Saturday, August 31, 2013

Suppression Of Truth (part 1)

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

Immediately after speaking of what he understood to be the mysterious and inherent power of the Gospel (the proclamation that Jesus is Lord of all), the Apostle Paul launches into a statement concerning the pouring out of the wrath of the Creator God, and the connection of the pouring out of that wrath to ungodliness and unrighteousness.  Following that lead-in, the remainder of the first chapter of the letter to the Romans is decidedly direct, as Paul, in his writing here, would seem to have in mind certain individuals or groups of people to which his words are directed.  Rather than analyze in an attempt to ascertain to whom or to what situation the words from verse eighteen through thirty-two are directed, it would probably be better to take into consideration the grand narrative of the Scriptures so as to make an appropriate application. 

So in looking at the eighteenth verse, and contemplating the scope of the Scriptural narrative, one could identify the verse with the presumptive parents of the human race, that being Adam and Eve.  Because human beings were made in and as the image of the Creator God, it should be understood that an aspect of godliness is rightly bearing the divine image.  Accordingly, ungodliness could be considered to be the failure to adequately and properly bear the divine image. 

Righteousness is perhaps best defined as “covenant faithfulness” (faithfulness to the covenant, whatever that covenant may be during the course of the Scriptural narrative), and that particular trait is usually and accurately ascribed to the Creator God, though when humans find themselves attaining to righteousness, it can also be said that they are in a state of faithfulness to the particular covenant that is to govern their interactions with their Creator and their fellow man. 

Unrighteousness then, conversely, is a state of not being faithful to the covenant (covenant unfaithfulness).  When Adam and Eve partook of the “forbidden fruit,” in contradiction of their Lord’s command, they were not faithful to the covenant under which they were tasked to operate.  Consequently, they found themselves in a state of unrighteousness.  This resulted in them not being able to completely fulfill the Creator God’s intention for what was understood to be the pinnacle of His creation that bore His image, and was responsible to play the role of reflecting His glory into the world, stewarding the creation, and constantly reminding the creation of the God that was responsible for its existence. 

According to the Genesis narrative, Adam and Eve, having eaten the fruit, now found themselves unable to attain to the reflection of their God’s glory for which they had been created.  Thus, entering into a condition of unrighteousness, they also succumbed to the condition of ungodliness and they fell short of the glory of God.  This is marked out as the beginning of sin.  With this, the indication is that mankind began to lose its right knowledge of the Creator God; and with this presence of the force of sin that marred and distorted the divine image that was supposed to represent and reveal the Creator, one could say, the truth of the Creator God began to be suppressed.   

Thursday, August 29, 2013

But The World Will Rejoice (part 2 of 2)

Believers are called to, at the least (if they have not personally experienced suffering and shame), empathize and sympathize with those that are suffering, making the cares and concerns (troubles and suffering) of the fatherless and the widows (and those in prison or in need of clothing or a cup of water) their own cares and concerns.  Believers are to enter into this suffering and know that it is worthwhile, and know that their work will remain, precisely because they serve the one hailed as the risen King who endured suffering and gross humiliation, overcame it in every respect, has conquered the world, and is ruling it even now, even though this often would not appear to be the case.  Does this view of suffering and conquering not seem to be more in line with the Spirit of the Word? 

With this said, how should one approach this issue of the world rejoicing?  Is it negative or positive?  Does the world rejoice because Jesus has been removed and “the world” (when viewed through the lens of “the church versus the world”) can now go on its merry way in defiance of the Creator, or is it something altogether different?  Perhaps it is worthwhile to see it in the positive light of the Creator God’s intentions for His once-good-though-fallen-creation? 

The Apostle Paul, based on His understanding of the Christ-event and its implications (perhaps relying on the oral version of the Gospel accounts, but certainly offering his thoughts on the subject prior to the written biographies of Jesus) writes in Romans about the creation (the world) itself, having been subjected to futility through no fault of its own, groaning and suffering under the bondage of decay, while awaiting its liberation from the same (8:21-22). 

When Jesus went away into death, His disciples were sad because they did not expect a Resurrection.  As expressed in the narrative, nobody did.  Somehow though, as implied by Paul, the world (the creation) itself knew that with Jesus’ death, a Resurrection was coming, and it rejoiced that its new day was about to dawn.  Yes, Jesus’ Resurrection marked the beginning of the covenant God’s new creation, and the inauguration of the kingdom of heaven on earth.  A new world had begun.  In this world Jesus reigned, having conquered the power of death that had ruled the world since Adam, by making it possible for those that lived with a trusting allegiance to Him as cosmic ruler, to overcome any and all fear of death (or suffering and shame), grounded in the hope of their own resurrection into the world that Jesus now inhabited---the world of the coming together of heaven and earth.  

To convey this, Jesus uses the imagery of a woman giving birth, experiencing pain and distress because the time has come for her to deliver (John 16:21).  Is it not interesting that Jesus, in speaking of His death and hoped-for Resurrection, in the expectation that His Resurrection, if it happened, was going to mark the beginning of a new age, resorts to speaking of the pain of childbirth that was said to have been introduced into the world because of the fall, thus linking the climactic act of world history with the veritable beginning of the story?  The woman giving birth groans and suffers, but when the “new human being has been born into the world” (16:21b), she forgets her suffering and she rejoices. 

Is this not what happened when Jesus came forth from the tomb?  Was not a new human being born into the world?  Indeed, something more than what is thought of as a human being was born into the world.  Affirming that thought, those who served as eyewitnesses of this exalted individual struggled to find the words to adequately convey what they were experiencing in their interactions with this one that came to be understood to be the firstfruits of the new creation---a being now fully and truly human---with a physical, resurrected body fully animated by the Spirit of the Creator God, bearing the divine image as that God had intended for the being that was intended to be the crowning glory of His creation.       

But The World Will Rejoice (part 1 of 2)

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

These words from Jesus follow statements like “But now I am going to the One Who sent Me” (16:5a), “it is to your advantage that I am going away” (16:7b), and “In a little while you will see Me no longer; again after a little while, you will see Me” (16:16).  Though the disciples did not understand what it was that Jesus was He referencing with such statements (16:18b), believers have the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge that Jesus was speaking of His what He was almost certain was His pending crucifixion, along with what He hoped and prayed was His Resurrection. 

To that end, Jesus goes on to say that “though you have sorrow now… I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (16:22).  In the Gospel accounts, Jesus is presented as one who is fully reliant upon His understanding of the promises of the one He called Father, as it related to His understanding of the role and vocation of the messiah as set forth based upon Israel’s prophetic history and long-running narrative as the covenant people of the Creator God, that the suffering and death of the messiah was necessary (the messiah, as king, represents the people and would experience a personal exile and exodus on their behalf).  

Based on the presentation of Jesus in those same Gospel, it would seem that Jesus also hoped that the messiah, having suffered on behalf of all of the covenant people (the Creator God’s chosen people from Abraham through this day) and the whole of the creation, would be delivered from that suffering and be somehow raised up from the dead. 

Generally, when one reads about the world rejoicing at Jesus going away, or going into death, there is an almost natural tendency amongst those trained in the sometimes unhelpfully dualistic Christian mindset of “us versus the world,” to think about the “wicked” and “evil” sinners exalting in jubilation over the fact that the man that was pointing out their sins and making them feel bad about themselves, was removed from their presence, never to be heard from again.  In doing this, there is another tendency to point an unwarranted finger of judgment, especially as one considers that it is said that it was while believers were yet sinners (outside of right covenant standing and failing to rightly bear the divine image) that Jesus died for them (Romans 5:8). 

As one thinks in this way, he or she is naturally led to the final verse of this chapter in John, where it is insisted that “In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage---I have conquered the world” (16:33b).  Believers too often get themselves hung up on that which applies to them---the trouble and suffering---thinking of this as the wicked sinners of this world---the ones that rejoiced at Jesus being killed---as being against them because of their trust in Jesus, somehow forgetting or not realizing that the more important part of the statement is that Jesus has indeed conquered the world. 

