Exodus, as the items for the tabernacle begin to be made, as the curtains are produced, and as the Ark is built, we see the cherubim specifically mentioned numerous times (chapters 36 & 37), thus bolstering the fact that we should pay them some attention. In the book of Numbers, “when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak to the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the atonement lid that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim” (7:89). Again, a point is made to speak of the cherubim in connection with the place where God is to be met. In the first book of Samuel, when the Ark is mentioned, specific reference is made to the cherubim (4:4). In the second book of Samuel, when King David brings the Ark to Jerusalem, the cherubim are referenced yet again” (6:2). When the same event is presented in the first book of Chronicles, once again, we find the cherubim (13:6).

When Solomon constructs the first temple, not only are there images of cherubim included in the design of the separating curtain, but we find cherubim throughout the temple. “In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubs of olive wood; each stood fifteen feet high” (1 Kings 6:23). Their wingspans were also said to be fifteen feet (6:24-25), so that their wings reached out to touch the walls (6:27). These cherubim would have shined brilliantly, as they were overlaid with gold (6:28). Though the temple did not have curtains all around it, as did the tabernacle, Solomon still made it a point to mimic the decorative cherubim of the tabernacle curtains, carving cherubim into the walls, the doors, and the stands for the large basin. When the temple was completed and the Ark was brought into the most holy place, it is pointed out that “The cherub’s wings extended over the place where the ark sat; the cherubs overshadowed the ark and its poles” (8:7). Of course, we come to find out that Solomon did this because his father, David, “gave him the blueprint for the seat of the gold cherubim that spread their wings and provide shelter for the ark of the Lord’s covenant” (1 Chronicles 28:18b). Naturally, the second book of the Chronicles also details the construction of Solomon’s temple, with numerous references to the cherubim to be seen there.

Many years later, when Hezekiah and Judah are threatened by the Assyrians, Hezekiah went to the temple and prayed to the “Lord God of Israel, Who is enthroned on the cherubs!” (2 King 19:15a) The Psalms speak of cherubim (80:1,99:1). Isaiah calls upon the “Lord Who commands armies, O God of Israel, Who is enthroned on the cherubim!” (37:16a). Though in a different way, cherubim feature prominently in Ezekiel’s prophecy; and though there is no veil with cherubim in Ezekiel’s temple, representations of cherubim are still to be found there. Finally, cherubim make their way into the New Testament, being referenced in the letter to the Hebrews, where the author writes, taking in the full scope of cherubic presentations, of “the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat” (9:5).

Why all this talk of cherubim? Were they just really fond of angels, or are God’s people to be reminded of something each and every time they hear about and see these cherubim?

Veil Of The Temple (part 1)

Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. – Matthew 27:50-51a (NET)

We read about this event again in the Gospel of Mark, when “Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed His last. And the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom” (15:37-38). Additionally, it is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, where we read that “The temple curtain was torn in two” (23:45b). This is a very significant event, however, any recounting of this significant happening is absent from the Gospel of John. All three synoptic Gospel writers are sure to include this event, because the tearing of the veil, from top to bottom, was linked to the entire narrative of the Hebrew Scriptures. Of course, the author of the Gospel of John takes a different approach to telling the story of Jesus than that which was taken by the Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and it stands alone as something entirely different from the other three. It appears to have been written for the widest possible audience, as the ranks of Christians from many nations had grown significantly by the time that it was said to have been composed. The wider audience, possibly composed of more Jews than Gentiles, would not have grasped the overwhelming significance of what it was that had taken place when the veil was torn. Though these issues are always un-settled, Matthew is generally perceived to be directed towards a primarily Jewish audience, while it is thought that Mark wrote to a specific audience that was largely non-Jewish. However, the specifically Jewish terms employed in Mark suggest that Mark’s audience was a mixed audience of both Jews and Gentiles, thus providing a basis for making mention of the tearing of the temple veil. Luke, together with Acts, was specifically written for a Roman ruler named Theophilus, but clearly, drawing so heavily from Mark and through its employ of so much Jewish terminology and ideas, in its wider dissemination, had a mixed, but predominantly Jewish audience in mind as well.

