Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Father Of Your Nation (part 1 of 2)

The father of your nation sinned… - Isaiah 43:27a  (NET)

When the Creator God tells Israel, through Isaiah, that the father of their nation sinned, He adds that “your spokesmen rebelled against Me” (43:27b).  Through this, He is expressing to them the reason for His judgment that has come upon them.  Now, who is the father of the nation by ancestry?  Specifically, that would be Jacob, and Isaac before him, with this lineage being traced back to Abraham, who was the recipient of a covenant with the Creator God and given the promise that he would be made into a great nation. 

So here, is the covenant God of Israel suggesting that Abraham has sinned?  Naturally, one can think of Abraham as a sinful man like any other man, but that is most likely not the referent.  Even though they certainly had their faults and flaws, it would probably not be appropriate to think of either Isaac or Jacob as the point of reference, though both certainly could be said to have “sinned” at a number of points.  So who is it that is the father of their nation?  Who is the one that sinned?  In all probability, based upon the Creator God’s dealings with His people that can be found throughout the historical books of the Hebrew Scriptures, the father in question, or more correctly, “fathers,” are most likely the kings of Israel and Judah. 

Throughout their history, as is indicated by the Scriptural narrative, the king (or even leaders or judges before the era of the kings) stood as the representative for the people.  They were the spokesmen for the Creator God’s people, in both word and deed.  They directed and reflected the national sentiment.  Looking through the history of Israel to find a classic example of this situation, one can find the excellent example of when King David ordered that a census that, tragically, did not include the taking up of an offering for the tabernacle (Exodus 30:12-16).  Even though it is he alone that is demonstrated to be at fault, it is the covenant people that suffer a plague until the point at which David makes an offering and buys the plot of land on which the Temple will eventually come to be built (thus effectively making an offering for the tabernacle).  Though it was their father that had sinned, it was the people that were forced to suffer. 

When the kingdom is divided into north (Israel) and south (Judah), the fortunes of the people are generally pegged to the righteousness (faithfulness to the Creator God and to His covenant requirements) or wickedness (unfaithfulness) of the king.  Their reported peace and prosperity waxes and wanes in accordance with the king’s reported disposition toward the Creator. Ultimately, as the historical records suggests, the north (Israel) would not have a single king that was said to have done what was right.  Naturally, this is a problematic situation for the covenant people.  As a result, Israel is conquered and the people are said to have been dispersed by Assyria, with this taking place in 722 B.C..  This happens fewer than three hundred years after King David.  The textual narrative makes the implication that the conquering is a result of the performance of the king---the father of the nation. 

The south (Judah), on the other hand, has a few kings that were said to have done what was right in the eyes of the Lord.  As a result of this, though conquering and destruction would eventually come at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 B.C., they were spared from the Assyrian conquering, having been given what proved to be a temporary reprieve from judgment.  The fate of Judah is said to have been sealed by the gross and intolerable idolatry of the king named Manasseh, who would reign over Judah for fifty-five years (more than any other king).  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In My Father's House (part 9 of 9)

The words that immediately followed from Mary, that “Your father and I have been looking for you anxiously” (Luke 2:48c), receive their post-crucifixion-and-Resurrection echo from the lips of those that are known as the “Emmaus road disciples.”  While unknowingly walking with Jesus, after a three day lapse in time that had been previously and similarly and anxiously experienced by Jesus’ parents, they said “we had hoped that He was the One Who was going to redeem Israel” (24:21a).   

In the Temple courts, Jesus had said to His mother, “Why were you looking for Me?  Didn’t you know that I must be in My Father’s house?” (2:49)  To these two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus said in response to their anxious declaration, “You foolish people---how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (24:26)  What was His glory?  Truly, it was His Father’s house.  It was that which had been the long-intended purpose of the Father (the kingdom of God), that had now been inaugurated in the world through following the Resurrection. 

The Temple was the place of the “shekinah,” which was believed to be the glorious presence of the Creator God, and the singular place within His creation where He had previously said that He would dwell among His people.  This had been a promise.  Now, in Jesus’ resurrected glory, and with the concordant establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth, the whole world was to be filled with His glory.  The world was once again the Temple, as had been the case at creation.  Those who believed in Jesus as Lord of all came to be thought of as little Temples---the place where heaven and earth intersect and overlap, reflecting the glory of the Creator God into the world. 

With His Resurrection, heaven (the realm of the Creator God’s existence) was unleashed upon earth, and the world would indeed be filled with that glory through those that swore their allegiance to Jesus and His kingdom and the ways of establishing that kingdom that He had demonstrated.  It came to be understood that Jesus, with His Resurrection, did in fact fulfill the hopes of the redemption of Israel, the covenant people of the Creator God, and a new order of creation that had always been connected with the Resurrection of the righteous dead was launched. 

Because of His Resurrection, the Father’s house (the Temple Courts), would now have to be thought of as the kingdom of the Creator God that is a renewed creation that has begun to experience the Resurrection power of the Gospel of Jesus (He is Lord).  Yes, it cannot be said enough that the whole of creation, with Jesus as its King, is now the house and Temple of the covenant God of Israel; and from that time, until the time of the final consummation of that kingdom, Jesus is most certainly in His Father’s house, and about His Father’s business, working His God’s purposes through those who are of a trusting allegiance upon Him and His Lordship.  With such an understanding of the nature of the Father’s house and the Father’s business, as the Temple courts---the place of God’s glory---extends to the entire world, believers join with the disciples, as they were witnesses of His Resurrection and His departure, and are “continually in the Temple courts blessing God” (24:53), “clothed with power from on high” (24:49b).         

Monday, July 29, 2013

In My Father's House (part 8 of 9)

Not finding Him, “they returned to Jerusalem to look for Him” (Luke 2:45b).  As an attempt is made to continue to connect the events surrounding Jesus at the age of twelve with the always-looked-to “Christ-event,” one can here begin to think of the women that came to the tomb of Jesus.  Naturally, they were not going to look for Jesus, nor were they expecting to find anything but a dead body, as there was no expectation of His Resurrection though He is said to have spoken of it many times.  Rather, they were going to anoint His body with spices, in accordance with standard burial custom and practices, so that they could later collect His bones and place them in an ossuary. 

When did the women go to the tomb?  Luke says that it was after three days.  What is known from Luke about the search conducted by Jesus’ parents?  It was “After three days they found Him in the Temple courts” (2:46a).  To this was added that He was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (2:46b).  With this, one is compelled to consider the scene at Jesus’ empty tomb, where “two men…in dazzling attire” (24:4) spoke to the women who had come there, saying “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has been raised!  Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (24:5b-7). 

It would be safe to presume that the women were astonished at this turn of events.  When Jesus was lost to His parents, as they were certainly prone to a very natural fear, it is reasonable to suggest that they considered the possibility that He was dead.  This turned out to not be the case.  Not only was He not dead, and not only had no harm at all come to Him, but they found Him in the Temple courts.  Effectively then, He was raised from the dead right before their eyes. 