In thinking along such lines, believers may also fail to recognize that part of what they are called to do, if they are truly in a believing union with the Christ, is to, by the mysterious motivation and empowerment of the Spirit of the Creator God that is so heavily spoken of in this chapter, enter into the trouble and suffering of the world, as did Jesus (who certainly did not escape suffering and shame).  This is to be done so that they might, as the Apostle Paul says, rejoice in sufferings and fill up in their physical bodies what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24). 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Collapse Of The Temple (part 4 of 4)

How did the people to whom Jesus addressed this statement respond?  It is reported that “The chief priests and the experts in the law heard it and considered how they could assassinate Him, for they feared Him, because the whole crowd was amazed by His teaching” (11:18).  Not only was He calling their role into question, Jesus was messing with their pocketbooks and their livelihood, and doing this after making His “triumphal entry” (a parousia like that which would have been enjoyed by a Caesar, while also being a re-enactment of two Jerusalem entries previously recorded in the history of the covenant people) in which He was hailed as the King of Israel and the bringer of the Kingdom of God. 

A bit later in Mark, Jesus can be heard speaking about the Temple yet again.  This time, his commentary is offered immediately after He has witnessed a widow putting into the Temple offering box “what she had to live on” (12:44b).  Seeing as how those that served the Temple should not have let this happen, but should have been providing for this poor widow, Jesus laments what He has just seen.  He comments on it, saying that she “has put more into the offering box than all the others” (12:43b), and probably doing so with a touch of sadness and anger. 

Jesus’ response to what He has seen perplexed Jesus’ disciples, as they probably missed His larger point about the failure of those that were supposed to be representing the Creator God, and perhaps thought to themselves something like, “If everybody gave the same amount that this widow gave, then we would not have this beautiful and glorious Temple with which to worship our God.”  They said to Jesus, “Teacher, look at these tremendous stones and buildings!” (13:1b), as if to say, “We think you’re mistaken.” 

Jesus surveys the tremendous stones and buildings in full realization that the glory of God is not to be found in the Temple, but in Himself, and with the knowledge of the Temple’s redundancy says, “Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left on another.  All will be torn down” (13:2).  This, of course, was fulfilled when the Roman army came and destroyed the Temple in 70AD, and it must be noted that His words about the destruction of this Temple and its system follows hard on His observation of the widow and her gift.  With the knowledge that Jesus closely connects the fall of the Temple with the offering from the widow, any notion that Jesus praises the widow as a model of giving must be put aside. 

It can be confidently asserted that these words of Jesus were circulated, and that they were understood as yet another affront against the Temple and those who ruled over it.  As has already been noted, they had already begun to devise plans to assassinate Jesus, and things like this would only serve to cement and accelerate those plans.  Ultimately, their assassination plot would take shape and be successful, as the Temple authorities would be able to turn Jesus over to the Roman governor, presenting Him as an instigator of rebellion and revolution and a self-proclaimed rival to Caesar.  Accordingly, they could have Him assassinated through a state-sanctioned execution. 

So what does all of this have to do with Samson?  How does this compare with the way in which Samson died?  When Samson died, He did so through laying down His life in a seeming defeat, doing so to  defeat those that were his enemies.  Jesus did the same.  When Jesus went forward to His death, so as to do battle with His enemies.  Though He speaks against them, His true enemies were not the Temple authorities, but the dark forces of evil that stood behind those authorities. 

In his final confrontation with his enemies, Samson, standing in the temple and enduring mocking, pushed hard against the pillars and collapsed the temple upon himself and on all that were inside.  Jesus, in confrontation with His enemies, also pushed hard against the pillars of the Temple (the Temple authorities).  In doing this, Jesus (while also enduring the mocking crowds) metaphorically brought the Temple down upon Himself, by prompting the men that were responsible for the Temple to push hard against Him (though He was the true Temple), enabling Him to lay down His life in the process, hoping that death would not the final word.  In His death, most assuredly, Jesus conquered a vast army of dark forces, and forever sealed their defeat with His glorious return to life.       

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Collapse Of The Temple (part 3)

As he “channels” and calls the prophet Jeremiah to the mind of the people of Jerusalem, Jesus had a great deal to say about the Jerusalem Temple.  His activity in Jerusalem, as one would expect, was centered around the Temple, though He did not treat it at all in the way which was expected of the messiah.  The messiah, more than likely, would have been expected to honor the Temple. 

However, when it came to the Temple of Jerusalem, Jesus did and said some rather interesting things.  The things He said and did were not necessarily directed against the Temple itself, as it, though a symbol of something much larger, was merely a building.  Rather, Jesus’ words were directed against the Temple authorities, who seemingly wielded the presence of a building and what it was meant to represent and contain, against the people of Israel, so as to preserve their own power and position. 

With that frame of mind created, one can look at one of the stories recounted in the Gospel of Mark as fairly representative of that which can be seen in both Matthew and Luke.  In the eleventh chapter of Mark it is said that “Jesus entered the Temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the Temple courts.  He turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the Temple courts” (11:15-16). 

This disruption in business would have had an obvious impact on the sellers, as they would be losing money by being unable to carry out their trade for a period of time.  In and of itself, such action is not a critique of the activity of buying and selling (though one could question the legitimacy and necessity of the way in which the sacrificial cult was in operation in that day) but of the greed and corruption that would so often be the companion of the commerce. 

Regardless, the disruption would certainly create some enemies for Jesus, as shutting down the buying and selling also shuts down the operations of the Temple, effectively shutting down the Temple itself.  Not only is this having an effect on livelihoods, but this is something of a symbolic pronouncement against the Temple, as Jesus actively calls into question not what was there taking place, but rather the ongoing need for the Temple.

Additionally and as would be expected, the disruption would have had an impact on the finances of the Temple authorities, as they would have had a stake in each transaction made within the Temple in relation to the sacrificial cult.  Thus, more enemies for Jesus.  These are more powerful enemies than the merchants who plied their business at the pleasure of the Temple authorities.  Thirdly, Jesus might very well have been taking a chance at angering the people, and turning the populace in general against Him, as they would have been unable to buy the necessary items to make what they understood to be their necessary offerings, thus jeopardizing their right-standing with their God (their covenant status).  

However, it would seem that the potential for anger amongst the commoners was quickly diffused, which can be seen when one encounters Jesus’ words in which He said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?  But you have turned it into a den of robbers!” (11:17b)  In this, Jesus apparently reveals to the people that the merchants in the Temple, in collusion with the Temple authorities, had conspired together to cheat the people through false dealings in their money-changing and sale of animals.  Beyond that, it is possible that there is an implication that the Temple authorities were cheating the people through their insistence that the sacrifices were a continuing necessity.   

Monday, August 26, 2013

Collapse Of The Temple (part 2)

Before one gets further into the record of the Gospels so as to examine Jesus’ dealings with the Temple authorities (remembering that this is an analysis occurring against the backdrop of the collapse of the Philistine temple at the hands of Samson), it is quite useful to peer into the book of the prophet Jeremiah, doing so in order to catch a glimpse of the types of things that Jesus would have been saying in and about the Temple, and how His words would have been received. 

In the twenty-sixth chapter, the Lord God of Israel is said to have spoken to Jeremiah, delivering instructions to him as to what to say to the people of Jerusalem and Judah on the Lord’s behalf.  The Creator God says, “Tell them that the Lord says, ‘You must obey Me!  You must live according to the way I have instructed you in My laws.  You must pay attention to the exhortations of My servants the prophets.  I have sent them to you over and over again.  But you have not paid any attention to them’.” (26:4-5) 

Similar things are to be heard from Jesus.  He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus is found to be lamenting and saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you!” (Matthew 23:37a)  In addition to that, one can read the “Parable of the Tenants”  in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which reflects the theme of the rejection of the Creator God’s prophets.  As is reported, this parable produced anger on the part of the temple authorities (chief priests and elders), as they realized, apparently quite astutely, that it was spoken about them. 

