Friday, May 31, 2013

Justified By Faithfulness (part 7)

For Paul, very little good could come from this new movement and its new covenant marker.  Worse than that, not only were these people encouraging the dismissal of these long-standing covenant markers, they were also going further and saying that the Creator God’s true desire and intention, through His Messiah, was to bring all peoples, and even the accursed Gentile nations, into His covenant, without those Gentiles having to effectively become Jews by adopting the approved covenant markers themselves.  This was to be abhorred and condemned.  The pre-conversion Paul would have seen this as being absolutely contrary to what was necessary and required, and that it could do nothing more than continue and even extend their God’s curse upon His people Israel, which would manifest itself as a continued denial of His blessings. 

Now, the same man, with a radically altered and transformed worldview owing to what he said was his encounter with the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth, Paul had modified his position in an extraordinary way.  The transformation and renewal of thinking was profound indeed.  Whereas before he had previously held wholeheartedly to the idea that one is in fact justified by the works of the law (espousing and maintaining the covenant markers which set one apart as a Jew and therefore a part of the Creator God’s people and in positive covenant standing before Him), he now contended that “no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16a).  Covenant standing was now going to be centered upon Jesus.  Again, Paul points to the faithfulness of the God of Israel, which is foundational and key, as represented by Jesus the Messiah, and by extension His crucifixion, His Resurrection, and the fact that His Resurrection proved Him to be the Creator God’s Messiah for His people. 

Adding to this, Paul writes, “And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law” (2:16b).  Here, realizing his God’s complete faithfulness to His people and His promises, with that faithfulness represented by what Jesus had been and accomplished on behalf of the Creator God’s covenant people and for all of mankind, Paul has completed his paradigm shift.  He now says that the covenant marker is belief in Jesus as the risen Messiah.  That is, one is now justified, or righteous, or in positive covenant status before the Creator God and therefore able to experience the blessings that said God has promised to His covenant people now drafted from all nations and accepted as Gentiles, by believing that Jesus was and is the embodiment of Israel’s God and King of all creation.  The old covenant markers, that being the works of the law, have summarily been set aside and replaced by this new covenant marker of belief in Jesus as Messiah. 

Paul joins with the group that is dismissive of the works of the law and of Jewish identification markers as that which will bring God’s blessing, and also throws open the doors of the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles, who can now enter upon that kingdom without having to undergo circumcision, observe Sabbaths, or follow the prescribed dietary laws.  He even goes so far as to expand this kingdom principle, based on what he has learned and knows of the life of Jesus, and indicates that not only is there no longer to be a division along the lines of Jew and Gentile, but that in union with Christ---in believing that Jesus is Lord, and with that serving as the covenant marker of the renewed people of God---there is no longer slave nor free, or even male and female. 

Making Jesus central to the covenant was monumentally transformational, providing a sweeping change in all things and all areas of life.  Indeed, in that day, many believers in Jesus came to look upon themselves as a new and third humanity, representing a new way of being divine image bearers (human), and understanding themselves to be somehow infused with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, along with the power and responsibility of eternal life (the life of the age to come intruding upon the present age) through belief in Jesus, as they were now animated by His Spirit and living in His Kingdom and for His purposes.  While certainly respecting earthly powers and offering the respect that was due to them, and while acknowledging the Caesar (the one that held the title of lord of all and son of god), they knew of no true King but the crucified one.    

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Justified By Faithfulness (part 6)

As the covenant people, responsible for bringing the blessings of the Creator God to bear in and for all of the creation, the Jews were not looking to escape from this earth so as to enjoy a blissful existence apart from the world.  As Greek thought, such desires were more at home in the realm and hopes of pagan religion.  Rather, they were looking for the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth (the overlap of their God’s realm of existence with the realm of existence created for divine image-bearers), when the Creator God would embody His messiah and bring about the vindication, salvation, and deliverance of His covenant people, doing this together with the restoration of all things and the physical resurrection of the righteous dead (those that died in a state of positive covenant standing). 

As popularly (though not exclusively) imagined, this would occur through the messiah’s setting up of His kingdom, as Israel’s King, Who would be the King of all the earth (the Creator God becoming King), with all peoples coming to bow before Him, as was pictured and to which seemed to be pointed throughout the Psalms and the writings of the Hebrew prophets. 

The establishment of this kingdom, as was held to by a large number of people in the time of Jesus and Paul, would involve the overthrow of the Romans (the perceived enemy of God’s people, though they really only stood for the greater enemy to which was pointed by popular apocalyptic literature---think Daniel and Revelation), and their being driven from the land.  In this, the promised land would be returned to the Creator God’s people, and those people would finally live free from any and all types of foreign dominion (be it world powers or that which animated them---evil and death). 

Among other things, this would signify the blessing of the covenant God finally returning to His people.  By the people’s estimation, with this widely held conception being reinforced by the leaders of the people, maintaining the covenant markers---according to was to be understood from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, coupled with an understanding of the history of their people when they rejected their God by rejecting His covenant markers and thus demonstrating a disbelieving faithlessness---is the thing that would secure their God’s blessing. 

Thus, with a steadfast adherence to these works of the law, the presume covenant people would maintain a positive covenant standing with their God.  Accordingly, they would be justified, and in a position to enjoy His covenant blessings of land and kingdom and prosperity, according to what He had promised to them.  So the works of the law and the keeping of the works of the law were, in fact, rooted in a profound belief in the righteousness (covenant faithfulness) and power of God.  Yes, faith stood behind adherence to the covenant markers.  This had always been the case.   

By and large, prior to his well-documented “conversion,” this had been the Apostle Paul’s position.  H had been a Pharisee of Pharisees, by his own testimony.  He had been zealous for the law.  He had been zealous for these works of the law---looking to them as that which signaled one’s justification before the Creator God (righteous standing/positive covenant status).  This was rooted in His belief in the faithfulness of his God.  He called himself a Hebrew of Hebrews.  He held vociferously to these covenant markers and persecuted, attempting to destroy and stamp out the movement that, beginning with Jesus, was actively encouraging the Creator God’s very own covenant people to set these markers aside. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Justified By Faithfulness (part 5)

For the Jews in Jesus’ day, and quite obviously on in to Paul’s day since it was something with which he was still dealing as evidenced by the subject matter of his letters, maintaining these marks of covenant status was important.  For a large number, these marks are what made them their God’s covenant people.  It was what demonstrated their righteousness, or their justification, or their right standing before their God, as people of His covenant.  Though justification was a crucial matter, Paul makes it clear, apparently following from what he knew of the words of Jesus in which He made belief in Himself as Messiah (Lord/King) the basis for justification, that even though “we are Jews by birth… we know that no one is justified by the works of the law” (Galatians 2:15a,16a).   

Bearing in mind what was being referenced when Paul writes about the works of the law, “No one,” the Apostle effectively says, “not even the people to whom God gave strict covenant requirements at Sinai through Moses, has a positive covenant standing conferred upon them by being circumcised, keeping kosher laws, purity laws, and keeping Sabbath.”  When it came to the issue of right covenant standing (justification), these were no longer relevant factors.  Paul himself would claim to have kept these things perfectly, but in futility in relation to the obligations of covenant, as he would come to realize that these things did nothing to secure justification. 

