Monday, May 31, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 6)

So now, we continue our march through the Scriptures to determine if these assertions about exile and exodus and the attendant theme of rescue from foreign subjugation( that is inherent in the idea of exodus) truly does play out at the level which makes it a (if not the) dominating theme of the Word of God, as through it, God reveals His plans and purposes for the world of His creation. As was previously said, we find these things, once we are looking for them as part of the wider context and narrative, with rapidity and regularity.

Venturing forth from the books of Moses, we encounter Rahab, who, though living in Jericho amongst her people, is truly in exile from that for which God had purposed her. Without re-tracing the entirety of her story, we find that upon the fall of the city, her and her family are spared. Prior to God’s intervention on her behalf through her “encounter” with the Israelite spies, she stood under the same sentence of condemnation as did the rest of Jericho. Exile from life was the end which had been apportioned for her. The gracious and promised sparing of her and her family represent their exodus into the covenant community of the people of God. Rahab and her family experience redemption and salvation, which are congruent terms to exodus and deliverance from exile.

When we encounter Achan and read about his sin, God makes it a point to speak of Israel, saying “they have violated My covenantal commandment” (Joshua 7:11). Israel had just been victorious over the great city of Jericho, but had been routed and defeated by the small city of Ai. Thoughts of foreign subjugation probably began to seep into Israel’s collective consciousness. Perhaps their God was not powerful enough to do all that had been promised to them? Perhaps the victory at Jericho was a fluke? Israel, in violation of the covenantal commandment in relation to what was to be done with Jericho in its entirety, once again, though in the land, found themselves in exile from God’s promise to subdue the whole of the land before them. Israel had been tasked by God to purge the land of evil, yet Achan was seizing upon that which God had said was to be devoted to destruction. Once the evil had been purged from their midst, exodus into the victorious carrying out of God’s purposes to purge wickedness and evil from the land was resumed, and this temporary re-exile was reversed.

When Joshua designates the cities of refuge, according to the command that had been given by God through Moses, we are presented with a picture of exile and exodus. When the person that was guilty of manslaughter fled to the city of refuge, he would be in a state of self-imposed and unfortunate exile. Provisions, however, were made for his eventual exodus, so that he “may return home to the city from which he escaped” (20:6b).

Once we reach the book of Judges, we encounter exile and exodus as a particularly significant theme. The exile of foreign subjugation and oppression would come when “The Israelites did evil before the Lord by worshiping the Baals” (2:11), and when “They abandoned the Lord God of their ancestors Who brought them out of the land of Egypt” (2:12a). The exile would take the form of the Lord handing Israel “over to robbers who plundered them. He turned them over to their enemies who lived around them” (2:14b). In this situation, “Whenever they went out to fight, the Lord did them harm, just as He had warned and solemnly vowed He would do” (2:15a). Through the monotonous cycle of these repetitive exiles, “They suffered greatly” (2:15b). However, exodus would never be far away, as “The Lord raised up leaders who delivered them from these robbers… When the Lord raised up leaders for them, the Lord was with each leader and delivered the people from their enemies while the leader remained alive” (2:16,18a). This was because “The Lord felt sorry for them,” in their state of exile, “when they cried out in agony because of what their harsh oppressors did to them” (2:18b), much like Israel groaned under the oppression of Egypt in a previous state of exile that found them in need of an exodus. Unfortunately, what we also learn is that “When a leader died, the next generation would again act more wickedly than the previous one” (2:19a), which would serve to return them to exilic status.

So in moving through the book of Judges, we find Israel, as they “did evil in the Lord’s sight” (3:7b), given over to the subjugation of Aram-Naharaim, and their king, Cushan-Rishathaim, for a period of eight years. God provided exodus under the leadership of a man named Othniel, whom “The Lord’s Spirit empowered” (3:10a). This was done “When the Israelites cried out for help to the Lord,” and, as we notice the specific language designed to recall the exodus from Egypt under Moses, “He raised up a deliverer for the Israelites who rescued them” (3:9). Following that deliverance, “The Israelites again did evil in the Lord’s sight,” so “The Lord gave King Eglon of Moab control over Israel” (3:12a). Exile had come again. However, “When the Israelites cried out for help to the Lord, He raised up a deliverer for them. His name was Ehud” (3:15a). Through and under Ehud, exile was overcome by exodus.

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 5)

We began with a passage from Jeremiah, where we read “’When the time for them to be rescued comes,’ says the Lord Who rules over all, ‘I will deliver you from captivity. Foreigners will no longer subjugate them’.” (30:8) Because this is from Jeremiah, the immediate application for this statement is to the plight of Judah, and a promised exodus to their land from which they had been taken, thus ending their Babylonian exile. Though a remnant of Judah did make a return, they were not free, but still in subjugation to foreign powers, which has been well established. Because of that, it is difficult to make sense of the verses that follow. We read, “But they will be subject to the Lord their God and to the Davidic ruler whom I will raise up as king over them. So I, the Lord, tell you not to be afraid, you descendants of Jacob, My servants. Do not be terrified, people of Israel. For I will rescue you and your descendants from a faraway land where you are captives. The descendants of Jacob will return to their land and enjoy peace. They will be secure and no one will terrify them. For I, the Lord, affirm that I will be with you and will rescue you. I will completely destroy all the nations where I scattered you” (30:9-11a).

Gazing upon the history of the nation of Israel, these words of God appear to be demonstrably untrue. This was most definitely not the situation which Jacob/Israel/Judah could observe about themselves throughout the time period that began with the return from Babylon, and continuing on through the time period of the New Testament. One could venture to say that these words of God could never have been applied to the nation of Israel since that time. This apparent failure of God’s certain promise is the reason for the lengthy examination of the subjects of exile and exodus. It is the situation into, and the subjects about which, God is speaking in these verses, and a clearly held picture of these themes will allow for a proper understanding of that to which God, through Jeremiah, and through His entire Book, is pointing.

So now that we’ve looked at the exodus of Israel from their Egyptian exile, along with an examination of Moses’ personal experience of exile as well as the similar experiences of the Biblical patriarchs while also dealing with the exodus of Judah from Babylonian exile, is that the end of the subject? Is it time to move to a conclusion? Do we here simply wrap things up, turn the focus towards ourselves in a less-than-humble nod to our all-conquering private spirituality, and decide that the Bible was written and that God acted through the coming of Jesus, with Him ending up on a cross, so that each of us could have our own personal exodus to heaven when we die, thereby escaping an eternal exile into the unquenched fires of hell? Is that the point? When God speaks through Jeremiah, and talks about a deliverance from foreign subjugation and captivity, and those that will be subject to the Lord and the reigning Davidic ruler that will be raised up as king, and that His people should not be afraid or terrified because a rescue is coming, and that there will be a return to the land of peace and security, and that the Lord will destroy all the nations, are we to take that as “end of the world” language since it has been well-documented that none of this could be said of Israel as a nation, so therefore this must be talk of what will God will do for His people at the end of time, when He reigns down destruction upon the wicked and evil world. Not hardly.

As should be imagined, God’s work is far, far greater than that. There is an end-game, in a manner of speaking, and it is not simply to create a means by which people can live a certain way on earth and go to heaven when they die. In all honesty, if that was all there was, then one would have to wonder at the reason for all the hoopla of God’s sending and working through of Abraham, Israel, Jesus, and the church. What does that do to Jesus’ Resurrection? What was the point of that? Was He resurrected and ascended into heaven just to prove that He was God? When this occurred, did it happen simply so that we could equate His Resurrection with our going to heaven? It all seems rather extravagant and un-necessary if God, when it all wraps up, will have done nothing more than saved some, condemned others, and destroyed the world. That idea sits at quite a remarkable distance from that which is the primary focus of Scripture, which is exile and exodus and God’s effecting of rescue from foreign subjugation.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 4)

Once we encounter Israel in the land of Egypt, exiled from their ancestral abode and in subjugation to powers that are foreign to them and to whom their God is a stranger, we find ourselves meeting with the theme of exile and exodus with regularity and rapidity. Before Israel’s exodus from Egypt, Moses experiences an exile, as he runs from the wrath of Pharaoh, following his killing of an Egyptian that he found meting out harsh treatment to one of the Israelite slaves. It must be said that Moses presents an interesting case, to say the least. Though he is a member of the household of Israel, he is exiled from the household of his people at a young age, being delivered from the decree of death that had been issued, by the Pharaoh, towards the male children of Israel. While he escaped death through the bold and courageous actions of his mother and sister, he was adopted by the daughter of the Pharaoh, joining Pharaoh’s household and being raised as a prince of Egypt. In this exile, though it would ultimately serve God’s purposes, Moses was most assuredly subject to a foreign power, that being Pharaoh, away from the knowledge of his God, though the second chapter of Exodus makes it clear that Moses knew his own identity as a member of Israel. Though he had been exiled away from his people while being brought up in Pharaoh’s house, he experiences an exodus from that exile when he begins to identify himself with Israel.

