Thursday, April 29, 2010

Make Your Tent Larger

Make your tent larger, stretch your tent curtains further out! Spare no effort, lengthen your ropes, and pound your stakes deep. – Isaiah 54:2 (NET)

The prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of the God of Israel, speaks to the covenant people of this God and tells them to “Make your tent larger.” This is in the wake of the vivid description of the cruelly inflicted death and glorious resurrection of the suffering servant of chapters fifty-two and fifty-three. If anything, the death of the servant, that we understand to have represented their messiah that was to come into the world for the redemption and salvation of God’s people, would have caused an inward turning and isolation, with shock and shame and grief being the well understood order of the day. God, however, directs His people to “Shout for joy” (54:1a), primarily because they were acquitted by the actions of the servant (53:11), and because he carried away their sins (53:11), thus ending their cursing and exile.

Yes, because God’s servant intervened on behalf of His rebellious people (53:12), they were to shout for joy, and having entered into joy, made their tent larger. What did it mean to make their tent larger? What is this stretching out of curtains? We are generally not a people that dwell in tents, whereas the people to whom this was written, though they did dwell in permanent structures, understood the tent-dwelling, nomadic lifestyle quite well. So even though most of us are removed from such a lifestyle, we can understand this to mean that they needed to make room for a larger family. We can look into this and see that the death and resurrection of the suffering servant that represented Israel, which would see the servant being cursed and then obviously accepted by God in spite of the cursing, had the effect of acquitting God’s people Israel, while also having the effect of extending God’s covenant to all of mankind, thus creating a worldwide covenant family, no longer confined to national Israel.

At that point, and even through the time of Christ, it was the opinion of Israel that all that were not members of the nation of Israel, and therefore outside of God’s covenant family, were cursed, standing outside of the realm of God’s blessing. Expanding on this and reiterating, with the benefit of hindsight, we are able to look back to these words from Isaiah, as did men like the Apostle Paul, and see that the cursing (crucifixion) of the suffering servant put him into the same category that Israel had reserved for the Gentile nations. The redempted (resurrection) servant, since he had been considered to be as a Gentile through the cursing, meant that the Gentiles were now pulled into the family of God. For this reason, Israel is instructed to prepare to welcome and accept a larger covenant family. Not only are they instructed to welcome and accept, but they themselves are to actively prepare the larger dwelling place to accommodate this rapidly growing and ever-expanding family. In fact, Isaiah includes the directive to “spare no effort,” as they were to do whatever was necessary to open wide their arms of acceptance.

This was not simply the inclusion of Gentiles, but in reality, it was the growth of Israel, the people that were said to be “God-governed.” The new family members were not to be looked upon as outsiders, but as an extension of Israel, and it is in this way that we hear Isaiah saying, “For you will spread out to the right and to the left” (54:3a). Furthermore, Israel is informed that their “children will conquer nations and will resettle desolate cities” (54:3b). This conquering of nations fits well with Isaiah’s previous insistence that Israel’s servant would startle nations and shock kings with his exaltation (52:15). Though Isaiah wrote his prophecy in the wake of conquest, while experiencing attempts at conquest, and looking forward to expected conquest, there was always the hope of restoration involved. Within this hope, Israel fully expected to be set above all nations, through the conquering activity of their God through their messiah, so hearing that their children would conquer nations and that they would be able to forget the shameful experiences and abandonment about which Isaiah prophesied (54:4) was probably not surprising. What would have been surprising was the inclusion of Gentile peoples, for whom they were having to expand the size of their covenant tent.

As we look back on this text and look forward, as people that have been brought into that expanded tent of covenant blessings, we seize on the claim that God’s people will be responsible for the resettling of desolate cities. We know that the Gospel, with its message of power, has already conquered nations by making all kings and authorities subservient to its claims (whether they know it or not), but with this issue of the desolate cities, we get a glimpse of our vocation, as the Israel of God, to be the agents and the instruments by which He brings the life and light and immortality of His Resurrection power into an often desolate world. This occurs as we become the righteousness of God, embodying His covenant faithfulness by the working of the Holy Spirit through us, putting God’s saving God’s power to work within this creation through the convincingly spoken and compassionately lived out message of our crucified and resurrected King Who is Lord of all.

When we speak of Jesus, the servant that is set on high, we spare no effort in setting God’s power to work; and like the Israel to whom Isaiah was speaking, we make larger the tent of God’s kingdom, stretching out its curtains and pounding its stakes deep. Though the cry of “foolishness” will be long and loud, we are called to speak of our resurrected Lord without intimidation, without humiliation, and without shame (54:4); for in this, we speak of the Creator, the commander of armies, our Protector, and the “God of the entire earth” (54:5).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Repudiating Its Power

They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these. – 2 Timothy 3:5 (NET)

Let’s consider Paul’s use of the term “power.” It makes frequent appearances in his writings. To take just a couple of examples that set out Paul’s opinion concerning power, we can look to the first chapter of Romans. There, Paul refers to Jesus as the Son-of-God-in-power (1:4). He then goes on to declare that the Gospel “is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16b). Here, Paul equates the Gospel of Jesus, which is the message that Jesus is the crucified and resurrected Lord of all, with power. For Paul, the very declaration of the fact of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by the prompting of the Holy Spirit (for one only calls Jesus Lord---confesses a trusting allegiance in the Gospel---by the movement of the Holy Spirit – 1 Corinthians 12:3), is what releases the inherent transformative power of the Resurrection into the world.

Returning to the second letter of Timothy, we read that through “our Savior Christ Jesus,” that God has “broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (1:10). Paul here informs us that the power of the Gospel is such that it breaks the power of death. Since the Gospel includes the message of One that was raised from the dead, such an insistence is a necessary corollary. It goes beyond the breaking of death’s power, as the Gospel brings life and immortality. To see this life and immortality, Paul has only to reflect on the fact that the risen Jesus is alive and ruling the kingdom of God that has been inaugurated, in a world that is now subject to two forces (death and Resurrection), and in which one of those forces (death) has already been defeated, while all creation, together with the people of God, await the consummation of that kingdom and the installation of the force of Resurrection as the animating principle of God’s kingdom in a restored and renewed creation. With this, Paul, in hope, awaits the life and immortality to be shared by God’s people, through Christ, in the Resurrection to come.

Having spoken in this way, Paul goes on to insist, “For this Gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” (1:11), with a clear echo (along with his talk of power) of the opening of Romans, as he refers to himself as “a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God” (Romans 1:1). Later on, we will re-visit this use of “slave.” To Timothy, he continues on to write, “Because of this, in fact, I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, because I know the One in Whom my faith is set” (1:12a). Paul’s use of “not ashamed” immediately evokes thoughts of Romans 1:16 again, where he announces the power of the message of the crucified yet risen Lord, prefacing it with the words “I am not ashamed.”

It is with these things under consideration that we advance to the third chapter of the letter to Timothy, finding Paul referencing those that hold to the outward appearance of religion, while repudiating its power (3:5). It would probably not be a mistake to equate Paul’s use of “power” here with his conception of the Gospel as power, and find him in rebuke of those that, quite simply, do not preach the message of the Gospel of Jesus. These people might very well have spoken of Jesus in certain ways, but quite likely, were leaving out that part of the message about Jesus that caused Paul to resolutely affirm that he was “not ashamed.” That would have been, without a doubt, the fact of the crucifixion. Less so, but certainly still, that would have included the message of the Resurrection. It is easy to understand people going about preaching Jesus’ kingdom ethics and miraculous deeds without reference to the shame and cursing of the crucifixion. It is just as easy to understand a reluctance to preach the Resurrection, as physical resurrection of a dead man, especially one that had been crucified, was such a preposterous idea. Paul has concluded that, in effect, preaching Jesus without the crucifixion and the Resurrection, and therefore not preaching the Gospel in its fullness, was nothing more than repudiation of the power of God.

A bit later on, Paul would describe the end result of preaching Jesus without reference to the crucifixion and Resurrection, which would be the propensity to “turn aside to myths” (4:4b), which would serve to turn Jesus into something of a strictly mythological, spiritual figure, in which there is a nod to the fact of His earthly existence, but little more than that. This Jesus would not be firmly rooted in history and in an accurate historical context that challenged all of the power structures of His day (and still does), instead, making him into something of a preacher of free-floating aphorisms and “timeless truths,” detached from the fullness of the Gospel message about Him and therefore robbed of His power and significance.

Having made his point about the turning to myths, Paul goes on to exhort Timothy to “do an evangelist’s work” (4:5). This brings us back to Paul’s consideration of the power of the Gospel and his conception of himself as a slave. An evangelist is a person who speaks forth “evangelion.” This is “good news,” or better yet, “gospel.” In that day, the “gospel” was generally limited to announcements about Caesar. The person who made these announcements would be a slave, or an evangelist. In this, Paul is encouraging Timothy to become as he has so often described himself to be, which is a slave, so as to “fulfill your ministry” (4:5). That ministry, first and foremost, is the preaching of the Gospel of power---that Jesus the Messiah (the Son of God, Son of Man, and king of Israel) is the crucified and resurrected Lord of all peoples and creation. This is the Jesus and the Gospel that we preach, which transforms first our hearts and minds and lives, while having power to effect the same in those that hear. Failing to do so---failing to consistently, and without fail, teach and preach our Lord Jesus crucified, resurrected, and glorified---is a failure to preach the Gospel, and is nothing short of a repudiation of the power of God. We cannot speak of a God of power, or a Lord and Savior, in absence of the message of the crucifixion and Resurrection. It simply is an impossibility.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Marring Of A Servant (part 2 of 2)

We now move to the second half of our theme text, and to the fact that the suffering servant of Israel will “startle many nations” (Isaiah 52:15b). When this startling of the nations is considered, one cannot help but think about the statement in the book of Acts, in reference to the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ by Paul and Silas, about the “people who have stirred up trouble throughout the world” (17:6a). That stirring up of trouble is often rendered as “turning the world upside down.” Rome itself was startled by this world-transforming message. A great preacher once made the point that it was the uniqueness of the claims of those labeled as “Christians,” which was that Jesus---the One Who had been crucified at their hands---was the resurrected and presently living Lord of all things, that caused Rome, which was a culture and society open to any and all gods as long as they were content to stand alongside the divine Caesar, to persecute those who believed in Jesus and confessed Him as King, to “gird herself to fight Him (Jesus) to the death.”