In those courts, it was said that “all who heard Jesus were astonished at His understanding and His answers” (2:47) and that “His parents…were overwhelmed” (2:48a).  Returning to the story of the empty tomb then, having heard the words of the two men, the women “told these things to the apostles” (24:10b).  The women were met with a rightful skepticism and incredulity, which is more than understandable.  Certainly, as had likely been the case with the women, Jesus’ disciples were astonished at this story these women were telling, reporting a Resurrection.  Because such a thing simply did not take place under normal circumstances, just like the idea of a twelve-year-old boy being allowed to speak with the teachers in the Temple courts, the understandable reaction was that “these words seemed like pure nonsense to them” (24:11a). 

Furthermore, having heard these nonsensical words, “they (the disciples) did not believe them” (24:11b).  However, “Peter got up and ran to the tomb.  He bent down and saw only the strips of linen cloth; then He went home, wondering what had happened” (24:12).  Peter found himself even more astonished, and though wondering what had happened, the way the story unfolds suggests that he was inclined to begin believing the reports of the women.  Like Jesus’ parents after the conclusion of the ordeal of their missing child, Peter, as he began to consider the possibility that Jesus was alive, might very well have been “overwhelmed.”  Because of Jesus actions in allowing Himself to be tortured and crucified, of His putting Peter in the position to deny his Lord, and causing all of His close followers to cower in fear over what was going to happen to them, Peter may very well have been wondering, again like Jesus’ parents, “why have You treated us like this?” (2:28b) 

In My Father's House (part 7)

The first time that Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, and His mother and father were not immediately able to locate Him, “they began to look for Him among their relatives and acquaintances” (Luke 2:44b).  At the times of the feasts, individuals or families would not travel by themselves from Galilee to Jerusalem and back.  They would travel in groups.  Customarily, the men would form one group and move at a quicker pace, whereas the women would form a second, more slowly-moving group (with babies and younger children), catching up with the men at the conclusion of the day’s travels. 

It would have been at the end of the first day’s travel from Jerusalem that it would have been discovered that Jesus was not with them.  Such an over-sight could have occurred relatively easily.  Jesus’ mother would have presumed that He was in the lead group with His father, while His father would have presumed that He was back in the trailing group with His mother.  So it was natural that they first look for Him among their relatives and acquaintances, as reported by Luke, before discovering that He was not with them. 

Making the connection with the second time that He stayed behind in Jerusalem (having gone to the cross and into the grave), and doing so based on the messianic movements and expectations of the day, one can reasonably assert that, once again, there was a search made among His relatives and acquaintances.  What does this mean?  There are at least two ways to think about this.  The first is that, in order to keep the “Jesus movement” going, those that were ardent in their support for Him would have looked among His relatives and close friends in order to find and choose a new leader of the movement.  Ultimately, it can be seen that this happened, but not right away, as Jesus’ brother James, who was not one of His followers during Jesus’ lifetime, came to eventually be looked to as the head of the Church in Jerusalem. 

The second way to think about this is that the Romans, as well as the Jewish leaders that were involved in putting Jesus to death, would have expected Jesus’ followers to appoint a new leader, so as to continue His movement (at least temporarily), partly in order to avoid the shame and dishonor associated with backing a fallen leader.  Of course, it would also have been a possibility that the group would disband permanently, having been shamed out of existence with the crucifixion of Jesus, and living with the abiding fear that anybody believed to have been closely associated with Jesus would come to suffer the same fate.  If standard practices were followed in the way that revolutionary or seditious groups were handled in the wake of a state sanctioned execution, these groups would have diligently searched out Jesus’ relatives and acquaintances, to have them executed as well, so as to stifle any further “problems” in association with Jesus. This would explain the disciples’ hiding and cowering in fear, behind locked doors.                

So having looked “among their relatives and acquaintances” (2:44b), “they did not find Him” (2:45a).  As it relates to Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection, as previously discussed, of course they did not find Him.  Jesus was not attempting to establish the kingdom of God in the expected way of a revolution by overthrow at force of arms, so a new leader of the movement was not a necessity.  Beyond that, the appointment of a new leader was not necessary, for the One that had been killed and buried, though unbeknownst to His followers, was going to be returning to life, to reign over the kingdom that was being established through His suffering and vindication.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

In My Father's House (part 6)

As a transition is made to analyzing this particular story, wearing spectacles that will allow an observer to see the crucifixion and the Resurrection embedded here in the tale, where is one most likely to find, in the Gospel accounts, remarks indicating that Jesus has not been understood?  They are to be found precisely at those places where Jesus speaks to His disciples about His upcoming crucifixion and Resurrection.

Clearly, all of the stories that are found in the narratives presented by the Gospels are there for a reason.  Each one has a specific communication, and taken together as a whole, they all point towards a larger message.  Luke, who, owing to the fact that he is essentially Paul’s biographer and therefore heavily influenced by Paul (for whom the crucifixion and Resurrection were everything), points consistently to the Resurrection, which can be observed in a re-tracing of steps through this specific story of the young Jesus at the Temple. 

Firstly, it is noted that this particular trip to Jerusalem was made at Passover.  At what season did the crucifixion of Jesus take place?  It took place at Passover.  In fact, the tragic event occurred immediately after the Passover.  Additionally, because it was the custom of the family to make this trip every year at Passover (2:41), this would help to explain why Mary, the mother of Jesus, was able to be at the foot of His cross, as recorded in the Gospel of John, even though there is no other record that she was ever with Jesus or His disciples and followers when He made His trips to Jerusalem and the region of Judea (though it is certainly possible that Mary regularly followed Jesus). 

It stands to reason then, that Mary, in order to be at the foot of the cross as reported by John (which has no bearing on Luke, as John would be influenced by Luke rather than the other way around), had made the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, as was her apparent custom.  In the story, at the conclusion of the feast, and though His parents had left, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.  This would happen again at the end of His life.  Following His final Passover, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.  This time, of course, He was not in the Temple courts (though the events that would lead up to His death began at the Temple courts), but rather, He stayed behind for His crucifixion and His burial. 

With this consideration of His staying behind in Jerusalem for His crucifixion and His burial, it’s interesting to consider the words that Jesus spoke to His parents when they found Him.  A number of Bible translations (NET, NASB, ASV, RV, WEB, ESV, and more) has Jesus asking His parents, “Didn’t you know that I must be in My Father’s house?” (2:49b); but there are a significant number of translations (KJV, AKJV, Rheims, Darby, Webster, Weymouth, and Geneva---naming a few) that translate this with Jesus making reference to His Father’s “business” rather than His “house.” 

The text itself appears to be vague at this point, as the Greek has Jesus indicating, by His response, that His parents should not be in the least bit surprised that He is concerning Himself with that which is of the (His) Father.  The words for either “business” or “house” do not appear in the text, so it is an understanding that must be inferred from the text supplied by the translator.  Either way, one cannot be overly dogmatic at this point.  With an eye towards the climactic event of Luke’s story, considering the use of “business” in connection with His staying behind in Jerusalem for His crucifixion and burial makes an eminent amount of sense, as most assuredly, when Jesus entered into these things, He was definitely about His Father’s business. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

In My Father's House (part 5)

While the teachers and others present in the Temple were being astonished at Jesus, “When His parents saw Him, they were overwhelmed” (2:48a).  Well of course they were overwhelmed, and upon locating Him, one would have to imaging that there was released a veritable flood of emotions---relief, anger, disappointment, confusion.  If the Scriptural record is correct, they had been searching for Jesus for three days.  The entire time, quite naturally, imagining that the worst possible things have happened to Him. 