It seems that Moses, however, did not know the God of Israel, so before he could become the man whom God would raise up to become the deliverer of Israel, he himself needed to be rescued from foreign subjugation (Pharaoh’s house). Naturally, this is the same rescue (from Pharaoh’s house) that God would effect on behalf of His people, under the leadership of Moses. Moses’ exile would come about when Moses presumptively took up arms, in a manner of speaking, to avenge the oppression against his people that was being wrought at the hands of an Egyptian (his people’s oppressors). We can imagine that Moses, having been brought to a point at which he began to identify with his people, and perhaps, having learned of the prophecies of subjection and deliverance associated with their time in Egypt, decided to take it upon himself to bring about this deliverance, possibly sparking something of a revolution with his rising up to kill the Egyptian. This, however, was obviously not God’s plan for the deliverance of His people and the revelation of His faithfulness and power.

With this, it is interesting to ponder the possibility that, as Israel, leading up to the time in which our Lord Jesus was born, looked to a deliverer or a prophet that would be raised up in the mold of Moses, if it was not something like this particular Moses that they had in mind. With messianic expectations in Jesus’ day profoundly linked to a king in the line of David that would take up sword and shield against the enemies of God’s people to deliver them from their long, dark night of exile from their God’s great promises to them, it would not be at all surprising to see a hope and desire for a man like the Moses that came violently against the Egyptian as the bringer of deliverance from subjugation.

Having been the perpetrator of a murderous act, Moses leaves Egypt and settles in the land of Midian, exiling himself from what was, at that time, the place of God’s people. Much like the experience of Judah in Babylon, as they had been steeped in idolatry because they had forgotten their God, it would take an exile for Moses to learn about the power and faithfulness of Israel’s covenant God. God would reveal Himself to Moses, in the midst of his exile, in a way not altogether dissimilar from the way He revealed Himself to Daniel in exile. Because an exodus is a redemption, and a crossing over into God’s purposes and plans, we can see Moses’ eventual return to Egypt as a personal exodus experience, putting him in line with Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. We cannot think of exodus as simply an event of “leaving” and going out, but rather, we must also think of exodus as an in-bound event. Again, that is why exodus is fundamentally connected with redemption and salvation. It is exile that represents leaving, and a movement, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, away from God’s intentions.

So when Moses returns to Egypt, though it is a return to the place of Israel’s first national exile, it is an altogether different experience for him. He is not in exile. He has already been exodus-ed, and is prepared to lead an exodus. He has been subject to Pharaoh’s power, but in a different way from the rest of his people. When he returns, he is clearly not subject to Pharaoh’s power in any way, as he is already operating under the rule of Israel’s God, which is the exact same place of submission to which he is to lead Israel. This is pointed up by the fact that the first and most important order of business to be accomplished following Israel’s exodus from Egypt is not the triumphant return to the land of ancestral promise, but a visit to Sinai, and the voicing of a community-wide submission to the laws and demands of their God, so that they might be His people for His covenant and for His purposes. It is this part of the journey, more than the physical journey from Egypt to Canaan, that is far more arduous and difficult. On multiple occasions, we see that at the slightest hint of calamity, Israel, though they have seen the powerful saving hand of their God on repeated occasions, is more than ready to reject Him and to re-submit themselves to Pharaoh, so as to be his people for his purposes. For Israel, exodus was a process. It is no different for all that are covenanted to God and called by His Name.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 3)

This progression of the Scriptural exodus narrative brings us to that which is referred to as “the exodus.” The story of the exodus of Israel from the land of Egypt actually begins with an exile, as Jacob and his sons leave the land of Abrahamic promise to join Joseph in Egypt. They are initially treated quite well in Egypt, having been received in an altogether grand manner and given the finest part of the land in which to reside. However, this positive situation is turned on its head when “a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power over Egypt” (Exodus 1:8). This would be the first of many subjugations to many foreign powers to be observed throughout the history of this chosen nation. This is when their exile from the land truly begins.

This can actually be viewed as something of a secondary exile, this time involuntary, whereas the first “exile,” which was their leaving the land of promise and traveling down into Egypt, was completely voluntary (they could have stayed there and Joseph could have supplied them with grain throughout the duration of the famine). In addition, when they came to Egypt, and were introduced to the Pharaoh, the king, by way of Joseph, “gave them territory in the land of Egypt, in the best region of the land” (Genesis 47:11b). Though they had departed from the land that God had set apart for them through His promise to Abraham---that promised land that was to be the first part of the creation to be renewed, prefiguring the whole, and thereby could be considered to the best part of the land itself---through this gift of Pharaoh, God made provision for the bearers of His covenant promises, giving them a good and bountiful land.

Returning to what it was that marked the true beginning of their Egyptian exile, as Egypt began to oppress Israel upon the coming to power of the new king that did not know Joseph nor, more significantly, Joseph’s God, we can observe a connection with the later exile under Babylon. That observation and connection is something of a divine reversal, as we shall see. When Judah (Israel) was in exile in Babylon, they were awaiting an exodus. The thirtieth chapter of Jeremiah, in addition to other places in his prophecy, certainly speaks to that hope. What was it that brought about the end of their physical exile in Babylon, though they were still subjected to a foreign power? It was the coming of a new king, that being Cyrus of Persia. Contrary to the new Pharaoh of Egypt, to whom we are introduced in the first chapter of the book of Exodus, it appears that Cyrus knows Israel’s God. In the book of Ezra, we read that “In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia. He disseminated a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, announcing in a written edict the following: ‘The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has instructed me to build a temple for Him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah’.” (1:1-2) Interestingly, these very same words could very easily have been on the lips of the resurrected Lord Jesus. For sake of clarity, it should be mentioned that the fulfillment of the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah was that of return from exile, whereas it is the prophecy of Isaiah in which we learn about God’s special plans for Cyrus.

The contrasting stories of these two kings---the un-named Pharaoh of Egypt and Cyrus of Persia, make for interesting bookends to Israel’s exile and exodus struggles. The first brings about the first true exile of God’s called-out nation, whereas the second brings the final Biblically-recorded exile from their land (as far as being able to make their home in the land of promise, in spite of ongoing subjugation to foreign power) to an end. At this point, the remnant of Israel (remnant is defined as those that return from exile), which would be the portion of the people of Judah that returned from Babylon (not all did), could certainly look to Jeremiah and see something of a fulfillment of God’s promise made through Jeremiah. They would be reminded that God had said to them through Jeremiah, “Do not be terrified, people of Israel. For I will rescue you and your descendants from a faraway land where you are captives. The descendants of Jacob will return to their land and enjoy peace” (30:10b).

However, based on the experience of the people that we see in Ezra and Nehemiah, and the difficulties that were endured in their return to the land and the attempts to rebuild, they would have found it difficult to find the fulfillment of “They will be secure and no one will terrify them” (30:10c). As subjects of Persia however, it could not necessarily be said that “they will be subject to the Lord their God” (30:9a), but they could look to that situation and take solace in the fact that, in spite of ending their physical exile, God had said “I will indeed discipline you, but only in due measure. I will not allow you to go entirely unpunished” (30:11b). So again, the situation in which it appears that God has not been faithful to His promises persists. Though returned to their land, God’s people cannot claim to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to “rescue…from foreign subjugation,” such that “Foreigners will then no longer subjugate them” (30:8b). They were not strictly subject to the Lord their God (30:9a). They did not have a David-like king ruling over them (30:9b). This simply continues to beg the question: “Is God unfaithful?” Before we get to the answer as it relates to what we find here in Jeremiah, it will be necessary to continue our examination of the issue of exile and exodus.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 2)

This issue of being subjugated to foreign powers (exile), and being rescued from foreign subjugation (exodus), occupies a prominent place within the Scriptures. It is an oft-recurring theme that speaks to God’s power and faithfulness. Because it is a recurring theme, when we read the words of God to His people as presented here by Jeremiah, that the Lord “will rescue… from foreign subjugation” and “deliver…from captivity,” so that “foreigners will… no longer subjugate them” (30:8), we do not necessarily need to apply them strictly to those of Judah that returned to the promised land from Babylonian exile, but still found themselves subject to foreign powers, and thereby see the Lord as being unfaithful or unable to deliver on His promises. As was said, we find placement in the land, exodus, and exile as a prominent and readily recurring facet of the divine narrative. Having said this, it is worthwhile here to trek through the Scriptures, so as to recognize the pattern of exile and exodus, that we might gain a greater understanding and trust in God’s faithfulness.

With Abraham, we find that his story, essentially, begins with him in exile. Without getting deep into the historical and theological ramifications of that statement, we can just say that Abraham was not in the place for which God had intended him, regardless of the fact that God had not yet revealed Himself and His will to Abraham. We can confidently assert that Abraham was part of the fallen race of humanity, and therefore, along with everyone else, he was in exile from the ultimate purpose of God for him, which would be (as was supposed to be true for all of mankind) to reflect God’s glory into the world as a wise steward of God’s creation. Abraham is called out of the land in which he resided in exile, to a land that the Lord promised to give to him. He experiences an exodus. While in the land, Abraham finds himself subject to a foreign power, that being a famine, so he exiles himself to Egypt. Eventually, Abraham returns to the land of promise, being exodus-ed out of Egypt, and thereby ending his self-imposed exile from the land of God’s promise.

We can look at the story of Lot. He resides with Abraham in the promised land, but then, due (ironically) to the overwhelming blessings of God upon the lives of both him and Abraham, he separates himself from Abraham---exiles himself---and goes to the land of Sodom. His time in Sodom climaxes with the well-known story of the men of the city attempting to impose themselves upon Lot and his guests (subjugation to a foreign power), which ultimately leads to Lot’s being drawn up out of His exile (exodus), as if by the very hand of God. We go on to see Abraham’s son Isaac attempting to exile himself from the land because of another famine, but instead, being reminded by God of the promise to Abraham, as God extends to Isaac the covenantal promise that he had given to Abraham. God keeps Isaac from exiling himself to Egypt, convincing him to stay in the land, and even this can be thought of as a type of exodus, as God delivered Isaac from the plans that he had been making for himself.