Isaiah goes on to write that “Kings will be shocked by his exaltation” (52:15c). This naturally follows from his statement that the servant “will succeed! He will be elevated, lifted high, and greatly exalted” (52:13). When we consider Jesus’ exaltation, we think of Paul’s statement in Romans that Jesus “was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power… by the Resurrection from the dead” (1:4) As if it was not startling and shocking enough that a man was claimed to have been raised from the dead, with lives completely transformed and re-oriented around what were referred to as “many convincing proofs,” as Jesus was recorded to have “presented Himself alive” (Acts 1:3), but as it relates to the shock of kings, the declaration of Jesus as “the Son-of-God-in-power,” in the face of the Caesar’s claim to be the Son of God, was earth-shattering. With this talk of kings being shocked at the servant’s exaltation, Isaiah might very well be alluding to a popular Psalm, in which the Lord “strikes down kings in the day He unleashes His anger” (Psalm 110:5b).

Jesus’ exaltation as King of kings could very easily be understood as a striking down of kings. This would not necessarily mean that they were struck down to death, but that they were struck down from their self-determined loftiness and divine self-understanding. Not only would such self-determinations have been true of the Caesar in the days of Jesus, but it would have been true in Isaiah’s day as well, as powerful kings afforded themselves god-like status, expecting and receiving worship from those that they ruled. In consideration of the unleashing of the Lord’s anger, as spoken of in the previously quoted Psalm, we can look into the effect of Jesus’ death and Resurrection, and determine that the enemy against whom the Lord’s anger was truly released, especially when viewed in the light of the great Resurrection passage of the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, was death. Because death was the weapon of kings and rulers, and because they held the power of death over the heads of their subjects, would they not be summarily stunned (shocked) at the defeat of death that was achieved at the exaltation of the servant that seemed to have been defeated by death itself?

Continuing on, Isaiah writes that the shock of these kings will come about because “they will witness something unannounced to them, and they will understand something they had not heard about” (52:15d). How will they witness something unannounced and understand something that they had not heard? This will occur through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus. The shock will come when they hear that they are now subservient to One that had been crucified. The fact of their subjection to this King, Jesus (the servant), was not something that had been announced to them beforehand. Nevertheless, the fact was inescapable. In addition to that, no one had ever heard of one rising physically from the dead in the way that Jesus was said to have risen from the dead. As a matter of fact, the very idea was ludicrous, as men did not come back from the dead---not in their physical bodies. Ghosts and spirits? Yes, this was understood and even expected. A man coming back from the grave and being exalted as the Lord of all people, nations, and things---who would ever have spoken of such a thing? It is for precisely this reason that Isaiah continues putting pen to paper and writes “Who would have believed what we just heard?” (53:1a)

Isaiah knew that what he was writing was completely incredulous. How could this servant, disfigured so that he no longer looked like a man, and marred so that he no longer looked human, startle nations, shock kings, and be lifted high, elevated, and greatly exalted? This question could not only be asked of the suffering servant of Isaiah, but of God’s servant Israel, and God’s first servant, man. The answer lies in the Resurrection and its power that is transmitted and infused into this world through the preaching of the Gospel. The servant would be resurrected. Israel would be resurrected. Man would be resurrected. The previously marred would be restored, according to the power and promise of God. We put forth the Resurrection, but is that when this would happen? Isaiah asks the same question. He writes, “When was the Lord’s power revealed through Him?” (53:1b) We have already heard the answer, but we return to it now, declaring again that God’s power to do all that He planned to do, for His covenant people throughout all of time, was made manifest when Jesus “was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the Resurrection from the dead,” which made Him “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4).

As we exalt our Lord Jesus, elevate Him, and lift Him high through our proclamation of His Lordship (in word and in deed), nations are still startled and kings are still shocked. As we do so, the Lord’s power is continually revealed through us, and our powerful and faithful God continues to re-shape, re-make, re-new, and re-store us, reversing the marring of our fall, and making us into those that truly bear His image.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Marring Of A Servant (part 1)

His form was so marred he no longer looked human---so now he will startle many nations. – Isaiah 52:15a (NET)

Looking again at the prophecy of Isaiah and the “suffering servant” of such tremendous significance to the understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection, we are met with some rather unsettling words. We hear that the servant will be “so marred” that he will not even be recognizable as a human. We can make time for a brief and useful analogy here, and say that even though we rightly apply these words to Jesus, due to that which He underwent through the ordeal of the crucifixion (including the scourging and the crown of thorns), we can also make words such as these, lifted from their immediate context of course, apply to the whole of humanity. Humanity was created in the divine image, but the fall marred that image, so much so that what we see in ourselves and others can and should be thought of as barely recognizable as human. It is only when Jesus works through us by the Spirit, as He represented and fulfilled God’s intention for His divine-image-bearing creation, that we can actually be recognized as human. Is it not ironic that, in order for this recognition of humanity to take place us in us, through our union with Christ by faith, that Jesus had to endure an infliction of suffering that would so mar Him that He would be unrecognizable as a human? He would be marred so as to provide the basis for the reversal of our marring.

So the suffering servant of Isaiah would be horribly marred. Prior to that, however, we read, “Look, My servant will succeed! He will be elevated, lifted high, and greatly exalted” (52:13). Words such as these create an expectation of something different than what is to come, so we can be justifiably confused by the next verse, which says, “(just as many were horrified by the sight of you) he was so disfigured he no longer looked like a man” (52:14). The same one that is to succeed, be elevated, lifted high, and exalted is the same one that will be disfigured and marred. It is quite the interesting contrast, but compares well with the first part of the fourteenth verse, and the horror experienced on the part of the nations at the sight of God’s people Israel. The suffering servant, as representative of Israel, is going to be marred and made unrecognizable, because as the embodiment and representative of Israel, he must share in their cursing.

To what is Isaiah referring when he writes “just as many were horrified by the sight of you”? He seems to be hearkening back to the ever-present comprehension and narrative-coloring of the Deuteronomic curses, and the statement therein, as Israel wantonly violates its covenant with God by going after idols, not reverencing His sanctuary, and dis-honoring His Sabbaths, that “You will become an occasion of horror, a proverb, and an object of ridicule to all the peoples to whom the Lord will drive you” (Deuteronomy 28:37). In this, we can see that Israel itself was disfigured, no longer resembling the nation that God had drawn out from Egypt and set forth as the representative of His glory and the light to all nations. As we consider the implications, we do well to bear in mind that God referred to Israel as His firstborn son, and can be thought of as a replacement for Adam, chosen out to be the means by which God would deal with the problem of evil in the world. Because they failed to act in the image of their covenant God, it would be the suffering servant, the messianic Son of God, that would be looked to as God’s firstborn son, that would completely fulfill the role that was rejected by Adam. The suffering servant becomes marred so as to share in the horror-inducing cursing of Israel, which is a part of his being their representative. It is the marring that allows him to stand in the place of all peoples, as representative of a marred humanity as well.

Thinking about these things in this way allows us to consider that not only was the messiah of Israel to be God’s servant, but Israel was to be God’s servant, and mankind was also supposed to be the servant of God. Mankind was the first to be marred (along with the whole of creation), and Israel followed in that marring, so it makes sense that the messiah had to undergo a marring as well, so as to be able to sympathize with the situation and ultimately redeem both Israel and mankind (and then all of creation by extension) from out of that state of cursed marring.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Law To Become Void (part 2 of 2)

Jesus continues His dissertation against the presumption and kingdom-of-God-denying high-mindedness of the Pharisees and the experts in the law. With the words that followed His telling of the story of the irresponsible and dishonest manager, He is clearly painting these people in that role. Naturally, this will win Jesus supporters amongst the commoners, but gains Him no favor with those who fancied themselves as the guardians of the covenant. Jesus makes the connection between the dishonest manager and the Pharisees and experts in the law even more clear, as He continues on to say, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13). Luke reinforces the connection in the very next verse, writing that “The Pharisees (who love money) heard all this and ridiculed Him” (16:14).

What was the basis for the ridicule? It was probably the statement about money, for though they loved money, the Pharisees and experts in the law would not necessarily have possessed a great deal of money. They were not necessarily a part of the aristocratic ruling class of Israel. In most cases, they would have been little better off than the rest of the people. Because of this, they could seize on Jesus’ words about the service of money, point to their own empty pockets (in a manner of speaking), and thereby demonstrate that they did not serve money, and were therefore devoted to God. This interpretation, however, limits the reach of the parable and the words of Jesus, as the context that we have created thus far has attempted to connect wealth and true riches with the use of the law and the kingdom of God. Therefore, the dichotomy of serving two masters might be better understood as their service of the law itself, in a selfish and non-inclusive pursuit of the blessings of God to be had in the fulfillment of the covenant and the coming of the kingdom of God, rather than the service of the God of the law and the covenant, and the all-nations inclusiveness of that covenant clearly presented in its original iteration to Abraham, and its detailed expansion especially to be found in the prophecy of Isaiah.