Was covenant now irrelevant?  Were covenant markers now of no value?  Absolutely not!  As has already been said, if one is justified, or is going to experience justification, then one must be adhering to the marks and requirements of the covenant that have been put in place by the Creator God Himself.  The issue at hand, for Paul, as he addressed both his countrymen and his Gentile brothers in Christ, was that, just as had been done before, the God of covenant had shifted the terms of His covenant.  The new and final covenant marker had been put in place, though belief in the power of God, through belief in Jesus as His representative, and His faithfulness to fulfill the promises of the covenant were still going to be paramount. 

Now, unlike before, when the Levitical requirements concerning idolatry, sanctuary, and Sabbath did serve as the mark of belief in the Creator God and His covenant, and adherence did secure the promised blessings (with disobedience bringing cursing), “no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (2:16a).  This faithfulness of Jesus Christ, it would seem, is the power of the Creator God, represented in Jesus the Christ.

It must be understood that the performance of the works of the law are actually set at a great distance from the idea of doing good works as a means of achieving the Creator God’s saving justification and thereby earning a place in heaven upon death.  For the Jews of that era (and any era), as has come to be learned, that simply was not an issue, and is actually foreign to the Jewish way of thinking.  Good works were the manifestation of the Creator God’s blessing.  Good works were what would naturally flow from positive covenant status. 

Keeping the law would not have been considered to be good works.  Good works would have been the response to the realization of being a member of the covenant people of the Creator God, which was achieved by adhering to the works of the law.  In addition to that, heaven, as it is routinely imagined as a place of unending bliss, and achieving heaven, was not the ultimate goal of the Jew.  These realizations are terribly significant, because Jesus, Paul, and all of the disciples and so many of the earliest believers in Jesus as Messiah were first century Jews, living in the midst of second temple Judaism, under Roman domination, and therefore, still under their God’s cursing, according to the law. 

Justified By Faithfulness (part 4)

While it is true that Jacob’s descendants (Israel) were given a set of covenant requirements to go along with the covenant mark of circumcision that had been established with Abraham, and that the overall history of those descendants that is presented in the Scriptures is one in which the predominant theme is a violation of those requirements, it can surely be said that their covenant was also based on a trusting belief in the faithfulness of the Creator God.  Regardless of the fact that there were required actions associated with receiving the blessings of the covenant, their performance of those actions, or avoidance of those actions, would still be based on a belief in their God, in His power, and in His faithfulness to carry out the associated promises. 

Ultimately, their justification (righteousness) was going to be based upon a belief in their God’s righteousness (His covenant faithfulness).  What can be seen in the Scriptures is that Israel ultimately did not believe in their God or His promises.  In the end, the historical narrative suggests that, by and large, there was no faith.  Ultimately, this would result in the division of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms (Israel and Judah), the destruction and captivity and dispersion of the northern kingdom (Israel) by Assyria, the destruction and captivity of the southern kingdom (Judah) by Babylon, and the ongoing subjugation of the land of promise to numerous world powers through the time of Roman domination that would be experienced by Jesus and the church. 

When the people of the southern kingdom, under the rule of Persia and under the leadership of Ezra, returned to the land of Judah (remembering that it was only a portion of the people that were deported, and only a portion of the deported that returned), they would do so with the clear understanding that the destruction, deportation, and subjugation that had come upon them was the fulfillment of their God’s promised curses for disobedience to His law.  Scripture provides an indication that the covenant people no longer needed to be convinced of their God’s power and righteousness.  They no longer lacked understanding of what it would take for them to be justified.  From that point, with direction from both Ezra and Nehemiah, there would be what seems like an enthusiastic effort to uphold the covenantal requirements, so that their God would provide His people with His blessings, and that they might become a blessing to the nations. 

This sense of responsibility to the covenant, with knowledge of their ongoing subjugation to foreign powers and ongoing exile from the full covenant blessings of their God hanging thickly in the air, continued on in to Jesus’ day, with the Pharisees acting as the upholders and enforcers of the terms of the covenant.  By then, the three basic covenant requirements of avoiding idolatry, keeping the Sabbaths, and reverencing the sanctuary, together with circumcision---with idolatry seeming to have been effectively dealt with and now practically non-existent among the Jews---had morphed into the keeping of kosher laws, purity laws, and the keeping of Sabbath.   

These were the things that were then looked to as the marks of their God’s covenant, and these were the things that were held to so as to effectively delineate the Creator God’s covenant people.  It could be insisted upon that, almost without a doubt, these things were being held to because of a belief in the power and promises of their God, as many desperately hoped to achieve their God’s promised blessings, according to the covenant that provided the collective and defining history of their people.  Taken together, these covenantal standards came to be known in popular parlance as the “works of the law.”

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Justified By Faithfulness (part 3)

In turn, the people of the Creator God would point to their covenant-making-and-keeping God as the source of all blessing, bringing Him glory through reflecting His glory into the world, and causing all peoples and all of creation to desire the blessings of His covenant as well.  It would be communicated and understood that these blessings could be had by submitting to the requirements of the covenant and thereby joining with the covenant people.  This submission to and adherence to the requirements of covenant would confer a positive covenant status.  Therefore, a person would be justified.  That person would be looked upon, by the Creator God, as being righteous.  That person would have received his or her justification.  

What were the additional requirements that were put upon the Creator God’s covenant people in association with the law that was delivered to them with a charge to keep?  The requirements are summed up quite nicely and succinctly in the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus.  There the covenant God says, “You must not make for yourselves idols, so you must not set up for yourselves a carved image or a pillar, and you must not place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down before it, for I am the Lord your God.  You must keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary.  I am the Lord” (26:1-2). 

So to break it down to basics, and realizing that the requirements of the law were expected to be kept (and probably could be met), the covenant people of the Creator God (reiterating here) are instructed to avoid idolatry, to keep the Sabbaths (feasts/set times), and to reverence His sanctuary (tabernacle and temple).  Following that, for the remainder of the same chapter, their God outlines curses and blessings to be experienced for either obedience or disobedience to these basic principles.  This can be observed again in the later chapters of Deuteronomy.  This repetition is far more extensive, though it comes without a repetition of the three fundamental issues that prefaced the Levitical presentation.  There, the Creator God simply speaks of following His commandments that He had delivered to those that had been charged to carry out His will in and for the world.             

It must be said that, in each instance, the covenant that is set forth by the Creator God is based upon a belief in that God, in His power to perform, and in His faithfulness to carry out these covenants.  This belief, naturally, is set within a trust in that God.  Adam is presented as one that did not believe.  He is shown to be one that was faithless in regards to the first covenant.  With the Scriptural record as it is, one is left only to wonder at Adam’s response to the second covenant.  However, as Adam would begin to experience the corruption of his physical body as it moved towards the inevitable and promised death, along with the labor and toil with which he had to deal throughout his life because of the curse that was said to be placed upon the ground, it can be imagined that he was moved to a position of trusting belief in the God of covenants. 