In the story of Jacob, after obtaining first his brother’s birthright, and then adding to that his brother’s blessing, for fear of Esau, he flees to the land of Haran. This flight of Jacob is an exile from the land of promise. There, Jacob becomes subject to Laban, and while under Laban’s power, is treated quite poorly, though it appears that God constantly intervenes on his behalf, counter-acting the poor treatment at the hands of his father-in-law. After a period of time in Haran, Jacob decides to leave and return to the place from which he had fled. In defiance of the power of Laban, which is actually referenced by Laban when he pursues after Jacob (“I have the power to do you harm”-Genesis 31:29a), Jacob, with God clearly being the motivating force behind the return to the land of his fathers, experiences an exodus. Like that which will be experienced by his descendants at their exodus from Egypt to come, before leaving, Jacob amasses a great fortune, effectively plundering Laban’s wealth, with this plundering epitomized by Laban’s concern with the theft of his gods (whom he no doubt looked to as the source of his now greatly diminished wealth) by his daughter Rachel.

The exile and exodus motif is well demonstrated in the life of Joseph. He is sold into slavery, and then sold into Egypt, experiencing the subjugations of foreign powers until, by the grace of God, he eventually becomes the second most-powerful man in the empire (and in the world). In his case, as was the initial case with Abraham, the exile is not self-imposed, and for him, the exodus has less to do with the land, and more about him entering into something of a fulfillment of the covenant promise to Abraham, as he becomes a blessing to all the nations of the world through the provision of grain through the great famine. In terms of a physical end of exile, and a physical exodus, Joseph makes two returns to the land from which he had been exiled. The first is when he goes up to bury his father, and the second is when his bones are carried out of Egypt by the Israelites, during the exodus under the leadership of Moses, so as to be buried in the land originally promised to his great-grandfather Abraham.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 1)

“When the time for them to be rescued comes,” says the Lord Who rules over all, “I will rescue you from foreign subjugation. I will deliver you from captivity. Foreigners will no longer subjugate them.” – Jeremiah 30:8 (NET)

Because we find these words in the prophecy of Jeremiah, we know that their direct application is to the nation of Judah. The “them” of which the Lord speaks are the exiles of Judah that are in Babylon. Historically, the exiles began to return under the reign of the Persian king Cyrus, with instructions to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. Connecting the Biblical narrative across time and space, we know that the conquering of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians was accomplished because of God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises. In Leviticus, and again in greater detail in the book of Deuteronomy, God had spelled out the repercussions that would come upon His people if they failed to uphold their covenant obligations that would allow them to shine as a light of God’s glory to the nations. Those covenant obligations had consisted primarily in avoiding idolatry and idolatrous practices, keeping the Sabbaths that God had ordained for His people, and reverencing His sanctuary---the place of His presence, where heaven and earth met and overlapped. Success in these areas would result in blessing, whereas failure would result in cursing.

Because the story of Abraham and the covenant promise to Abraham, which began the movement and mission of God to redeem His fallen creation through a chosen people, itself began with the promise of a land to be possessed (an initially renewed sliver of the wider creation that would point to the eventual renewal of the whole), the gross violation of the covenant would result in a loss of that land. This is what we see taking place in the removal of Israel (northern kingdom) from the land at the hand of Assyria, and now the removal of Judah (southern kingdom) from the land at the hand of Babylon. Exile from the land was the greatest of the curses. The writer of the Chronicles points to this emphasis on the land and exile, as we hear the words of God that are spoken to Solomon shortly after the dedication of the Temple---the same Temple that would be utterly destroyed, marking the exile of God’s people from their land---looking forward to the time when His people, as they would come to realize in the midst of exile that they had been completely unfaithful to their calling---saying “if My people, who belong to Me, humble themselves, pray, seek to please Me, and repudiate their sinful practices, then I will respond from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14) This followed God saying, “When I close up the sky so that it doesn’t rain, or command locusts to devour the land’s vegetation, or send a plague among My people” (7:13), which are curses lifted directly from the curses of covenant unfaithfulness found in Deuteronomy, which culminate, again, in exile. Jeremiah will, no doubt, have all of these things in mind.

Continuing to connect disparate parts of the grand Scriptural narrative that is constantly unfolding and being played out before our eyes, we turn to the book of Daniel, finding him as one of those very exiles in Babylon, experiencing the cursing of God. Much like Jeremiah is aware of the history of God’s people, and the power and faithfulness of God that is being put on display through the subjugation of Judah, we see Daniel fully reliant on that same powerful and faithful God, trusting in His willingness and His desire to fulfill the promises made to His covenant people in accordance with that covenant that hearkened back to Abraham. In the ninth chapter of Daniel, we find him praying. He references Jeremiah, thus linking the stories. Daniel, interceding on behalf of all of God’s peoples, says, “I prayed to the Lord my God, confessing in this way: ‘O Lord, great and awesome God Who is faithful to His covenant with those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned! We have done what is wrong and wicked; we have rebelled by turning away from Your commandments and standards…You are righteous, O Lord, but we are humiliated this day... All Israel has broken Your law and turned away by not obeying You. Therefore You have poured out on us the judgment solemnly threatened in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against You… So now our God, accept the prayer and requests of your servant, and show favor to Your devastated sanctuary for Your own sake. Listen attentively, my God, and hear! Open Your eyes and look on our desolated ruins and the city called by Your Name” (9:4-7a,11,17-18a).

These excerpts from a much longer and thematically repetitive prayer demonstrate a clear and unmistakable echoing of that which is demanded by God in the verse which was previously quoted from the Chronicles (7:14), while trusting in the promises of God to be found in Jeremiah, to rescue His people from foreign subjugation and to deliver them from captivity, which would be predominantly accomplished by allowing them to return to their land of promise. This return from exile, based upon God’s favor, would amount to a healing of the land, indicating that God had forgiven His people. However, this return from exile would only be a partial return, because we can move forward to the story of the returnees, in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and find both lamenting that the people of God were, in fact, still slaves (Ezra 9:9, Nehemiah 9:36). The people would be under foreign domination, being subjected to the Persians, the Greeks, the Seleucids, and then the Romans. It seems that God’s promise that had been delivered through Jeremiah, in this area, had gone unfulfilled.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Describing David, Seeing Jesus (part 2 of 2)

As we continue to see our King Jesus through the Psalmist’s description of the anointed, supported, and strengthened one referred to as “David, My Servant,” we read that “a violent oppressor will not be able to humiliate him” (89:22b). Death, of course, is the greatest of all oppressors. It is and has been the constant, stalking, baneful enemy of man from the time of the fall. It has crowded in upon his thoughts, and in some way, covered the majority of his waking moments. For Jesus, as a man, death stood in the same role. When we read the Gospels, we find that death surrounded Him. Not only did it surround Him because people were constantly coming to Him for healing from maladies that were often productive of death, and not only did He raise people from the dead, but quite often, we find that his own life was threatened, with there being a relatively consistent existence of plans, from nearly the beginning of His ministry, to silence Him through assassination. Sometimes, these plans were well thought out and deliberated, and sometimes, such as that which we are able to witness in Nazareth, they seem to be a spur-of-the-moment thing.

When death finally caught up with Him and had Jesus in its grasp, not only was it going to be an oppressor, but it was going to be a violent oppressor. Jesus was going to experience the full weight of death’s might, as He underwent the scourging and the cross, which represented the pinnacle of man’s corrupted creativity, as it was one of the most torturous and painful means of death ever devised. The cross, along with its attendant punishments, was designed to not only induce the utmost of painful deaths, but also to humiliate, and to demonstrate the shameful victim’s utter powerlessness against the nearly omnipotent power of Rome. This is that which Jesus underwent, and to all appearances, it seems that He was made to succumb to the same fate as all that had been sent down the path of the cross, sharing in its shame and its humiliation, violently oppressed by death at the hands of Rome.

We know, however, that “a violent oppressor will not be able to humiliate him.” It may have appeared that Jesus had been successfully oppressed and humiliated by death, but this was not the case. There was a Resurrection. There was a vindication. There was a glorification. There was an exaltation. By His Resurrection, Jesus was made to defeat death. Now, the oppressor is the oppressed, with Jesus having gained victory for Himself and for the kingdom of God. Jesus has been shown forth to the appointed Son-of-God-in-power by the Resurrection. He is the unquestioned King and Lord of all. Though still at work in the world, because there is a hope for resurrection because of Jesus’ Resurrection, the once powerful oppressor, that had ruled the thoughts and minds and emotions of mankind, has been stripped of its power, and holds sway over the lives of God’s people no more. Indeed, the Holy Spirit, through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus, that is and tells of God’s power and faithfulness, gifts a faith that shows forth a public and trusting allegiance to Jesus as Lord, renewing and transforming the mind, so that the place once occupied by death and all that death brings in its train, is now occupied by Jesus, as it is thoughts of Him and His service, along with a contemplation of God’s mission for the world that now rules the thoughts, the mind, and the emotions of men and women that now stand free. With the Resurrection and the hope for resurrection that it sparks, it can be said that death has lost its sting and the violent oppressor is de-toothed and de-clawed. The enemy that sought to humiliate, is now itself humiliated, as God says, “I will crush his enemies before him; I will strike down those who hate him” (89:23).