In response to their ridicule, in which they attempted to justify themselves, quite possibly in a way such as what was just described, Jesus says, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in men’s eyes, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly prized among men is utterly detestable in God’s sight” (16:15). These words from Jesus about that which is “utterly detestable” force us to make an additional consideration of what it was that these men had been saying in their attempts to defend and justify themselves. We can continue our musings concerning the boundaries that were being placed around God’s covenant promises, and their being limited to those that acceded to the works of the law, and find ourselves in a position to hear the Pharisees and law experts, along with pointing out their insignificant financial status, speaking about their extraordinary efforts to protect and defend the law, and therefore God’s very honor, by keeping Gentile sinners outside the bounds of the covenant. Based on the model of the kingdom of God that Jesus was constantly presenting, which was that of inclusion of all peoples (Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, clean and unclean, sinner and righteous)---as demonstrated in His far-reaching and highly impactful practices of table fellowship, in which He regularly ate with those that were considered to be outside the covenant and of varying social standing and thereby subversive of societal norms and customs---Jesus could respond to the self-adulation of the “guardians” of the covenant, as they lauded their efforts in protecting God’s promises, and refer to it as that which was “utterly detestable in God’s sight.”

So are we right in connecting these words of Jesus to His thoughts about the kingdom of God? Well, what do we find Jesus saying in the next verse? He says, “The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it” (16:16). These words let us know that we are on the right track, as we consider that John the Baptist is first introduced with his words of repentance and the kingdom of God being at hand. In fact, Luke connects John’s preaching with Isaiah, and that in his preaching “all humanity will see the salvation of God” (3:6). Without getting into what is meant by “salvation,” while pointing out that it is far more than going to heaven when one dies, we can see that this fits quite nicely with Jesus’ statement about the proclamation of the Gospel, the kingdom of God, and everyone being urged to enter it.

Having said all of these things, Jesus, with indignation and sarcasm in His voice, raises His voice and says to these people that He has been accusing of shutting up the kingdom of God, “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tiny stroke of a letter in the law to become void” (16:17). When Jesus says this, He is not offering up a praise of the law, or making a statement about its eternality. In this context, He is mocking and condemning these Pharisees and experts in the law, as He decries their adherence to their covenant boundaries according to the performance of the well-understood works of the law, indicating that it is obvious to Him that they will hold on to these exclusive standards that are designed to keep God’s blessings for Israel alone, doing so even if heaven and earth were to pass away. Jesus derides them because they were so convinced that God’s blessings were for national and ethnic Israel alone, that they would rather the heavens and earth pass away than allow God’s covenant blessings to be extended to the Gentiles. Indeed, they would not let go their grip of control on the bestowal of God’s blessing, not letting one tiny stroke of a letter of their law become void.

Law To Become Void? (part 1)

But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tiny stroke of a letter in the law to become void. – Luke 16:17 (NET)

Before Jesus gets to the words presented above, He told a story about a manager that had been irresponsible in the handling and management of the assets of his master. Without delving into the parable itself, we can simply posit that his irresponsibility eventually resulted in dishonesty. After telling the parable, Jesus says, “The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and the one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (16:10). As Jesus continues to point back to the dishonest manager, He says, “If then you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches? (16:11)

As we consider the application of the parable and the interpretation of the parable that is provided by Jesus, we need to remember that this particular story and application follows the three parables of the fifteenth chapter of Luke (sheep, coin, and the prodigal), and that Jesus is speaking to “the Pharisees and the experts in the law” (15:2a), who were complaining that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (15:2b). This was true, as Luke begins his record of Jesus’ dealings here with “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear Him” (15:1). So when Jesus is speaking about those who are faithful in a little and dishonest in a little, we can see that He is directing His comments towards the Pharisees and the experts in the law. The same is true of His statements concerning the handling of worldly wealth and the true riches.

His comments were quite direct, and He continued, saying “And if you haven’t been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you your own?” (16:12) With the clear statement at the beginning of the fifteenth chapter in regards to the Pharisees, who were the guardians of the law and the traditions of the elders, and their being included with the experts in the law, it is reasonable to surmise that Jesus is reprimanding these groups in regard to their handling of the law. It becomes clear that they not have been faithful to the true purpose of the law, which was to mark Israel out as God’s covenant people, so that they could be a light to the nations in reflection of God’s glory, in a way that would cause all peoples to want to seek out and know and serve the God if Israel. The Pharisees and the experts in the law had been unfaithful to the purpose of the law, using it dishonestly, as a way to keep Israel separate from all nations and to block those who found themselves outside the covenant due to nothing more than race or ethnicity, from entering into the covenant so as to enjoy its blessings. This was clearly contrary to God’s promise to Abraham, which was to bless all peoples through His seed.

The law had been, for Israel, an astounding gift of God’s grace. By its receipt, they were blessed above all peoples, receiving direct revelation from God, with the knowledge of how to serve and please Him. They were given covenant markers of fleeing idolatry, reverencing God’s sanctuary, and honoring the Sabbaths, that would mark them out as God’s chosen people. By Jesus’ day, these covenant markers had been reduced down and were primarily demonstrated in the keeping of food and purity laws, honoring the Sabbath, and bearing the mark of circumcision. These were commonly referred to in that day as the “works of the law,” and were representative of what was surely a longer list. A person could hold to many traditions and laws, but if one was not holding to these main things, it was presumed that such a person was outside of the covenant, and looked upon as a sinner. Again, this law of God, delivered to Israel, represented a rich heritage for the people of God; but the guardians of the law in that day, had not handled it adequately. They had used it to draw boundary lines around the covenant. They had used it for the purposes of exclusivity, thus denying that God could bless anybody but those that were marked off as Israel (those that were doing the works of the law).

At the same time, the Pharisees and the experts in the law were eagerly awaiting and expecting the promised messiah to come forth, to establish the kingdom of God on earth and to elevate His covenant people above all nations. The kingdom of God, which represented God’s dimension of reality (heaven) breaking in to the world, was what was looked forward to as the true riches that were going to be experienced by God’s covenant people. It was the true riches of the kingdom of God, as these Pharisees and experts in the law understood them, that caused them to be so rigid and vigilant in their application of the required works of the law and the traditions associated with those works. Jesus, however, as He considers the way that these individuals understood the kingdom of God, in exclusion of the Gentile nations and all that did not perform according to the law and the traditions of the elders, informs them that they cannot be entrusted with the true riches.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Carrying Some Dirt

…please give your servant a load of dirt, enough for a pair of mules to carry, for your servant will never again offer a burnt offering or sacrifice to a god other than the Lord. – 2 Kings 5:17 (NET)

In the fifth chapter of the second book of the Kings, we meet a Syrian general by the name of Namaan. He is introduced to us as “the commander of the king of Syria’s army” (5:1b). Right away, we learn an interesting and often overlooked fact about him, in that “through him the Lord had given Syria military victories” (5:1d), and for this reason, he “was esteemed and respected by his master” (5:1c). However, the thing for which we are most familiar with Namaan is that “this great warrior had a skin disease” (5:1e). Generally, this “skin disease” is referred to as “leprosy,” but in the Scriptures, “leprosy” is a term that is used to denote a variety of skin ailments, up to and including that which we think of as leprosy in our own day. He was informed by one of his wife’s servants, a young girl from Israel, that there was a prophet in Israel that could “cure him of his skin disease” (5:3b).

As we well know, Namaan seized on this information, went to Israel to visit the prophet Elisha, received instruction as to how he could be cleansed, eventually acceded to the directive though he initially opposed it, and was healed of his ailment. His response to being healed was to say “For sure I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!” (5:15b). To give weight to his proclamation, Namaan offered to give Elisha a gift, which Elisha refused. Upon this, Namaan made a very interesting request, asking Elisha to “please give your servant a load of dirt, enough for a pair of mules to carry” (5:17a). He asked this of Elisha because, according to his pronouncement that “there is no God in all the earth except in Israel,” Namaan never again wanted to “offer a burnt offering or sacrifice to a god other than the Lord” (5:17b).

We might think that this would be easy enough to avoid, but for Namaan there was a complication, in that the king of Syria, from whom Namaan had garnered respect and esteem, precisely because “the Lord had given Syria military victories” through Namaan, relied on Namaan when he went to the temple of his god to offer worship. Namaan, speaking with a heartfelt conviction, said, “May the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to worship, and he leans on my arm and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this” (5:18). Noting Namaan’s sincerity in this, as it was in conjunction with the request of dirt from the land of Israel---dirt on which Namaan, presumably, was going to kneel down in worship to the Lord---Elisha replies favorably to him, saying “Go in peace” (5:19b).

What can be learned from this story of Namaan in relation to the covenant bearing Gospel message that Jesus is the crucified and resurrected Messiah and Lord of all? One of the most significant parts of this story, upon which we can seize to make an important analogy in relation to the effects of Jesus’ Resurrection, is Namaan’s request for some of the dirt of the land. As has been said, Namaan desired to return to Syria with part of the land of Israel. He intended to return to his nation with a small part of that which had been promised to God’s covenant people and which marked out God’s power to perform His promises and prove His faithfulness to those that are called by His Name. Namaan wanted to make his way back home with a measure of the very ground to be found in the land of promise that God had given to Abraham and his descendants as the first-to-be-redeemed component of a once-good creation that God would eventually fully redeem through His messiah by the death-defeating power of the Resurrection. He did this so that even though he was physically walking in one world---the land of Syria, he would be able to possess a portion of the land of promise, and through that, count himself as one of God’s covenant people, enjoying the Lord’s faithfulness.