When something is mentioned so many times, and especially when it is mentioned as a component of the telling of the climactic event of all of history, we should pay it a great deal of attention and make an attempt to understand it as best we can. So what makes this veil so significant? Why bring it up? Why mention it in the way that it is mentioned, which is in connection with Jesus’ death? With this presentation, the veil of the temple seems to be given an exalted place in the telling of the Gospel of Jesus. Is it deserved? Well, not only do we read about the veil of the temple in the Gospels, but we are first introduced to it in the book of Exodus. When God was giving Moses the extraordinarily detailed instructions for the building of the tabernacle, a large number of curtains, or veils, are mentioned. For one curtain in particular, God said, “You are to make a special curtain of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine twisted linen” (Exodus 26:31a). Furthermore, Moses was “to hang this curtain under the clasps and brink the ark of the testimony there behind the curtain. The curtain will make a division for you between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place” (26:33). This veil was of particular importance to God, and as we will go on to see, it repeatedly finds itself as part of the narrative of the Scriptures. Therefore, it can be understood to be part of God’s covenant faithfulness and His plan for mankind and His creation.

When the second tabernacle was built, that being Solomon’s temple, we find these curtains again, though obviously larger and more elaborate than those made for the tabernacle of the wilderness. Though it is not mentioned in the descriptions of the temple in the first book of the King, when we move to the second book of the Chronicles, we find that Solomon “made the curtain out of violet, purple, crimson, and white fabrics” (3:14a). When the temple is rebuilt, following the return of Judah from Babylon, a detailed description of what was made for it, done in it, and placed in it, is not provided, though we are told that those who saw the second temple, if they had seen the first temple, wept. They wept, not only because the second temple paled in comparison to the first temple, but also because of what it did not contain, which was, among other things, the Ark of the Covenant and the Lord’s Shekinah. However, we can be assured that the second temple contained a curtain of division from the Most Holy Place similar to the first temple, which had been based on the pattern of the veil of the tabernacle. Also, this was the same temple that was re-furbished and expanded by Herod the Great, which was the temple in which the veil was rent upon Christ’s death. As part of his building program, Herod the Great had sought to restore the temple to its original splendor. This restoration, undoubtedly, would have included the creation of a veil that would have rivaled that of Solomon’s temple.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Psalm Of The King (part 3 of 3)

As we move on to the fifth verse of this Psalm, we read “Your deliverance brings him great honor” (21:5a). Similar to the way in which “blessings” would have carried a specific connotation for the Psalmist and the people of Israel, the use of “deliverance” would have a deliberate reference attached to it as well. “Deliverance,” when used by the people of Israel, pointed to exodus---to redemption. Again, we are not to approach these words on our own terms, informed by twenty-first century mindsets. We must take the contextual approach that goes beyond the use of language, making every attempt to understand the terminology in its historical, philosophical, theological, political, cultural and social setting as well, with no disconnect between any of those things.

For Israel, “deliverance” was deliverance from exile. God delivered His people from Egypt. God delivered His people from a variety of oppressors through the time of the Judges. Exile was more than just being away from their land. The idea of exile included God’s people not ruling themselves in their own land. Because of that, we can take this concept forward into His own day, as Jesus would have done, building on Ezra and Nehemiah’s declarations that the exile was continuing even though God’s people had returned to their land, and realize that the people of Israel still saw themselves as a people in exile. This ongoing conception of exile from God’s blessings was the impetus behind the attempts at revolution in the centuries leading up to, and the century following Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection.

Part of the anticipation for their messiah, which was connected with the vision of Daniel and the four hundred ninety years attached to that vision that would culminate with the coming of the messiah, was that the messiah, their king (Son of God, Son of Man, Son of David---all kingly terms that would eventually be vested with divine significance because of the post-Resurrection realization, by His disciples, that Jesus had been the physical embodiment of God in His saving action on behalf of His chosen people) would bring Israel’s long exile to an end once and for all. As it is related to the first part of verse five, the deliverance that would bring the king honor can be readily understood as the deliverance from exile that God would work through His people’s messiah-king, as that which would bring that king great honor. Indeed, in making it so all nations would submit to Israel’s king, whether it would be in the subservient way envisioned and expected by Israel in which all nations would be subjected to the authority of national Israel, or in God’s kingdom plans in which Israel’s king would be a king for all peoples with the barriers between Jew and Gentile (as well as all other social barriers) torn down, God would “give him majestic splendor” (21:5b).

Verse six pulls us back into the framework of covenant and blessings, as we read, “For You grant him lasting blessings; You give him great joy by allowing him into your presence” (21:6). Once again, the use of “blessings” puts us in mind of the Abrahamic and Deuteronomic covenants and blessings. By being the embodiment of God’s purposes for Israel---being a light for the world for the purpose of God’s glory (which is what Jesus is through us when we are in union with Him)---Jesus looks to the promise of being brought into God’s presence. This points towards the Resurrection, as when He was brought forth from the grave, Jesus entered into the kingdom of heaven that God had established and inaugurated on earth by that very Resurrection. Because it will then be through acknowledgment of Jesus as King and Lord of all peoples (the Gospel), and of all creation as well, that God creates a renewed Israel (covenant people), the covenant blessing is extended to all people, through the Lordship of Jesus, as we see Him as God, and as God says, “I will walk among you, and I will be your God and you will be My people” (Leviticus 26:12). All that are in union with Jesus are said to be kings and priests to God, and in this promise of being with His people, we are made to be in God’s presence.