Noah, in contrast to Adam, is said to have been righteous, somehow believing in the word of the Creator God before the promised flood would come, so it is reasonable to presume that he believed his God and took Him at His word, with this being especially so after the promise had come to pass.  It is said that Abraham believed God, and that this was counted for him as “righteousness” or “justification.”  As it would ultimately be the case for Israel and renewed Israel post-Christ, it was his belief that brought Abraham into a positive covenant standing, as this was the mark of the Creator God’s covenant with Him (though circumcision would be added).  This can basically be said to be true of Isaac and Jacob as well. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Justified By Faithfulness (part 2)

Moving forward to Noah, one finds the actual first use of the word “covenant” (at least in terms of an English translation of Scripture).  The Creator God is reported to have judged the earth with a worldwide flood.  This actually allows an observer to see the two-fold nature of judgment.  In one sense, the judgment brought destruction, in that the God of creation destroyed all but eight people.  In the other sense, the positive side of judgment can be considered, as the same God’s judgment liberated the world (albeit temporarily) by purging from what was said to have become the overwhelming wickedness of man, and its effects, that had abounded upon it. 

So yes, the judgment of the covenant God can be both destructive and liberating, and every attempt should be made to see what type of judgment is being presented when read about in the Scriptures.  Following the flood, the Creator God is said to have made a covenant with Himself, with a man (Noah) presumably standing as witness, that He would never again bring about His judgment with a worldwide flood.  As there have been no additional worldwide floods, the history of mankind sets itself forth as clear demonstration that the Creator God has been faithful to this covenant.  Thus, the Creator God is righteous (faithful to His covenants).      

The next covenant to be found in Scripture was the one that is reported to have been struck with Abraham.  In that story, the Creator God entered into history and chose a man for Himself to bear the light of His glory to the world, to represent Him to all nations, and to be the progenitor of a people that would do the same.  The one that would eventually be known as the God of Israel (and often as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) said to Abraham (paraphrasing), “I will do this, and you will do that, and this will be the result.”  Additionally, his God gave to him (Abraham) the sign of the covenant, which was circumcision.  This covenant would be passed along through Abraham’s son Isaac, on to Isaac’s son Jacob, and on to Jacob’s progeny, which came to become known as the nation of Israel. 

In each instance, the passing along of the covenant included the Creator God’s foundational (again, paraphrased) statement of “I will do this, and you will do that, and this will be the result.”  With the nation of Israel itself, in its receipt of their God’s law at Mount Sinai following their exodus from Egypt, their God expanded and expounded upon what it was that He was requiring of His covenant holding, light-bearing and glory-reflecting people, asking them in no uncertain terms to take measures to dramatically set themselves apart from the peoples that they were going to encounter in the land that had been promised to Abraham and to them. 

These additional expectations were put in place because, presumably hearkening back to His covenant with Abraham, the Creator God desired to bless all peoples through His covenant people.  “Blessing” was a major component of the Abrahamic covenant.  This blessing of all peoples would be accomplished because the covenant God of creation was going to bless His covenant people if they fulfilled their end of the covenant.  If they fulfilled their end of the covenant by meeting the requirements that were set forth (primarily the issues of being circumcised, reverencing the sanctuary, keeping the Sabbaths, and not worshiping other gods), this would mean that they were “justified” before God.  They would be in right standing in relation to the covenant.  They would be considered to be righteous, and all peoples would then be able to see the blessings upon God’s covenant people and in turn be drawn to those same people.  

Justified By Faithfulness (part 1)

Yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. – Galatians 2:16a  (NET)

This phrase is proceeded by an important one that assists in the creation of context and understanding of the terms that Paul is going to be employing in what is to follow from this statement.  Paul had written, “We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners” (2:15).  When examining this issue, it is paramount to bear in mind that Paul prefaces talk of being justified by speaking of Jews and Gentiles.

This issue of justification is terribly significant and important.  It was important before Jesus and is important after Jesus.  Yes, though it seems to come to the fore after Jesus, it must be said that it was important for Jews before the Christ-event, and was and is important for all people (both Jews and Gentiles) after the Christ-event.  As Paul’s letters are read, it is incumbent upon the reader to remember that he was writing after the Resurrection, in the early years of Christ’s church, and that the terms that he employs carry a specific meaning and connotation for the time period in which they were written. 

Understanding the relevance of time-specific meanings is equally important for all of Scripture.  If one holds to that as a standard, then greater comprehension should be able to be achieved.  Ironically, it is this time specific relevance that provides the Scriptures with their element of timelessness and their universal application, as examining the Word of God in this way will make personal applications far more appropriate, effective, interesting, and exciting.

Defining terms then, it is proper to begin with justification, or being “justified” as Paul writes.  Justification, as Paul, his fellow countrymen, and the earliest members of the Christ community would understand, specifically had to do with being in a positive covenant standing before God, or with having a positive covenant status.  Because the Creator God’s “righteousness” (which is spoken of so often) can perhaps be best defined as His “covenant faithfulness,” righteousness is intimately connected with covenant.  Thus, “justified” can also be presented as being “righteous.”  Therefore, if one is justified, or is going to experience justification, then one must be adhering to the marks and requirements of the covenant that have been put in place by the covenant God Himself. 

This issue of covenant status can be quickly traced through the Hebrew Scriptures.  Though the term is not used, one can find the first covenant with Adam in the garden.  The Creator God is said to have told Adam, essentially, “If you do this, then this is what will happen.”  That is a covenant.  Of course, Scripture records how that went for Adam, for all of creation, and for every divine-image-bearing creation that would follow in Adam’s wake.  The Creator God’s righteousness (His faithfulness to His covenant and its mutual demands) was put on display as a result of Adam’s actions. 

He was faithful to the covenant that He made with Adam.  Immediately following what has come to be known as “the fall,” the Creator God spoke of another covenant concerning the serpent and the seed of the woman.  The earliest of those that came to believe in Jesus as the Christ, came to recognize that their God was faithful to fulfill this particular covenant as well, doing so through Jesus, and thereby came to connect this covenant that is connected with justification for His people (making them righteous).      

Friday, May 24, 2013

Preaching & Believing (part 3 of 3)

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

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

The whole of this statement is important.  Without an inclusion of all of this information, in verses three, four, and five, the Gospel, as defined by Paul, is not preached.  By definition, the preaching of the Gospel message that Jesus is Lord includes the preaching of death, burial, Resurrection, and appearances.  Most would find this strange, as one would not generally refer to one’s Lord and King as one that was crucified; and certainly, nobody would be inclined to speak of such a thing as a resurrection from the dead, as such simply did not happen. 

Gospel then is effectively summed up by saying that Jesus of Nazareth is the crucified, buried, and resurrected Lord of all.  That is the message of the Gospel.  That message is an announcement about Jesus, which would fit into the well-defined mold of the use of the term “gospel” in that day, which was that of announcements about the Caesar.  With that understood, Paul continues on, writing “Then He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, He appeared to me also.  For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (15:6-9). 

Paul makes this appendage to the primary Gospel proclamation, bolstering the factual basis of the Resurrection, while apparently allowing himself to provide a bit of biography that points to what he believed to be evidence of the immeasurable grace of the Creator God---allowing him to preach the Gospel.  He adds, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been in vain.  In fact, I worked harder than all of them---yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (15:10).  That grace of the covenant God that was at work in Paul was, at the least, the Resurrection power of the Gospel. 