We can apply this to ourselves in this day, for as we are in union with Christ, believing through in His Gospel by the faith that is granted to those that hear the Gospel message which contains the very power of God, we find ourselves in a position similar to that of Namaan. Though we walk in this world in which we still find death and corruption, and though our allegiances appear to be divided and our feet become dirty as we walk the dusty paths of this world, through the gift of the Spirit which fosters a trusting allegiance in Jesus as the powerful ruler of this world through the kingdom of God that was inaugurated at His Resurrection, we carry the power of kingdom of heaven into this world, as vessels for God’s glory, being used to carry God’s transformative power into a still-fallen and groaning creation that awaits the final putting-down of an already defeated foe named death. As we proclaim the Gospel, in word and deed, embodying God’s covenant faithfulness as the new creation that is the kingdom of heaven on earth breaks in upon this present age, we figuratively carry two mule-loads of the dirt of the fully restored creation---the consummated kingdom of God to which we look in hopeful and trusting expectation---into our world.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Token Of Submission

Don’t listen to Hezekiah! For this is what the king of Assyria says, “Send me a token of your submission and surrender to me. Then each of you may eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern.” – 2 Kings 18:31 (NET)

Hezekiah is the king of the nation of Judah. Assyria has already conquered the northern nation of Israel, and has now set its sights upon furthering its conquest and bringing the southern nation of Judah into submission as well. In fact, “King Sennacherib of Assyria marched up against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them”(18:13b). Quite rightly, this provoked alarm on behalf of Hezekiah and the people of Judah, causing Hezekiah to respond by saying “I have violated our treaty. If you leave, I will do whatever you demand” (18:14b). Upon this statement, Sennacherib laid a duty upon Judah. Subsequently, in customary fashion, in order to cement Hezekiah’s loyal service, Sennacherib sent a messenger to Hezekiah. The purpose of the messenger was to inform Hezekiah, through his subordinates, that he was powerless to stand up to the might of Assyria, and that continued subjection was the best course of action for him and his people. In addition, Sennacherib’s messenger communicates information that would have conjured up thoughts of the curses of Deuteronomy, and the judgment of God upon His people, when he says, “The Lord told me, ‘March up against this land and destroy it’.” (18:25b)

He goes on, resorting to intimidation tactics, invoking the name of Israel’s God as the One Who has not only sent Assyria, but Who will not stem the tide of destruction if the people choose to rebel. At this point, the messenger of Sennacherib says, “this is what the king of Assyria says, ‘Send me a token of your submission and surrender to me. Then each of you may eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern’.” (18:31) It is the words that follow this that should give us a pause, and in so doing, offer us a mental transport from this scene of ancient Israel into this very present life of faith, as lived by Resurrection power, delivered through the agency of God’s Holy Spirit.

Our Creator God’s claims upon us and our lives trumps the claim of all other kings and principalities and powers, as He, through His messengers (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor/teachers, and His Word) speaks to us and says, “Send me a token of your submission and surrender to Me.” To what are we submitting and surrendering? We submit and surrender, by the gift of faith, as it is conducted through the preaching of the Gospel, to the message that Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, is the crucified and resurrected Lord of all. What is the token of our submission and surrender? Two very real tokens of such are baptism and the communion.

When we participate in baptism, subsequent to the belief that represents a trusting allegiance in Jesus and His claims, we re-enact the exodus of God’s people from slavery and exile, in the knowledge that we have experienced God’s redemptive power, in full confession that Jesus is our King. At the communion table, among other things, with the tangible symbols of bread and wine, we proclaim the fact of Jesus’ bodily death and bodily Resurrection, in submission to the truths that are thereby claimed, and therefore we preach the Gospel in the very act of participating in the meal that was given to us by Jesus Himself. With these tokens of submission and surrender, we confirm our place in the kingdom of God that was brought to bear and activated in this world with Jesus’ Resurrection.

Returning to the second book of the Kings and to the words of the king of Assyria, we find that our participation in the kingdom of God, and the restoration and renewal of this creation that began with Jesus’ conquering of death and the grave, fits very well with the reason given to the people of Judah for their continued submission. Following the statement concerning eating and drinking from their own fig trees and cisterns, the king gives them a further reason for submission, as we read, “until I come and take you to a land just like your own---a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Then you will live and not die” (18:32a). Is this not what our God promises to those that are His covenant people in Christ? If we are in submission to our God, through our believing and trusting allegiance to His Son (by faith), He will come and take us to a land just like our own. Well, not quite like our own at present, but a land as it was intended to be, which is a restored creation, un-corrupted and un-marred by sin and death, which means it will most assuredly be a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards, olive trees and honey. Yes, one day, our God will consummate the redemption of His people and His once good creation.

Following that, as we contemplate the consummated kingdom of God on earth, we seize on that which were the king’s empty words---as they attempted to communicate something that no man can effectively promise---and say that because death has been finally put down, having been defeated by the Resurrection of Jesus, there in that land like our own, the gift of eternal life that we have in union with our Lord Christ Jesus will be completed, so we will in fact live and not die.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Place For You

Then when the Lord your God brings you to the land He promised your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you---a land with large, fine cities you did not build – Deuteronomy 6:10 (NET)

As Israel is on the verge of entering into their long-awaited land of promise, after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses speaks to the people and reminds them of their God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Along with that, he reminds them of the covenant that God had made with His people forty years prior, at Mount Sinai, which had as its basis, the statement that “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength” (6:4-5). In His faithfulness, due to His love for His people, not only was God going to be bringing them into a land of promise, but He was going to provide in super-abundance, doing more than they would have asked or thought. He was going to deliver to them “large, fine cities” which they “did not build” (6:10b).

Through His servant Moses, God informed His people that the cities would consist of “houses filled with choice things you did not accumulate, hewn out cisterns you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant” (6:11a). God told His people that from these things, they would “eat your fill” (6:11b). Of course, with the super-abundance of blessings that were being bestowed upon them, there would be a temptation to forget the One that brought them into the place of blessed promise. After speaking of the good things that were going to be coming their way, due to God’s faithfulness, they receive a reminder of that very faithfulness, with an exhortation to their own faithfulness to the covenant, saying “be careful not to forget the Lord Who brought you out of Egypt, that place of slavery” (6:12). In this passage that is undergirded by their God’s sovereign faithfulness, as He demonstrates His power to fulfill His promises, we learn about a place that God has prepared for His people. God was taking His people into that which represented the very first part of His creation that He intended to be redeemed and restored.

As we consider that preparation, our thoughts should be quickened to the words of Jesus that we find in the Gospel of John. In the fourteenth chapter of that Gospel, we hear Jesus saying, “There are many dwelling places in My Father’s house” (14:2a). As it was for Israel, so it was for Jesus’ disciples. Moses, the deliverer of Israel, had spoken to the people of the covenant about the land of the Father’s promise---the land in which God said that He would dwell with His people---telling them that it possessed many dwelling places for them. Here, Jesus, the deliverer of a renewed Israel, speaks to the people of the renewed covenant about the land of the Father’s promise---the place in which His people will one day dwell with Him---also telling them that it was a place of many dwelling places. These words from Jesus mark the beginning of what is generally known as His “farewell discourse,” as they follow the “last supper” and Judas’ having gone out to complete his betrayal of Jesus. As He is now on the path to the cross, Jesus says, “I am going away to make ready a place for you” (14:2c).

He knew where He was going, and as Israel’s Messiah, He knew what it was that His death would accomplish. He knew that He was going down into the curse of death on behalf of His Israel, but did so in a complete trust in the promise-keeping God of Israel---Whom He trusted with His whole mind, being, and strength---to fulfill the expectations of His promise, to raise up Messiah from the dead, to conquer death through that Resurrection, and to inaugurate the kingdom of heaven in a radically transformed creation in which Jesus reigned and Resurrection power was available through the agency of the Spirit for all those who were moved to a trusting allegiance to Him as Lord and King, for the purpose of bringing God’s glory to bear in this world.

Because Jesus spoke constantly of the kingdom of God on earth, when He says that He is going to make ready a place for His disciples, we can understand that He is speaking of the kingdom of God that was going to be established with His Resurrection. This would be completely in line with the Jewish worldview, which looked to a resurrection of the righteous dead and a restoration of the creation to a pre-fall condition, with God as ruler through His Messiah. For Israel, and Jesus as the representative of Israel, this would be a world in which renewal had been commenced, in which heaven was going to breaking in and shining forth through God’s covenant people. When Jesus says “if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with Me, so that where I am you may be too” (14:3), He seems to be speaking of His Resurrection, as we consider the Apostle Paul’s repeated insistence that all those that trust in Jesus as King, will be raised up from the dead in the exact same way in which He was raised up from the dead---into a world now subject to the kingdom of God and Jesus as its ruler. Finally, because He had spoken so many times of His death and His Resurrection, Jesus rather pointedly says to His disciples, though they never grasped the message or wanted to believe it, that “you know the way where I am going” (14:4).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


So Hanun seized David’s servants and shaved off half of each one’s beard. He cut the lower part of their robes off so that their buttocks were exposed, and then sent them away. – 2 Samuel 10:4 (NET)

During the reign of King David of Israel, the king of the Ammonites died. His son, Hanun, was his successor. David, in a royal and dignified fashion, desired to send Hanun a sincere and heartfelt expression of his sympathy in the matter of Hanun’s father’s death, so he sent a detachment of his servants to bear his message. These royal emissaries, however, were not well received. Quite the contrary, in fact. Instead of a friendly welcome, “the Ammonite officials said to their Lord Hanun, ‘Do you really think David is trying to honor your father by sending these messengers to express his sympathy? No, David has sent his servants to get information about the city and spy on it so they can overthrow it’.” (10:3) Hanun, perhaps still overcome with grief because of the death of his father and not yet thinking clearly, seizes upon the words of his officials and acts in a dishonorable way. “Hanun seized David’s servants and shaved off half of each one’s beard. He cut the lower part of their robes off so that their buttocks were exposed, and then sent them away” (10:4). This was designed to shame these messengers. The beard was a mark of dignity and honor; and of course, cutting off the garments at the waist not only exposed their buttocks, but it also exposed the circumcision of these men. As the Scripture says here, “the men were thoroughly humiliated” (10:5b).