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

What is said to have been the experience of Jeremiah as a result of the words of the Creator God that he is reported to have delivered to the people of Judah?  It is said that “The priests, the prophets, and all the people heard Jeremiah say these things in the Lord’s temple.  Jeremiah had just barely finished saying all the Lord had commanded him to say to all the people.  All at once some of the priests, the prophets, and the people grabbed him and shouted, ‘You deserve to die!’” (26:7-8) 

It is possible to see that this was not at all unlike that which was experienced by Jesus when He spoke against the Temple and its ruling authorities.  Furthermore, the reader of the Gospel hears what Jesus would eventually endure in the sneering questioning of His authority to act and speak in a way that was perceived to be against the Temple, as Jeremiah hears “How dare you claim the Lord’s authority to prophesy such things!  How dare you claim His authority to prophesy that this temple will become like Shiloh and that this city will become an uninhabitable ruin!” (26:9)        

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Collapse Of The Temple (part 1)

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

Before famously bringing down the Philistine temple on top of him, Samson, who had been grinding in prison (Judges 16:21), was called out to entertain the assembled people.  It is said that when his enemies “really started celebrating, they said, ‘Call Samson so he can entertain us!’  So they summoned Samson from the prison and he entertained them.  They made him stand between the two pillars” (16:25).  These, presumably, were the two main pillars of the Philistine temple of their god, Dagon. 

While there, “Samson said to the young man who held his hand, ‘Position me so I can touch the pillars that support the temple.  Then I can lean on them’.” (16:26)  Standing before his enemies then, “Samson called to the Lord” and he said, “O Master, Lord, remember me!  Strengthen me just one more time, O God, so I can get swift revenge against the Philistines for my two eyes!” (16:28)  With that, it is reported that, “Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines!’  He pushed hard and the temple collapsed on the rulers and all the people in it” (16:30a). 

Now, though all analogies eventually break down, one can here find an analogy between Samson and Jesus.  How so?  In His day, and though this should be taken as a loose analogy, Jesus, if He saw Himself in the role of Samson, could very well have considered the authorities that controlled the Jerusalem temple to be Philistines.  Though the temple was supposed to be the house of Israel’s God, the glory of the Creator God (the shekinah) was not recognized to be dwelling there. 

Ultimately then, it could have been appeared to be a temple that existed for the honor and power of the men who controlled it.  Sad stories such as that of the widow and her mite illustrate this quite well.  In this way, one could almost consider it to be the counterpart to the Philistine temple. 

It is well understood that part of Jesus’ message was that He was the actual Temple of Israel’s God---the place inhabited by the Spirit of the Creator God, and the place at which the realm of the Creator God overlapped with the realm of those that bore the image of the Creator God (where heaven and earth came together).  In this same vein, Jesus even spoke of Himself and His body as a Temple, saying “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:19). 

Indeed, it is insisted that in Jesus dwelt the glory of the covenant God of Israel (the shekinah), as is stated in the first chapter of John (1:14).  Thus, the temple that then stood in Jerusalem, with its corrupted hierarchy under which the covenant people experienced a veritable grinding for the “entertainment” and enrichment of those that sought to maintain their place and prestige, could now be considered to be illegitimate and redundant. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Visiting Bethany (part 6 of 6)

As the Gospel of John reports, with many witnesses present and presumably able to confirm or deny the story that is being told, Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the tomb.  It is reported that, as a result of this display of life-giving power, many people came to believe in Jesus.  Whether they came to believe in Him as a miracle-worker or as the Messiah is not specified.  However, it can surely be imagined that many that had witnessed the event, and who had perhaps witnessed the whole of His coming to Bethany (the veritable parousia that had taken place), happily joined with Mary and Martha in calling Him “Lord,” “Christ” (Messiah), and “Son of God.” 

This verbal elevation of Jesus to the position that was categorically reserved for the king of Israel (or one who would be king---remember, these are not titles of divinity in and of themselves), without the requisite approval from or sanction of Rome, among a number of other issues that are swirling around Jesus, is shown to have sparked the Pharisees and chief priests and council to declare “If we allow Him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation” (11:48). 

It seems that the author wants those that hear or read the story to understand, along with what these men clearly understand, that Jesus’ actions are intensely political.  The author appears to be making this point in the way he shapes his narrative, deftly and somewhat subversively pointing to the fact and the ways of the coming kingdom of God in which Jesus rules over all kings. 

So Jesus, as is discovered in the text, was acclaimed by the people for His miraculous work in raising Lazarus, which was the culmination of a great number of miraculous works and the point in the narrative where the tide turns and an onward rush to the climactic conclusion of crucifixion and Resurrection begins.  It is quite likely that He gained the honor and respect and worship of all in Bethany upon the event of this visit, which would be significant in an honor and shame culture.  A first century hearer or reader would presumably be inclined to accord this Jesus honor as well.  If he or she understood the underlying movement of the narrative that suggests that Jesus is a greater King than Caesar, then it is possible that this honor is accorded to Jesus at the expense of the Caesar.  

Figuratively, the whole of the community, upon Lazarus’ return to life, would have bowed at the feet of Jesus.  Had Caesar visited Bethany, the response would have been expected to have been the same.  All would have bowed at his feet in recognition of his power and rule and dominion over “the whole earth”.  The main difference is that when Jesus came to Bethany in his quasi-parousia, He brought life, and it was the bringing of life that would have induced the authentic worship and real honor.  While it is true that Caesar would also have received a form of worship, in the end, in spite of all the good that he might very well have done or have been able to do for the people under his rule, ultimately, men and women would only fall at Caesar’s feet because he demanded it, carrying with him the threat and power of death.    

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Visiting Bethany (part 5 of 6)

After a brief exchange between Jesus and Martha that serves to outline the basic Jewish hope concerning the resurrection of the dead, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in Me will never die’.” (11:25-26a)  How does Martha respond?  Again, making use of imperial titles, “She replied, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God Who comes into the world’.” (11:27) 

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

Shortly thereafter, Mary, repeating Martha’s actions, “got up quickly and went to Him (Jesus)” (11:29b).  What follows is where it is learned that Jesus has not, in fact, entered into Bethany, as the text states: “Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still in the place where Martha had come out to meet Him” (11:30).  This information is inserted parenthetically here in the middle of the story, rather than at the beginning, which is a subtle placement which would seem to serve to partially mask the politically subversive nature of the language that is being used surrounding this event that leads up to Jesus’ grand parousia, which is His “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem.  That particular parousia will bear all of the explicit earmarks of what would be well-understood as a royal visit (depending on one’s viewpoint) by a Caesar or by Israel’s King. 

As would be expected from a person going out of his or her city to greet the “Lord Caesar,” upon reaching Jesus “Mary fell at His feet and said to Him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’.” (11:32b)  Here, Mary echoes Martha, and once again use is made of an imperial title, as Mary calls Jesus “Lord.”  The author clearly does not want his audience to lose sight of Jesus’ position.  

It was at this point then, with Jesus having been greeted outside the city, with people falling at His feet, referring to Him as Lord and Son of God and Messiah, and making note of His great power, that Jesus finally enters into the village.  It seems that the tomb is in the village, or at least adjacent to the village, which would account for the author’s comment that Jesus “had not yet” made His way to the village. 

The reader makes note of the fact that Mary did not go to Jesus by herself (11:31,33,36), so when Jesus does make His way to the tomb, presumably, it is with a group of people.  Since Martha’s voice can again be heard breaking into the story when Jesus asks for the stone over the mouth of the cave to be rolled away, one can also presume that Martha, as one that has bowed at the feet of Jesus and called Him Lord, was one of the people in the procession that made its way to the tomb with Jesus.   

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Visiting Bethany (part 4)

If a compare and contrast is underway, one glaring contrast between Jesus and the Caesar can be found in verses previously quoted from the third chapter of John.  There it is said that the covenant God of Israel “gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (3:16b-17).  Caesar, the man entitled with “son of god,” was looked to as the one who dragged the world from darkness to light.  With this, the parallel between John and the Augustus inscription becomes increasingly obvious. 