By all means, it is possible to teach the sayings of Jesus, but if it is not presented with the firm foundation of the Gospel proclamation, then it is not really preaching the Gospel.  One can make presentations about Bible stories and characters, but if they are not tied together with the proclamation of Jesus as Lord, then there is not actually preaching the Gospel.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Not every teaching demands to have a Gospel component, but it is quite helpful to have a definition of terms.  Having pointed to the grace of God as that which even allowed him to come to belief and to preach the Gospel message, Paul comes to the point about the power to produce the faith for belief and transformation that is inherent in what it is that he has preached, saying that, “this is the way we preach and this is the way we believed” (15:11b). 

If one truly desire to have an impact for the Lord God of creation in this world, then it is incumbent upon believers to speak the very message that sends His transforming, renewing, re-shaping, re-creating, restoring, and saving power into the world.  That message is the message of the Gospel.  The proclamation of Jesus as Lord is what carries the power, and it never fails.  If the Gospel is preached, belief will follow.      

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Preaching & Believing (part 2)

Before going further, it is worthwhile to examine what it is that Paul most likely means when he speaks of “being saved.”  As a Jew, raised in the context of a deep-rooted understanding of covenant, the Scriptural narrative, and the context of exodus and exile, when Paul uses this term he has a specific point of reference and definition.  For the covenant people of Israel, the Creator God’s salvation would have been widely construed as being delivered from foreign bondage and exile, which represented their God’s curse upon them for covenant failures. 

Therefore, being “saved” implies a deliverance from cursing and exile, with a concordant rescue from foreign subjugation.  When the covenant God delivered Israel from their bondage in Egypt and brought them into the land of promise, they would have understood themselves as having been saved.  Most decidedly, they experienced the salvation of their God.  When their God repeatedly delivered them from oppression in the days of the Judges and made them to regain control of their promised land, each time, they would think of themselves as being saved.  When Judah was spared from Assyria, maintaining an albeit temporary self-rule under their God’s anointed kings, they would have thought of themselves as being saved.  These were all acts of salvation. 

Whenever the Creator God entered in to defeat Israel’s enemies, ending cursing (as outlined in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28) or staving off exile, that deliverance is spoken of as salvation.  When the Creator God would save Israel, it would be related to being saved from the curses that are set forth in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, which set for the culminating curse of exile from their land and subjection to foreign destruction and domination. 

It must be remembered that Paul’s Jewish readers would have this in mind when considering his words and his overall message.  This would have been the air that they breathed, and the hearing of the message of the Gospel and its salvation would have been inseparable from the mindset fostered by their shared and defining history.  Yes, Jewish hearers would have in mind the entire narrative of their Scriptures, and therefore, when hearing about salvation, would also take into consideration the cursing of all mankind that began with Adam.  Early non-Jewish believers would have been educated into the Jewish narrative, so as to be able to comprehend the Creator God of Israel and make sense of the Christ-event.   

Though Paul would say that Israel’s history was instructive, especially in learning about the faithful God that would become embodied in Jesus of Nazareth, Paul would not necessarily want his Gentile readers to take Israel’s Deuteronomic curses into consideration when they considered their own cursing and exile.  Those curses were specific to Israel, as they were associated with the covenant established with Israel at Sinai.  Paul would want Gentile hearers and believers to understand that a better covenant had been enacted at Calvary, and that the covenant was more in line with the Abrahamic covenant and its directive towards all peoples, not just Israel. 

So Paul, in his message that was geared towards all peoples, would utilize mankind’s curse, along with the curse on all of the creation that was understood to have begun with Adam, as the point of reference for that from which they were being saved.  Under the covenant of Jesus, salvation, for all mankind, Jew and Gentile, would involve being delivered from the curse of death, along with the end of exile from the Creator God’s fellowship, under which man was not truly able to rightly bear the divine image in which he had been created. 

Preaching & Believing (part 1)

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

In order for a person to be counted amongst the number of the covenant people, and therefore participating in the life of the age to come in the here and now (eternal life) and the new creation to come, belief in the message of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) is fundamental.  According to the New Testament reflections on the Christ-event and that which it has wrought in the world, belief in the Gospel is what brings change.  Belief in the Gospel is what brings transformation. 

Belief in the Gospel, and a trust that the Gospel contains power for change and transformation, which will be reflected in word and deed, is what conforms a man or woman into the glory-reflecting image of Himself that the Creator God desires for those that were created as His image.  This is something that is partially accomplished by preaching, as the hearing of the Gospel message is fundamentally associated with the coming of faith, which manifests itself as belief, which unleashes the transformative power of the Resurrection and the life of the age to come in the believer.

So this begs the question as to what it is that should be preached.  What message---whether one is a writer, or a teacher, or a preacher, or simply a person seeking to daily be a light and vessel for the Creator God’s use---should we preach?  This, of course, is a question with which the preacher should wrestle regularly.  A pastor, most especially, should desire to see changed lives amongst those to whom he has been called to serve and to teach.  Because of this desire, a pastor should always want to preach a message that ultimately produces belief in his hearers.  This makes a great deal of sense, since belief, rooted in the operative faith that the Apostle Paul insists somehow comes through hearing, is the vehicle for transformation.  It is wonderful to know that there is a message that has never failed, and which will never fail, to do this.  What is it? 

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

Now, some might say that “preaching the Gospel” is an obvious answer to the question as to what message never fails to produce belief and subsequent transformation.  Along with that, it would probably be said that, as long as a pastor is preaching from the Bible, or preaching about God, or preaching about God in Christ, that he is preaching the Gospel.  However, that may not necessarily be the case.  Preaching the “Gospel” is not simply preaching from the Bible, or about God, or even about Jesus. 

“Gospel,” as was well understood in the day in which Jesus lived and Paul wrote, had a specific meaning related to proclamations about the Caesar.  Therefore, the use of “Gospel” by Jesus, Paul, or any of the other New Testament writers or New Testament or era believers, would be construed as having a direct reference to proclamations about a King, that being Jesus the Messiah.  It is with this context, of Jesus as King, with claims on men and the world and power superior to that of Caesar, that Paul goes on to provide a basic definition of what it is that he means when he writes about his preaching of the Gospel.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Would God Have Me Do? (part 3 of 3)

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

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

According to the Scriptural narrative on which the Psalmist and presumably Jesus as a member of the covenant people operated and based their interaction in and for the world, because of the fall, all that are under the curse that had been wrought by Adam can be said to be oppressed by the stalking specter of death, while suffering under the corruption and violence that is in this world.  It is only in becoming people of the covenant, now through belief in Jesus as the One through Whom God has sufficiently dealt with these things, that the oppressed and suffering can be vindicated. 

This vindication, as indicated by the New Testament, only comes through sharing in Christ’s conquering of death---by being crucified with Him and being raised up with Him (an unthinkable thing)---and sharing in His Resurrection (His vindication) and eternal life through faith that shines through as belief in Him.  Through a belief in the Gospel of Jesus as Christ and Lord of all, and through that alone, is a man delivered from the power of the wicked, by being given a faithful King to Whom he can render submission.  Along with that, a man is also given a God to serve that exists and that took human flesh upon Himself in order to suffer, that sympathizes with man as His brother.  That does not change.