Finally, we can see that the Spirit-gifted faithfulness of Jesus, and its rooting in the faithfulness of God, is the key to His hope. As Jesus has taken this Psalm to heart, He would have read, “For the king trusts in the Lord, and because of the Sovereign One’s faithfulness he is not upended” (21:7). As He journeyed through His ministry, towards the encounters and confrontations that would ultimately lead to the death that He knew He must undergo on behalf of His people, Jesus would trust in the faithful God to perform a resurrection. He trusted that He would not be upended, that He would not be permanently laid down, but that in His Resurrection, and in the proclamation of His Gospel, that the world itself would be upended---turned upside down as we read in Acts, and that because of His faithfulness, a new age would dawn. Truly, this is a Psalm of the King.

Psalm Of The King (part 2)

Continuing through these verses of the twenty-first Psalm, we read in the third verse: “For You bring him rich blessings; You place a golden crown on his head” (Psalm 21:3). Whenever we find this mention of “blessings,” we would do well to keep the word in a context that would have been comprehensible and applicable to those that would have been reading these writings, namely, Israel. Rather than just thinking of “blessings” in vague generalities of God’s goodness and generosity towards His people, we should think of blessings in terms of the Abrahamic covenant, in which God promised to make Abraham exemplify divine blessing, to bless those who blessed Abraham, and to bless all the peoples of the world through Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12:2-3).

Now, because the use of “blessings” in the Abrahamic covenant could be considered to be vague, to find a more specific statement of the “blessings” of the Hebrew/Jewish mindset of the author of the Psalm, we would need to take into consideration the potential blessings of God that are directed to Israel in the first fourteen verses of the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy. These include elevation above all the nations of the earth (28:1), blessings in the city and the field (28:3), blessings for children (28:4), blessings on the produce of the soil, livestock, herds, and flocks (28:4), blessings on basket and mixing bowl (28:5), the blessing of enemies being struck down (28:7), blessings of the respect of the people of the earth (28:10), blessings of rain (28:12), and blessings of being able to lend to all while being free from debt (28:12). We must make this consideration, connecting the use of “blessings” in the Psalms with the specific ideas that were held concerning God’s blessings, because of the continuous, narrative structure of the Scriptures. Failing to do so reduces our ability to understand the message of God’s Word and the role of Jesus.

So as Jesus explores these Psalms for the strengthening of His resolve and trust in His God, as He continually considers what it is that He has been called to do and to be for Israel, He can see Himself as being the One that God will use, and is specifically using, to bring about the blessings that are promised to God’s covenant people. Also, as we consider the nature of the covenant and the requirements that were put in place to be a part of God’s covenant people (circumcision, reverencing the sanctuary, keeping the Sabbath, and avoiding idolatry), we must remember that Jesus re-focuses the covenant requirements upon Himself, declaring that it is belief upon Him as God’s Messiah that will be the basis for being included under God’s covenant, and therefore able to experience the blessings to be had therein.

Because the Psalmist connects God’s blessings with kingship (a golden crown for the head), Jesus, declaring Himself to be Israel’s Messiah, is also able to make the connection of the blessings available for the people of the covenant through His own Kingship. Jesus is able to bring about the blessings that appear in Deuteronomy, because as the faithful Israelite, as well as being the King of Israel, He is the representative of the people as He fulfills the conditions of the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai following the Exodus. Because Israel’s messiah is clearly presented in the Scriptures as a king for all peoples, Jesus’ re-positioning of the covenant requirements around Himself and belief in His Gospel, allows Him, because of the supreme faithfulness of God that He relies on and ultimately experiences in His Resurrection, to extend God’s covenant blessings to all peoples, thus fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant as well. At the same time, the connection to the Deuteronomic blessings points to the exodus of the people of the renewed covenant, as God redeems a people for Himself, through union with Jesus, from the exile into which they had been sent upon Adam’s rebellion and the fall of man.