Reading stories such as these, one is forced to reflect on the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian church. Though he was in the midst of referencing part of Israel’s trials in the wilderness, words such as “These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:11), come to mind. That said, how is this story about half-shaved beards and cut-off garments and humiliation written for our instruction? In answering that question, we must always remember that the Scriptures represent a grand narrative. They present the story of God’s plan of redemption for mankind, doing so through the tale of Israel and of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. Owing to that narrative structure, as we find ourselves in the position to look back upon these events, we see Jesus. When we see Jesus, we must make every effort to see God’s all-important redemptive act for His Israel and the creation, which was the ordeal of His crucifixion. When we do so, we are reminded of this God’s faithfulness to His people, as demonstrated through His Word.

When the Romans carried out a crucifixion, the victim of crucifixion would be crucified naked. This was meant to add to the humiliation of the victim, adding yet another display of his utter powerlessness in the face of Rome’s great might. For crucified Jews, the fact of being naked meant that their covenant marker, their circumcision, was exposed for all the world to see. The Romans, of course, knew this, and it added yet one more dimension of humiliation to the process. Naturally, Jesus underwent crucifixion in this way, completely unclothed. Along with this, though there is no record of it in the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, there is a long tradition that Jesus’ beard was ripped from His face at some point during His ordeal. This tradition stems from Isaiah’s prophecy, in which his “suffering servant” speaks and says, “I offered my back to those who attacked, my jaws to those who tore out my beard; I did not hide my face from insults and spitting” (50:6). The Gospels do record that Jesus was scourged, which involved lashes primarily to the back (though certainly not limited to the back), that He was insulted, and that the Roman soldiers spit in His face. Therefore, an extrapolation is made, in conjunction with this prophecy, that His beard was ripped from His face as well. In light of the sheer number of prophecies fulfilled in the life and death and Resurrection of Jesus, we are probably quite safe in accepting this tradition. These two things, naked crucifixion and beard-pulling, bear a similarity to the exposure and beard-shaving of the servants of King David. As it relates to Jesus and His crucifixion, these two things, naturally, were designed to not only increase pain and suffering, but to induce a thorough humiliation. This would have been especially so for a Jew, as this story of David’s servants might very well have sprung to mind, in light of Jesus’ messianic claims and the messianic title of “Son of David” that was attached to Israel’s messiah-king.
Undoubtedly, in undergoing these things, we can imagine that Jesus would have been humiliated. David’s servants experienced such humiliation, so such a thing would have been a natural response. However, if we move forward in Isaiah, as Isaiah himself perhaps looks back to the “Hanun situation,” we find the suffering servant, having undergone these actions that were meant to induce humiliation, saying, “But the sovereign Lord helps me, so I am not humiliated” (50:7a). He goes on to say, “For that reason I am steadfastly resolved; I know I will not be put to shame. The one who vindicates me is close by” (50:7b-8a). Jesus, in defiance of humiliation, steadfastly trusted that His God was going to raise Him up. In a culture in which being put to shame was the equivalent of undergoing death, He knew that He was going to be made to overcome the pending grave, thus trumping any possible shame. He knew that His vindicating Resurrection was not far away, so rather than rage against His adversaries and accusers, He asked for their forgiveness and entrusted all things, His Spirit included, into the faithful hands of His Father.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Nebuchadnezzar's Fall (part 4 of 4)

Moving on to the thirty-fourth verse of the fourth chapter of Daniel, we find God’s words to Nebuchadnezzar ringing true. There we read, “But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me” (4:34a). Remember, he had been driven from human society. He had lost his sanity. He had become, for a specified and appointed time, something less than human. This takes us right back to Adam, as we recall his being driven out, and his loss of sanity, as he became (along with all those that followed in his wake) something less than human. We say this, of course, as we continually bear in mind that man was made in God’s image, so as to be the reflection of His glory in the world. The failure to bear the divine image---the failure to be truly human---is a falling short of the glory of God.

What was involved in Nebuchadnezzar’s return to sanity? We have already seen a precursor to it, in that God said that he would live like an animal until he understood “that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever He wishes” (4:32e). This is fulfilled when we hear Nebuchadnezzar, sanity returned, saying “I extolled the Most High, and I praised and glorified the One Who lives forever” (4:34b). Now, with real conviction, Nebuchadnezzar points to Israel’s God and says, “His authority is an everlasting authority, and His kingdom extends from one generation to the next” (4:34c). In humility, he adds, “All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He wishes with the army of heaven and with those who inhabit the earth” (4:35a). With a flourish of self-introspection concerning his previous demonstration of high-mindedness, this king adds, “No one slaps His hand and says to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (4:35b)

As Nebuchadnezzar’s fall has mirrored Adam’s fall (the fall of man), would it not be appropriate to say that his restoration will be mirrored by mankind’s restoration as well? This seems like a reasonable proposition. If it is true that Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity returned, and he was returned to human society, and his time living like an animal was ended upon his acknowledgment of the Most High, is it not reasonable for us to make the same, wider application? Nebuchadnezzar’s time of being sub-human began with his self-exaltation. As it was for him, so it was for Adam. His period of time spent living a sub-human existence ended when he confessed that it was the Most High God that ruled. It is the same for all of mankind. Until there is an acknowledgment of the Creator God, of His rights, and of our own failings, we remain in a sub-human condition, not being what God intends, not bearing the divine image, and not being truly human. It is a state of insanity. With such acknowledgment, we are freed from that sub-human state, regain our long-lost sanity, and are restored and re-purposed, bearing the divine image, so as to reflect God’s glory into this world, no longer falling short of the glory of God.

This restoration occurs through a believing union with the Lord Jesus. It is by the gift of faith, in recognition of God’s covenant faithfulness through Christ, that we come to the place of a trusting allegiance in the One that perfectly bore the divine image in every way. According to the Gospel of John, in Jesus, we saw the glory of God (1:14). From Paul, we learn that Jesus was the second Adam, perfectly fulfilling the role that God had intended to be performed by the first Adam. By the first Adam, death entered the world (Romans 5:12). Life came, as the gift of grace, because of God’s covenant faithfulness (Romans 5:18), through the second Adam. Why? So that those that call Jesus “Lord,” by the Spirit and by faith, might be the embodiment of God’s righteousness---the embodiment of His faithfulness in and for the world, which was His original purpose for the ones with which He crowned His creation. The Hebrews author, in speaking of Jesus, tells us that He was the radiance of the glory of God and the representation of His essence (1:3). Yes, Jesus’ bearing of the divine image was carried out in a consummate perfection. Because of that, life reigned through Him (unlike the death engendered by the first Adam), as had been God’s intention for His creation.

Nebuchadnezzar goes on to say, “At that time my sanity returned to me. I was restored to the honor of my kingdom, and my splendor returned to me” (Daniel 4:36a). In union with our Lord Jesus, we are able to say this as well. Mankind was made to have dominion over this world, and as kings and priests to the Most High God, we are restored to the honor of that kingdom, with the return of the splendor of God’s glory upon us, as we reign with Jesus (though in submission to Him) in the kingdom of God that was established at His Resurrection. In Christ, as we are empowered by the Spirit to a faithful and worshipful trust in the God that created all things, we are made to finally grasp on to that glory for which we were intended. By a faithing trust in the Gospel of Jesus, and in preaching the Gospel of Jesus (the crucified and Resurrected Messiah is Lord of all) the power of God is made manifest and we become the embodiment of the righteousness (covenant faithfulness) of God, as was Jesus. In union with Him we become the second Adam along with Him, and we no longer fall short of God’s glory. In Christ, our dominion over and responsibilities toward God’s creation are returned, and we are made to be servants of the Most High, being lights into the world, reflecting His glory.

In humble submission to the claims of our Lord, confessing ourselves as slaves to Him so that He might make us to rule with Him, we cast away all pride in self and say, along with Nebuchadnezzar, “I was reinstated over my kingdom…I became even greater than before” (4:36b). With a continued reflection on the grand narrative of the Scriptures, from creation to fall, and from Resurrection to restoration, as we are enabled to learn about a faithful and powerful God, we lift up our hearts to “praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, for all His deeds are right and His ways are just. He is able to bring down those who live in pride” (4:37b).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nebuchadnezzar's Fall (part 3)

Along with being driven from human society and living with wild animals, God tells Nebuchadnezzar that he “will be fed grass like oxen” (Daniel 4:32c). As we continue to compare this king’s fall with the fall of the earth’s first ruler (Adam-the one originally given sovereignty over the creation), do we find a corollary with this statement in the fall of man? In a way, we do. As man is driven from the good and bountiful garden, which had freely yielded the fruit of the trees for his sustenance, he is informed about a different way that his food is going to come to him from that point forward. God told Adam, “cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, but you will eat the grain of the field” (Genesis 3:17b-18). This eating of the grain of the field---of what grows from the ground---could be likened to Nebuchadnezzar’s being “fed grass like oxen,” as both are now going to be eating what grows from the ground, as they live among the wild animals, rather than having plenteous quantities of food delivered to them by their humble servants.