There is a Gospel, and an empowerment to belief in the Gospel, somehow by the Gospel message itself, so that the covenant God’s people can carry out His purposes in this world, to be what He would have them to be, and to do what He would have them do.  It is only through that Gospel and its power to grip and to change and to conform a person into the divine image that had been previously forfeited, that a believer can truly make just decisions, defend the poor, support the orphan, vindicate the oppressed and suffering, rescue the poor and needy, and deliver them from the power of the wicked.  If oneis found engaged in this battle, motivated by their allegiance to the Gospel proclamation, then that same one can trust that he or she is quite close to the heart of the God revealed in Christ, and serving according to His will.    

Monday, May 20, 2013

What Would God Have Me Do? (part 2 of 3)

It is possible then to see a picture of that God, entering into the pantheon of gods that are worshiped by the nations surrounding His people, all of which would, at some time, be worshiped by His people.  He stands in the midst of representations of these gods, looks around, holds out His arms and says, “How long will you continue showing favoritism to what is wicked?  How long will you worship these gods?” 

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

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

Quite simply, He says, “Defend the cause of the poor and the fatherless!” (Psalm 82:3a)  Defend the cause of the poor and the fatherless.  Though poor is a highly fluid and relative term that is dependent on a number of subjective factors (though access to basic life necessities would be largely determinative of status in this area), “fatherless” is easily understood.  The Creator God expects His people to be an advocate for the orphaned and abandoned.  Orphans are extraordinarily close to the heart of the Creator God, an assertion which is borne out by the repetition of Scripture concerning the fatherless, and of the God of Scripture being their supporter through His people. 

This can be taken a step beyond the understanding of “fatherless” as referring to those that are orphans because they do not have an earthly father, with this conception carried into the spiritual realm as well.  Because Israel (and renewed Israel through the covenant of belief in Jesus) can look to and speak to the Creator God as their Father, those who stand outside of the covenant could be considered to be “fatherless.” 

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

What Would God Have Me Do? (part 1 of 3)

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

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

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

The Psalmist insists that Israel’s God is supreme, so whether He is rendering judgment on the gods of the Canaanites, or on those who look to their gods in order to justify their actions, judgment is justly rendered.  Of course, because there are actually no other true gods on which to pronounce judgment, and no other true gods which Israel’s Creator God can approach in order to prove His superiority, it can be known that the Creator God is speaking directly to the people who have created their gods in their own images (as opposed to the God that created man in/as His image). 

Therefore, here, when Israel’s God speaks, though He is said to be in the assembly of “El,” it can be confidently asserted that He is speaking to the men behind the idols and false gods.  The Creator God pronounces His judgment on all that men wrongly worship, whatever that may be.  Not only is He then speaking to the people that looked to these gods, but without a doubt, Israel’s God is pointedly speaking to His people as well. 

With these things said, it is then possible to return to the issue with which this study began, so as to determine what it is that the Creator God would have his covenant people do.  In answering that question, the covenant God starts with a question, presented in a negative manner.  He speaks and says, “How long will you make unjust legal decisions and show favoritism to the wicked?” (82:2)  Here, because the question is posed as to why favoritism is shown to the wicked, and because what is wicked can only be understood in juxtaposition to that which is not wicked, it can be asserted that the Creator God is speaking to the people to whom He has provided a revelation of Himself.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

David & Goliath: A Battle With Death (part 7 of 7)

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

When David dropped his enemy to the ground, he “did not even have a sword in his hand” (17:50b).  Having felled his opponent, “David ran and stood over the Philistine.  He grabbed Goliath’s sword, drew it from its sheath, killed him, and cut off his head with it” (17:51).  How does this fit with what it was that Jesus did?  Well, just as David utilized Goliath’s own weapon against him, by cutting off his head with his own sword---the very weapon that Goliath had planned to use to strike down David and thereby bring the Creator God’s people into subjection---Jesus defeated death by going down into death.   

In that, He gained all power by being subject to the weapon of death that had been used to strike fear and terror into the hearts of people throughout the world.  He conquered that which was designed to foster subjection and subservience to the claims of power.  Jesus used the very cross of Caesar---the great symbol of the world’s power and Caesar’s power of death over life---as the means by which He would enter into the conflict from which He would ultimately emerge victorious via the Resurrection. 

With their champion defeated and dead, the Philistines ran away.  How did Israel respond?  How did the Creator God’s covenant people respond to the defeat of their enemy?  Before David’s victory, Israel saw Goliath and the Philistines as a curse, very much in line with that promised by their God as recorded in the Deuteronomical narrative.  Had David been defeated, Israel would have been subject to the Philistines and therefore under their God’s curse, in exile from their God’s promises.  Trembling in fear before that enemy, the men of Israel had no hope.  Figuratively, they saw themselves as dead men.  Now, with Goliath’s defeat and the enemy’s retreat, they were able to walk into the realm of their God’s blessing.  They were not going to be in subjection.  Death was not going to come to overcome them.  They were resurrected! 

“Then the men of Israel and Judah charged forward, shouting a battle cry” (17:52a).  Likewise, when Jesus defeated His enemy, being raised from the dead, all those in union with Him through believing in Him (the new mark of the Creator God’s covenant people) were moved from the state of cursing and exile and death and hopelessness in the face of its relentless march, into being the place of the overlap of heaven and earth, as the life of the age to come is brought to bear through the power of the Resurrection, with no more fear.  As did Israel, those that now find themselves as the Creator God’s covenant people charge forward, with a battle cry.  What is that cry?  The cry is the proclamation of the Gospel.  The cry is Jesus is Lord, for He has won the battle!    

Friday, May 17, 2013

David & Goliath: A Battle With Death (part 6 of 7)

Many in Israel believed that their messiah would rise up, sparking and leading a revolution, and conducting a military revolt that would conquer the Romans and drive them out of the land of promise, thus ending their God’s curse upon His people and their long and futile exile.  This mindset led to the rise and fall of many false messiahs, many uprisings, and many needless and fruitless deaths.  Apparently, many had forgotten that their beloved King David, when confronted with an enemy whose defeat seemed like a hopeless cause, before slinging a stone and chopping off a head, somewhat ironically stood and said, “it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves.” 

When it came to fighting His battle, Jesus, though eschewing David’s particular methods as they are cataloged in the Scriptural narrative of Israel’s history, did not forget other words that David was said to have uttered.  Thus, as Jesus approached the place of His battle with His particular enemy, He could join with David and say, “the battle is the Lord’s, and He will deliver you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:47b).  Ultimately, when His followers and those that came to believe in His Resurrection came to grasp the significance of that to which they had been witness, Jesus would be understood to have mysteriously defeated death, and in so doing ushered in His kingdom in a way unlike that of all of the kingdoms of the world. 

However, rather than engage in what would have been the customary and expected violence of military conflict, doing battle with sword and spear as had so many to mixed ends, Jesus would be the one to suffer violence.  In that suffering, He would both literally and figuratively take all of the blows that His and His God’s enemy could deliver, and still emerge victorious through a Resurrection. 

Truly, in His arrest, His trial, and His crucifixion, Jesus would prove that the battle belonged to the one He called Lord.  Though on the surface it seems as if Jesus was delivered into the hands of His enemy, just as it would have seemed to everybody in David’s day that he was marching forward to his own destruction and to that which would result in Israel’s subjection to its enemy, the Lord God of Israel did indeed deliver Jesus’ enemy into His hands, as it would eventually come to be said of Him that He claimed the keys of death (Revelation 1:18). 