Yes, it was Caesar Augustus who was said to have brought order out of the chaos.  It was Caesar Augustus that was said to be responsible for the life and vitality of the world, with this spread throughout the world via the pax Romana (Roman peace).  It is Caesar Augustus who is referred to as the “Savior” of the world.  Ironically, though war would be almost endless, Augustus is credited with putting an end to war.  It is worth nothing that, though death continues, Jesus is credited with putting an end to death. 

For Ceasar of course, the end of war was accomplished by crushing his enemies through massive warfare.  Furthermore, it is said that Caesar Augustus is the fulfillment of all hopes and in him the world has “good news.”  How did this son of god “save” the world?  How did he bring the world into new life?  It could be argued that he did so through the instrument of death. 

He, his predecessors, and those that would follows and take up his mantle, slaughtered millions so as to usher in an era of “peace” and to give their version of life to the world.  Effectively, in order to give the world life and vitality through the establishment of the Roman empire, the world experienced an almost unprecedented level of condemnation.  The other Son of God, however, is said to bring eternal life and peace and light, which will be accomplished and effected through His worldwide kingdom. 

As the Gospel of John informs its readers, through Jesus the world will be saved, but this salvation will not come about through the world-condemning instrument of war and its power of death.  Ultimately, this salvation will come about through the laying down of His own life and going willfully into death in an act of self-sacrificial love---making Himself subject to that which was (and still is) the Caesar’s only true power. 

Returning to the issue at hand then, Martha can be heard speaking to Jesus and saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will grant you” (John 11:21-22).  In calling Jesus “Lord,” and doing so in the context of what is increasingly looking to be a “parousia” of Jesus, Martha has conferred upon Him one of the titles that was then accorded to and reserved for the Caesar.  Much like that which would have been experienced by the emperor when he would visit subjects within his realm, the one that has come out to greet Jesus makes it a point to honor the world’s ruler and to make comment upon His power. 

Visiting Bethany (part 3)

To this point, it seems that the author of the Gospel has been building a case for Jesus as a royal personage---the ruler of the world in fact---with this especially noticeable when viewed in the light of that which was thought of and said about the Caesar---the one who was then looked upon as the ruler of the world. 

To the end of presenting Jesus as royalty, this particular Gospel narrative begins with Jesus (personifying “the Word”) being heralded as the Creator God (John 1:1).  It is said that “in Him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.  And the light shines on in the darkness…  We saw His glory---the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth… For we have all received from His fullness one gracious gift after another” (1:4-5a,14b,16). 

A bit further on, Jesus is referred to as the “one and only Son” of the God of Israel (an epithet that had also been applied to Israel itself) and that “everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (3:16b-17).  Shortly thereafter, one again reads “that the light has come into the world” (3:19b), and later on also finds Jesus speaking of Himself as “the light of the world” (8:12).  These things are said about Jesus in a world that is provided context by the presence and rule and worship of the Caesar. 

Interestingly enough, in an inscription from 9BC, Caesar Augustus is hailed as  “The most divine… we should consider co-equal to the beginning of all things… for when everything was falling [into disorder] and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave to the whole world a new aura; …the common good fortune of all…The beginning of life and vitality. …All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine as the new beginning of the year…  Whereas Providence, which has regulated our whole existence…has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us (this man), whom it [Providence] filled with strength…the welfare of men, and who being to us and our descendants as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in Order; and [whereas] having become [god] manifest, has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times… in surpassing all the benefactors who proceeded him… and whereas, finally, the birthday of the god has been for the whole world the beginning of the good news concerning him [therefore let a new era begin from his birth].” 

Though this was written of Augustus, who was the first of the Caesars to be hailed as the son of god, all subsequent Caesars were accorded the same title, which provides information about the way in which the emperor was viewed, with this being so even at the time of the writing of the Gospel of John (presumably late first century).  The parallels between the things that are here said about the Caesar in the Augustus inscription, and the things that are said about Jesus in the Gospel of John, are quite interesting and inescapable.  Similar claims are being made for both, while a stark and clear contrast is being drawn.  A person could be forgiven for believing that the author of John had the Ceasar cult and such inscriptions in mind (along with Genesis naturally) when penning the opening of his work.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Visiting Bethany (part 2)

No, He did not go straight to the tomb or to the house of Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, with whom He was known to have shared a close relationship---at least, knowledge of this close relationship is implied in the Gospel narrative.  Instead, and quite curiously, Jesus is reported to have stopped outside the village.  Does this not seem a bit strange?  It does indeed.  It does so because the one who reads the Gospel is presumably already aware of the outcome of the situation, already privy to the full story. 

Because the full story is known, together with the way the story happily ends with Lazarus being raised from the dead, it is known that Jesus loved both Lazarus and his sisters.  One would think that this love would compel Him to not only not delay His visit to Bethany, but also to go straight to the grieving sisters without hesitation upon reaching their town. So why does the story, as told exclusively in the Gospel of John, make the point that He did not immediately go to these people that He loved?   

It may seem redundant to point out, but as the story of the raising of Lazarus begins, Jesus’ love for this family was immediately evident, as it is said that the two sisters went to the trouble of sending a message to Jesus that Lazarus was sick.  Why go to the trouble to do this unless the expectation was that Jesus would come quickly to the aid of the one He loved?  Coupled with Jesus’ not immediately rushing to provided the requested and likely expected assistance to His friend, this stopping outside of Bethany and not even going into the town seems doubly strange.  If it seems a bit perplexing to those that would later hear or read this story, one can probably imagine that it was every bit as frustrating for these two sisters of Lazarus in that day as well, and that along with them, their fellow villagers were likely struck by the oddity of this occurrence. 

Not only that, but in small, tight-knit communities as Bethany no doubt was, not only would the entire village know that Lazarus was sick, they would also know that Lazarus had died.  It is likely that they would be aware of the fact that a message had been sent to the miracle-worker Jesus, informing Him of the sickness of Lazarus.  They would also learn that Jesus did not respond to the message by coming to Bethany with all rapidity (perhaps even bringing a bit of shame to this family), and they would now know that when Jesus did finally make His way to Bethany, that He stayed just outside the town, forcing the grieving sisters to come out to Him. 

Almost undoubtedly, they would know all of these things in the larger context of the hope of Mary and Martha that Jesus could do something about the sickness, which can be seen to be manifested in their urgent message to Jesus about Lazarus’ sickness and the words that are reported to have been spoken to Him when they finally see Him.  This hope, that would eventually be vindicated by their brother’s raising at the hands and words of Jesus, would have been reasonably and understandably spurred by the healings and other miraculous occurrences that had marked Jesus’ ministry, not to mention Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his sisters.         

Naturally, based on the information heretofore provided, Jesus’ visit to Bethany should be considered in the light of the parousia of the Caesar.  So when one hears or reads that “when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him” (John 11:20a), a context has been created.  It is here necessary to bear in mind that the readers of this Gospel, in the first century, would be quite familiar with an imperial parousia.  Those that would hear this story in the world in which Jesus was said to have become King of all by His own Resurrection, would find that this going out of the village to meet Jesus, on the part of Martha, very much fits into the mold of expectations concerning an imperial visit.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Visiting Bethany (part 1)

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

In the time of Jesus, when the emperor (the Caesar) came to pay a visit to a town or a city within a colony or province under his dominion, his visit was generally referred to as a “parousia.”  When this visit would be made, as one would expect, the great emperor, for whom notoriety and honor (especially in an honor and shame culture) would be of paramount concern, would not simply enter into the town or city un-announced. 

Such a thing would be unthinkable, especially in light of the Caesar-cult (worship of Caesar as a divine being---the son of god) that was so prevalent in the first century world so dominated by Rome.  Quite the opposite would occur, in fact, as the Caesar would be lauded in grand fashion by the people of the places that he deigned to visit.  After all, the man making this visit was rightly viewed as the most powerful man in the world, and would be afforded as much honor as possible. 