Maintaining the theme of kingship, the Psalmist writes, “He asked You to sustain his life, and You have granted him long life and an enduring dynasty” (21:4). The fact that one of the titles of the messiah was “Son of David” demonstrates the continuity of God’s promises. Jesus, of course, is referred to on more than one occasion as the “Son of David,” thereby reinforcing that “enduring dynasty” that was rooted in a reliance on God’s faithfulness. The Apostle Paul makes this connection explicit, reminding his readers that Jesus was “a descendant of David with reference to the flesh” (Romans 1:3b), and the whole of the New Testament resounds with declarations of Jesus’ majesty and the eternal nature of His rule. Additionally, we can rest assured that part of Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, before He was made to embark upon the ordeal of the cross, was that His life be sustained; and that when He went down into death, taking God’s cursing and going into exile on behalf of all God’s people---because He did understand Himself to be Israel’s Messiah, with all of the implications of unending rule and kingship associated with that position---that He be granted the redemption of physical resurrection to new life---the deliverance from exile---that was the great hope and expectation of Israel. In union with Him, that hope belongs to us as well.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Psalm Of The King (part 1)

O Lord, the king rejoices in the strength You give; he takes great delight in the deliverance You provide. – Psalm 21:1 (NET)

The first seven verses of the twenty-first Psalm is an amazing passage of Scripture that serves to point us directly to our Lord Jesus. While the twenty-second Psalm generally gets far more attention for its part in directing us to the cross of Christ, from its opening cry of “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (22:1a), through the remainder of the Psalm that seems to point quite explicitly to the ordeal of the cross to which Jesus would be subjected, the twenty-first Psalm deserves similar consideration. If Jesus could look upon the twenty-second Psalm, seeing Himself in order to gain insight into what it was that awaited Him at the end of His human journey, then the twenty-first Psalm strengthened Him for the purpose of taking on that mission.

Because the record of the Gospels has Jesus referring to Himself as the Son of God and the Son of Man, which were both messianic titles that spoke, in general, of Israel, and more specifically, of Israel’s king, we can know that Jesus understood Himself to be the long-awaited Messiah for Israel. Because of that, Psalms which spoke of the king of Israel would naturally and understandably be a great source of direction, comfort, strength, and encouragement for Him. As He looked forward to what it was that He would be and do for Israel, He could quite easily insert Himself into this Psalm, trusting implicitly in the covenant God of Israel and say, “O Lord, the king rejoices in the strength You give” (21:1a). To willingly endure the Roman cross, which was the direction that Jesus knew that His life and work were taking Him, would take a great deal of strength; and we know that this strength was delivered to Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

With a full measure of a gifted faith, Jesus could stand in confident assurance in the deliverance that His God would provide (21:1b). What deliverance would that be? The deliverance in which Jesus would be able to take great delight was the assurance of the deliverance from death. Jesus trusted that, as He took Israel’s curse upon Himself, as Israel’s King and representative, and entered into death (exile from life), that God would be faithful to deliver Him, to redeem Him from that exile, granting Him a new life on the other side of the grave. Of course, because God’s Messiah was not only Israel’s King, but a King for all nations and all peoples, when Jesus, as the Messiah, entered into death on behalf of Israel, He also entered into death on behalf of all mankind. When He was delivered from death and its curse, all mankind was delivered as well, with the seal of that deliverance predicated on believing in Him. From then on, all that would come to be in union with Christ (believing Him to be the crucified and Resurrected Lord of all by the faith gifted by the Holy Spirit), would have gained the ultimate victory over death and its corruption.

In the Resurrection, God’s kingdom on earth was inaugurated, as His will would begin to be done on earth as it is in heaven by those who would be equipped by God for service to His glory. Though all those so equipped would continue to meet with the corruption that comes with living in this world that still awaits the return of Christ and the final consummation of the kingdom of heaven, and though they would still go to their deaths, they can grip on to the promise that just as Jesus was raised up from the grave with a new body and a new life here in the midst of God’s creation, with Resurrection power that serves to push back the forces of evil here in this world, so too would they, one day, be raised up from the grave, with a new body and a new life, here in God’s fully restored and renewed creation.

Jesus, above all things, sought to do the will of the Father. He sought to be the One through Whom God would fulfill the covenant with Abraham and bless the world. He sought to be the second Adam---to be the first truly human being, rightly bearing the image of His Creator---that would set all things right, regaining the dominion over the created order that had been given to Adam, and reversing the curse, through His faithfulness, that had been brought into creation by Adam’s faithlessness. He sought to be the light for the world that had been God’s intention for His chosen people Israel. With such intentions, Jesus could be emboldened by the Psalmist’s declaration in regards to Israel’s king that “You grant him his heart’s desire; You do not refuse his request” (21:2).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My Enemies (part 3 of 3)

Having been rescued from hostile armies on both sides of the cross and raised up with all power as a clear demonstration that He was the Messiah for Whom His people had been waiting, the remainder of the eighteenth Psalm becomes even more striking and dynamic for both us and Jesus. Jesus could continue to read Himself into this Psalm, speaking to the Father and saying, “You make Me a leader of nations; people over whom I had no authority are now My subjects” (18:43b). Throughout the New Testament, this exaltation of Jesus as a leader of nations is a regular theme, as we have already seen in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi.