Because Jesus figuratively took those keys, those that called Him Lord and King came to believe that death, though still demonstrating its own power in the world, would no longer have the ability to lock away a people and keep them in exile from the plans, place, and purposes of their God.  Both David and Jesus would willfully and against all odds engage in battle as representatives for their people, putting defeat and subjection on the line, and both would emerge victorious.  Their peoples (Israel and humanity) would gain victory in their victories. 

In Jesus’ victory, all the people of that land (that being the land of Israel) should have recognized that Israel has a God, and that its God was embodied by and revealed through their resurrected Messiah King, Jesus of Nazareth.  In line with the covenant as expressed to Abraham and upon which their perception of the world was based, this reality would be first embraced by Israel, and then shared with the world.         

Thursday, May 16, 2013

David & Goliath: A Battle With Death (part 5 of 7)

Furthermore, the sheer folly of the preaching of a crucified and resurrected man had power to convince people to believe in Jesus, submit to His claims in allegiance, and be willing to go to their own deaths for holding to such a claim, was further evidence of what was believed to somehow be the case that death, though still present, had truly been overcome.  If the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had the power to loose its claimants and adherents from the grip and hold of death, supplanting all fear and replacing it with the hope of eternal life (more than going to heaven, but participating in the ongoing process of bringing the life of the age to come to bear in the present) through a trusting allegiance to Jesus, then yes, Israel, the Creator God’s people through the covenant, had a God.

David continued and said that “all this assembly will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves!” (17:47a)  Of course, it has come to be quite well known that David was armed with only a slingshot and some stones, whereas Goliath was undoubtedly out-fitted with what passed for that day’s state-of-the-art military equipment.  Those that were in a position to observe David’s going out to meet Goliath would probably have not thought very highly of David’s hopes of victory. 

Since Goliath’s issued challenge had been a man-to-man battle, with two men representing their respective peoples, in which the loser’s people would become slaves to the victor’s people, one can imagine the grumbling that would have been taking place amongst the men of Israel.  One must take the time to envision the attitude of the men of Israel’s army as David marched out with no shield, no armor, no sword, no spear, and presumable no hope.  It would not be far-fetched to see Saul’s generals and advisors pleading with him to not be so foolish as to allow this boy to determine the fate of Israel.  David however, was quite confident of the salvation and vindication that would be his at the hands of the Lord God of Israel.

Jesus, as one could also imagine, would take up similar words to those on offer from David.  He was clear and direct in His message to His people, as He would effectively, through both what He did and didn’t do (and said and didn’t say), tell them that “it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves.”  In Jesus’ day, the enemy that embodied death and that also embodied the Creator God’s continued cursing of Israel, was Rome.  As long as Israel was in continued subjection to a foreign power, which had been the case for more than half a millennium at that point, then they were still in exile from their land, regardless of the geographic location of the people. 

Subjugation to a foreign people was an ongoing implication of their God’s cursing, as outlined in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  With this concept extended to all of mankind and all of God’s creation, subjection to death and its corrupting power implied that man, along with all of the creation which he had been charged to steward as the image of the Creator, continued to stand under the curse inflicted upon him and it by Adam’s rebellion in the Garden.  For Israel, because of this understanding of cursing, it was widely believed that a movement must take place to overthrow the Romans and to drive them from their land, so as to re-assert Israel as autonomous and independent.  This would come, many believed, through the leadership of their messiah, who would be a king in the mold of their great warrior-king David.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

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

Seemingly un-intimidated by the imposing warrior that stood before him, young David boldly is said to have boldly declared, “This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand!  I will strike you down and cut off your head” (1 Samuel 17:46a).  Answering Goliath’s assertion that he would feed David’s lifeless body to the birds and the beasts, David adds, “This day I will give the corpses of the Philistine army to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the land” (17:46b). 

Jesus too, more than one thousand years later, would fling Himself headlong into battle.  With what appeared to have been a supreme trust in the faithfulness of His God, He too would confront His enemy, brushing off the multiplied attempts at intimidation from a variety of directions, and saying “The Lord will deliver you into My hand.”  Because He is shown to have trusted that He would be resurrected, with that resurrection according to that which He had most likely come to believe concerning what had come to be considered as the promises about Israel’s messiah, and that His Resurrection would signal the defeat of death and its decapitation, He could confidently insist, not unlike David, that He would strike death down and cut off its head.

David would go on to add that his defeat of Goliath would not only be a temporary victory for the covenant people of the Creator God, but that it would prove to one and all that “Israel has a God” (17:46c).  Why would that be the case?  Frankly, because it would be inconceivable to any observer that this young man, vastly inexperienced in battle and in the art of war, could actually topple this proven warrior.  Yet the report of the story is that that is exactly what happened.  Similarly, as nobody had ever been able to overcome death or gain victory over the grim reality that all life would eventually come to an end, Jesus’ defeat of death would be just as inconceivable.  Death’s track record, undoubtedly, was even better than that of Goliath.  However, that which was and is inconceivable by any reasonable standard, would be proven by a physical Resurrection. 

Then, as now, all people were more than well aware that people do not come back to life.  This was especially true of those subjected to crucifixion.  Not only was crucifixion fatal, the shaming experienced by the one crucified (as well as those close to the crucified individual) would be so great that, even if one was somehow able to survive the ordeal, the shame that would now be attached to that person would be so intense that they might as well be dead. 

So when Jesus returned to life, demonstrating death’s defeat, it was taken to be the manifestation of the Creator God’s victory over death.  It was taken to be a reversal of the honor and shame cultural paradigm, now informing one and all that the place of suffering, perhaps unjustly, on behalf of others in an act of self-sacrifice, was that which should be afforded honor.  Because Jesus’ Resurrection showed Him forth as the Son of God in power---borrowing a well-known title from the liturgy surround the Caesar and his cult of worship, with Jesus now looked upon as the Son of God and King of Israel who rules in the inaugurated kingdom of heaven on earth---all observers that were willing to be honest with themselves would know and understand, as David had said to Goliath so many centuries prior (with that statement definite for Israel’s defining narrative), that Israel has a God.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

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

Eventually, young David, castigated by his brothers though unfazed by their criticisms, is brought before Saul.  There, he recounts events in his life concerning the killing of a lion and a bear by his own hands,  insisting that he is ready, willing, and more than able to engage the one he considers to be not only an enemy of Israel, but also of Israel’s God.  David expressed confidence that “The Lord Who delivered me from the lion and the bear will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!” (17:37a) 

Once again, these words of David could cause one to hearken to the life and voice of the one called Savior, as through the numerous instances in which He spoke of His impending and inescapable death and what He hoped to be His Resurrection, Jesus seemed to express a supreme confidence that His Lord would deliver Him from the grip of the enemy with which He intended to do battle on behalf of all of those that would come to believe upon Him, and on behalf of the whole of the creation.

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

“The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you are coming after me with sticks?’” (17:43a)  As this analogy has been developed, it is ironic that it is the enemy of the Creator God’s people and that God’s man that could utter these words, as when Jesus would set His face against His enemy and its chosen weapon (the cross), He is the One that could rightly take up the same question and ask, “Am I a dog, that you are coming after Me with sticks?” 