Humble servants? In Adam’s case, because he was God’s image-bearing steward over all creation and had been given dominion over the works of God’s hands, his humble servants would have been the trees of the garden. For Nebuchadnezzar, of course, his servants would have been those men and women over which he ruled. This eating of grass, for both Nebuchadnezzar and Adam, would serve as a constant reminder that they had fallen from what had been intended for them. As has been said, the fall came through pride and self-worship, as they both presumptuously reached for that which did not belong to them. Each time they ate the grass of the field, they would be reminded of their being driven from human society. Adam would remember that he had willfully departed from what it meant to be fully human, which was living in a complete, trusting allegiance to his Creator, faithfully carrying out his divine purpose. He now lived in cursing and exile, fallen, and now inhabiting a world cursed because of his faithlessness. Nebuchadnezzar would be separated from fellowship with his fellow human beings, therefore separated from relationship with others that had been created in God’s image, and therefore even further separated from God, in an awful state of exile, in full experience of God’s cursing upon himself.

After this pronouncement on the man that we so often think of as an evil and idolatrous king, the story of Nebuchadnezzar takes what might be perceived as an unexpected turn. God makes a promise to Nebuchadnezzar that this state of affairs, in which he finds himself living a beastly existence, will go on for “seven periods of time” (4:32d). So it was not going to be a permanent condition for Nebuchadnezzar. He was told that he was going to undergo this cursing and exile so that he would be made to “understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever He wishes” (4:32e). There is grace and mercy for Nebuchadnezzar here. Not only is his time of insanity going to have a defined limit, but through it, God is going to enter in so as to reveal Himself to this king. He will do this in a way that will, for Nebuchadnezzar, give real meaning to his previous declaration about God, in which he had said, “How great are His signs! How mighty are His wonders! His kingdom will last forever, and His authority continues from one generation to the next” (4:3). In these words, Nebuchadnezzar had told “all peoples, nations, and language groups that live in all the land” (4:1), that he was “delighted to tell you about the signs and wonders that the most high God has done for me” (4:2). Perhaps this was nothing more than lip service, following that to which he had been witness in the situation with Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and the fourth man in the fiery furnace? Perhaps not?

We have seen and heard something like this from Nebuchadnezzar previously, when, following Daniel’s revelation and interpretation of the king’s dream about the great statue, Nebuchadnezzar responded by saying to Daniel, “Certainly your God is a God of gods and Lord of kings and revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery” (2:47). Nebuchadnezzar’s response to the telling of the prophecy of the statue was to build a statue of himself entirely out of gold, though in the dream, only the head of the statue of himself was gold, while the rest was composed of different materials. Daniel had informed the king that the various materials used from top to bottom represented kingdoms that would rise up and pass away, beginning with his own kingdom of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar’s response, after speaking highly of Daniel’s God, was to construct the previously referenced image made completely from gold, thus indicating his belief that it was his kingdom that would never pass away. To this, he added the requirement for all peoples to bow down and worship the image, in worship of him and in recognition of what he thought of as his own eternal kingdom. This, of course, precipitated the “fiery furnace incident”, which, in turn, engendered his proclamation at the beginning of the fourth chapter of Daniel. So it seems reasonable that there may have been a bit of disingenuousness in Nebuchadnezzar’s great proclamation, so the God that had been so gloriously referenced took it upon Himself to make Nebuchadnezzar a true believer, with the thoughts of his heart matching the words of his lips.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nebuchadnezzar's Fall (part 2)

The fall of Nebuchadnezzar well mirrors the fall of man. How so? Firstly, he assigned himself the place of God. He deified himself. Having previously spoken of Daniel’s God by declaring “How great are His signs! How mighty are His wonders! His kingdom will last forever, and His authority continues from one generation to the next” (Daniel 4:3), effectively, by his declaration concerning “the great Babylon that I have built for my royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor” (4:30b), he assigned the words that had been offered up in recognition of the God of Israel, to himself. How does this mirror the fall of man? Turning to the third chapter of Genesis, we find the serpent speaking to Eve in regards to the “forbidden fruit” and saying, “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil” (3:5). So what was the temptation offered to Eve? Essentially, it was that she could be like God.

As we move forward, we are sure to place flesh and blood on the story, imagining that, having eaten and not died (at least not physically in that moment), she communicated similar information to her husband Adam, and he also ate the fruit. In this, he too, not satisfied with having been made in the divine image, humbly and faithfully serving as a steward of the creation over which he had been given dominion, Adam desired to be like God. In the eating of the fruit, in what was a likely a full knowledge of what it was that he hoped to attain (being like God), like Nebuchadnezzar, Adam (and Eve) appropriated to themselves that which was not theirs. For Nebuchadnezzar, the awful announcement came with rapidity. The voice from heaven rang out, informing the self-idolatrous king that had put himself in the place of God, thinking of himself along the same lines that he had previously thought of God, “that your kingdom has been removed from you” (Daniel 4:31b). Adam’s experience was no different. “And the Lord God said, ‘Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken” (Genesis 3:22-23). In Adam’s situation, the last thing that God wanted was for Adam to eat of the tree of life, and therefore, be able to live forever in his now corrupted state.

Adam had been given complete dominion over God’s good creation, but through his acts, as creation’s representative before God---the creation’s king and ruler---that creation had been marred. In what amounted to bringing himself honor through self-worship, in full knowledge of his desire to be like God, Adam fell from his place of authority. Due to this, he was told “cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, but you will eat the grain of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat food until you return to the ground” (3:17b-19a). How do we find this reflected in Nebuchadnezzar’s story? Just like Adam had been driven from the garden, because of the king’s self-worship, when he was stripped of his rule and authority, God said to him, “You will be driven from human society” (Daniel 4:32a).

In his fall, Adam gave up and rejected what it meant to be fully human. Adam, having been made in the image of God, to trust and honor and worship his Creator, lost that which God had intended for humankind. That makes Nebuchadnezzar’s plight of being “driven from human society” all the more fascinating. To this fact of being driven from human society, God added that Nebuchadnezzar would “live with the wild animals” (4:32b). With his dominion over creation taken from him, in which he was clearly placed, by God (much like Nebuchadnezzar had been given power and a kingdom by God for a particular purpose), in a stewarding superiority over the beasts of the field, Adam’s expulsion from the garden meant that he too was going to live with the wild animals. Why? Why do we have this parallel in the stories of both Adam and Nebuchadnezzar? It is because we become what we worship. Adam turned his thoughts upon himself, worshiping the creature. Nebuchadnezzar did the same. With that being so, God drove both of them to join the realm over which they had previously ruled, and to live like the remainder of the created order---to live like that which they had worshiped. By over-reaching, both of them denied God’s purpose for them.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nebuchadnezzar's Fall (part 1)

It is you, O king! For you have become great and strong. Your greatness is such that it reaches to heaven, and your authority to the ends of the earth. – Daniel 4:22 (NET)

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had been “frightened badly” (4:5) by a dream. He recounted the dream to Daniel, and Daniel proceeded to inform him as to the meaning and interpretation of that dream. Nebuchadnezzar had been frightened by his dream, whereas Daniel, was upset and alarmed at what it was that he was going to have to tell the king, going so far as to say “if only the dream were for your enemies and its interpretation applied to your adversaries” (4:19). The king had dreamed about a tree “whose top reached to the sky, and which could be seen in all the land, whose foliage was attractive and its fruit plentiful, and from which there was food available for all” (4:20b-21a). This, Daniel said, represented Nebuchadnezzar. However, the command came to “Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave its taproot in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze around it, surrounded by the grass of the field. Let it become damp with the dew of the sky, and let it live with the wild animals, until seven periods of time go by for him” (4:23b).

Before we go any further, it should be pointed out that just before Nebuchadnezzar tells his dream to Daniel, he has just made the proclamation to the whole of his empire, in regards to Israel’s God: “How great are His signs! How mighty are His wonders! His kingdom will last forever, and his authority continues from one generation to the next” (4:3). Interestingly, within seconds it seems (at least as far as the Biblical narrative stands), Nebuchadnezzar is being given a dream that has him being cut down and temporarily removed from his place of authority. Having informed the king that he is the tree of his dream, Daniel tells him that “It is the decision of the Most High that this has happened to my lord the king. You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and you will become damp with the dew of the sky. Seven periods of time will pass by for you, before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes” (4:24b-25). This must have certainly been a bit befuddling to the king, in light of his proclamation concerning this very same God. Also, this is the same Nebuchadnezzar that God raises up, and who seems to know that he has been raised up, to bring God’s judgment against His covenant people.

However, Daniel does not leave Nebuchadnezzar without hope. He continues his explanation of the dream, saying “They said to leave the taproot of the tree, for your kingdom will be restored to you when you come to understand that heaven rules” (4:26). Daniel’s prescription to Nebuchadnezzar, in light of his pending problem, was to “Break away from your sins by doing what is right, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor” (4:27b). Immediately, we go on to learn that twelve months later “all of this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar” (4:28).

What were the circumstances under which these things were brought about? Well, “he happened to be walking around the battlements of the royal palace of Babylon” and “uttered these words: ‘Is not this the great Babylon that I have built from a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?’” (4:29-30) It appears that Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten the dream and Daniel’s warning, as well as His proclamation concerning the signs, might, wonders, kingdom, and authority of God. God’s response to this statement is swift, as “While these words were still on the king’s lips, a voice came down from heaven: ‘It is hereby announced to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingdom has been removed from you! You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and seven periods of time will pass by for you before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever He wishes’.” (4:31-32) As God did not see fit to waste any time, we learn that “in that very moment this pronouncement above Nebuchadnezzar came true” (4:33), being fulfilled completely.