Not only would this honoring of the god-man be expected, but it would also demanded.  To effect this, quite apart from Caesar simply entering into the city by himself, or with nothing more than his imperial entourage, a large group from the city would be expected to go out to meet him while he was still outside of or at some distance from their city.  This would occur while all (or at least most) inside the city would be preparing themselves, in a conformity (for some) that was most likely under the threat of physical pain or even death (or shame), to receive the exalted emperor with the appropriate acclamation and with reverence. 

Upon greeting the Caesar outside the city boundaries, the selected and special group from the city, quite naturally, would return to the city with Caesar  and his royal entourage in tow, celebrating his entrance into yet another place in which he was acknowledged to both reign and have complete and unrivaled dominion.  This would seem to be an entirely appropriate reception for the one who, beginning with that which would come to be said of the emperor Augustus, is referred to as “lord” (the lord of the world who claimed allegiance and loyalty from his subjects throughout the whole of his empire), whose birthday was referred to as “evangelion” or “good news,” is referred to as the “son of god” and “savior,” and who was thought of as the one who had finally brought light and peace and order into a  dark and often chaotic world.

Having provided that basic bit of information, the scope of this study move to the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, and the story of raising of Lazarus from the dead at the hands and word of Jesus.  In the story, one is able to observe some rather interesting elements, making His visit to Bethany something of a “parousia” by Jesus.  The first thing to notice, though it is not revealed immediately, is that after Jesus had remained in the place where He was for two days after hearing that Lazarus (the one He is said to have loved) was sick (John 11:6), and upon His finally reaching the town of Bethany after what can be thought of as an unexpected delay, Jesus did not immediately go into the village. 

Vindication For Joy & Rejoicing (part 4 of 4)

The crucifixion and vindicating Resurrection of Jesus the Christ, which (among a great many things) evidenced the grand defeat of death and the dawn of a new age, was a battle in which one could certainly find purpose to use the words “attack” and “shields” and “spear” and “lance” (Psalm 35:1-5).  Together with that, the words of the Psalm ask for the destruction of the enemy (35:8).  However, when it came to those who actually carried out the crucifixion---those who were temporary adversaries and very much a part of the world for which Jesus was going into a cursed death in order to redeem, all are again forced to consider Jesus’ words of forgiveness, and find displayed an altogether different demeanor. 

Rather than a request for attack and destruction to be visited upon those who brought Him harm, what is instead to be found is only a request by the Psalmist (again, with words that could eventually be understood to have fallen from the lips of the Christ as He endured the horrible ordeal of the cross) that “those who want to harm me be totally embarrassed and ashamed!  May those who arrogantly taunt me be covered with shame and humiliation!” (35:26)  This could be viewed in two ways.  In the first way, it can be viewed on the surface level, with the understandable desire for these adversaries to experience the same type of embarrassment and humiliation (35:4) which is requested for those who fight and attack (35:1). 

In the second way, one is forced to dig deeper, so as to remember Jesus’ intercession on the behalf of His tormentors and to consider the prevalent cultural equating of embarrassment, shame, and humiliation with going down into death, and thus quite possibly see a desire on the part of Jesus for these men to join Him in His death (exile) so that they too can be experience redemption (exodus).  With this, one is pressed to consider the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians, and his being “crucified with Christ” (2:20), sharing in His shame and humiliation so that He might truly live. 

By the trusting allegiance of the gift of faith that makes Jesus the King and representative of believers and of all people, and enables those that cast their lot with Him to join with Him in His crucifixion, the same group of people is also enabled to join with Him in His Resurrection and in the expectation of the great resurrection and renewal and restoration of creation that is happening and is also to come.  As subjects of His kingdom, believers, and indeed the whole of the creation, awaits His final vindication, and find themselves poised as “those who desire my vindication” and in so doing “shout for joy and rejoice” (35:27). 

That shouting for joy and rejoicing can and should very well take the form of preaching His Gospel in both word and deed, and so proclaiming His present kingdom and His ongoing rule, though the presentation of that message may bring temporary shame and humiliation.  The believer, participating in that kingdom and its work, gladly endure such things, as through the Spirit of God, the glorified Lord Jesus mysteriously works through and in those that our allied with Him to create lights for the glory of the Creator God, as they confess through the entirety of their beings the desire to “tell others about Your justice, and praise You all day long” (35:28).           

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Vindication For Joy & Rejoicing (part 3)

This mention of “sorrow” should vaults the conscious reader to a recollection of the “suffering servant” of Isaiah, thus providing (along with Jesus before He would come to His time of suffering) a more fully-rounded sense of what these sorrows would and did entail.  The verses that follow remind the modern reader of the letter to the Hebrews and the great High Priest that is able to sympathize with the human weaknesses that continue to be experienced by the covenant people(4:15), the Gospel of Luke and Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem (19:41), and the Gospel of John and Jesus weeping within the story of the raising of the one whom He loved (11:35), as one finds “When they were sick, I wore sackcloth, and refrained from eating food.  I mourned for them as I would for a friend or my brother.  I bowed down in sorrow as if I were mourning for my mother” (Psalm 35:13a,14). 

Unfortunately, Jesus did not receive complete reciprocity in these matters, and because of that He could say, “when I stumbled, they rejoiced and gathered together; they gathered together to ambush me” (35:15a).  As He would begin to undergo the various inflictions of physical brutality---the whip that would be endured as He made His way to His ultimate vindication---Jesus could maintain His reflection on this Psalm and its words in which “They tore at me without stopping to rest” (35:15b).  As He stumbled under the weight of the beam that He is reported to have attempted to carry to Golgotha, Jesus would remember “When I tripped, they taunted me relentlessly, and tried to bite me” (35:16). 

Again, it is necessary to pause to remember that this particular adversary is not death, at least not directly, but rather it is men presumably corrupted by the power of darkness, as that darkness attempted to assert its power over the one that would eventually come to be recognized and called the Son-of-God-in-power (Romans 1:4 – contra Caesar).  Jesus could cry out “O Lord, how long are you going to just stand there and watch this?  Rescue me from their destructive attacks; guard my life from the young lions!  Do not let those who are my enemies for no reason gloat over me!  Do not let those who hate me without cause carry out their wicked schemes!  They are ready to devour me; they say, ‘Aha!  Aha!  We’ve got you!” (35:17,19,21)  In all this, Jesus does not call for divine retribution against His human antagonists.  He always knew who and what was the true enemy from which He sought and hoped for vindication.  
Even if He did speak such words that were, in essence, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass for Me” (Matthew 26:39b), the watchword over all of this, as Jesus endured the great painful and shaming ordeal on behalf of Israel and the creation, is “Yet not what I will, but what You will” (26:39c). The will of the Father, of course, can be found in what follows in this Psalm, which is “take notice, Lord!  O Lord, do not remain far from me!  Rouse yourself, wake up and vindicate me!  My God and Lord, defend my just cause!  Vindicate me by Your justice, O Lord my God!” (35:22-24a) 

This vindication would ultimately be the Resurrection, as Jesus would march forth from the tomb into a new world---that being the inaugurated kingdom of God on earth---in which the hosts of heaven were marshaled to witness His victorious coronation as King, and in which Jesus would honor the faithful Father for His vindicating justice, saying “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You before a large crowd of people!” (35:18) 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Vindication For Joy & Rejoicing (part 2)

In a culture in which shame was very much equated with death, the message of the Resurrection is that death itself that is now to be ashamed.  In an ironic twist, it is death alone that now experiences its long held and once mighty power. 

Though it had rightfully entered into the covenant God’s creation along with its corruption and decay, death had been an over-reaching usurper within that creation.  The message of the Scriptural narrative is that the Creator God had long desired, through the use of those that He had created as and to be the wise, image-bearing stewards of His creation, to set that creation to rights and to redeem and restore it.  This would ultimately be accomplished through Jesus, and through those that would be brought into a believing union with Jesus by submission to His royal authority and allegiance to Him and His kingdom and its principles, as He was the one that bore the precise and exact image of the Creator God, as well as being the one who would share that image (and the precise knowledge of the Creator God) with His brethren. 