In addition, “The Philistine said to David, ‘Come here to me, so I can give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the field’.” (17:44)  To Jesus, death also could have been presumed to have said, “Come here to me.”  With this, it is interesting that death and the powers that stand behind it would be employing crucifixion against Jesus, as on many occasions the bodies of the crucified victims were left on the cross, to be picked over by scavenger birds.  Along with that, the traditional conception of crucifixion has the body set several feet above the ground, whereas in actuality, the victim was set just a few inches off the ground, so that the victims were left exposed to scavenging animals as well. 

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

Monday, May 13, 2013

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

At this time, as is well known, David was not a part of the army.  He was merely a shepherd.  His father had sent him to find out how his brothers were doing, as they had followed King Saul into a confrontation with the Philistines.  When David went to the Israelite camp, he is said to have done so in order to bring gifts to his brothers.  He came bearing gifts.  A shepherd, sent to his brothers, bringing gifts---truly, a picture of the one that would eventually be called Lord. 

When David reaches the place of the army’s encampment, “he ran to the battlefront” and “asked his brothers how they were doing” (17:22b).  While there, he hears the defying speech of Goliath, and witnesses the retreat and fear of his countrymen.  He learns that this has been going on for forty days.  Additionally, he comes to learn that King Saul is desperate to deal with this problem, but that there is no one from all of Israel that is willing to represent the people. 

Enticements are offered.  David learns that “The king will make the man who can strike him down very wealthy!  He will give him his daughter in marriage, and he will make his father’s house exempt from tax obligations in Israel” (17:25b).  No taxes is always a nice motivator.  The story presents a David who was unafraid.  To an extent, the Gospels present a Jesus who was also unafraid, while also presenting a Jesus possessed of some understandable doubt (think of the Garden of Gethsemane) that the messianic path that He had chosen was the correct one, and that it would lead to His vindication at the hands of Israel’s faithful God.  Because he would emerge victorious from his battle against Goliath, David ultimately earned a bride for himself, eventually marrying a daughter of the king.  As is suggested by those that would offer their commentary on the Resurrection of Jesus (New Testament authors), who also emerged victorious from His pitched battle with death, Jesus also earned a bride.           

As the young David continued to make his inquiries in regards to Goliath, his brothers became somewhat irritated with him.  In fact, “When David’s oldest brother Eliab heard him speaking to the men, he became angry with David and said, ‘Why have you come down here?  To whom did you entrust those few sheep in the desert?  I am familiar with your pride and deceit!  You have come down here to watch the battle!’” (1 Samuel 17:28)  Stinging words to be sure.  They remind the reader of words that were spoken to Jesus by His family, indicating that He was out of His mind or beside Himself, and bringing shame to His family. 

Similarly, when the elders of Israel, the extended family of older brothers to Jesus (in a manner of speaking), challenged His teaching, demanding to know by what authority He was doing the things He was doing and saying the things He was saying.  In essence then, Israel’s elders rebuked Jesus in the same way that David was rebuked by his brothers, saying “Why have you come down here?  Who do you think you are?  What do you think you are doing?” 

Continuing his press for information, as he is appears to be quite intent upon engaging this Philistine, David dismisses his brother’s accusations.  Jesus would one day do the same.  Despite accusations and opposition and questioning of His methods, He would press on in His mission, never wavering from His intention to engage the enemy that stood against and continued to bring ruin into His God’s creation.  

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

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

“There is no need for the entirety of our armies to go to war,” says Goliath.  Continuing, he is reported to have said, “All that is necessary if for one man from each side, representative of our respective peoples, to do battle.  The peoples of the winning side will be served by the peoples of the losing side.”  Though the story informs the reader that David would here take up the challenge and face Goliath in battle, there would come a time at which another man, the one that would come to be called the Son of David, would also go forth in battle as a representative of His people.  Yes, Jesus would willingly engage in a battle against the curse of death, and of course, He would emerge victorious.  The people for which He stood as representative would be victorious, while death and the grave would be defeated. 

The story of David and Goliath---the story of a faithful Israelite doing battle against the enemy of the Creator God’s covenant people---could certainly be perceived to be but a foreshadowing of the great and decisive battle that would be waged and won by the faithful Israelite to come, stripping the power of death from off of the chosen people of the covenant God.  No, His people would not be ruled by death.  They would not be participants in the dissemination of corruption.  They would not serve death.    

Just as Goliath stepped forward to the battle line saying, “I defy Israel’s troops this day!  Give me a man so we can fight each other” (17:10), so too did death step forward with a similar proclamation.  Death can be presumed to have made this figurative proclamation when confronted with the claims of Israel, and the Creator God’s purpose to use this people (beginning with Abraham) to bless all the world, to deal with the problem of evil, to set His world to rights, and to ultimately be the people through which He would send His promised deliverer into His fallen creation. 

In response to Goliath, just two verses later beyond those previously referenced, young David is introduced into this story as a potential deliverer.  Immediately, it can be surmised that David is the one that is going to respond on behalf of the people of the covenant God.  As David is going to stand against Israel’s enemy, Goliath, so too will Jesus stand against mankind’s undefeated mortal foe, that being death. 

Corruption and death seemed to defy all of the Creator God’s plans and purposes for His creation, just as Goliath would defy Israel.  As Goliath was the Philistine champion, so too death had reigned undefeated from the fall of man until the moment that Jesus stepped forth from His tomb.  As the story goes, Goliath was supremely confident in his ability to withstand any challenge.  Similarly, one could presume that death was not the least bit lacking in confidence when presented with the person of Jesus. 

With much boldness, Goliath said, “Give me a man so we can fight each other,” though the narrative reports that it was the very first one that answered the challenge that would prove the foolishness of this challenge.  Unchallenged and undefeated, with its own foolish and unsuspecting (though well-earned) boldness, death presumptuously shook its fist at the Creator God and exclaimed, “Give me a man so we can fight each other.”  That God’s answer to this was Jesus; and yes, a bloody and decisive battle would have to be waged. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Veil Of The Temple (part 9 of 9)

If one believes in and confesses allegiance to Jesus the Christ/Messiah as Lord and King, then what can be known from that fact is that the Creator God indeed chose that one for Himself from before the foundation of the world to be part of His globally sourced covenant people that would rightly bear His image into the world.  Figuratively, the believer has been made alive in his or her tomb. 

When the power of the Creator God’s Spirit breaks in and demonstrates itself through the believer’s submission to what can certainly be looked upon as the wholly insensible claims of the Gospel (Jesus, a crucified and subsequently resurrected man is Lord of all), and thus the choosing that extends beyond the boundaries of ethnic Israel, encompassing individuals from all nations and ethnic groups, is made manifest for all the world to see and know, it is then that those that have been figuratively raised up, awaiting the final resurrection of the righteous to renewed life in the renewed creation, are then sent forth into the world, to appear to many and to preach that Gospel. 

In a sense, they are dead men walking, while at the same time, sharing in the gift of eternal life (being the place of the overlap of heaven and earth---bring the life of the age to come into the here and now through their words and deeds that demonstrates the Lordship of the Christ).      