Not only were there the natural fears associated with not being able to find one’s child, Mary had the additional knowledge of all that has been said to have been told to her concerning Jesus, beginning with the angel Gabriel (along with Simeon and Anna), ringing in her ears.  One is left only to wonder if Mary, in her distress, enlisted the help of as many people as possible in her search for her missing Son.  Her cries of “have you seen my boy?” might serve to elicit sympathy and assistance from the people in Jerusalem, but the addition of “He’s supposed to be the messiah” could have been quite the effective tool to gain greater attention for her plight. 

With a very human response that can be understood by anybody that has ever “misplaced” a child, whether for three minutes or for three days, “His mother said to Him, ‘Child, why have You treated us like this?  Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously’.” (2:48b)  It seems that relief from fear is not the only thing that Mary is feeling right now.  As indicated above, she also expresses a bit of anger.  It is not difficult to identify with this.  If one was to put oneself in Mary’s place, adding questions and statements like “Why did you do that?   Why did you leave the group?  Don’t ever do that again.  Your father and I were worried sick.  You could have been lying dead in a ditch somewhere.  We called the police and the hospitals.  You have no idea what you have put us through” would be more than understandable. 

It is also unlikely that Jesus was ever allowed to forget this incident.  Every time Jesus would go out of the house to play with His friends, Mary would be sure to ask Him where He was going and how long He would be gone.  Along with that, Mary would probably have given Him detailed instructions about when He needed to return to the house, with whom He could speak, and so forth.  One could even envision the scene at home with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, as Jesus is given an assignment to fetch supplies for Joseph’s business. 

Inevitably, Jesus could have routinely heard something like, “Go right there, get what we need, and come right back.  Remember what happened that one time we went to Jerusalem.”  Indeed, at the close of the incident, Luke tells us that “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.  But His mother kept all these things in her heart” (2:51).  This echoes Luke’s previous statement about Mary treasuring up in her heart and pondering the events surrounding Jesus’ birth (2:19). 

Now, of course this “keeping in the heart” included the answer that Jesus gave to His parents when they found Him.  After His mother’s question to Him that was an understandable mix of relief and anger, Jesus, with what might be understood as a degree of exasperation, replied “Why were you looking for Me?  Didn’t you know that I must be in My Father’s house?” (2:49)  Though Mary is said to have known, based on Gabriel’s announcement to her, that Jesus would be called “the Son of the Most High” (1:32), and “the Son of God” (1:35), both of which were terms for Israel’s king, and though she has in fact located the missing Jesus in the Temple of that Most High God that is referenced in those titles, as would happen so many times throughout His life (especially with His disciples), “His parents did not understand the remark He made to them” (2:50). 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

In My Father's House (part 4)

Now, at first glance, this should seem quite unusual and a bit suspicious.  Jesus was in the midst of the teachers, listening and asking questions?  This is difficult to believe.  Children were not afforded respect in those days.  Yes, Jesus had reached the age at which he could begin to sit at the feet of a teacher, but that would occur based on relationships and an invitation.  It is unlikely that such was the case here.  Yet here it is reported that Jesus is not only sitting and listening to the teachers, which means that He is intruding and out of place when it comes to His station, but that He is even going so far as to ask them questions.  Can this be true to life?  Is this believable?  Even if a boy of the same age was there at the feet of his teacher, one can be certain that no other twelve-year-olds were allowed to ask questions in the Temple courts. 

So why is this grace, and this honor, extended to this particular child that has no particular honor standing, and who does not even yet participate in the honor and shame culture and competition (which is one the reasons to engage in listening and asking questions)?  One would have to presume that it is because He is of David’s family line, and that this has been somehow made known to this group of men.  He is of Israel’s true royal lineage, and this in a day when the three kings of Israel were considered to be nothing more than usurpers upon King David’s throne. 

Together with that, because the Creator God’s messiah (Israel’s king and deliverer in the mold of Moses, who led forth Israel from its exilic subjection to a foreign nation) is called the Son of David, and because messianic expectations were running quite high in that day, owing to what would have been popularly believed to be the conclusion of the four hundred ninety years set forth in the book of Daniel, a place among the teachers might very well be granted to a boy (on the cusp of adulthood) that can make a legitimate claim of descent from King David.  Now, that’s not to say that Jesus would be automatically granted the floor, treated with the utmost of honor and respect, and deferred to in the asking and answering of questions, but that as long as He did not make Himself too much of a nuisance, He would be tolerated.   

When Jesus’ parents found Him in the Temple courts, not only did they observe that He was asking questions, but they were also able to see that He was able to interact with the teachers.  Luke writes, “And all who heard Jesus were astonished at His understanding and His answers” (2:47).  Remembering that Jesus was fully human, it must be said that this is indeed quite remarkable for a twelve-year-old.  Now, it is one thing to be able to ask an intelligent question.  Many twelve year-olds are capable of such things.  It is quite another thing altogether to be able to make informed inquiries based upon the answers provided. 

It is unlikely that these teachers were actually asking Jesus questions in order to solicit His opinions on the subjects under discussion, but rather, it is more likely that His “answers” were along the lines of additional, probing questions.  Quite simply, a boy would not presume to instruct a group of teachers, nor would a group of teachers in that day, regardless of how astonished they might be at His instruction, sit and listen.  There is always honor at stake, and a child of that age is not going to be allowed to accrue any of the limited good of honor to himself.  It is quite reasonable to think in this way, as it would be in the mold of what can be seen throughout the records of Jesus’ ministry.  While Jesus would teach, quite often the teaching would be prompted by a question that has been put to Him; or Jesus would receive a question, and in response, posit an additional question, with all of these engagements occurring under the pretext of honor challenges in the honor and shame culture and competition. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

In My Father's House (part 3)

Moving forward then, it is learned that this trip did not go exactly according to plan, which serves to explain why Luke chooses to tell the story of twelve-year-old Jesus making what may have been the annual trip to Jerusalem, even though the pilgrimage was something that could have been customarily undertaken by the family.  While the story is learned from Luke, the larger purpose of his writing is kept in mind, and the crucifixion and the Resurrection are always very close to the surface of thought.  That said, Luke writes that “when the feast was over, as they were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.  His parents did not know it, but (because they assumed that He was in their group of travelers) they went a day’s journey.  Then they began to look for Him among their relatives and acquaintances.  When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for Him” (2:43-45).

It is not terribly difficult to imagine His mother’s mind-set at this terrible thought concerning what has happened to her son upon this visit to Jerusalem.  The first time she visited Jerusalem with Jesus, she heard and was amazed as a man named Simeon refers to her son as the “salvation” that God “prepared in the presence of all people: a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel” (2:30-32).  Additionally, Anna had spoken of Jesus as “the redemption of Jerusalem (2:38b). 