Though we are presented with David, the view that we are given is most definitely that of Jesus, as we find a portion of the Gospel message when we go on to hear God saying, following the defeat of this once vicious and all-conquering enemy, “I will appoint him to be My firstborn son, the most exalted of the earth’s kings” (89:27). Do we not call Jesus the King of kings? Of His son, God says, “I will always extend My loyal love to him, and My covenant with him is secure” (89:28). Jesus is the culmination of the covenant that began with Abraham, and the restoration of the covenant that God made with Adam. In Him, that covenant remains secure, and all those that call Him Lord can stand secure in the knowledge of their redemption and the hope of their joining Him in the restored creation, at the final consummation of the kingdom of God, in which God’s people are allowed to humbly participate in this day. God’s promise, to “give him an eternal dynasty, and make his throne as enduring as the skies above” (89:29) was sealed by the Resurrection, and made manifest by His people, in union with Him as He works through them to be the people of His kingdom, so that God’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Describing David, Seeing Jesus (part 1)

I have discovered David My servant. – Psalm 89:20a (NET)

As we attempt to fathom the depths of the Hebrew Scriptures for information and for instruction, it is eminently necessary to view these writings not through the lens of what this means for me today, but rather through that of the cross of Christ. When we do so, the words of the page are brought splendidly to life and provided with a depth of meaning and value far beyond anything that we might have ever expected, as they become imbued with the living and salvific power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ---the crucified and resurrected Lord of all. This is quite true of the words of this Psalm. Here in the eighty-ninth Psalm, we are said to be hearing the very words of God as we read, “I have energized a warrior; I have raised up a young man from the people. I have discovered David, My servant. With My holy oil I have anointed Him as king” (89:19b-20).

As we look at these words through the light of the cross, we quickly find Jesus, with the use of words such as “king,” “anointed,” and “servant.” We also find “raised up” used here, which also causes us to think of Jesus’ Resurrection, though we should not consider that to be an implicit reference. However, we also find the word “warrior,” which does not seem to fit what we know about Jesus from the Gospels. As we go on to the next verse however, we read “My hand will support him, and My arm will strengthen him” (89:21), which can serve as a reminder that it is God Himself that will fight battles on behalf of His anointed servant King Jesus. It is on the other side of the cross and the grave that we can speak of Jesus as a great warrior King, having flung Himself headlong into the most significant and terrible battle ever waged, which was the battle with death and the powers of evil, and emerging victorious. With this said, we can almost think of the Resurrection as God having “energized a warrior,” though it makes the analogy a bit messy and we do not want to carry this too far.

God goes on to say, “No enemy will be able to exact tribute from him” (89:22a). Throughout the Scriptures, we can read about kings and countries “paying tribute money.” Whether it was being paid to the kings of Israel, or whether Israel was paying it to an oppressing enemy, the purpose of paying tribute, ultimately, was to show subservience. It was a bowing of the knee, by the king, through an economic transaction, that represented the bowing of an entire people. Whether it was the time of temptation at the hands of Satan, or His time subjected to the over-powering sway of death itself, Jesus, the representative of Israel (God’s covenant people then, now, and forever) did not bow the knee to His enemy. He would not become subservient. He would offer no tribute and barter no deals, hoping for kind treatment. This is part of the reason that we have the hope of a bodily Resurrection within God’s creation in the same way as that which was experienced by Jesus. We have that hope because Jesus does not allow His enemy to exact tribute.

How can we frame this issue of Jesus offering tribute to His enemy? Jesus does not say “You take the bodies, I only want the souls.” Jesus did not experience merely a spiritual, soul-ish Resurrection, nor will those that stand in the union of trusting allegiance to Him, calling Him Lord. Jesus did not say to His enemy, “You take this world (the creation), we’re just going to heaven.” No, with man’s fall came the fall of all of God’s good creation and the flood of death and corruption into the world. God’s promise is to redeem all of His creation, defeating death in its entirety and ending corruption. Indeed, the creation groans for this to occur, as it was subjected to futility through no fault of its own and hopes for a resurrection like that which will come upon God’s children (Romans 8:20-21). The Resurrection is the sign and the promise that the enemy exacts no tribute whatsoever from Jesus. If there was to be no physical resurrection and no restoration of the creation---if we are just waiting to be whisked away into heaven so that we can watch the world be destroyed---then we can know that a tribute (sign of subservience to His enemy) was exacted from Jesus, that death was not truly defeated, and that we have no true reason to hope in Him.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Joseph's Release

The shackles hurt his feet; his neck was placed in an iron collar, until the time of his prediction came true. The Lord’s word proved him right. – Psalm 105:18-19 (NET)

Oftentimes, it is a relatively simple matter to find Jesus and the Gospel being spoken of in the Old Testament. On numerous occasions, we find Jesus reflected in accounts of the life of Joseph. Here in the one hundred fifth Psalm, the link between Joseph and Jesus, and with it the presentation of Jesus and the message of the Gospel (Jesus is the crucified and resurrected Lord of all), is one of the most explicit and direct that we will ever be able to find.

In verses eighteen and nineteen, as the Psalmist recounts part of the tale of Joseph in Egypt, we read that Joseph’s feet were in shackles, while his neck was in an iron collar. This situation existed until he was vindicated by a prediction that he had made. One would be hard pressed to find an analogy closer to that which was experienced by Jesus. With these verses, we are reminded of Jesus’ death, and His being placed in a tomb, as death and the grave take the place of the shackles and iron collar. Just like Joseph, Jesus was imprisoned. How long did His imprisonment last? Naturally, we know that it was three days, but on a deeper level, we know that it was until the time of Jesus’ prediction about His Resurrection came true. With that Resurrection, He was vindicated, or proved right.

In the verses that follow we are provided with an analysis of this release from prison. For Joseph, it is said that “The king authorized his release” (105:20a). Pharaoh released Joseph from his imprisonment, and we know that this release by the king to be true of Jesus as well. The Creator God, the sovereign ruler of the universe, released Jesus from death. Indeed, in the very first public proclamation of Jesus’ Resurrection, as recorded in the second chapter of Acts, Peter speaks about death and we hear that “it was not possible for Him to be held in its power” (2:24b). Of Joseph it is said that “the ruler of nations set him free” (105:20b). With His being freed from death, we speak of Jesus with such words, and find that it is also true of Joseph that Pharaoh “put him in charge of his palace, and made him manager of all his property” (105:21). If we were to turn to the original story of Joseph, we would find that Joseph was made second in command over the empire of Egypt. Only Pharaoh was greater than Joseph.

How does this apply to Jesus? While we know that Jesus is presently ruling as Lord of all things within the kingdom of heaven that commenced with His Resurrection, we find within what is billed as the great dissertation on the Resurrection from the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, that Jesus “must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet” (15:25), and that “The last enemy to be defeated is death” (15:26). Quoting from the eighth chapter of the Psalms, Paul adds, “For He has put everything in subjection under His feet” (15:27a), while also going on to point out that “when it says ‘everything’ has been put in subjection, it is clear that this does not include the One (Father) Who put everything in subjection to Him (Son)” (15:27b). Closely echoing the story of Joseph’s imprisonment, release, and exaltation to the place of second-in-command, we go on to read here in the Corinthian letter that “when all things are subjected to Him, the Son Himself will be subjected to the One Who subjected everything to Him, so that God may be all in all” (15:28).

We also read that, having been given his charge and management responsibility, that Pharaoh also gave Joseph “authority to imprison his officials and to teach his advisers” (Psalm 105:22). So too Jesus, having been freed from an imprisoning tomb of death, and having had a kingdom delivered over to Him, was also given authority that would be connected with teaching. With this, we look to the Gospel of Matthew, and latching on to the greater narrative structure that is to be found there, we hear Jesus---before His death and Resurrection, but just before we learn that “From that time on Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things… and on the third day be raised” (16:21), and so connecting authority with His death and Resurrection---speaking to His disciples and saying, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven” (16:19).

Clearly, Matthew has the authority of Christ (anointed one/Messiah/King of Israel) in mind as a key component of His presentation of Jesus, and this is made quite poignant in Matthew’s record of Jesus’ farewell address to His disciples. In it, Jesus makes an allusion to the seventh chapter of Daniel, with its kingdom and authority for the Son of Man, and says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (28:18b). Together with the quote from the sixteenth chapter, we find this dovetailing quite nicely with the authority that had been delivered to Joseph. Building on this, Jesus extends and solidifies the Joseph connection and says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (28:19-20a).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Suppression Of Truth (part 3 of 3)

With mankind having made its nearly irrevocable fall into idolatry, worshiping that which is not God, and thereby deciding for themselves that there is no god beyond himself and that to which he ascribes divinity, we find that “God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves” (Romans 1:24). The Creator God was to be honored by mankind’s stewardship of His good creation, but man, as we can see from the fall, had an altogether different plan. It becomes patently clear that the serpent simply seized upon the desire of the human heart to honor only self, and Paul, because of his constant assertion that God is ultimately in control of all things, describes this as God giving them over to the desires of their heart. With this self-honor, in truth, the opposite transpired. With this self-honor, impurity imposed itself into the world. With this self-honor came dishonor. That dishonor, resulting from the rejection of God’s plan for them, manifested itself in death. The blame for this does not lie with the serpent, but with mankind alone, as this dishonor came at their own hands, dishonoring their bodies through their own decisions and actions---among themselves. What had been made in perfection and for life was now subject to the dishonor of death, far removed from the God-glorifying honor for which they had been created.