The torn veil is why the Apostle Paul can write to the Romans, embracing the sweep of the Scriptural narrative and say, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory” (5:1-2).  That faith by which Paul insists that he and others have been made righteous, or justified, or brought into God’s covenant as part of His covenant people, or rendered legally “not guilty,” or put right before Him and now aligned with His purpose for them, is accomplished by a trust in Jesus as Lord as the response to what has become the obvious faithfulness of the covenant God. 

Believers are given access to Him, as the cherubim with flaming swords have been taken out of the way, because of that faithfulness that is expressed through the Christ.  Believers band together to collectively and individually rejoice in a hope that will not disappoint because they understand themselves to have been empowered by the Spirit to trust that their God will consummate His plans, and to work in and through them to complete the salvation of the covenant people and the creation, bringing about the final exodus, redemption, and end of the exile of being subject to cursing, raising them up in the same way that He raised up the Christ. 

In Jesus the Messiah the Creator God put Himself on display.  It is said that Jesus led His God out from behind the veil so that all the world could see His nature.  This is the goal of the believer as well.  Truly, this was so, because the veil was torn and man was reconciled to his Creator, with the sovereign God doing all of the reconciling of His entire creation and His image-bearers through belief in Jesus.       

Friday, May 10, 2013

Veil Of The Temple (part 8 of 9)

Until Jesus’ Resurrection took place, and the power of the Resurrection that came to be understood as the point at which the Creator God had begun to renew and restore a corrupted creation was unleashed into the world, those that had been raised in their tombs at the time of Jesus’ death were not yet allowed to enter into the world in which the Christ was going to become King and in which the creation was going to be renewed. 

This has a number of implications.  Those that have been crucified with Christ, who are those that go down into the curse of death with Him as their representative by casting their allegiance with Him and confessing Him as King, and who were born into a world in which death is understood to have reigned victorious because of the contra-covenant actions of their first representative Adam, have also been raised with the Christ. 

Believing in Jesus, which, because of the crucifixion and the claim to Resurrection, is so improbable that it is generally acknowledged that such belief must come as a gift of God that is made operable by the Holy Spirit, makes the believers alive but waiting in their tombs, ready to enter into His new creation when the final Resurrection takes place and to assist in that project in an effort to show that the kingdom of the Creator God, through Christ, has been established on earth, making those efforts at bringing heaven to earth in conjunction with the ongoing hope for the final and ultimate consummation of the Christ’s kingdom on earth.

Now, one might wonder why it was that only “many saints who had died were raised.”  If the power of Christ’s death truly had the effect of shredding the veil of separation and moving the cherubim aside, signifying that the curse was broken and Eden was once again accessible to man as part of the Creator God’s plan, why only “many”?  Why not all?  This probably has to do with what was then-current burial practice, in which the dead were laid in a tomb until the flesh decomposed from the body. 

Once that decomposition had occurred, the bones of the deceased were then placed in an ossuary (a bone box).  What Matthew may desire to communicate, as He communicates the significance of Jesus’ death and the significance of the Resurrection that those that are familiar with the story know is coming, is that those that were raised at the death of Jesus, which coincided with the rending of the veil, were most likely those that had recently died, but had not decomposed.  They were not given a renewed body suitable for the new creation, as Jesus would receive.  They were not given a Resurrection body, but had been raised in much the same way that Lazarus had been raised, with a body still subject to death and corruption, in the midst of a creation that was still subject to death and corruption. 

So it is for believers in this day.  In another implication, believers can understand that even though they have been raised with Christ, and that they take part in the kingdom of heaven as they call Jesus Lord and King, believing in His Gospel, they are very much subject to death and corruption, still living in a world that is subject to the same, though this world is constantly being re-shaped by the power of the Creator God as He works through His covenant  people to accomplish His good.  They await their new bodies, their glorified bodies, which they hope to receive when Jesus returns, when death is given its final defeat, and when the curse of death is finally and completely removed from this world, which is that for which the entire creation groans.  They experience new life and fellowship with the Creator God through union with His Christ (belief in the Gospel that Jesus is Lord), with the curse broken.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Veil Of The Temple (part 7)

Expanding on those thoughts then, in chapter twelve of Genesis, Abraham is introduced into the story of the covenant God that is being told through Scripture.  Through a covenant with Abraham, the record of which points to the singular seed of Abraham to come, as the Creator God begins to fulfill the promise of the seed to come that was given to Adam and Eve, that God commences what is recorded as His providential working through history to deal with the evil that had been introduced into the world by the rebellion of those that He had created.  That story progresses through his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob and on to Israel as a whole, is concentrated into the Creator God’s dealings with Judah, and comes to be consummated in Jesus as the promised seed fulfills the purported promise of the Gospel that had been set forth in Genesis chapter three --- crushing the serpent’s head while His own heel is bruised in the process.    

Though all of the previous covenant bearers had failed in some way, shape, or form, Jesus, the One to Whom Paul refers as the second Adam, did not fail.  He is demonstrated to have been faithful to the covenant.  He is shown to have rightly borne the divine image.  By willingly going into death, He entered into the curse which Adam had wrought.  Additionally, and much more specifically, as the Messiah/King of Israel (and therefore representative of the people) He takes upon Himself the cursing that had been promised to the covenant people, presumably exhausting its miserable supply.  His death, and the tearing of the veil in conjunction with that death, as it took those embroidered cherubim out of the way, can be understood to have symbolically re-opened mankind’s path to fellowship with their Creator.  The curse was broken.  Death would no longer reign.  New life was coming. 

Where the first Adam, and all that followed from him, were expelled from Eden, the second Adam, and all that follow Him through a unifying belief in Him as Lord and Savior and Redeemer, are now allowed to re-enter Eden.  Where the first Adam had rejected and given up his rightful dominion of the covenant God’s perfect creation, the second Adam re-claimed that dominion, ushered in the long-expected kingdom of God on earth with the Messiah as its King, and introduced the renewal of creation through the power of the Resurrection.  The veil had been torn. 

The first Adam, upon his failure to live up to His purpose, died in that failure, doing so in accordance with what it was that had been promised to him by the creative-and-covenant-making God.  The second Adam, completely fulfilling His purpose and faithfully carrying out the Creator God’s intention for His people Israel, was resurrected to a new life, also according to the Creator God’s promise.  This seems to be why the Apostle Paul can write, “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22), insisting that all those that swear their allegiance to Jesus as King will be raised up with a new body, for a new creation, in the exact same way in which Jesus was raised, according to the promise of the faithful God on which Jesus relied and whom He revealed. 

The torn veil demonstrated that the covenant God had fulfilled His promise, and that new life in a new and changed world was coming.  Pointing to this, Matthew (and Matthew alone) follows up his report about the torn veil, writing that “the tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised” (27:52).  Jesus’ death, as one would expect if it was the singular event that it has been made out to be, seems to have had the effect of reversing the curse of death.  For all time then, this raising of saints, as recorded and memorialized by Matthew, will be associated with the tearing of the temple’s veil.  Matthew does not leave it at that, but goes on to write, “They came out of the tombs after His Resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (27:53).  As Matthew tells his audience, though these “saints” were raised at Jesus’ death, when it is implied that the curse was clearly broken, which is established with the tearing of the veil, Matthew makes it a point to write that they did not come out of the tombs until after His Resurrection.