Naturally, it is only a recurring theme in the New Testament because it is so prevalent in the Hebrew Scriptures. The repeated insistence is that the Messiah will be a ruler not just for Israel, but for all peoples. Though this was routinely misapplied in Jesus’ day to mean that national Israel, through the rule of its messiah, would also rule all nations, which led to an unfortunate exclusiveness by Israel, as God’s people isolated themselves and set up prohibitive boundaries around God’s covenant and its associated blessings. This was never God’s intention. Jesus Himself makes it quite clear that He was a King for all peoples, and the Apostle Paul seizes on the implications of Jesus life and actions, along with the “all nations” presentation from the Hebrew Scriptures, to show forth that God’s kingdom of earth (the kingdom of heaven) was inclusive of all peoples, in accordance with the covenant that God had made with Abraham.

Jesus’ leadership and authority is part of the Gospel message, and the Gospel message contains power in itself (Romans 1:16). Amazingly enough, when Jesus’ disciples went forth and preached the Gospel message---first to Jerusalem, and then to Judea, and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth (Acts 1:8), in accordance with Jesus’ command to do so (Matthew 28:18)---it was believed. This, in itself, is quite amazing. There was an excellent understanding of death by crucifixion in that day. Not only was it understood that people did not survive a Roman crucifixion, but it was understood that the one that was crucified was crucified for rebellion against Rome. Death by crucifixion meant Rome won. Along with that, it was also well understood that people did not come back to life in bodily form. Nevertheless, that is what the disciples preached.

They not only preached a physically resurrected and living Jesus, but they preached a crucifixion that had precipitated the death from which He was resurrected. They preached that this crucified and resurrected Jew was Israel’s Messiah and also the Lord and Ruler of all people and all things. With full understanding of what was meant by all that had occurred, they preached that this Jesus was, in fact, the actual embodiment of Israel’s Creator God. They preached all these things, and because this Gospel contained God’s power, people actually believed it in vast numbers. As a reward for their belief, large numbers of people, because they were claiming allegiance to a different king than Caesar, were put to death. Yet people continued to believe. Though bewildering to contemplate, this should not be surprising, because the Psalmist had already written, “When they hear of My exploits, they submit to Me. Foreigners are powerless before Me; foreigners lose their courage; they shake with fear as they leave their strongholds” (18:44-45). The world’s powers did not know what to do with the message of Jesus. As Paul would write in Colossians, those powers had been disarmed (2:15), and they had no true and lasting power against those who believed in this Man Who had been resurrected or in the message of His name

Looking to the Psalms, and considering the enemies against whom He was going to do battle, and knowing that His God was completely faithful to see Him through, Jesus could take up the Psalmist’s words of praise, saying, “The Lord is alive! My Protector is praiseworthy!” (18:46a) Knowing that He would eventually hand all rule and all authority on earth back over to the Father, Jesus could say, “The God Who delivers Me is exalted as King!” (18:46b) Facing the knowledge of His eventual demise at the hands of Israel’s oppressors, but also His subsequent and expected Resurrection (according to then-current Jewish expectation) Jesus would faithfully proclaim, “The one true God completely vindicates Me; He makes nations submit to Me” (18:47). “Yes,” says Jesus, to the Father, in regards to death at the hands of Rome and of mankind’s curse that began with Adam, “He delivers Me from My enemies; You snatch Me away from those who attack Me; You rescue Me from violent men” (18:48).

Because of these things, because of the Gospel’s proclamation that Jesus is indeed King over all nations, because we are made to believe this by the power of the Holy Spirit, and because God works through us as His instruments to establish His good in this world as we await the return of our Lord and the final consummation of that glorious kingdom of which we are a part at this very moment, we join with Jesus and declare, “So I will give You thanks before the nations, O Lord! I will sing praises to You! He gives His chosen King magnificent victories; He is faithful to His chosen ruler, to David and His descendants forever” (18:49-50). Jesus is Lord because our God is faithful. Because Jesus is Lord, death has no power. Because He rose, we stand in defiance of death, and dismiss the fear it brings, for it is a conquered enemy and a defeated foe.