Amplifying the seriousness of the charge, the Apostle Paul repeats himself and says that this came about because “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, Who is blessed forever!” (1:25) Of all of the things that can be said about the fall of man, it must be made abundantly clear that it occurred because they believed the lie. In believing the lie, not only did they point their faith towards the serpent, honoring that part of the creation more than the Creator, but above all things, it occurred because they knew themselves to be the pinnacle of God’s creation, and with that knowledge, they sought to worship themselves. The serpent merely provided the justification. This mindset continues unabated to this very day. It is the single darkest component of our fallen state, and that which keeps humanity entrenched in the state of falling short of the glory of God.

From here, we can see Paul moving on from Adam and Eve and surveying the scope of human history from the that day until his own, as he writes, “For this reason”---holding the lie as truth and in so doing worshiping the creation rather than the Creator---“God gave them over to dishonorable passions” (1:26a). Mankind’s passions were no longer directed towards honoring God by engaging in the purpose for which he was created, but rather, directed towards that which dishonored God by dishonoring the image of God in which he had been made. It could be said that this dishonor was a diminishing of what we might call “human-ness,” and stood in stark contrast to God’s very first command to those made in His image, which was to “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Bringing forth life is one of the primary ways in which mankind can participate in that image with which it has been endowed, and it will generally involve much sacrifice and care and concern on the part of the ones responsible (human parents) for the creation of that life. This necessary sacrifice, care, and concern towards a creation sounds very much like the attitude of the God that we discover in the Scriptures. It is possible that Paul sees the rejection of this as a core component of the self-idolatry that is rampant within humanity, and addresses it in writing words such as “For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another” (1:26b-27a). Here again, we simply find passion misdirected to that which dishonors, springing from self-idolatry, rather than to that which acknowledges and honors God; and in contrast to the shame that was experienced by Adam and Eve, when their eyes were opened, mankind’s course of dishonor and idolatry would quickly reach the point at which “Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error” (1:27b).
Indeed, because of the corruption that occurred at man’s fall, and the truth of God and of man’s purpose in this world to honor God rather than self began to be suppressed, death began its reign. A due penalty indeed. Paul goes on to describe the lot of all of humanity, writing “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done” (1:28). From time immemorial, mankind has been “filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice… rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility” (1:28a). More than that, as Paul goes on to write, “They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them” (1:29b-32). Yes, because man was imprinted with the divine image, he retains, even in the midst of his self-worship and petulant refusal to acknowledge a God beyond himself, the knowledge that there is still a basic, residual understanding of God’s decree of death for violation of His covenant, though he impotently rages against and attempts to deny that decree and the just God that stands behind it. In spite of all of that, we eventually come to read that, because of the love of God, Christ died (5:8) for that same humanity just described, which is most definitely a truth that should not, cannot, and will not be suppressed.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Suppression Of Truth (part 2)

Following the assertion that there is a lack of any excuse, as we continue to view these verses from the first chapter of Romans through the lens of Adam and Eve and the fall, we read “For although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or give Him thanks, but became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). Once again, we reflect on the fact that Adam and Eve most certainly knew God, and in a way that would have been quite unique to them alone. In the midst of this knowledge and this way of knowing, they still rebelled against Him and ate the fruit. In that, there was most certainly no glory given to God. There was no thankfulness.

Not only would glorifying God have consisted of following His direct command, but through disobedience they would, for the first time, fall short of His glory as well, thereby losing the ability to reflect adequately and properly and perfectly reflect His glory into the world. Though this was to be rectified by the call of Abraham and Israel, this would ultimately be left undone until Jesus placed a foot on to the stage of history. Clearly, they were not thankful for the responsibility and exalted position that had been given to them. With the influence of the serpent, their thoughts did indeed become futile. Their thoughts were turned towards themselves and away from that which was God’s purpose for them. It can be said that the inward turning of thought was the beginning of futility, and the beginning of idolatry, as Adam and Eve were convinced to focus on themselves and that which could be gained for themselves, rather than on what God had done for them and what it was that they were supposed to be doing for His glorification.

In consideration of the statement that “their senseless hearts were darkened,” could it not be said that, prior to the taking from the tree and the subsequent fall, that they had no sense of nakedness, no sense of shame, no sense of fear, no sense of the knowledge of good and evil, no sense of remorse, and no sense of guilt? Now though, following the cataclysmic act, these senses were all present, having been darkened by the presence of sin---falling short of the glory of God. Prior to this, they lived in a conscious state that were devoid of these things, but now, that condition was darkened by an evil presence.

Yes, they ate from the tree. It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent told them that if they did so, they would become like divine beings. He said that their eyes would be opened. He said that they could have power. Power? Yes, because they understood the power of God, and because this tree was connected with knowledge, it could be said that it is here that we have the first human premonition that knowledge is power, and they wanted it. Part of the motivation for taking and eating from the tree was that not only was the fruit “attractive to the eye” (Genesis 3:6b), but that it was also “desirable for making one wise” (3:6c). Did wisdom come? What do we find in the next verse here in Romans? “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (1:22). Fools! What is it that the Scriptures have to say about fools? The Psalmist writes that “Fools say to themselves, ‘There is no God.’ They sin and commit evil deeds; none of them does what is right” (14:1). So what we have here is Eve first, and then Adam, desiring wisdom but becoming fools. Effectively declaring that “there is no God.” Is this not what they were truly expressing in their desire to become like gods, beings that know good and evil?

What is the end of this becoming foolish and its expression of foolish statements? Paul writes that the ones who did not glorify God, nor give Him thanks, but became futile in their thoughts, with darkened hearts, who claimed to be wise, but instead became fools, “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles” (1:23). What Adam and Eve accomplished was indeed the beginning of idolatry, and it began with self-worship, along with a complete disregard of God and a forgetfulness of the Creator. We can see a forgotten Creator, together with self-worship, when Eve gives birth to a son and declares herself to have been able to create a man. With that, man looked at himself as being able to bring forth life---as god-like.

Once the Creator is shoved to the side and replaced by another creator, then the fact that there was a creation by that Creator falls quickly from the mind. Having forgotten their Creator, and no longer bearing in mind that they were part of a good created order, Adam and Eve (and those to whom they gave birth) could look around them, observing the entire order of nature, and surmise that the animals that they saw had brought themselves into existence, and that they could also pro-create and generate life, and were therefore worthy of worship as well. So began the interminable fall into the practice of idolatry that has gripped mankind from the very beginning. It is only the grace of God that enables one to break free from the ingrained tendency to idolatry, so as to see the Creator in His glory, and in doing so, seek to honor and give worship to Him.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Suppression Of Truth (part 1)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness – Romans 1:18 (NET)

Immediately after speaking of the power of the Gospel, the Apostle Paul launches into a statement concerning the pouring out of the wrath of God, and its connection to ungodliness and unrighteousness. The remainder of the first chapter of the letter to the Romans is decidedly direct, as Paul, through his writing here, probably has in mind certain individuals or groups of people. Rather than analyze in an attempt to ascertain to whom or to what situation the words from verse eighteen through thirty-two are directed, we will take into consideration the grand narrative of the Scriptures so as to make an application.

So in looking at the eighteenth verse, and contemplating the Scriptural narrative, we can identify the verse with our human parents, Adam and Eve. Because human beings were made in the image of God, an aspect of Godliness is bearing the divine image. Ungodliness therefore, could be considered to be the failure to adequately bear the divine image. Righteousness is best defined as “covenant faithfulness,” and it is usually and accurately ascribed to God, though when humans find themselves in righteousness, it can also be said that they are in a state of faithfulness to covenant. Unrighteousness then is not being faithful to the covenant. When Adam and Eve partook of the “forbidden fruit,” in contradiction of the Lord’s command, they were not faithful to the covenant. Therefore, they found themselves in a state of unrighteousness. This resulted in them not being able to completely fulfill God’s intention for the pinnacle of His creation to bear His image, reflecting His glory into the world. They now found themselves unable to attain to the reflection of God’s glory for which they had been created, and thus, entering into unrighteousness, they succumbed to the condition of ungodliness, and they fell short of the glory of God. This was the beginning of sin. With this, mankind began to lose its knowledge of God. With this, one could say, the truth of God began to be suppressed by the presence of sin.

This occurred even though what could be known about God had been made quite plain to them (Romans 1:19). Indeed, it seems to be the case that Adam and Eve had a regular fellowship with God, in His very presence, as it was following their eye-opening fruit-eating that “the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy time of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the orchard” (Genesis 3:8). We can take this as an indication that such was a regular occurrence. In that time spent with Adam and Eve, it simply had to be the case that God made Himself and His ways and His expectations very plain to them.

Based upon that, can we not assert that the experience of Adam and Eve is reflected in the next verse, where we read “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes---His eternal power and divine nature---have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made”? (Romans 1:20a) Though they would not have been able to tangibly see or feel God’s eternal power, it would most certainly have been the case that they would have been brought into an understanding of it by the very fact of their existence, along with that of the world. They would have understood that power by observing what was all around them---what had been made.