In what is said to be the work of the Spirit, because of a trusting allegiance to Jesus as the true King, the Creator God would then work through His covenant people to deal with the corruption and decay and seemingly ever-present evil that represent death’s residual power and lingering effects in a world now ruled by Jesus.  With the Resurrection power of Jesus in the world, and with its being administered through the Spirit’s mysterious work of faith and the preaching and doing of the Gospel of Jesus, death, though real, was now to be considered little more than a roaring lion, lacking the absolute power and mastery over creation that it had once possessed. 

By means of the cross, death seems to have made an attempt to oppress Jesus and to rob Him of His victory and rightful messianic rule, and through that oppression, because Jesus stood as the King and representative of all of God’s people, death attempted to oppress and to rob those very people of the Creator God.  However, the fact of death being conquered by the Resurrection, which is believed to have redeemed mankind and the creation that humanity was intended to steward from its long exile, and ushered in the kingdom of the Creator God and an entirely new age of restoration and renewal and reconciliation through the very power of the Gospel and its declaration of the universal Lordship of Jesus in both word and deed, causes the Creator God’s people, in union with their Lord and Savior, to say “O Lord, who can compare to You?  You rescue the oppressed and needy from those who try to overpower them; the oppressed and needy from those who try to rob them” (Psalm 35:10b).    

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

Friday, August 16, 2013

Vindication For Joy & Rejoicing (part 1)

May those who desire my vindication shout for joy and rejoice! – Psalm 35:27a  (NET)
The thirty-fifth Psalm begins with “O Lord, fight those who fight with me!  Attack those who attack me!  …Rise up to help me!  …Assure me with these words: I am your deliverer!” (35:1,2b,3b)  As these words are read in the light of the knowledge of the Savior, of His crucifixion at the hands of the Romans at the behest of the Temple authorities, and His unexpected Resurrection from the grave and its signal that death had ultimately been defeated, it would seem to be quite natural to want to place them on the lips of Jesus as He endured what would come to be understood as His saving ordeal. 

However, because Jesus did not speak against His accusers, nor is He said to have spoken against those that carried out the sentence of death that was passed against Him, it is actually not appropriate to have Him asking His God to fight and attack those that were responsible for His death.  Instead, what is recorded is that Jesus asked the one He called Father to readily forgive them for their actions that He believed to have been performed in ignorance.  So if these words are, in fact, to be somehow ascribed to Jesus, with a direction in mind (which does seem like a reasonable proposition), their direction needs to be properly understood. 

Ultimately, who was it that could be said to have fought with Jesus?  Who was it that attacked Him?  Who was His great enemy?  From whom did He desire deliverance?  The answer to these questions is “death.”  If one was to peruse the New Testament writings that reflected on the life and ministry of Jesus, with many of these writings pre-dating the final composition of the Gospels (though oral narratives that would certainly have taken a shape not unlike that which would eventually be written were in circulation), it would be a relatively easy matter to see that some of the earliest believers thought this to be the case.

It would seem then that it was the battle with death into which Jesus asked His Father to enter, to fight on His behalf, to rise up to attack.  Because Jesus entered the battle as well, and did not ask His Father to deliver Him in a way that allowed Him to stand absent from the pain of death, Jesus appeared to know that the cross must be endured.  Owing to that, and if such words could have crossed His mind and His lips, Jesus could be here considered to be asking for an assurance that He would be delivered up from the power of death, after willingly allowing Himself to be overcome by His great enemy.  It must be borne in mind that Jesus did not go into the ordeal of the crucifixion with a knowledge that He would indeed be raised.  He did so with a hope that He would be vindicated and redeemed from the exile into which He was flinging Himself.  

The Resurrection that followed is said to have stripped death of its power.  From that point on, though it would continue to be very real and very present, death would ultimately be a toothless foe in the face of the promise of the power of resurrection and new life for the people of the Creator God.  Death had held sway from the time of the fall, but with the Resurrection, what could be seen as a further request of Jesus, of “May those who seek my life be embarrassed and humiliated!  May those who plan to harm be turned back and ashamed!” (35:4) was answered in the affirmative.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Deceit & Judgment (part 2 of 2)

With this somewhat clear presentation of idolatry as the reason for judgment to fall upon Israel, one can then go on to make sense of reading about children that “are always thinking about their altars and their sacred poles dedicated to the goddess Asherah, set up beside green tress on the high hills and on the mountains and in the fields” (Jeremiah 17:2-3a).  Following that, the God of Israel says, “I will give your wealth and all your treasures away as plunder” (17:3b).  So here an explicit connection is made between idolatry and the material wealth of the people.  Before that point is reached here in chapter seventeen however, the reader will have stumbled across some words that should help to properly shape the conception of the true problem of idolatry that was being presented here by the people of Judah. 

In the sixteenth chapter, when the Creator God gives Jeremiah an answer to give to the people that might find themselves questioning the reason for the judgment and disaster that was going to befall them, He says to tell them, “It is because your ancestors rejected Me and paid allegiance to other gods.  They have served them and worshiped them.  But they have rejected Me and not obeyed My law” (16:11).  That sounds pretty bad, but it does not end there.  The covenant God continues His answer with “And you have acted even more wickedly than your ancestors!  Each one of you have followed the stubborn inclinations of your own wicked heart and not obeyed Me” (16:12). 

What is to be found in that statement?  Effectively, it is self-idolatry---the same old sin from the time of the garden---which always seems to get a far harsher reaction and treatment from the Creator God than the simple worshiping of wood and stone.  It is with this conception of self-idolatry that one can then move back to the Creator God’s statements about the human mind and its deceit and incurable “badness.”  Following that statement then, one finds “I, the Lord, probe into people’s minds.  I examine people’s hearts.  I deal with each person according to how he has behaved.  I give them what they deserve based on what they have done” (17:10). 

What does this have to do with idolatry or self-idolatry?  Well, connecting the thoughts concerning idolatry and wealth and treasures found just a few verses before, the reader goes on to learn in the next verse about “The person who gathers wealth by unjust means” (17:11a).  This is what follows talk of the human mind being more deceitful than anything else and incurably bad.  It could be said that the person who gathers wealth by unjust means is guilty of self-idolatry, especially in light of the statement in Deuteronomy that the Lord “is the One Who gives ability to get wealth” (8:18b). 

Surely, it can be said that a Creator God-granted ability to get wealth will see wealth accumulated by just means, and will therefore result in proper worship of the God that gave the ability, and Who therefore gave the wealth.  Wealth gained by unjust means will result in worship of what provided for the accumulation of wealth, which is the marred and falling-short-of-the-divine-image heart and mind that is said to have come about because of the desire on the part of the first humans to be like their God.  Because of this, it can be surmised that not only was idolatry, along with its companion of self-idolatry, the reason for the judgment that came upon the people of the covenant God, but one can also now understand that the gathering of wealth by unjust means, which will generally be connected with idolatry and with the extension of suffering and oppression, was a reason for that God’s judgment as well. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Deceit & Judgment (part 1 of 2)

The human mind is more deceitful than anything else.  It is incurably bad.  Who can understand it?  - Jeremiah 17:9  (NET)

With these words, the God of Israel, presumably speaking through His prophet Jeremiah, sends forth a stinging rebuke against His covenant people.  Before attributing an incurably bad and deceitful mind to His own people that had been culled out from humanity so as to be the shining lights of His glory in and to the world, He accuses them of placing “trust in mere human beings” (17:5b).  The Creator God here says that He will curse His people that do such things, “who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength” (17:5c), because in that, they demonstrate that their “hearts have turned away from the Lord” (17:5d). 

Of course, when the reader of Scripture stumbles across any mentions of curses, that reader’s thoughts should be caused to dwell upon the curses to be found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that are especially pronounced against idolatry, which are set in juxtaposition to the blessings that are to be enjoyed for faithfulness to covenant obligations, the proper worship and recognition of the covenant God, and appropriate bearing of the divine image. 