My Enemies (part 2)

As we ponder what has been accomplished by our Lord’s death and Resurrection, and as we continue to imagine the strength and confidence for His mission that Jesus would have gained through His study and exploration of the Scriptures, we go on to read “You rescue Me from a hostile army” (Psalm 18:43a). For Jesus, this involves a two-fold application. Though in the natural He was not rescued from a hostile army---that being the Roman army---by being raised up from His grave, He was rescued from death and its vengeful hordes. By going into the curse of death on a cross as the singular representative for His people Israel, we can see that Jesus took yet another aspect of the Deuteronomic curse upon Himself.

In Jesus’ day, the Roman cross was the symbol of Rome’s power of death over the lives of its subjects; and of course, because Israel was still in subjection to a foreign power, they still correctly considered and understood themselves to be in exile and under God’s cursing. In the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, for violations of His covenant with them, God promised to His people to “raise up a distant nation against you, one from the other side of the earth as the eagle flies” (28:49a). Now, numerous nations had carried the eagle as a symbol, and the eagle was also the symbol of Rome’s Senate, its people, and of imperial Rome. It is said that approximately twenty years prior to Jesus’ birth, King Herod the Great placed an eagle, in deference to Rome, over an entrance to the Temple. For multiplied reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it reminded the people of Rome’s domination (and God’s cursing) as well as passages such as that of Deuteronomy above, this offended the people of Israel.

So through an understanding of the power that was symbolized by the cross, along with the eagle in conjunction with Rome’s military might, as well as the Psalmist’s insistence in regards to rescue from a hostile army, we can make a realistic analysis and re-construction of Jesus’ mindset as He considered His role in regards to the establishment of the kingdom of heaven, on behalf of His people and the world. While He did not rise up to conquer Rome (as was expected of Israel’s messiah), by being raised up from the dead after having been put to death on the Roman cross, He was rescued from that which represented the oppressive subjection of the world’s power, which was the cross. Not only that, it must also be said that Jesus went directly into that which His own people saw as a representation of being accursed by God, which was being hung on a tree (a cross), that He traversed death in the grave, and that he came out the other side, completely vindicated by God’s power and faithfulness.

With that vindicating Resurrection from the grave, the Apostle Paul writes that Jesus “was appointed Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit” (Romans 1:4a). Paul indicated that this man that had been subject to a violent and gruesome form of death in which the world’s power clearly overcame Him in a way that was visible to all people, had come out the other side of death and was now in the position of true power. His Resurrection from the form of death that represented the power of death over life, showed the world that Jesus now had the power of life over death. It vindicated His claims as Israel’s Messiah. Now, Paul says that all that was said to be true of that messiah must now be said to be true of Jesus.

Not only was He the Son of God, Son of Man, Son of David, and King of Israel, He was also the One in Whom Israel’s God Himself had entered into history in order to vindicate His people, inaugurate His kingdom on earth, and begin to set to rights His world that had been marred by sin and death’s corruption, doing so by the power of the Resurrection, which was the power of the age to come now breaking in upon creation. This breaking in of God’s power and plans for His creation had been foreshadowed by Jesus’ life and His miracles, but was now going to be made manifest because of His death, and by the miracle of His Resurrection.

Friday, March 12, 2010

My Enemies (part 1)

I chase My enemies and catch them; I do not turn back until I wipe them out. – Psalm 18:37 (NET)

Once again, as we find ourselves in the Psalms, with an ever-present reflection on the only reason why we even venture into the Word of God---our resurrected Lord Jesus---we are confronted with words and thoughts that could very well be ascribed to Jesus, as He tread the earthly path of ministry that was going to take Him to His cross. In the midst of first century expectations concerning Israel’s messiah, and the kingdom of God on earth that would be established by the messiah’s victory over the enemies of God’s people, we can imagine Jesus searching the Scriptures, as He contemplated His role and His task to usher in that long-expected kingdom; but doing so in a way that stood contrary to what His fellow countrymen were imagining and in some cases pursuing. Jesus knew that God’s kingdom would not be established in the way that every other kingdom had been established in this world---that of the violence of sword and spear.

At the same time, Jesus knew that there was going to be violence, but that the violence would be that which He would suffer and endure at the hands of the Romans. Jesus knew that there was going to be a massive conflict, and an enemy to be defeated, but the enemy with which He was going to engage in battle, was far more ferocious and powerful than the ones that His countrymen sought to overthrow. Jesus was going to do battle with death, that enemy which ultimately ruled through its power over all men and all things. Jesus trusted that His God was going to empower and enable Him to emerge victorious over this enemy, through a Resurrection, thereby stripping death of its power, and in its place, offering life to all men and all things, in submission to Him.