God’s divine nature would have been understood, especially by Adam, as having been made in the image of God, and undoubtedly having had that communicated to him, as he was given the responsibility of naming all of the living creatures (Genesis 2:20). This was part of the exercise of the stewarding authority over the creation that had been delivered to Adam. Along with that, Adam had been placed in Eden, in the world, to care for it and to maintain it (2:15). These two things, along with the command in regards to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, would have given Adam a vision of God’s nature, as part of the bearing of the divine image (which would seem to entail some measure of a shared nature) was the authority over and responsibility for God’s creation. It is owing to this direct knowledge of God and fellowship with God, with the explicit commands of God and responsibilities that sprang from that knowledge and fellowship, that left Adam and Eve “without excuse” (Romans 1:20b) when it came time for God to question them about the matter involving the serpent, the fruit, and their rebellion.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

But The World Will Rejoice

I tell you the solemn truth, you will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into joy. – John 16:20 (NET)

These words from Jesus follow statements like “But now I am going to the One Who sent Me” (16:5a), “it is to your advantage that I am going away” (16:7b), and “In a little while you will see Me no longer; again after a little while, you will see Me” (16:16). Though the disciples did not understand what He was talking about (16:18b), we have the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge that Jesus was speaking of His pending crucifixion and Resurrection. He goes on to say that “though you have sorrow now… I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (16:22). Jesus was fully reliant upon His understanding of the promises of the Father, as it related to the messiah, that suffering and death was necessary, but also that the messiah, having suffered on behalf of all of Israel (God’s chosen people from Abraham through this day) and the creation, would be raised up from the dead.

Generally, when we read about the world rejoicing at Jesus going away, or going into death, we think about the “wicked” and “evil” sinners exalting in jubilation over the fact that the One that was pointing out their sins and making them feel bad about themselves, was removed from their presence, never to be heard from again. In doing this, we tend to point an unwarranted finger of judgment, especially as we consider that it was while we were yet sinners that Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8). As we think in this way, we are naturally led to the final verse of this chapter, where we read that “In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage---I have conquered the world” (16:33b). We get ourselves hung up on that which applies to us---the trouble and suffering---thinking of this as the wicked sinners of this world---the ones that rejoiced at Jesus being killed---as being against us because of our trust in Jesus, forgetting or not realizing that the more important part of the statement is that Jesus has conquered the world. We also forget that part of what we are called to do, if we are truly in union with Christ, is to, by the motivation and empowerment of the Spirit of God that is so heavily spoken of in this chapter, enter into the trouble and suffering of the world. We do this so that we might, as the Apostle Paul says, rejoice in sufferings and fill up in our physical bodies what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24).

We can empathize and sympathize, making the cares and concerns (troubles and suffering) of the fatherless and the widows (and those in prison or in need of clothing or a cup of water) our own cares and concern. We can enter into this suffering, and know that it is worthwhile, and know that our work will remain, precisely because we serve the risen King, Who has conquered the world and is ruling it even now. Does this not seem to be more in line with the Spirit of the Word?

So how should we look at this issue of the world rejoicing? Is it negative or positive? Perhaps it is worthwhile to see it in the positive light of God’s intentions for His once-good-though-fallen-creation? The Apostle Paul writes in Romans about the creation (the world) itself, having been subjected to futility through no fault of its own, groaning and suffering under the bondage of decay, while awaiting its liberation from the same (8:21-22). So when Jesus went away into death, His disciples were sad, because they did not expect a Resurrection. Somehow, the world itself knew that with Jesus’ death, a Resurrection was coming, and it rejoiced that its new day was about to dawn. Yes, Jesus’ Resurrection marked the beginning of God’s new creation, and the inauguration of the kingdom of heaven on earth. A new world had begun. In this world Jesus reigned, having conquered the power of death that had ruled the world since Adam, by making it possible for those that lived with a trusting allegiance to Him, to overcome the fear of death, with the hope of their own resurrection into the world that Jesus now inhabited---the world of the coming together of heaven and earth.

To convey this, Jesus uses the imagery of a woman giving birth, experiencing pain and distress because the time has come for her to deliver (John 16:21). Is it not interesting that Jesus, in speaking of His death and Resurrection, in full knowledge that it was what was going to mark the beginning of a new age, resorts to speaking of the pain of childbirth that was introduced into the world because of the fall? The woman giving birth groans and suffers, but when the “new human being has been born into the world” (16:21b), she forgets her suffering and she rejoices. Is this not what happened when Jesus came forth from the tomb? Was not a new human being born into the world? Indeed, something more than what we think of as a human being was born into the world. Those who served as eyewitnesses of this exalted individual struggled to find the words to adequately convey what they were experiencing in their interactions with this One that was the firstfruits of the new creation---a being now fully and truly human---with a physical, resurrected body fully animated by the Spirit of God, bearing the divine image as God had intended for the crowning glory of His creation.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Collapse Of The Temple (part 2 of 2)

Jesus had a great deal to say about the Jerusalem Temple. His activity in Jerusalem, as one would expect, was centered around the Temple, though He did not treat it in the way in the way which was expected of the messiah. The messiah would have been expected to honor the Temple, but when it came to that Temple, Jesus did and said some rather interesting things. The things He said and did were not necessarily directed against the Temple itself, but rather, against the Temple authorities. To discover those things, we can look at the Gospel of Mark as fairly representative of that which see in both Matthew and Luke.

In the eleventh chapter of Mark we read that “Jesus entered the Temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the Temple courts. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the Temple courts” (11:15-16). This disruption in business would have had an obvious impact on the sellers, as they would be losing money by being unable to carry out their trade for a period of time. This would certainly create some enemies for Jesus. Additionally, the disruption would have had an impact on the finances of the Temple authorities, as they would have had a stake in each transaction made within the Temple. Thus, more enemies for Jesus. Thirdly, Jesus might very well have been taking a chance at angering the people, and turning the populace in general against Him, as they would have been unable to buy the necessary items to make their offerings. However, the potential for anger amongst the commoners was quickly diffused, which we can see as we go on to read Jesus’ words in which He said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have turned it into a den of robbers!” (11:17b) In this, Jesus reveals to the people that the merchants in the Temple, in collusion with the Temple authorities, had conspired together to cheat the people through false dealings in their money-changing and sale of animals.

How did the people to whom this statement by Jesus was addressed respond? We read that “The chief priests and the experts in the law heard it and considered how they could assassinate Him, for they feared Him, because the whole crowd was amazed by His teaching” (11:18). Jesus was messing with their pocketbooks and their livelihood, and this, after making His “triumphal entry” in which He was hailed as the King of Israel and the bringer of the Kingdom of God.

A bit later in Mark, we hear Jesus speaking about the Temple yet again. This time, it is just after He has witnessed a widow putting into the Temple offering box “what she had to live on” (12:44b). We find that Jesus honored this widow, saying that she “has put more into the offering box than all the others” (12:43b). This perplexed Jesus’ disciples, as they probably thought to themselves, “If everybody gave the same amount that this widow gave, then we would not have this beautiful and glorious Temple with which to worship our God.” They said to Jesus, “Teacher, look at these tremendous stones and buildings!” (13:1b), as if to say, “We think you’re mistaken.” Jesus surveys the tremendous stones and buildings in full realization that the glory of God is not to be found in the Temple, but in Himself, and with the knowledge of the Temple’s redundancy says, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down” (13:2). This, of course, was fulfilled when the Roman army came and destroyed the Temple in 70AD. We can be sure that these words of Jesus were circulated, and that they were understood as yet another affront against the Temple and those who ruled over it. They had already begun to devise plans to assassinate Jesus, and things like this would only serve to cement and accelerate those plans. Ultimately, their assassination plot would take shape and be successful, as the Temple authorities would be able to turn Jesus over to the Roman governor, presenting Him as an instigator of rebellion and revolution and a self-proclaimed rival to Caesar, and have Him assassinated through a state-sanctioned execution.

So what does this have to do with Samson? How does this compare with the way in which Samson died? When Samson died, He did so through laying down His life in defeat of His enemies. Jesus did the same. When Jesus went forward to His death, so as to do battle with His enemies, His true enemies were not the Temple authorities, but the dark forces of evil that stood behind those authorities. In his final confrontation with his enemies, Samson, standing in the temple and enduring mocking, pushed hard against the pillars and collapsed the temple upon himself and on all that were inside. Jesus, in confrontation with His enemies, also pushed hard against the pillars of the Temple (the Temple authorities). In doing this, Jesus (while also enduring the mocking crowds) metaphorically brought the Temple down upon Himself, by prompting the men that were responsible for the Temple to push hard against Him (though He was the true Temple), enabling Him to lay down His life in the process. In His death, most assuredly, Jesus conquered a vast army of dark forces, and forever sealed their defeat with His glorious return to life.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Collapse Of The Temple (part 1)

Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” He pushed hard and the temple collapsed on the rulers and all the people in it. He killed many more people in his death than he had killed during his life. – Judges 16:30 (NET)

Before bringing down the Philistine temple, Samson, who had been grinding in prison (16:21), was called out to entertain the assembled people. It is said that when his enemies “really started celebrating, they said, ‘Call Samson so he can entertain us!’ So they summoned Samson from the prison and he entertained them. They made him stand between the two pillars” (16:25). These, of course, were the two pillars of the Philistine temple of the God, Dagon. While there, “Samson said to the young man who held his hand, ‘Position me so I can touch the pillars that support the temple. Then I can lean on them’.” (16:26) Standing before his enemies, “Samson called to the Lord” and he said, “O Master, Lord, remember me! Strengthen me just one more time, O God, so I can get swift revenge against the Philistines for my two eyes!” (16:28) With that, “Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines!’ He pushed hard and the temple collapsed on the rulers and all the people in it” (16:30a).