So even though Mary is said to have been amazed, one must remember that the words of Simeon would not have been completely surprising, considering the reported visit to Mary of the angelic messenger that announced the event of conception.  Before those things were said by Simeon and Anna, Mary had heard the voice of an angel that “the child to be born will be holy; He will be called the Son of God” (1:35b).  Much of what Simeon and Anna had said can be said to have been implied in the information that the son of Mary would be called the “Son of God”.    

As if the idea that her child would be the “Son of God” was not enough, that same voice had informed her that “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will never end” (1:32-33).  Her relative Elizabeth has said to her “who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me?” (1:43)  Shepherds were said to have visited her at the birth of her child, telling her what they had heard from angels, that the Savior was born in the city of David, and that He is Christ the Lord (2:11).  According to Luke, “Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean” (2:19), and one can be sure that the pondering never ceased throughout the whole of her life. 

Now, however, with all that she has heard about her Son pounding in her ears, she has lost this child.  This is tragic.  Though Jesus has most likely been to Jerusalem before, it is a big city, overflowing with people that are there to celebrate the Passover.  Mary, herself being naturally overcome with fear, could be relatively certain that her Son must be fearful as well.  In the midst of her fear, she can be forgiven to have not borne in mind Luke’s editorial insertion that between His birth and the age of twelve, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon Him” (2:40). 

In that moment then, it is not difficult to be quite certain that all Mary can think about is getting to her Son and making sure that He is safe.  With this, as one imagines Mary pondering the great and swelling words that had been spoken concerning Jesus, it could certainly be surmised that her and Joseph’s return to Jerusalem was frantic.  Luke tells Theophilus that it took them a few days to find Jesus.  In fact, it was “After three days they found Him in the Temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (2:46). 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In My Father's House (part 2)

Returning to the review of the birth narrative, following Gabriel’s visit to Mary, the reader of the Gospel learns about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, Mary’s hymn of praise to the Lord after the blessing from Elizabeth that was said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, the birth of John, the restoration of Zechariah’s ability to speak along with his subsequent prophecy, the birth of Jesus, the visit of the shepherds, Jesus’ presentation at the Temple, the prophecy of Simeon, and the words of the prophetess Anna. 

Near the end of the birth narrative, the aforementioned Simeon shares some potentially troubling words.  He says, “Listen carefully: This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected.  Indeed, as a result of Him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed---and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!” (2:34b-35)  A sword will pierce her soul “as well”?  Based on her reported experience with the angelic messenger of the Creator God, Mary is said to have known that the Messiah that has been born to her was destined for glory and ultimately redemption for Israel.  So one could imagine her thinking something along the lines of “what’s the deal with all of this talk of swords and pierced souls?”  Of course, as Theophilus reads this narrative that has been compiled for him, he is in the position of being well aware that Luke is referring to the crucifixion to come, as Luke skillfully weaves this into his text. 

With this, the reader reaches the previously referenced chronological leap.  Luke, who treats Jesus’ youth in the same way as the rest of the Biblical authors (as seemingly irrelevant), quickly jumps ahead twelve years to present the story of Jesus in the Temple.  He does this before skipping over another eighteen years or so, which then marks the beginning of what has come to be called the third chapter and the longer narrative of the ministry of Jesus. 

Why the chronological divisions?  To answer that it is necessary to return to the purpose of Luke’s writing and the fact that he is always keeping the crucifixion and the Resurrection in view.  Apparently it is his desire and purpose to tell stories about Jesus that draws the attention of his reader to the event that would be referred to by the author of Hebrews as “the consummation of the ages” (9:26).  To that end, Luke has already successfully brought the mind of his reader (if that reader is aware of that consummating event) into a contemplation of the crucifixion with his birth narrative, and now, he will attempt to accomplish the same, with an inclusion of the Resurrection and Jesus’ Lordship, with the story of Jesus in the Temple. 

Thus the story of Jesus in the Temple is introduced with Luke informing his audience that “Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem every year for the feast of the Passover” (2:41).  From this it can be reasonably (though not concretely) extrapolated that this is not the first time that Jesus has gone to Jerusalem with his parents for the celebration of the Passover.  Now, is it really reasonable to think that a “carpenter,” which is the title given to Joseph, made this journey ever year?  Well, one would do well to remember that Jesus’ father, Joseph, though a member of the artisan class and therefore not a peasant, is not necessarily a “nobody” in Israel.  He is of “the house and family line of David” (2:4b).  This is not insignificant.  Therefore, one could surmise that it would not be an unusual thing for him to make the trek to Jerusalem each year.  So it could be asserted (again, with reservation) that this is not Jesus’ first trip to Jerusalem.  Yet for some reason, Luke seizes on this particular journey and the story of this journey, telling the reader that “When He (Jesus) was twelve years old, they went up according to custom” (2:42). 

Monday, July 22, 2013

In My Father's House (part 1)

But He replied, “Why were you looking for Me?  Didn’t you know that I must be in My Father’s house?” – Luke 2:49  (NET)

As one reads through the Gospel of Luke, it is worthwhile and necessary to keep in mind the presumed larger narrative purpose behind his writing.  He begins his telling of the story of Jesus with a declaration that he is going “to write an orderly account” (1:3) of “the things that have been fulfilled among us (1:1).  Quite naturally (as is the case for the rest of the New Testament authors), Luke always has the crucifixion and the Resurrection in view.  That view of the Christ-event, understandably and rightly (as it should for all believers as they view the world), colors all that he writes and all of the material that he presents. 

The recipient of his writing---the Roman official to whom Luke refers as “most excellent Theophilus” (1:3), is not receiving new information from Luke.  Rather, as seems to be indicated by the phrasing employed by the author, Luke’s works serves as a confirmation of the story, that Theophilus may “know for certain” (1:4) the things that he had been taught.  Presumably, Theophilus had been instructed concerning the crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus (the main emphasis of the message of the Gospel that Jesus is Lord).  Thus, as he reads, he is not being introduced to Jesus little by little, only to be met with a surprise twist at the end of the story.  It is necessary to consider that what Theophilus already knows about Jesus (possibly as a believer himself that seeks to share the story with others) is also going to influence the way that he reads the story, with the seminal events of crucifixion and Resurrection never being far from his thoughts. 

So with a consideration of these things concerning author and initial reader, it will be useful and beneficial for any reader of Luke to also have the crucifixion and Resurrection at the forefront of thought, influencing the reading of the text, which thereby enables one to find those things influencing the telling of events and stories throughout the whole of the writing, rather than only finding the seminal events at the end of the book or only when Jesus speaks explicitly of His pending death and what He hopes will be His Resurrection. 