So what’s the point of going through this story? What are we to learn from it? Does it merely show us the power of God and the effects of human pride? Of course it does, but it goes beyond that. It fits within the scope of the larger narrative of the Scriptures. For example, there is a tremendous symmetry between this story of the king of Babylon and the tower of Babel. Could we not look at the tower of Babel, from the book of Genesis, and see humanity---in the wake of God’s great proclamation of His own power through the flood---building their tower and saying “is this not the great tower that we are building by our own strength and for our majestic honor” in defiance of God, as they dared Him to send another flood upon the earth? Naturally, the correlations between this story of Nebuchadnezzar and the story of the Scriptures goes far beyond that. In fact, it reaches back to the beginning, taking us to the creation.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 7 of 7)

That crowning and culminating and climactic event of all of history, of course, would be the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; and Lazarus’ raising is the seminal event that stirs the pot, roils the people, irritates the Jewish leaders, creates the tension, causes issues that had been seething under the service to boil over, and drives Jesus’ pre-Resurrection life and mission towards its grand conclusion. Based on Jesus’ ongoing response to that which He knew awaited Him, we can most assuredly say that raising Lazarus was for the purpose of glory. So how did Jesus feel about what was coming? How did He respond to the events as they took place?

At the “last supper” we read that “When Judas had gone out,” for the purpose of completing his promised handing-over of Jesus to the authorities, “Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and He will glorify Him right away’.” (John 13:31-32) Here, He spoke of His death in terms of God’s glory. As Jesus goes on to speak to His disciples in the dramatic moments that follow, we hear Him say, “And I will do whatever you ask in My Name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (14:13). He spoke of His ongoing presence with and through His disciples---obviously speaking of the strengthening, performing work of “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My Name” (14:26a)---in terms of God’s glory.

The record of Jesus’ “farewell discourse” to His disciples is quite lengthy, spanning three chapters here in the Gospel. Upon its conclusion, “He looked upward to heaven and said, ‘Father, the time has come. Glorify Your Son, so that Your Son may glorify You’.” (17:1b) He looked to His pending death, while faithfully looking forward to His deliverance from the coming grave, speaking of the Resurrection and its power that was going to be unleashed into the world in order to accomplish God’s purposes and plans for His fallen creation, and spoke of it in terms of God’s glory. In full expectation of the life to come through His Resurrection, where He will be shown forth as the Son of God in power (Romans 1:4) for all the world to see, Jesus continues speaking to the Father, saying, “just as You have given Him authority over all humanity, so that He may give eternal life to everyone You have given Him. Now this is eternal life---that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom you sent” (17:2-3).

It is this knowing of God---and knowing of God in Christ---which will happen through the work of the Spirit that will be sent into the world, that is the manifestation of eternal life. This eternal life is not static, but is shared with the knower so that it may flow through the knower into the world, so that God’s faithfulness might be known and shown, through Christ. This eternal life that is the sharing of the power of the Resurrection with all who believe, is the power of God that operates in the world through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to redeem and deliver a cursed and exiled humanity, along with a creation that was cursed through humanity’s fall. To this, Jesus adds, “I glorified You on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me at Your side with the glory I had with You before the world was created” (17:4-5). Here, He spoke of His work in terms of God’s glory, and He spoke of His own glorification in terms of God’s glory. In the final use of “glory” in what has come to be called Jesus’ “high-priestly prayer”, as He , presumably, looks past the grave to the new world and new age of His established and eternal kingdom that will come into existence at His Resurrection, Jesus goes on to say, “Father, I want those You have given Me to be with me where I am, so that they can see My glory that You gave Me before the creation of the world” (17:24).

Finally, after His Resurrection, as Jesus appears in Galilee to His disciples, dining with them and taking the opportunity to restore one that was heartbroken because of his denial of his Lord, Jesus speaks to that restored one and says, “I tell you the solemn truth, when you were young, you tied your clothes around you and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up and bring you where you do not want to go” (21:18). The author informs us that “Jesus said this to indicate clearly by what kind of death Peter was going to glorify God” (21:19a). This is the first and only time in this Gospel that the glory of God is attached to anybody but Jesus or the Father. Of course, the glory is indirectly associated with Jesus because Peter was only going to experience his martyrdom because of the message of the Gospel of Jesus that he was going to preach. He would only preach that message because of his union with Christ, having been cemented into that trusting allegiance, for life or death, through the infusion of faith from God, by the Spirit, made possible by the Resurrection. Yes, we can say that God is glorified by His martyrs---His witnesses---in life or in death. God is glorified when the Gospel is preached, and people hear a testifying witness that Jesus is King and Lord of all. Before one is ever able to preach that message, for God’s glory, it must be heard, and in a way that has the appearance of that which happened to Lazarus (though altogether different) there must be a raising from death to new life.

Though Jesus’ communication to Peter is in reference to the death that he himself will suffer at the hands of those who oppose the message of the Christ, through it, Jesus also communicates a truth concerning God’s ways. For His glory, because He is a faithful God that redeems His chosen ones to Himself for His purpose of carrying out His work through the Spirit that will animate their lives, God takes us from our path of doing whatever we want, He stretches out our hands to Him, binds us to Himself, and brings us, in some cases, to places that we may never have wanted to go. He does this, raising us up for His purposes, so as to give us a life that will glorify Him.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 6)

Upon the hearing of this thundering sound from heaven, “Jesus said, ‘This voice has not come for My benefit but for yours. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out’.” (12:30-31) When we read about “judgment,” we are naturally prone to think of God’s wrath, but that need not always necessarily be so. In this case, in relation to the glorification of God, “judgment” is accompanied by the driving out of the ruler of the world. Because of this, there is both a positive and a negative aspect of judgment.

The positive aspect of judgment is that of “liberation.” Taking the positive sense then, the ruler of the world that is being driven out is death, as death has reigned since Adam. Through Christ’s pending crucifixion and Resurrection, death will be defeated. With that, the world will be liberated from its bondage to and fear of death, as the power of the Resurrection will reign in this world through those that are in union with Jesus, in a trusting allegiance in Him as King. This Resurrection power, in operation by God’s Spirit, will be the tool that God uses, through His children, to deal with evil in the world and to push back darkness, as He makes His chosen people to be reflectors of His light and glory.

If we take this in the negative sense, which is that of the wrath of God falling, then we can understand Jesus speaking of Himself, as Messiah, and therefore as the rightful and proper ruler of the world, being driven out to His death on a cross. Wrathful judgment then, comes on those that put to death God’s messiah. Either way, the ruler of the world is being driven out and some type of judgment is going to come, because Jesus is connecting the judgment with His death and with the glorification of both Himself and the Father, as He says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” (12:32). To this, the author adds an explanation that Jesus “said this to indicate clearly what kind of death He was going to die” (12:33).

This issue of “glory” is quite pronounced in the Gospel of John. It almost seems to be the crux of the author’s narrative. We see it in the first chapter, when we read “Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw His glory---the glory of the One and only, full of grace and truth, Who came from the Father” (1:14). In addition to this glory, there is a steady stream of references to “light” throughout this Gospel, which can be taken as a sideways reference to “glory,” as God’s people, and therefore the One Who came and stood as a representative for God’s people, were to be lights in the world for the purpose of God’s glory.

We find the next use of “glory” in the eighth chapter, where Jesus says, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is worthless. The One Who glorified Me is My Father, about Whom you people say, ‘He is our God’.” (8:54) This is in response to a declaration by the people that they had Abraham as their father, and in which they gloried as God’s special people through physical descent. Jesus mocks this as nothing more than self-glorification and as being akin to idolatry, as the people glorify Abraham, and then themselves through Abraham, basically putting aside the God that they claim as their own.

What we’ll notice is that the issue of “glory” become quite a bit more pronounced once we get to the story of Lazarus, which, of course, basically begins with Jesus’ statement about the glory of God being shown through Lazarus sickness and death, and the raising that Jesus already had in mind. We have already demonstrated that the Lazarus event becomes the catalyst to the rapid succession of events that brings about Jesus’ crucifixion and eventual Resurrection, but it also appears that the story of Lazarus, and his being raised, becomes the major turning point of the story of that which serves to bring and advance God’s glory. With what follows from what Jesus says about Himself and the death that He was going to die, and the multiple announcements about and references to glory to come, we move very rapidly to the culmination of the narrative and to the crowning event of all of history, in which the glory of God will be fully manifest.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 5)

To this point, we have traversed a chapter and a half of the Gospel of John, with all of it related in some way to the death and raising of Lazarus. On two occasions, mention has been made of the glory of God in connection with the raising. The first mention of God’s glory was upon Jesus’ hearing about Lazarus’ sickness. The second time was in response to Martha’s insistence that Lazarus would stink, having been in the tomb for four days. Both times would lead us to believe that Lazarus’ raising itself was that which would reveal God’s glory, but we will soon find out that such was not necessarily the case. Immediately after we hear the Pharisees saying, “Look, the world has run off after Him” (John 12:19b), in reference to the welcome of Jesus into Jerusalem as King, we go on to read, “Now some Greeks were among those who had gone up to worship at the feast. So these approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested, ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew, and they both went and told Jesus” (12:20-22).