Now, though all analogies eventually break down, we can find here an analogy between Samson and Jesus. How so? In His day, Jesus could very well have considered the authorities that controlled the Jerusalem temple to be the Philistines. Though the temple was supposed to be the house of Israel’s God, the glory of God (the shekinah) did not dwell there. Ultimately, it was a temple that existed for the honor and power of the men who controlled it. We could almost consider it to be the counterpart to the Philistine temple. Part of Jesus’ message was that He was the actual Temple of God. He even spoke of Himself and His body as a Temple, saying “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:19). Indeed, in Jesus dwelt the glory of God (the shekinah), as we read in the first chapter of John (1:14), so the temple that stood in Jerusalem could now be considered to be illegitimate and redundant.

Before we get further into the record of the Gospels so as to examine Jesus’ dealings with the temple authorities, it is useful to peer into the book of the prophet Jeremiah, so as to catch a glimpse of the types of things that Jesus would have been saying and how His words would have been received. In the twenty-sixth chapter, the Lord speaks to Jeremiah, delivering instructions to him as to what to say to the people of Jerusalem and Judah on the Lord’s behalf. God says, “Tell them that the Lord says, ‘You must obey Me! You must live according to the way I have instructed you in My laws. You must pay attention to the exhortations of My servants the prophets. I have sent them to you over and over again. But you have not paid any attention to them’.” (26:4-5) We hear similar things from Jesus. He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). We find Jesus lamenting and saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you!” (Matthew 23:37a) In addition to that, we are able to read the “Parable of the Tenants,” in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which reflects the theme of the rejection of God’s prophets. This parable produced anger on the part of the temple authorities (chief priests and elders), as they realized, quite astutely, that it was spoken about them.

Returning to Jeremiah, we continue to hear the words of God, as He says, “If you do not obey Me, then I will do to this temple what I did to Shiloh. And I will make this city an example to be used in curses by people from all the nations on the earth” (26:6). As Jesus consistently points to Himself, His ways, and His kingdom as the locus of a needful obedience, and as we consider the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple that came about at the hands of the Romans, we do well to hear His voice in these words out of Jeremiah.

What did Jeremiah experience as a result of the words of God that he spoke? We read that “The priests, the prophets, and all the people heard Jeremiah say these things in the Lord’s temple. Jeremiah had just barely finished saying all the Lord had commanded him to say to all the people. All at once some of the priests, the prophets, and the people grabbed him and shouted, ‘You deserve to die!’” (26:7-8) We’ll go on to see that this was not at all unlike that which was experienced by Jesus. Furthermore, we hear the sneering questioning of His authority to act and speak in a way that was perceived to be against the temple itself that Jesus endured as Jeremiah hears “How dare you claim the Lord’s authority to prophesy such things! How dare you claim His authority to prophesy that this temple will become like Shiloh and that this city will become an uninhabitable ruin!” (26:9)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Visiting Bethany (part 3 of 3)

Returning to the issue at hand, we hear Martha speaking to Jesus and saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will grant you” (John 11:21-22). In calling Jesus “Lord,” and doing so in the context of this “parousia” of Jesus, Martha has conferred upon Him one of the titles then accorded to Caesar. Much like that which would have been experienced by the emperor, the one that has come out to greet Jesus makes it a point to honor the King and to make comment upon His power. After a brief exchange between Jesus and Martha that serves to outline the basic Jewish hope concerning the resurrection of the dead, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in Me will never die’.” (11:25-26a) How does Martha respond? Again, making use of imperial titles, “She replied, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God Who comes into the world’.” (11:27)

Now, even though both “Christ” (Messiah) and “Son of God” are both titles for the Jewish king, and are not necessarily meant to connote divinity (as opposed to the appellation of the term “son of god” to the Roman emperor as part of the Caesar cult), we can clearly discover in this yet another appropriation of emperor related language, further reinforcing the fact of the supremacy of the eternal kingdom of God that is being established in Jesus (Son of God), as opposed to the temporal kingdom of Rome that has been established and perpetuated by the Caesar (son of god).

Shortly thereafter, Mary, repeating Martha’s actions, “got up quickly and went to Him (Jesus)” (11:29b). What follows is where we learn that Jesus has not, in fact, entered into Bethany, as we read “Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still in the place where Martha had come out to meet Him” (11:30). This information is inserted parenthetically, here in the middle of the story, rather than at the beginning, which is a subtle placement which partially masks the politically subversive nature of the language that is being used surrounding this event that leads up to Jesus’ grand parousia, which is His “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, which will have all of the explicit earmarks of what would be well-understood as a royal visit (depending on one’s viewpoint) by a Caesar or by Israel’s King. As would be expected from one going out of their city to greet their “Lord Caesar,” upon reaching Jesus, “Mary fell at His feet and said to Him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’.” (11:32b) Here, Mary echoes Martha, and once again, use is made of an imperial title, as Mary calls Jesus “Lord.”

It was at this point, having been greeted outside the city, having had people fall at His feet, refer to Him as Lord and Son of God and Messiah, and make note of His great power, that Jesus now enters into the village. It seems that the tomb is in the village, or at least adjacent to the village, which would account for the author’s comment that Jesus “had not yet” made His way to the village. We make note of the fact that Mary did not go to Jesus by herself (11:31,33,36), so when Jesus does make His way to the tomb, presumably, it is with a group of people. Since we hear Martha’s voice again when Jesus asks for the stone over the cave to be rolled away, we can also presume that Martha, as one that has bowed at the feet of Jesus and called Him Lord, was one of the people in the procession that made its way to the tomb with Jesus.

With many witnesses, Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the tomb. As a result of this display of life-giving power, many people came to believe in Jesus. We can imagine that many joined with Mary and Martha in calling Him “Lord,” “Christ,” and “Son of God.” This verbal elevation of Jesus to the position reserved for the king of Israel, without approval by Rome, among other things, sparks the Pharisees and chief priests and council to declare “If we allow Him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation” (11:48). The author wants us to see, along with these men, that Jesus’ actions are intensely political, pointing to the fact and the ways of the coming kingdom of God in which Jesus rules over all kings.

So Jesus was acclaimed by the people for His miraculous work. Most likely, He gained the honor and respect and worship of all in Bethany upon the event of this visit. Figuratively, the whole of the community, upon Lazarus’ return to life, would have bowed at the feet of Jesus. Had Caesar visited Bethany, the response would have been the same. All would have bowed at his feet. The main difference is that when Jesus came, He brought life, and it was the bringing of life that would have induced the authentic worship. While it is true that Caesar would have received worship, in the end, in spite of all the good that he might very well have done or have been able to do for the people, ultimately, men and women would only fall at Caesar’s feet because he demanded it, carrying with him the threat and power of death.

Visiting Bethany (part 2)

As we consider Jesus’ visit to Bethany in the light of the parousia of the Caesar, we read that “when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him” (John 11:20a). Here, let us bear in mind that the readers of this Gospel, in the first century, would be quite familiar with an imperial parousia, and would find that this going out of the village to meet Jesus, on the part of Martha, very much fits into the mold of expectations concerning an imperial visit. To this point, the author has been building a case for Jesus as a royal personage---the ruler of the world in fact---especially in light of that which was thought and said about the Caesar---the one looked to as the ruler of the world.

The Gospel begins with Jesus (personifying “the Word”) being heralded as God (1:1). It is said that “in Him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness… We saw His glory---the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth… For we have all received from His fullness one gracious gift after another” (1:4-5a,14b,16). A bit further on, Jesus is referred to as God’s “one and only Son,” and that “everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (3:16b-17). Shortly thereafter, we read again “that the light has come into the world” (3:19b), and later on, find Jesus speaking of Himself as “the light of the world” (8:12).

These things are said about Jesus in a world that is provided context by the presence and the rule of the Caesar. In an inscription from 9BC, Caesar Augustus is hailed as “The most divine… we should consider co-equal to the beginning of all things… for when everything was falling [into disorder] and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave to the whole world a new aura; …the common good fortune of all…The beginning of life and vitality. …All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine as the new beginning of the year… Whereas Providence, which has regulated our whole existence…has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us (this man), whom it [Providence] filled with strength…the welfare of men, and who being to us and our descendants as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in Order; and [whereas] having become [god] manifest, has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times… in surpassing all the benefactors who proceeded him… and whereas, finally, the birthday of the god has been for the whole world the beginning of the good news concerning him [therefore let a new era begin from his birth].” Though this was written of Augustus, who was the first of the Caesars to be hailed as the son of god, all subsequent Caesars were accorded the same title, which provides us with information about the way in which the emperor was viewed, with this being so even at the time of the writing of the Gospel of John. The parallels between the things that are here said about the Caesar, and the things that are said about Jesus in the Gospel of John, are quite interesting and inescapable. Similar claims are being made, while a stark and clear contrast is being drawn.