Because these things are determinative of all things for the one who seeks to live a life marked by allegiance to Jesus as King (the life of faith), it makes more than perfect sense to be able to read the crucifixion and Resurrection, and even the rest of the Gospel message that Jesus is King and Lord of all things, into the text whenever possible, especially as one considers that it is the Gospel itself (according to early believers such as Paul), and belief in such as reflected in word and deed, that is itself somehow the saving and transformative power of the Creator God.  It would seem that Luke wants to aid his reader(s) in this exercise. 

To this end, this study is going to take a closer look at the story of Jesus in the Temple.  This particular story occurs after what much be acknowledged to be a significant chronological leap in the text, as it follows immediately upon that section of Luke’s Gospel that is known as the “birth narrative.”  In the narrative that leads up to the story of Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem, the reader learns about the prophecy of John the Baptist’s birth, his father’s (Zechariah) being unable to speak because he did not believe the words of the angel Gabriel, and the announcement to Mary that she was going to give birth to the Messiah. 

It is worth pausing and side-tracking here briefly here to make an interesting comparison and contrast between Zechariah and Mary.  When Zechariah hears the words of Gabriel that informed him that his wife was going to give birth to a son, he replies by saying “How can I be sure of this?  For I am an old man, and my wife is old as well” (1:18).  Gabriel responds by saying, “because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will be silent, unable to speak, until the day these things take place” (1:20).  When Gabriel tells Mary “Listen: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name Him Jesus” (1:31), Mary responds with “How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” (1:34)  Effectively, Zechariah and Mary ask the same question, understandably relying upon the impossibility of what they are said to be hearing.  In response, Zechariah loses the ability to speak, whereas Mary is given a positive affirmation and further revelation from the angel. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Make Your Tent Larger (part 2 of 2)

This was not simply the inclusion of Gentiles, but in the biggest sense of the picture, 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 rather as an extension of Israel, and it is in this way that Isaiah can be heard 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 would seem to fit well with Isaiah’s previous insistence that Israel’s servant would startle nations and shock kings with his exaltation (52:15).  Though Isaiah is understood to have written his prophecy in the wake of conquest, while also experiencing attempts at conquest and looking forward to expected conquest, there was always the hope of restoration involved. 

Within the hope engendered by Isaiah’s presentation, 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 apparent inclusion of Gentile peoples, for whom they were being told to expand the size of their covenant tent. 

Post-Christ-event believers can look back on this text while also looking forward, as people that have been brought into that expanded tent of covenant blessings, seizing on the claim that the Creator God’s people will be responsible for and experience the figurative resettling of desolate cities (experiencing exodus to conclude their exile).  The Gospel (Jesus is Lord) with its message of power, has already conquered nations by making all kings and authorities subservient to its claims (whether they know it or will admit to it or not), but with this issue of the desolate cities, believers are able to obtain a glimpse of their vocation, as the Israel of God (true humanity, divine image-bearers) in the world.

As the Israel of God, those that believe in the claims of the Gospel are to be the agents and the instruments by which the Creator God brings the life and light and immortality of the mysterious power of the Resurrection into an often desolate world.  This occurs as they become the righteousness of God---embodying His covenant faithfulness by the working of the Holy Spirit through them in the form of self-sacrificial love, putting the Creator God’s saving (redeeming, restoring, recreating) power to work within this creation through the convincingly spoken and compassionately lived out message of the crucified and resurrected King Who is Lord of all. 

When believers speak of Jesus (and do more than speak), the suffering servant that is set paradoxically set on high, they are to spare no effort in setting their God’s power to work; and like the Israel to whom Isaiah was speaking, they continue to make larger the tent of their God’s kingdom, stretching out its curtains and pounding its stakes deep.  Though the cry of “foolishness” from those that refuse to submit to the Gospel’s claims will be long and loud, they are called to speak of the resurrected Lord without intimidation, without humiliation, and without shame (54:4).  In this, they speak of the Creator, the commander of armies, their Protector, and the “God of the entire earth” (54:5).                  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Make Your Tent Larger (part 1 of 2)

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, who is understood to be communicating 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 what would eventually be taken to be the cruelly inflicted death and glorious resurrection of the suffering servant of chapters fifty-two and fifty-three (though this was unlikely its original interpretation). 

If anything, the presumed death of the servant, who was understood in some circles to have represented the messiah that was to come into the world for the redemption and salvation of the Creator God’s people, while some circles would have seen the servant as a microcosm of Israel itself, would have caused an inward turning and isolation, with shock and shame and grief being the well understood order of the day.  In the wake of this however, the Creator God 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) --- their failure to rightly bear the divine image, thus ending their cursing and exile. 

Yes, because it seems to be insisted upon that the Creator God’s servant intervened on behalf of His rebellious people (53:12), they were to shout for joy.  Having entered into joy, they were to make, or perhaps in the act itself, made their tent larger.  What did it mean to make their tent larger?  What is this stretching out of curtains?  Most that come to this text are generally not tent-dwellers, whereas the people for and to whom this was written, though they did dwell in permanent structures, would have understood the tent-dwelling, nomadic lifestyle quite well.  So even though most observers are removed from such a lifestyle, the original audience could certainly have well-understood this to mean that they needed to make room for a larger family.  

Looking into this then, one would see (as perhaps Jesus Himself did) that the death and resurrection of the suffering servant that represented Israel, which would see the servant being cursed and then accepted by the Creator God in spite of the cursing, had the effect of acquitting God’s people Israel.  Along with this, it would have the effect of extending the Creator God’s covenant to all of mankind, thus creating a worldwide covenant family that would no longer be confined to national Israel. 

At that point, and even through the time of the Christ, it was the opinion of the majority of those that dwelled within the borders of Israel that all that were not members of the nation of Israel.  Therefore, those that were outside of their 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, one is now able to look back to these words from Isaiah, as did men such as the Apostle Paul, and see that the cursing (crucifixion) of the suffering servant put the servant into the same category that Israel had reserved for the Gentile nations.  Those that would identify themselves with the servant would fall into this category as well. 

The redeemed (resurrected) servant, since he had been considered to be as a Gentile through the cursing, served to imply that the Gentiles were now being pulled into the family of the covenant God.  For this reason, the original covenant family (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 effectively commanded 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. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Repudiating Its Power (part 2 of 2)

It is with these things under consideration that one can advance to the third chapter of the letter to Timothy and find 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 (the crucified and resurrected Jesus is Messiah and therefore Lord of all).  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 shameful fact of the crucifixion.  Less so, but certainly still, that message about which he was not ashamed would have included the message of the Resurrection---itself a ridiculous and scarcely believable notion. 

It would be relatively 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 the physical resurrection of a dead man, especially one that had been crucified, was such a preposterous idea.  A crucified man had been utterly and devastatingly shamed, as had his family and compatriots, which would be so even if he somehow managed to survive the ordeal of a crucifixion.  Frankly, it would be better for that person to die or to remain dead.  Yet it was insisted that this could not be said of Jesus. 