The statement about the human mind found here in Jeremiah is not necessarily to be taken as a generalization and universal condemnation.  Rather, it is specifically connected to trust in human beings, so it asks to be understood as a reference to idolatry.  Jeremiah is in the midst of communicating judgment and exile to the Creator God’s people, and in doing, lets them know that their idolatry is the key component of that judgment.  The implications of the judgment is that rather than being a light reflecting the glory of their God, and subsequently directing the nations to the worship of the one and only God of Israel, they had instead imitated the nations surrounding them and gone after their idols.  It is because of that then, that “The Lord said, ‘So I will let them know My mighty power in judgment.  Then they will know that My Name is the Lord’.” (16:21) 

Remembering that there is a wider context and a continuous narrative stream in Jeremiah, it is appropriate to back up to the fifteenth chapter so as to learn that the punishment to be rendered by their God for this idolatry will be severe.  The covenant God speaks about His people and says “I will have war kill them.  I will have dogs drag off their dead bodies.  I will have birds and wild beasts devour and destroy their corpses.  I will make all the people in all the kingdoms of the world horrified at what has happened to them” (15:3b-4a).  Naturally, kingdoms being horrified at the woes of Israel stands in stark and glaring contrast to what the God of Israel had intended for His covenant people. 

It is worth inquiring as to when the fate of this people was sealed?  It is suggested that the were going to suffer judgment “because of what Hezekiah’s son Manasseh, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem” (15:4b).  As is to be routinely found in the historical narrative of Israel, the king stands for and represents the people, with the people often subject to cursing because of him and his actions.  Later on in the Scriptural narrative, it will be possible to find another King that stands for and represents the people, and that it is through Him that the people of God become blessed.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Joshua's Battles (part 6 of 6)

As part of that fulfillment of those ancient promises made to Israel, it is said that “None of their enemies could resist them” (Joshua 21:44c).  They are reminded that this was not taking place because of what they had done, but because their God was faithful to His people, to His promises, and to His creation.  Just in case they or an observer needed one more reminder of that, and of the reason that their enemies fell before them, the author takes yet another opportunity to point to the promises, writing that “Not one of the Lord’s faithful promises to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; every one was realized” (21:45).  Not only would this have served as a reminder of all that had been accomplished on their behalf, as they would remember and review the events of the past, but it should also have served as a blessed warning of how things could go in the future. 

Israel had received promises from their God in regards to the covenant.  The Scriptural narrative shows that they had been presented with the ways of both blessing and cursing.  The blessings were as glorious as the curses were severe; and the same powerful, faithful Creator God that had made them secure in the land could become the powerful, faithful God that would bring about the curses that were outlined in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy if the covenant people failed to keep the covenant requirements that were designed to make them a light to the nations in reflection of the glory of their God.  The righteousness (covenant faithfulness) of their God could cut both ways, to their benefit or to their detriment, and this was not to be forgotten.  When times of destruction and exile (cursing) would come to Israel, His people could look back upon these words from Joshua and say “Not one of the Lord’s promises to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; every one was realized.” 

As the events that are recorded in the book of Joshua were said to be occurring, and as the Lord was believed to be causing Israel to be victorious and to prosper, one can imagine Joshua thinking something along the lines of the words that are to be found in the third Psalm.  As the believer lives and walks an unfolding life of faith, empowered to “do battle” with the forces of darkness and evil as an instrument of the Creator’s God’s good in the world, as did Israel in the land, the believer is well able to consider the same words.  Thus, the believers joins with Joshua and says, “I am not afraid of the multitude of people who attack me from all directions” (Psalm 3:6). 

Why?  Because Israel and renewed Israel has a God of promise to whom they call and say, “Rise up, Lord!  Deliver me, my God!” (3:7a).  Deliverance, of course would have been and should be understood as redemption from cursing and the ending of exile.  Of what will that deliverance consist and how would it be brought about?  What did Joshua see?  He trusted and could say, “Yes, You will strike all my enemies on the jaw; You will break the teeth of the wicked” (3:7b).  Israel was delivered from one enemy (Egypt) to another (people of the promised land), and their God continued to deliver, working through them for strikes and breaking.  This is what was said to have been the experience of the Creator God’s covenant people against their enemies. 

The covenant God of Israel effectively did this same thing, in Jesus, for His covenant people for all time.  When the greatest act of covenant faithfulness occurred and Jesus was raised up from the dead, the ancient enemy of the covenant God’s creation was defeated.  Consequently, redemption from exile from that good creation was made possible.  The Apostle Paul wrote that in the Resurrection of Jesus, that death lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55).  Figuratively, death was struck on the jaw.  Death had its teeth broken.  It’s bite and it’s sting were lost, and though death still intrudes upon the creation and a lengthy campaign of battles against the forces of death will be waged, such are waged in the sure confidence that the promise to the Creator God’s people of settlement within a promised land---a renewed creation (the kingdom of God made manifest on earth)---will be realized.  Not one promise will go unfulfilled, because Jesus is Lord.     

Monday, August 12, 2013

Joshua's Battles (part 5)

It is said that when the kings of the people that were occupying the promised land came out to do battle against Joshua and Israel, that their armies “were as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (11:4b).  Quite naturally, the use of this language would have been meant to evoke thoughts of the Creator God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  To each of those individuals, the covenant God promised to give them descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore, so the fact that kings and armies were coming out against Israel, in great numbers and with those numbers reported in this way (imagining that the word would have spread among the people of Israel in this same way), should not have been a cause for panic. 

Rather, it would have been a reminder of the promises of their faithful and powerful God.  Because He is reported to have not failed, up to that point, to bring any of His great promises to pass, there would thus be no reason to be faithless in the face of this multitudinous enemy.  Yes, the words of the Divine catalog, as the whole of the narrative is crafted to hang together, are carefully chosen to remind and reveal and demonstrate the covenant faithfulness of the Creator God. 

In the midst of that reliance upon their God’s faithful power, as it had been demonstrated through plagues, deliverance from Egypt, the splitting of a sea, pillars of cloud and manna from heaven, water from a rock, and more, there was the ongoing realization that the campaign would be long and the battles would be numerous.  Eventually however, there was another realization that the land would eventually be handed over and given to the saints of God, Israel, His covenant people, with His power exercised through His people.  Indeed, as one reaches the end of the book of Joshua, one reads that “the Lord gave Israel all the land He had solemnly promised to their ancestors, and they conquered it and lived in it” (21:43). 

Again, the opportunity is taken to point to the Creator God’s promises and His power to perform according to His promises in order to bring about His own purposes.  Such is the constant refrain of the Scriptures, always pointing to the actions of the God of Israel, which should prompt praise and worship of the gracious, righteous, and redeeming God on the part of the believer, along with a desire to be fitted into His plans by the working of His Spirit within, rather than causing those that call upon His name to turn inward in consideration of what things to avoid so as to be able to live as one ought to live.  The life of the Christian is an outward spirituality---always expressing itself in action that shows that Jesus indeed is Lord and that the land indeed has been conquered.  It is much more than a personal, private matter of faith and conscience.  

Continuing on in Joshua, the reader finds that “The Lord made them secure” (21:44a).  Why is it that He did this?  It is said that He did so “in fulfillment of all He had solemnly promised their ancestors” (21:44b).  Here is yet another signpost that directs the believer to further realize the basis upon which he or she lives and serves, which is the power and faithfulness of the God that is revealed in Scripture and in the person of Jesus, that has and will bring all of His promises to pass, with the Resurrection the evidence of and great seal upon those promises  It is a constant looking away from self, with that gaze directed towards the Creator God for the purpose of fitting within His purposes for the renewal and redemption of His creation.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Joshua's Battles (part 4)

In the end though, because Jesus is reigning and because He has a people in covenant with Him through their confession of Him as Lord of all, in spite of the evil that can be seen, each and every time a true divine image-bearer (Jesus believer) is successfully able to gain a victory over the powers that attempt to compel a joining in the evil---each time a covenant member engages in an act of sacrifice and love that benefits only the recipient---then and there is one able to overcome the self-idolatry that was the primary reason for mankind’s initial rebellion against the responsibility given by the Creator God.