It is with such things in mind that Jesus could come to this Psalm, inserting Himself with a full understanding of His vocation, and to the Roman cross to which that vocation was leading, and read, “I chase My enemies and catch them; I do not turn back until I wipe them out.” To that is added, “I beat them to death; they fall at My feet” (18:38). Recognizing the source of such power, Jesus could read, “You give Me strength for battle; You make My foes kneel before Me” (18:39). The Apostle Paul would latch on to this theme, echoed elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, and include in his letter to the Philippians “that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow---in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (2:10). Not only would this enemy kneel and bow before Him, but Jesus could look to this Psalm and go to the cross with the confident declaration that “You make My enemies retreat” (18:40a). With the power of the faithful, covenant-making-and-keeping God at His back, Jesus could make the assertion that “I destroy those who hate Me” (18:40b).

His enemies would not go down without a battle, nor without an assertion of their rights. In fact, those enemies would cry out. The Psalmist would write, “they cry out, but there is no one to help them” (18:41a). More than that, His enemies, death and the grave, would even “cry out to the Lord, but He does not answer them” (18:41b). Wait a minute. How could death cry out to the Lord? Why would death cry out to the Lord? In crying out to the Lord, death would be doing nothing more than asserting its rightful claim against all of mankind. That rightful claim began with Adam. Death would be asserting its rightful claim against Israel, which had been in constant violation of their God’s commandments to them.

It was this failure of Israel that would make it necessary, because God is faithful to His promises, for their King to undergo that which was seen as the greatest curse, the cross, going there as the representative of His people, to undergo suffering and death. Though death was a usurper and an interloper in God’s good creation, it was not an unlawful usurpation, as death had only entered because of mankind’s failure, and through mankind’s relinquishing of his God-given dominion over all things. Though death and its associates cry out, God’s answer would come through His anointed King’s power to “grind them as fine windblown dust” (18:42a), and His strength to “beat them underfoot like clay in the streets” (18:42b). This would be accomplished by a Resurrection, as God would brook no bargains with death, as He set His world to rights through His Christ.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Everyone Who Calls (part 2 of 2)

As we read through this letter to the Romans, we must remember that Paul is writing to a mixed group of both Jews and Gentiles. There would have been a faction of the Jews, as we repeatedly find throughout the New Testament, that did not want to see the Gentiles come under the blessings of God’s covenant. There would have been a faction that would have insisted that Gentiles, in order to truly be a part of God’s covenant people, would need to undergo circumcision, and along with that, diligently keep to the food and Sabbath laws. There would have been Gentiles that thought that the covenant blessings had passed completely from the Jews to the Gentiles, as they could point to Israel’s nearly wholesale rejection of Jesus as Messiah as evidence in favor of such a verdict. These various factions would have eyed each other suspiciously, seeking to draw boundaries where none should rightfully be allowed to exist, and we see Paul dealing with these things throughout this letter.

Paul cuts right across all of these Jew versus Gentile issues, getting right to the heart of the matter when he writes, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). That’s it! This salvation was for Jew and Gentile. This was “the word of faith” (10:8) that Paul said was his singular message, and we know this to be true, as effectively, verse nine outlines the message of the Gospel. Belief in this Gospel, and submission to its power that would serve to order one’s life according to God’s purposes (not another man’s purposes) was that which would graft (to use terminology from chapter nine) an individual into the grouping of God’s covenant people, and allow that person to experience the associated blessings.

This also serves to address any Jewish provincialism, along with Gentile high-mindedness, as Paul makes it a point to inform them that all can be saved, which implies that all need to be saved, which implies that all, Jew and Gentile, are in the midst of cursing and exile and in need of salvation from such. For the Jew, the curse and exile was associated with their violations of the law delivered to them through Moses. For the Gentile, the cursing and exile went all the way back to Adam, and the bringing into the creation of the curse of death and exile from God’s presence (which would naturally apply to the Jew as well).

Verse ten of this chapter reads, “For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation” (10:10). Oftentimes, we allow these two concepts to coalesce. However, we have to make a delineation and see that belief on Jesus is a work of the Spirit, owing to the power of the Gospel proclamation, in which the believer is made to experience God’s covenant faithfulness (righteousness), which is represented by the fact of belief and its power to include the believer as part of God’s covenant people. This righteousness is not a moral quality that is given to the believer. The proclamation of submission to the claims of the Gospel---the open confession of Jesus as Lord (a highly-charged and risky proposition in the day in which Caesar himself is declared to be Lord, and claims contrary to this are punishable by death), is what breaks the curse of Adam (death) and ends the exile from pure fellowship with one’s Creator. That is salvation, and it is distinct from righteousness.