He had both accepted and overcome the shame.  The cross was not something to be avoided, but along with what it implied, it was to be embraced, with it standing as the symbol of the kingdom that Jesus had inaugurated, and the means by which that kingdom was to be established and expanded---going to the places of pain and shame and there showing forth sacrificial love.  Accordingly, 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 the Creator 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 could 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 and accomplishments, but little more than that.  This Jesus would quite unfortunately 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 the reader 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 effectively be a slave, functioning as 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 is to be preached in word and deed with the cross as the guide, which first transforms the hearts and minds and lives of those that embrace the Gospel’s message, while somehow also having power to effect the same in those that hear and see its effects.  Failing to do so---failing to consistently, and without fail, teach and preach the Lord Jesus crucified, resurrected, and glorified---is, in Paul’s estimation, a failure to preach the Gospel, and is nothing short of a repudiation of the power of the Creator God.  One 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.              

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Repudiating Its Power (part 1 of 2)

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

Consider Paul’s use of the term “power.”  This terms makes frequent appearances in his writings.  To take just a couple of examples that set out Paul’s opinion concerning power, one 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.  That is what produces salvation---bringing a person into the ranks of the covenant people. 

For Paul, it seems that the very declaration of the fact of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, which for him is somehow brought about through the prompting of the Holy Spirit (for Paul insists that 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 then to the second letter of Timothy, one finds Paul writing that it is through “our Savior Christ Jesus,” that the Creator God has “broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (1:10).  The fact that Jesus is Lord, and ones belief in such, is paramount.  It is what brings heaven to earth and ushers in the new age.  Paul here informs his audience that the power of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) 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 what he takes to be 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 the Creator God’s kingdom in a restored and renewed creation.  In this way of thinking, Paul, in hope, awaits the life and immortality to be shared by the Creator God’s people, through their believing union with the Christ, in the Resurrection of the righteous that is 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).  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” is not only significant in that it reminds the reader of the fact that he lives in an honor and shame culture in which casting one’s lot with a crucified man was a shameful thing, 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.” 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Marring Of A Servant (part 4 of 4)

Continuing on, and interpreting Isaiah according to the Christ-event, one finds 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 (He is Lord of all).  The shock will come when they hear that they are now subservient to One that they had shamed and crucified.  The fact of their subjection to this King, Jesus (the one now understood as the marred and suffering servant of Isaiah), was certainly not something that had been announced to them beforehand.  Indeed, a suffering messiah was not even expected by His own people  Nevertheless, the fact, at least as interpreted by the followers of Jesus after His death and Resurrection, was inescapable. 

In addition to the shock of the announcement about subservience to a crucified man, 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.  Men did not come back from the dead---not in their physical bodies.  Ghosts and spirits?  Yes, this was understood and even expected.  There was language for such things.  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?  Little wonder then that the earliest believers in Jesus looked at the words of Isaiah and envisioned him looking forward (while also looking backwards and folding in Israel’s story and purposes according to what he would have understood to be the purpose of the Creator God for His world) and putting pen to paper for precisely this reason and writing “Who would have believed what we just heard?” (53:1a) 

In some sense, it is reasonable to presume that Isaiah had an idea that what he was writing was completely incredulous.  How could this servant (Adam, humanity, Israel, the messiah), 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 his God’s servant that was Israel, and His first servant, that being man. 

The answer would lie in the Resurrection of the righteous dead and the restoration and recreation of the world attendant to that as the Creator God would come to live with man (heaven come to earth) and rule all things, which was long held as a hope of Israel, and ultimately for those that would be witnesses of the resurrected One and attempt to put it into words, its power that is mysteriously transmitted and infused into this world through the preaching of the Gospel in both word and deed.  The servant would be resurrected.  Israel would be resurrected.  Humanity would be resurrected.  The previously marred would be restored, according to the power and promise of the Creator God. 

The Resurrection is put forth as the answer to the question, but is that when this would happen?  Isaiah seems to ask the same question as he writes, “When was the Lord’s power revealed through Him?” (53:1b)  The answer has already been heard, but it is returned to now, declaring again that the Creator God’s power to do all that He planned to do, for and through 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 the Lord Jesus is elevated and lifted high through proclamation of His Lordship in word and in deed, nations continue to be startled and kings are still driven to shock.  As the Gospel proclamation is live, the Lord’s power is continually revealed through those that have cast their allegiance with Him, and the powerful and faithful Creator God continues to re-shape, re-make, re-new, and re-store His people and His world through them, reversing the marring of the fall of the creatures that had been created as His image, and making them into those that truly bear His image and reflect His glory into the world.     

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Marring Of A Servant (part 3 of 4)

The point has often been made 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 itself 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.” 

The world’s powers will rarely brook any challenge.  In that world, it would simply not do to have the absolute power and god-ness of the King of Rome to have his position that demanded absolute allegiance challenged by a man who had been executed as a state criminal by being put to death on a Roman cross.  The Caesar, and Rome itself, could not have its honor challenged, nor would it share its honor, with a purported King and His purported kingdom that had already been publicly shamed to the highest degree.

Considering this from the post-Christ perspective of the suffering servant, it is noted that 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).  Owing to the shaming that Jesus had experienced, exaltation, success, and elevation would not naturally spring to mind. 

When one consider Jesus’ exaltation, it is quite natural 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 countless 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,” which flew in the face of the Caesar’s claim to be and recognition as the son of god, this exaltation and declaration 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 quite 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, divine self-understanding, and worshipful self-centeredness.  Not only would such self-determinations have been true of the Caesar in the days of Jesus, but it would have been true of those that were understood to the world’s rulers in Isaiah’s day as well, as powerful kings afforded themselves god-like status, expecting and receiving unquestioned allegiance and worship from those that they ruled. 

In consideration of the unleashing of the Lord’s anger, as spoken of in the previously quoted Psalm, one could  take a 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 chosen 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 reported to have been achieved at the exaltation of the servant that seemed to have been defeated by death itself? 

Though those that followed Jesus would certainly succumb to death, and though when thrown to the lions or burned, they certainly did not appear to have defeated death, the way in which so many embraced death or did not fear death as they looked forward to the world of the new creation and the resurrection of the righteous dead, served as an indication that death held no power over them.  They were willing to be marred as was the servant.   

Monday, July 15, 2013

Marring Of A Servant (part 2)

As the implications of the suffering servant and its relation to both Israel and humanity are considered, one does well to bear in mind that the Creator God referred to Israel as His firstborn son, and that Israel can also be thought of as a replacement for Adam---chosen as a people that would be the specific means by which the Creator God would deal with the problem of evil in the world. 

However, because their narrative suggests that they failed to rightly act in and for the world as the image of their covenant God, it would eventually be the person of suffering servant, the messianic Son of God that would be looked upon as the Creator God’s firstborn son (Son of God and firstborn son being titular rather than literal, which is how these terms would have been understood in the ancient near east and in the world of Jesus’ day), that would come to be understood as the actual representation of the divine image in and for the world, completely fulfilling the role that was rejected by Adam (the one originally looked upon as the son of the Creator God, as indicated quite notably by Luke). 