It is in this way that the covenant people, with a nod to ancient Israel in purpose if not methods, consistently attempts to annihilate the obstinate enemy.  They do so, thankfully, in an exercise of mercy, knowing that before Jesus accepted them into His kingdom by an act of mercy, they stood in the same position as these kings and enemies of Israel, in need of that mercy but deserving of none.  In such engagements, as believers are able to overcome, they begin to rightly bear that long-lost divine image, and in doing so, are able to embody and manifest Jesus’ ultimate victory over evil. 

With each act of mercy and self-sacrificial love, believers point to the fact that Jesus does indeed reign, and that through the mysterious activity of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) in both word and deed, the power of transformation and renewal and restoration and reconciliation is at work in this world.  Not only is it proven to be at work, but all of these things are reminders that it has been at work ever since the tomb was split open and Resurrection power flooded into this world. 

The Creator God enables His people to harness that flood of power and to carry it into the world through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus---again, in word and in deed.  The doing takes an equal place alongside the teaching (as indicated by the opening of the book of Acts), for why would there be any need to teach if it was not for the purpose of doing that which embodies and furthers the reach of the kingdom of heaven on earth (rather than teaching strictly for the purpose of training people to refrain from doing that which is labeled as “sin”). 

In all of the doing and teaching, as the Resurrection is proclaimed and embraced and brought to bear in the world, there is no denial that evil is pervasive.  Indeed, Israel could not deny that they had to go to battle to gain victories over that which their God pointed to as the embodiment of evil in the land of His promise, so even though it is in a world that has been and is being re-shaped by the message and power of the crucifixion and the Resurrection, why should it be any different for renewed Israel? 

One is also able to read that “Joshua conquered the whole land, just as the Lord had promised” (11:23a).  So too did Jesus, with his conquering also occurring according to what He (and those that believe in Him) believed to be His God’s promise to Him.  The words that follow in Joshua point to the final outcome of Jesus’ conquering, in that the tribes of Israel were assigned the portions of the land for which they were responsible, which they were to rule and steward along with Joshua, with it being said that “the land was free of war” (11:23c).  It seems that Israel was charged with a responsibility to react and respond to evil, in full knowledge of their God’s promise of a victory already won. 

Because the Creator God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and because He does not change, in this day, the renewed Israel that is the covenant people via believing union with the Christ must do the same as their forbears in covenant, reacting and responding to evil in full knowledge of their God’s promise of a victory already won.  In both instances, the fact that there was a foregone conclusion in place did not remove the responsibility to work according to the Creator God’s plan that His covenant-bearers be His lights in the world, reflect His glory to and upon His creation, doing so according to His intentions, plans, and purposes.  That, it could be said, is the essence of the life of faith. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Joshua's Battles (part 3)

The questions here posed are legitimate.  The same questions existed shortly after Jesus’ day, as His apostles were carrying the message of His paradoxical all-conquering victory via death and Resurrection into the world.  To wit, in the second letter of Peter, one is able to read questioning words like “Where is His promised return?  For ever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). 

In the face of the message that Jesus had conquered death, hearers in that day were no less able than “astute observers” today (who always think that they are the first to notice that there is evil all around them), to take in their surroundings and see violence, death, and inexplicable destruction, and say “Nothing much has changed.  Things pretty much look the same way that they have always looked.”  It’s a legitimate observation, so how is the question to be answered? 

Naturally, this is a difficult issue that has plagued all that have ever posited a God of love and a victorious Messiah.  As they fought to take possession of that which they believed had been promised to them, Israel would have been tempted to pose the same type of statement and its implied question to their God.  They could easily cast a collective gaze upwards and say, “Lord, You promised this land to our ancestors and to us.  You brought us out of Egypt.  You directed us to cross the Jordan and to re-claim that which you said is ours.  Why don’t these people know this?  You brought plagues on Egypt, parted the Red Sea, destroyed the Egyptian army, and gave us food and water in the wilderness, so why not just drive these people from the land with the obvious mighty power of your outstretched arm?  Would that not be easier?  Would that not be a greater demonstration of your power than us having to carry out these campaigns?” 

One could even imagine the covenant people attempting to employ some reverse psychology on the Creator God by saying, “Seriously, Lord, if you just drive them out, then you will get all the glory.  If we have to do battle against these people and these rulers, then we might get some of the glory too.  We don’t want that.  You don’t really want that, do you?” 

How might the God of Israel be disposed to respond to such thinking?  After all (and putting aside the potential ploy at reverse psychology), based on the reported experience of Israel in their journey out of and from Egypt, these are legitimate points.  Returning then to the eleventh chapter of Joshua so as to pick up where this study left off, and in response to the concerns of the covenant people of the Creator God, it is said that “the Lord determined to make them obstinate so they would attack Israel.  He wanted Israel to annihilate them without mercy, as He had instructed Moses” (11:20). 

Without getting sidetracked by the thought that this, in isolation, paints the picture of something less than a loving God, one finds that though the land had been given to Israel, and though the people of the land had been handed over to Israel, the Creator God wanted His people to annihilate them (though some could certainly see such reports as after-the-fact justification).  Regardless, the narrative suggests that Israel’s God did in fact desire that His people have a hand in the battle. 

Indeed, Scripture seems to suggest that the Creator God wanted to work through His people and empower His people to come alongside Him and work with Him to deal with and overcome that which despoiled, defaced, and decimated their land of promise---that first part of the creation that was to be redeemed through the care and stewardship of His covenant people.  In the end then, Israel should have been compelled to point to their God, and the power of their promise-making God, as the means by which they emerged victorious. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Joshua's Battle (part 2)

That corruption of human nature creates an internal conflict against being fully human (as the Creator God intended for the divine image-bearers), and thus causing a falling short of the glory of God.  Of course, that conflict is inward but expresses itself outward, and shows itself through human interaction with this world and with other divine image-bearers. 

It would appear that Scripture is insistent that victory in this conflict, in which the original intention for the human being wins out, is somehow made through the operation of the Spirit of God through the very power of the Gospel, as like that which was experienced by Joshua and Israel as they attempted to subdue the promised land, none of the corrupted parts of human nature want to make peace via submission to Jesus and His claim to Lordship. 

As it stands, just as Adam and Eve are reported to have been successfully tempted with the idea that they could be like “divine beings,” human, and understandably because they are made as the image of their Creator, seem to have a desire to rule and worship themselves.  However, all must be conquered.  The analogy that is here being drawn thus raises a question, especially in light of the Gospel declaration that Jesus is Lord. 

On the surface, it is then easy to understand the need for Israel to enter the land and conquer.  Or is it?  Israel had promises.  Joshua had promises.  After the death of Moses, the God of Israel is said to have spoken to Joshua and said, “No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.  I will not abandon you or leave you alone” (1:5).  Joshua was promised that none would be able to resist, but as can be seen, that didn’t stop many from attempting. 

The Creator God continued His words to Joshua, saying “Be strong and brave!  You must lead these people in the conquest of the land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them” (1:6).  So  here Israel has the promise that their God would “hand over” the land to them, but as one traverses the book of Joshua, and if the obvious supernatural intervention is stripped from the tale, the story that is left does not seem like much of a handover. 

Quite to the contrary, the handover of the promised land is presented as a near-constant battle.  As has already been noted, nobody was making peace with Israel (except one by stealth means, and it was a very tentative “peace”), and the covenant people were required to carry out a lengthy campaign in the land.  This stand against Israel was the case even in the face of what seemed to be well-known (at least as far as is communicated within the narrative itself), as Rahab, the famous harlot from Jericho, who must have had “contact” with a diverse group of people from the whole of what was the promised land, is shown to speak with a knowledge of the covenant God of Israel as she says “I know the Lord is handing this land over to you.  We are absolutely terrified of you, and all who live in the land are cringing before you” (2:9). 

So in looking at this situation with Israel, with their promises and with the supposed existence of the terror of Israel of which Rahab speaks, one is then forced to consider a thought: “If Jesus’ kingdom has been established, and He is reigning at this very moment, then why does it continue to be necessary to fight?  Why must there be a battle?  Why does death continue?”