We can presume that the Greeks that were in Jerusalem for Passover had seen this rousing welcome of Jesus, having also learned about the raising of Lazarus and the growing number of people that were, because of that raising, looking to Jesus as Messiah. We can also imagine that these Greeks, in making inquiries about this Jesus fellow, now being loudly hailed as Messiah, had learned about some of His rather strange practices of regularly interacting with Gentiles. It is the combination of these factors that most likely served to induce these Greeks to ask Jesus’ disciples for an audience with Jesus. Because they were in Jerusalem for Passover, and therefore in recognition of God’s covenant and His covenant people, we can also deduce that they were aware of the prophecies of messiah, and would have been especially keyed in on those prophecies which clearly showed forth the messiah as so much more than a messiah for the Jews alone, but which announced a messiah for all peoples and all nations.

It is worthwhile to attempt an examination of the scenario, in an attempt to determine why it was that they would want to see Jesus. What was their peculiar motivation? It is quite possible that, even though they were Greeks (Gentiles) that recognized the covenant and the covenant people, and even though they were in Jerusalem to recognize God’s saving deliverance in association with the Passover, that they were systematically excluded from full fellowship with those of ethnic and national Israel, as people that would probably not have borne the covenant marker of circumcision nor kept to the food and Sabbath laws. With the “Jesus situation,” combined with their understanding of the messiah as being a figure that would transcend the traditional covenant boundaries, they desired to see Jesus. A direct audience with the one being hailed as messiah would certainly put these controversial issues to rest. The question was, with knowledge that they were Gentiles, would He see them, or would He rebuff them, putting them off as unworthy because they were not of Israelite descent?

Jesus’ response to their desire to see Him is fascinating, especially in light of our attempts to determine how the raising of Lazarus was going to reveal God’s glory. When the inquiry from the Greeks is presented to Him, as they seem to stand in the place of peoples from all Gentile nations that will be brought into a desire to see God’s messiah, “Jesus replied, ‘The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’.” (12:23) The Son of Man, of course, is one of the titles of the messiah, Israel’s king, who, when he appeared, would be understood to be the physical embodiment of their covenant God. So the glorification of the Son of Man would, by extension, be the glorification of God. This must have been quite an encouragement to these answer-seeking Greeks.

The whole of the Lazarus scenario has fed into and led up to this point. Quite clearly, these Gentiles have been induced to come to Jesus because of the events and situation that have occurred because of Lazarus’ raising. Having spoken of the glorification of the Son of Man, Jesus goes on to speak about the kernel of wheat falling into the ground and dying, and its provision of grain (12:24). At this point, in the context of God’s glory, Jesus has His pending ordeal in mind, as He says, “Now My soul is greatly distressed. And what should I say? ‘Father, deliver Me from this hour’? No, but for this very reason I have come to this hour” (12:27). To what had He come? The time of His death. The time of His glorification. The time that would show forth the covenant faithfulness of Israel’s God, thus bringing Him the glory that Israel had been raised up and separated out to bring to Him, but had failed in that task. In this context, Jesus says, “Father, glorify Your Name” (12:28a). What follows? “Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’.” (12:28b)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 4)

Continuing on in chapter twelve of John, we read that “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem” (12:12). Part of this great crowd, of course, consisted of those that were causing great consternation amongst the chief priests and Pharisees---specifically, those that “were going away and believing in Jesus” (12:11b). By way of reminder, they were believing in Jesus in these great numbers because of the knowledge that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. This belief was foundational in the growing movement towards that which was going to show forth God’s glory. This crowd “took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him. They began to shout, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the One Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!’” (12:13) This was a large-scale messianic confession. This was a widespread identification with Jesus’ kingdom movement. This was being done openly, before both Jewish leaders and Roman officials.

As if that was not enough, “Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Do not be afraid, people of Zion; look, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt!’” (12:14-15) Why is it significant that this was being done in front of both Jewish leaders and Roman officials? Well, in chapter eleven, following Lazarus’ raising, in acknowledgement that Jesus was “performing many miraculous signs (11:47b), the Jewish council had already said, “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). This reminds us that there had been other messianic claimants that had risen up, movements that had gained some small measure of popular support, and had been put down by the Romans.

These had obviously been localized uprisings, dealt with rather easily, without widespread impact for the whole of the country. Clearly, at this point, Jesus had gained country-wide support and popularity, at a level far beyond what had been realized by messianic claimants that had come before Him. This had to have much to do with Jesus’ inclusive practices, inviting all and sundry to join with Him. Because of this, a response by Rome commensurate with the breadth of the movement would have to be far more severe. Rather than Jesus being dealt with locally, in the way that Rome had dealt with those had come before, Rome’s inevitable response to this far more popular rival to Caesar would be to “come and take away our sanctuary and our nation” (11:48b).

Additionally, the Romans were not unaware of the history of the peoples that they ruled. Jesus was not the first to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, accompanied by shouts of “Hosanna.” This was a re-enactment of Solomon’s crowning. This is also something that had occurred again within the last two hundred years, as a great Jewish military hero was feted in such a way. The Roman’s would have known this, and therefore, when coupled together with the larger-than-usual population of Jerusalem due to Passover and the possibility of igniting the passion for exodus and deliverance from oppressors that could easily be sparked by Passover celebrations, they would have been on even higher alert than usual.

The author adds a parenthetical statement after writing about the king’s coming on a donkey’s colt, attuning us to the subject matter of God’s glory. He writes, “His disciples did not understand these things when they first happened, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that these things had happened to Him” (12:16). Continuing to connect Lazarus’ raising with God’s glory, though not in the way that we are inclined to consider it, we go on to read that “the crowd who had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead were continuing to testify about it” (12:17). Obviously, the testimony of the witnesses continued to produce an ever-growing number of believers, enlarging the size of the crowd that “went out to meet Him” (12:18b), welcoming the One they were coming to regard as their Messiah King. Moving us closer to understanding where God’s glory in all of these things is truly to be found, the Pharisees’ response to the entirety of this situation that had been greatly spurred on by the situation with Lazarus, was “Look, the world has run off after Him!” (12:19b)

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 3)

After a brief interaction with Mary and a demonstration of emotion (because Jesus loved Lazarus-John 11:36), Jesus “came to the tomb” (11:38). Jesus ordered the stone to be rolled away from the mouth of the tomb (demonstrating the common burial practice of a multiple-use tomb that were in place in that day). Upon this, Martha offers a mild protest about the smell that will come forth, perhaps indicating that, in her mourning, along with her expectation that Jesus would in fact be doing something about Lazarus’ sickness and death, she and her sister had not performed the standard ritual of anointing the body with spices (serving as a possible indicator of their belief in Jesus’ Messiah-ship and in the power of God that would be wielded by the Messiah). Jesus’ response to this is “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God?” (11:40)

With this question, our thoughts are returned to the beginning of this story of Lazarus, where Jesus says that “This sickness will not lead to death, but to God’s glory” (11:4b). Once again, we must look past the immediate circumstance of the Lazarus issue in order to truly understand that to which Jesus is referring when He speaks about God’s glory. It is tempting to think that the glory of God will be demonstrated through the raising of Lazarus, but in reality, the raising is only relational, and it serves only as a catalyst to that which will truly reveal the glory of God.

Jesus casts His eyes heavenward (11:41), and thinking through what it was that is going to be accomplished through what is about to happen through this raising, offers thankfulness for the power that will be put on display that will have the result that the people “may believe that You sent Me” (11:42b). With this, Jesus, with a loud voice, said, “Lazarus, come out!” (11:43b) As we would expect, that is what happened. The result? “Many of the people who had come with Mary and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him” (11:45), thus setting the stage for the glory of God that was soon to be manifested.

This growth in the number of those that believed in Jesus caused a widespread furor. In response, “The chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said… If we allow Him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in Him” (11:47a, 48a). In this statement, we continue the march towards uncovering that to which Jesus was referring when He spoke of the glory of God in connection with Lazarus’ death and raising. Continuing this same story, some short period of time later, when there was “six days before the Passover” (12:1a), we learn that “Jesus came to Bethany” (12:1b). This, of course, was the place that had seen the great miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead. “Now a large crowd of Judeans learned that Jesus was there, and so they came not only because of Him but also to see Lazarus whom He had raised from the dead” (12:9), as Lazarus’ raising was still being used as an instrument in God’s hands for the purpose of His own glory.

The “Lazarus event” was quite well known, so much so that “the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too, for on account of him many of the Jewish people were going away and believing in Jesus” (12:10-11). This was a problem on many levels. One of the reasons that it was a significant problem in the eyes of the chief priests and Pharisees that the people were going away and believing in Jesus, was that Jesus was seen as somebody that was not rigorously keeping to the covenant markers (works of the law) that were so vitally important to Israel’s national interests in that day. He was perceived as a corruptor of the people and a subverter of faith and practice. Thus, those that followed Him, who believed in Him as the Messiah, and who thus began mimicking His practices---especially in the area of table fellowship with “sinners”, interaction with Gentiles, involvement with those that were ritually unclean, and general acceptance of all who were considered to be outside of the bounds of covenant---would evoke the anger of God and delay His long-awaited entrance into history to work on behalf of His covenant people.

As far as they were concerned, if more and more people began to disregard the works of the law that were then in place and stridently enforced, then all that would result would be the extension of the curse of God under which they continued to find themselves, as they were in exile from God’s promises to them, with that exile primarily evidenced by the fact that they were ruled by a foreign power (Rome), in accordance with the clear enunciation of curses to be found in the Torah (in both Deuteronomy and Leviticus). This would have been the attitude to which was ardently held by the Pharisee Saul, as before his “conversion,” he was doing everything in his power to stamp out the pestilent heresy that was serving to drive the people of Israel away from the keeping of the required marks of covenant, and thus delaying God’s redeeming action (deliverance, exodus).