Tying the firstborn, divine-image-representing suffering servant with Israel’s self-understanding at the time of Isaiah, as dictated by the Torah narrative, it is understood that the suffering servant becomes marred so as to share in the horror-inducing cursing of Israel, as it is realized that this is a seminal 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 an observer to consider that not only was the messiah of Israel to be the servant of the Creator God, but that Israel was to be their God’s servant, and that mankind as a whole was also supposed to be the servant of that same God.  Mankind, in Adam, was the first to be marred, taking the whole of the good creation with him.  Israel followed Adam’s footsteps in that marring. 

That being the case according to the historical narrative by which Isaiah’s worldview makes sense, it then also makes sense that the suffering servant, as representative of both Israel and humanity, had to undergo a marring as well.  By this, the suffering servant (the suffering servant would eventually be recognized as messiah, and therefore Jesus would eventually be read back into the suffering servant) would 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.        

Putting these thoughts in play allow for a movement to the second half of the theme text, and to the suggestion 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 a crucified and resurrected Jesus as the Christ (messiah) by Paul and Silas, concerning 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.”  It could be said that Rome itself was startled by this world-transforming message.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

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)

When one takes a look at the prophecy of Isaiah and the “suffering servant” that has come to carry such a tremendous amount of significance to the understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection, an observer is met with some rather unsettling words.  One learns that the servant will be “so marred” that he will not even be recognizable as a human.  Time can be allocated for a brief and useful analogy here, and say that even though these words, following the lead of the earliest believers, can be rightly applied to Jesus, due to that which He underwent through the ordeal of the crucifixion (including the scourging and the crown of thorns), it is also possible to 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, as it is reported in the Scriptural narrative, marred that image, so much so that what can be seen in self and others can and should be thought of as barely recognizable as human.  Following in the logic of that same Scriptural narrative, it is only when Jesus mysteriously works in and through believers by the Spirit, as He represented and fulfilled the Creator God’s intention for His divine-image-bearing creation, that such an individual can actually be recognized as human. 

Is it not ironic that, in order for this recognition of humanity to take place, through a union with the 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?  The indication of Scripture, and more appropriately the understanding that followed that indication, was that He would be marred so as to provide the basis for the reversal of the marring of humanity, beginning with those that believed in Him as the Christ and cast their allegiance with Him and His kingdom model as and Lord and King of all. 

So the suffering servant of Isaiah would be horribly marred.  Prior to that, however, it can be 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 a reader could 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 the covenant 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. 

Here one must recognize that Israel itself could easily be recognized as the suffering servant, marred and no longer recognizable as the covenant people, suffering because they had failed to be the servants of all humanity in their representation of their covenant God. With that in mind,  a question can be asked as to what Isaiah is 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 Levitical and Deuteronomic curses, and the statement to be found attached to those curses as Israel wantonly violates its covenant with their Creator 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, it can then be seen that Israel itself was disfigured, no longer resembling the nation that the Creator God had drawn out from Egypt and set forth as the representative of His glory and the light to all nations. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Law To Become Void (part 5 of 5)

Based on the model of the kingdom of God that Jesus is shown through the Gospel narratives to be 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.  This inclusion was demonstrated in His far-reaching and highly impactful practices of table fellowship, as He regularly ate with those that were considered to be outside the covenant and of varying social standing. 

By this, Jesus subverted what were the standard and widely accepted societal norms and customs, and in doing so as a would-be messiah figure that represented the interests and kingdom of the Creator God of Israel, He provided a inherently critical response to what He apparently deemed to be the wrong-headed and presumptuous self-adulation of the “guardians” of the covenant.  Though they lauded their own efforts to provide what they believed was legitimate protection of their God’s promises to His covenant people, Jesus referred to their efforts and the way they went about it as being “utterly detestable in God’s sight.” 

So would it be proper to connect these words of Jesus to His thoughts about the kingdom of God?  Well, what can Jesus be found 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” (Luke 16:16).  These words inform the observer that he is on the right track, as it is to be considered that John the Baptist is first introduced with his words of repentance and the kingdom of God being at hand.  In fact, Luke makes a connection between John’s preaching and that of 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, one can comfortably assert 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 what might very well need to be heard as indignation and sarcasm in His voice, raises His voice and says to these people that He has been critically 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).  With the context that has been constructed, it can be determined that when Jesus says this, He is not offering up a praise of the law, and neither is He making an existential statement about its eternality. 

In this context, as can be readily apprehended based on all that has been seen and understood to this point, He is mocking and condemning these Pharisees and experts in the law.  In this mocking that is also a plaintive cry, Jesus decries their adherence to their covenant boundaries according to the performance of the well-understood works of the law.  Jesus indicates that it has become readily obvious to Him that these individuals will hold on to these exclusive standards of identity and covenant standing that are being improperly employed to keep the Creator God’s blessings for Israel alone, and that they are so entrenched in this position that they would do so even if heaven and earth were to pass away.

Interestingly, this is actually an existential statement about the Temple in Jerusalem, which was understood to be the place of the Creator God’s presence---the overlap of the heaven and earth.  With Luke’s Gospel likely composed after the fall of that Temple to the Romans in 70AD, as the Romans crushed the Jewish rebellion that was so intimately connected to positions about which Jesus was highly critical, with all of this taking place after the Christ-event had ushered in a new basis of covenant standing.  Thus, this of the passing away of heaven and earth would make the well understood statement about that common phraseology and the impossibility of the law becoming void even more poignant. 

Yes, 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 their God’s covenant blessings to be extended to the Gentiles.  Indeed, they would not let go their perceived grip of control on the bestowal of their God’s blessing and act according to the way that Jesus demonstrated, not letting one tiny stroke of a letter of their law become void.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Law To Become Void (part 4 of 5)

What was the basis for the ridicule that Jesus is said to have experienced at the hands of the Pharisees and the experts in the law?   As suggested by the construction of the narrative, it was most likely Jesus’ statement about money, for though it is said that they loved money, the Pharisees and experts in the law would not necessarily have possessed a great deal of it.  Though there would certainly be exceptions, they were not necessarily a part of the aristocratic ruling class of Israel.  In the majority of cases, when it came to wealth, they would have been little better off than the rest of the people. 

However, one’s honor status was not necessarily tied to wealth, and the honor competition is always at the forefront of these interactions.  Because of what was likely relative poverty of Jesus’ primary interlocutors, as they could demonstrate themselves to be suffering right along with the people in the shared experienced of subjugation to the Caesars and the Herods and the oppressive burden of taxation, they could be in a position to seize upon 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, being therefore devoted to the service of the Creator God of Israel.

It is also possible, however, that this particular slice of interpretation when it comes to talk of money, limits the intended reach of the parable and of the words of Jesus, as the context that has been created thus far has attempted to connect wealth and the true riches with the correct use of the law and the kingdom of the Creator 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 to be had in the fulfillment of the covenant and the coming of the kingdom of heaven, with this service taking place rather than the service of the God of the law and the covenant, and the all-nations inclusiveness of that covenant that was clearly presented in its original iteration to Abraham, and buttressed by its detailed expansion especially to be found in the prophecy of Isaiah (which was highly influential among those with messianic expectations and sensibilities in their considerations of things related to the kingdom of heaven). 