So how do we know that Paul is addressing the divisions and claims of Jew and Gentile? Paul goes on to make it quite clear in verse twelve, writing that “there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek” (10:12a). It’s difficult to be more clear than that. He goes on to write, “for the same Lord is Lord of all, Who richly blesses all who call on Him” (10:12b). With his use of “richly blesses,” Paul seems to be making an unmistakable allusion to the Abrahamic covenant (which would also pass through Isaac and Jacob, on to Israel). It is worthwhile to pay a quick visit to the words of that covenant, as we go to Genesis and read, “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. 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” (12:2-3). Yes, by calling on the name of the Lord, by believing in Jesus as Lord and confessing Him as such, the blessings of Abraham would fall to all, both Jew and Gentiles, with no distinction. Without boundary or work of the law or division or claim to superiority or inferiority, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13).

Everyone Who Calls (part 1)

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. – Romans 10:13 (NET)

A great truth. A great hope. A great comfort. An oft quoted statement, but regularly and almost exclusively set forth with a complete lack of context. Regularly, this verse is lifted from its setting here in the tenth chapter of Romans and made to serve duty as part of a statement regarding nothing more than a personal salvation, as a free-floating aphorism. It is a duty for which the statement is ill-equipped, especially when we consider that the personal salvation with which it is always associated is a salvation of the soul, so as to enable a believer to “go to heaven” when he or she passes from this life. This falls well short of the message of the Gospel. So while these words do represent a great hope, putting them in their proper context will serve to make the hope even greater, as it demonstrates God’s covenant faithfulness.

Throughout chapters nine and ten of Romans, Paul is speaking a great deal about his brethren, the Jews. This dissertation concerning the Jews provides the context for verse thirteen, as well as what comes before and after. After outlining Israel’s rejection of the Gospel message (Jesus is the crucified and resurrected Messiah of Israel and Lord of all creation), Paul begins the tenth chapter by writing, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation” (10:1). It was well understood that, until the messiah came---until their God personally acted within history to deliver His people from oppression and exile---that Israel was still under God’s curse and the exile that began with the Babylonian conquest of Judah in 586 B.C. The coming of messiah, their acknowledgment of God’s faithful fulfillment of His promise in the sending of that messiah, and their submission to the claims of that messiah and his lordship, would signal Israel’s salvation. That is, Israel would be delivered from the curse of separation from God, with their long exile from fellowship with Him brought to an end. That is a part of what it would mean for Israel to be saved.

To the words of the first verse, Paul adds, “For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth” (10:2). What was the truth? The truth was that God had sent His Messiah, that being Jesus, but that He had been rejected. By rejecting Jesus, they also rejected the model for the inauguration of the kingdom of God that Jesus presented. Israel believed that the kingdom of God---the kingdom of heaven---must be ushered in through the overthrow of those who oppressed them, that being the Romans. They were zealous for this. Not only were they expecting their messiah to accomplish this overthrow, but they expected that messiah, with the power of God at his back, would subjugate all nations (Gentiles) to themselves. This was a zealously held position, but it was not in line with the truth that God intended to bring all nations, both Jew and Gentile, into a single covenant family under the rule of His Messiah, Jesus. This was not going to be accomplished through a zealous taking up of arms, but rather, through a laying down of nationalistic claims and aspirations.

The next verse follows in the same vein, as Paul writes: “For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (10:3). Paul says that they ignored God’s righteousness, that is, God’s covenant faithfulness to His desire to draw all nations to worship Him because of the light of His glory that they would see in His people Israel. Rather, they sought to establish themselves as the separate and autonomous people of God, setting up boundaries of covenant markers such as circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and food-laws, that would serve to identify them as God’s chosen people. In that day, these things would be referred to as the “works of the law,” and their purpose was to mark them off from the Gentile nations that stood against Israel and did not deserve God’s blessings. In all of this, they did not submit to God’s plan of covenant faithfulness, which was that all peoples would be blessed through His chosen people, beginning with Abraham, with whom the covenant had originally been struck.

Rounding out this line of thinking, Paul writes, “For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes” (10:4). What the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ would accomplish would be the tearing down of those boundaries of the “works of the law” (circumcision, food laws, Sabbath-keeping). Tearing those things down, He would set up, in their place, a new standard for entering in to the blessings of God’s covenant faithfulness, which would be that of believing upon Him, upon Jesus, as Lord.