One glaring contrast in particular can be found in verses previously quoted from the third chapter of John. Quoting them again, we read that God “gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (3:16b-17). Caesar, the man entitled with “son of god,” was looked to as the one who dragged the world from darkness to light. It was the Caesar who was said to have brought order out of the chaos. It was the Caesar that was responsible for the life and vitality of the world, with this established through the pax Romana (Roman peace). It is He who is called the “Savior” of the world. He is said to have put an end to war. This, of course, was accomplished by crushing his enemies through massive warfare. Caesar is the fulfillment of all hopes and in him the world has “good news.” How did this son of god “save” the world? How did he bring the world into new life? He did so through the instrument of death. He and his predecessors slaughtered millions so as to usher in an era of “peace” and to give life to the world. Effectively, in order to give the world life and vitality through the establishment of the Roman empire, the world was condemned. The other Son of God, however, is said to bring eternal life and peace and light, which will be accomplished and effected through His worldwide kingdom. As the Gospel of John informs us, through Him the world will be saved, but this will not come about through the world-condemning instrument of war and its power of death, but ultimately, through the laying down of His own life and going willfully into death---making Himself subject to that which was (and still is) Caesar’s only true power.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Visiting Bethany (part 1)

Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still in the place where Martha had come out to meet Him. – John 11:30 (NET)

In the time of Jesus, when the emperor (the Caesar) came to pay a visit to a town or a city within a colony or province, his visit was referred to as a “parousia.” When this visit would be made, the emperor would not simply enter into the town or city un-announced. This would be unthinkable, especially in light of the Caesar-cult (worship of Caesar as a divine being) that was so prevalent in the first century. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the Caesar would be lauded in grand fashion. After all, the man making this visit was the most powerful man in the world, and would be afforded as much honor as possible. Not only would this honoring be expected, but also demanded. To effect this, quite apart from Caesar simply entering into the city by himself, or with nothing more than his imperial entourage, a large group from the city would go out to meet him while he was still outside or at some distance from their city, while all inside the city would be preparing themselves, in a conformity (for some) that was most likely under the threat of physical pain or even death, to receive the emperor with acclamation and with reverence.

The selected and special group from the city, upon greeting the Caesar, quite naturally, would return to the city with him, celebrating his entrance into yet another place in which he reigned and had dominion. This would seem to be an entirely appropriate reception for the one that, beginning with the emperor Augustus, is referred to as “Lord” (the lord of the world who claimed allegiance and loyalty from his subjects throughout the whole of his empire), whose birthday was referred to as “evangelion” or “good news,” who is referred to as the “son of god” and “savior,” and who was thought of as the one who had finally brought peace and order into a chaotic world.

Having provided that basic bit of information, we now move to the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, and the story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead. In it, we see some interesting elements and something of a “parousia” by Jesus as well. The first thing to notice, though we do not find this out immediately, is that after He had remained in the place where He was for two days after hearing that Lazarus (the one He loved) was sick (John 11:6), upon finally reaching the town of Bethany, Jesus did not immediately go into the village. He did not go straight to the tomb or to the house of Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. Instead, curiously, He stopped outside the village. Does this not seem a bit strange? It does indeed. It does so because we know the full story, and because we know the full story, and the way the story ends, with Lazarus being raised from the dead, we know that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters.

In fact, as the story begins, Jesus’ love for this family was immediately evident, as we read that the two sisters went to the trouble of sending a message to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. Coupled with Jesus’ not immediately rushing to the aid of His friend, this stopping outside of Bethany and not even going into the town seems doubly strange. If it seems a bit perplexing to us at this moment, we can probably imagine that it was every bit as frustrating for these two sisters of Lazarus in that day as well, and that their fellow villagers were struck by the oddity of this occurrence. Not only that, but in small, tight-knit communities, as Bethany no doubt was, not only would the entire village know that Lazarus was sick, they would know that Lazarus had died, they would know that a message had been sent to Jesus informing Him of the sickness, they would know that Jesus did not respond by coming to Bethany with all rapidity, and they would now know that when Jesus did finally make His way to Bethany, that He stayed just outside the town, forcing the grieving sisters to come out to Him. They would know all of these things in the larger context of the hope of Mary and Martha, which we see manifested in their urgent message to Jesus about Lazarus’ sickness and their words to Him when they finally see Him (a hope that was eventually vindicated by their brother’s raising), that had been spurred by the healings and other miraculous occurrences that had marked Jesus’ ministry.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Vindication For Joy & Rejoicing (part 2 of 2)

As we continue to move through this Psalm, and continue to find that our Savior is able to take up the words of the Psalmist---not only as He endured the ordeal of His passion, but even before that, as He would search the Scriptures so as to better understand His vocation and what it was that it was in store for Him as He trudged the wearying path of Messiah-ship---we move from His battle with the enemy of death, to His tenuous engagements with adversaries much closer to hand. It is a relatively simple matter to discover Jesus, remembering His trial as we read “Violent men perjure themselves, and falsely accuse me. They repay me evil for the good I have done; I am overwhelmed with sorrow” (35:11-12).

This mention of “sorrow” vaults our conscience to a recollection of the “suffering servant” of Isaiah, thus providing us (and Jesus before He would come to His time of suffering) a more fully-rounded sense of what these sorrows would and did entail. The verses that follow remind us of the letter to the Hebrews and the great High Priest that is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (4:15), the Gospel of Luke and Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem (19:41), and the Gospel of John and Jesus weeping within the story of the raising of the one whom He loved (11:35), as we read “When they were sick, I wore sackcloth, and refrained from eating food. I mourned for them as I would for a friend or my brother. I bowed down in sorrow as if I were mourning for my mother” (Psalm 35:13a,14). Unfortunately, Jesus did not receive complete reciprocity in these matters, and because of that He could say, “when I stumbled, they rejoiced and gathered together; they gathered together to ambush me” (35:15a). As He would begin to undergo the various inflictions of physical brutality---the whip that would be endured as He made His way to His ultimate vindication---Jesus could maintain His reflection on this Psalm and its words in which “They tore at me without stopping to rest” (35:15b). As He stumbled under the weight of the beam that He attempted to carry to Golgotha, Jesus would remember “When I tripped, they taunted me relentlessly, and tried to bite me” (35:16).

Again, we pause to remember that this adversary is not death, at least not directly, but men corrupted by the power of darkness, as it attempted to assert its power over the One that would come to be called the Son-of-God-in-power (Romans 1:4). Jesus could cry out “O Lord, how long are you going to just stand there and watch this? Rescue me from their destructive attacks; guard my life from the young lions! Do not let those who are my enemies for no reason gloat over me! Do not let those who hate me without cause carry out their wicked schemes! They are ready to devour me; they say, ‘Aha! Aha! We’ve got you!” (35:17,19,21) Even if He did speak such words that were, in essence, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass for Me” (Matthew 26:39b), the watchword over all of this, as Jesus endured on behalf of Israel and the creation, is “Yet not what I will, but what You will” (26:39c). The will of the Father, of course, is to be found in what follows in this Psalm, which is “take notice, Lord! O Lord, do not remain far from me! Rouse yourself, wake up and vindicate me! My God and Lord, defend my just cause! Vindicate me by Your justice, O Lord my God!” (35:22-24a) This vindication would be the Resurrection, as Jesus would march forth from the tomb into a new world, the inaugurated kingdom of God on earth, in which the hosts of heaven were marshaled to witness His victorious coronation as King, and in which Jesus would honor the faithful Father for His vindicating justice, saying “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You before a large crowd of people!” (35:18)

His crucifixion and vindicating Resurrection, that evidenced the defeat of death and the dawn of a new age, was a battle in which we find the words “attack” and “shields” and “spear” and lance” (35:1-5). Together with that, the words of the Psalm ask for the destruction of the enemy (35:8). However, when it came to those who carried out the crucifixion, temporary adversaries and very much a part of the world for which Jesus was going into a cursed death in order to redeem, we again consider Jesus words of forgiveness, and find a different demeanor. Rather than asking for attack and destruction, instead we find only a request that “those who want to harm me be totally embarrassed and ashamed! May those who arrogantly taunt me be covered with shame and humiliation!” (35:26) This can be viewed in two ways. In the first way, it can be viewed on the surface level, with the understandable desire for these adversaries to experience the same type of embarrassment and humiliation (35:4) which is requested for those who fight and attack (35:1). In the second way, we are forced to dig deeper, to remember Jesus’ intercession on their behalf, to consider the prevalent cultural equating of embarrassment, shame, and humiliation with going down into death, and to see a desire for these men to join Him in His death so that they too can be experience redemption. With this, we think of the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians and being “crucified with Christ” (2:20), sharing in His shame and humiliation in order to truly live.

By the trusting allegiance of the gift of faith that makes Jesus our King and representative and enables us to join with Him in His crucifixion, we are also enabled to join with Him in His Resurrection and in the expectation of the great resurrection and renewal and restoration of creation to come. As subjects of His kingdom, we await His final vindication, and find ourselves as “those who desire my vindication” and in so doing “shout for joy and rejoice” (35:27). That shouting for joy and rejoicing will take the form of preaching His Gospel and proclaiming His present kingdom and His ongoing rule, though the presentation of that message may bring temporary shame and humiliation. We gladly endure such things, as through the Spirit of God, our glorified Lord Jesus works through us to make us lights for God’s glory, saying “I will tell others about Your justice, and praise You all day long” (35:28).