In response to their ridicule, in which they attempted to justify themselves against Jesus’ pointed accusations (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” forces the observer to make an additional consideration of what it was that these men had been saying in their attempts to defend and justify themselves. 

One can continue with musings concerning the boundaries that were being placed around the Creator God’s covenant promises, and of those boundaries and the associated blessings being limited to those that acceded to the works of the law as then commonly understood (the three primary indicators that revealed one’s allegiance to the Creator God), and find oneself in a position to hear the Pharisees and law experts who, along with their pointing out of their insignificant financial status, are able to speak about their extraordinary efforts to protect and defend the law (the guide to being properly human) and therefore the honor standing of the God of Israel, by keeping Gentile sinners outside the bounds of the covenant.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Law To Become Void (part 3)

Again, this law of the Creator God, delivered to Israel, represented a rich heritage for the people of that God.  However, the guardians of the law in Jesus’ day, as far as He was concerned, were not handling it adequately.  Jesus observed that the law, rather than serving its intended purpose, had been used as a means to draw boundary lines and erect walls around the blessings that were associated with living according to the revealed covenant of the Creator God.  It had been used for purposes of exclusion and isolation, thus denying the idea that their God could bless anybody but those that were marked off as Israel---those that were properly ascribing to 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, so as to establish the kingdom of God on earth and to elevate His covenant people above all nations.  The kingdom of the their God, which represented the Creator God’s realm of existence (heaven) breaking in to the realm of existence understood to be occupied by those that were created as the image of the Creator God (earth), was what was looked forward to as the true riches that were going to be experienced by God’s covenant people.  Here, one can think of Jesus’ prayer that the will of His God be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus, much like those with whom He lived, expected heaven to come to earth through the Creator God abiding with and among His people.  

It was the true riches of that coming 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.  As they looked upon Israel’s history, with the idolatry (and associated problems) and its results (judgment and repeated subjugations) that seemed to stem from inappropriate contact with surrounding nations, their efforts were somewhat understandable, and can even be looked upon as noble in some respects.  Jesus however, as He seems to consider the way that these individuals understood the kingdom of God, with their purposeful and strident exclusion of the Gentile nations and all that did not perform according to the law and the traditions of the elders, disagrees with their program and informs them that they cannot be entrusted with the true riches. 

This established, Jesus can be heard to continue His dissertation against the presumption and what He apparently saw as the 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 can be understood to be clearly painting these people in that role.  This will have the effect of winning Jesus additional supporters amongst the “commoners”, but it will certainly gain Him little to no favor with those who fancied themselves as the guardians of the covenant. 

Jesus makes the connection between the dishonest-though-hopefully-relying-on-his-master’s-honor-standing 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).  The connection appears to be rather clear.   

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Law To Become Void (part 2)

It becomes clear that Jesus is insisting that those to whom He is directing His discourse, perhaps along with those within range of hearing Him, have not been faithful to the true purpose of the law, which was (among other things) to mark Israel out as God’s covenant people, so that they could be a light to the nations in reflection of their God’s glory, in a way that would cause all peoples to want to seek out and know and serve the Creator God of Israel. 

Through His parables and their explanations, as provided in the Gospel narratives, Jesus indicates that the Pharisees and the experts in the law (with the people that they represented and influenced in tow) had been unfaithful to the purpose of the law, using it dishonestly and inappropriately.  It appears that many men of influence used the law as a way to keep Israel separate from all nations and to block those who found themselves outside of the covenant due to nothing more than race, ethnicity, or national origin, from entering into the covenant so as to enjoy its blessings that would be had by keeping to the way of being human prescribed by what was understood to be Israel’s divinely given law.  When measured against the big picture of Scripture and Israel’s story, this would have clearly run contrary to the Creator God’s promise to Abraham, which included the blessing of all peoples through his seed, presumably in the same way that Abraham himself was believed to have been blessed by his covenant God. 

The law had been, for Israel, an astounding gift of God’s grace.  It was taken to be a revelation of the expectations of a people’s god, showing them how to live and how to by truly human, with this standing in striking contrast to the capriciousness and seemingly arbitrary expectations of the gods of the people that surrounded Israel.  By its very receipt, the tribal nation of Israel was blessed above all peoples, receiving direct revelation from their God, with the knowledge of how to serve and please Him, and by extension how to serve the whole of the creation and humanity. 

As a sign of their acceptance of the law, and the grace and beneficence of their God that was signaled by that law, Israel was given covenant markers that consisted of not worshiping idols, of reverencing God’s sanctuary, honoring the Sabbaths, and the continuing rite of circumcision, which, along with a trusting allegiance to the Creator God (faith), was the original covenant marker that had been required of Abraham and his household.  These would mark them out and delineate Israel as the Creator God’s chosen people---chosen for the purpose of representing their Creator to His creation. 

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.  Reverencing the sanctuary was fairly commonplace (perhaps even overdone), and, at least as it would appear in the historical records, idolatry was not an issue in the Israel of Jesus’ day.  These three things (purity laws, Sabbath-keeping, circumcision) were commonly referred to in that day as the “works of the law,” were representative of what had previously been a slightly different list, and now stood for living according to their God’s law. 

A person could hold to many traditions, customs, and laws, but if one was not holding to these main things, the powers-that-be generally presumed that such a person was outside of the covenant.  Consequently, said person was looked upon as a sinner---perhaps even as less than human.  Ironically, not living up to the requirements of the covenant did indeed, when measured against the purpose of the law and its relation to the covenant and its God, did mean that one was less than human, but Jesus’ response to those that were holding some as such surely indicates that He did not share their particular application and interpretation of what constituted the bounds of true humanity.   

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

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 here delving too deeply into the parable itself, it can be posited that his irresponsibility eventually resulted in dishonesty, though this dishonesty was heavily dependent upon the prevailing and determinative honor and shame culture, as the steward ultimately pins his hopes on his master’s concern about his own honor standing in the community. 

Unfortunately, to the western reader, there are a number of nuances to that particular parable that escape notice, including the fact that the initial termination of the steward in the story would not necessarily be understood as an event of finality, but rather, the beginning of a negotiation, which would have most likely ended up with the steward not losing his position.  Because it is the world in which they walked, and as they were steeped in the honor and shame culture and the push and pull that goes along with that, Jesus’ audience would have been able to grasp these nuances almost inherently---as familiar as breathing. 

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 one framed as 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 one considers the application and interpretation of the parable that is provided by Jesus, it is necessary to remember that this particular story, and its application, follows the three parables of the fifteenth chapter of Luke (the parables of the sheep, the coin, and the “prodigal”).  Along with that, one must consider Jesus’ audience, and that He is reported to be speaking to “the Pharisees and the experts in the law” (15:2a), who had offered up the complaint that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (15:2b). 

This particular accusation was true, as Luke begins his record of Jesus’ dealings in this section of the telling of his story 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, His original audience, along with the audience of Luke’s Gospel, must keep in mind 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. 

Considering the nature of His audience, Jesus’ comments were quite direct, as He continued on to say “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 self-appointed (in many respects) 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.