Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Psalm Of The King (part 3)

So as Jesus explores these Psalms for the strengthening of His resolve and trust in His God, and as He continually considers what it is possible that He has been called to do and to be for Israel, it is likely that He came to see Himself as being the one that the Creator God will use, and do so in a very specific way, to bring about the blessings that are promised to His God’s covenant people.  Also, as the nature of the covenant, along with the requirements that were put in place to be a part of God’s covenant people (circumcision, reverencing the sanctuary, keeping the Sabbath, and avoiding idolatry) are considered, it must be remembered that Jesus, with His steps informed by His reading of the Scriptures of His people, takes the remarkable step of re-focusing the covenant requirements upon Himself.

Jesus declares, in no uncertain terms (again, with this informed by His reading of Scripture), that it is belief upon and allegiance to Him as the Creator God’s Messiah that will be the basis for being included under that God’s covenant, and therefore the basis for being able to experience the blessings (as spelled out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy) to be had therein. 

Because the Psalmist connects God’s blessings with kingship (a golden crown for the head), Jesus, as part of declaring Himself to be Israel’s Messiah, is able to make the connection between His own Kingship, and the blessings available for the people of the covenant.  Jesus would come to believe that through His actions, along with the response of Israel’s faithful covenant God, that He would be able to bring about the blessings that appear in Deuteronomy.  He would be able to do this because, as He believes Himself as Messiah to be the faithful Israelite as well as the King of Israel, He is the representative of the people as He fulfills the conditions of the covenant that the Creator God made with Israel at Mount Sinai following the Exodus. 

Because Israel’s messiah is more-than-clearly presented in the Scriptures as a king for all peoples, Jesus’ re-positioning of the covenant requirements around Himself and belief in His Gospel (Jesus is Lord), allows Him, because of His belief in the supreme faithfulness of God that He relies upon and ultimately experiences in His Resurrection, to extend God’s covenant blessings to all peoples.  By this, the Abrahamic covenant comes to be fulfilled as well---all peoples of the world are blessed.  At the same time, the connection to the Levitical and Deuteronomic blessings points to the ultimate exodus of the people of the renewed covenant, as the Creator God redeems a people for Himself, through their believing union with Jesus, from the exile into which they had been sent, according to the Scriptural narrative, upon Adam’s rebellion and the fall of man.    

Maintaining the theme of kingship, the Psalmist also writes, “He asked You to sustain his life, and You have granted him long life and an enduring dynasty” (21:4).  The fact that one of the titles of the messiah was “Son of David” demonstrates the continuity of God’s promises.  Jesus, of course, is referred to on more than one occasion as the “Son of David,” thereby reinforcing that “enduring dynasty” that was rooted in a reliance on God’s faithfulness. 

The Apostle Paul makes this connection even more explicit, reminding his readers in Rome (and therefore under the nose of the one who sat in the seat of power as the son of god) that Jesus was “a descendant of David with reference to the flesh” (Romans 1:3b).  As the earliest Jesus-believers came to grips with the breadth of the implications of Jesus life, death, and Resurrection, and as their thinking quickly lined-up with what was clearly that of the one they followed and soon came to worship as the embodiment of the Creator God of Israel, the whole of the New Testament would come to resound with declarations of Jesus’ majesty and the eternal nature of His rule. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Psalm Of The King (part 2)

It came to be understood that, in the Resurrection, the Creator God’s kingdom on earth was inaugurated.  Accordingly, as Jesus is said to have prayed, His will would begin to be done on earth as it is in heaven, specifically by and through those who would be equipped by their God for service to His glory.  Though all those so equipped would continue to meet with the corruption that comes with living in this world that still awaits the return of the Christ and the final consummation of the kingdom of heaven, and though they would still go to their deaths, they would be able to live that life while gripping on to the implied promise that just as Jesus was raised up from the grave with a new body and a new life here in the midst of the covenant God’s creation, having been raised with Resurrection power that serves to push back the forces of evil here in this world, so too would they, one day, be raised up from the grave, with a new body and a new life, here in the God of Israel’s fully restored and renewed creation.   

Jesus, above all things, is presented as one who sought to do the will of the Father as He understood it.  He sought to be the One through Whom the Creator God would fulfill the covenant with Abraham, and in so doing bless the world.  He is presented as one who sought to be the second Adam---to be the first truly human being, and therefore rightly bearing the image of His Creator---that would set all things right, regaining the dominion over the created order that had been given to Adam.  This would include reversing the curse, through His own faithfulness together with the faithfulness of the covenant God, that had been brought into creation by what was understood to be Adam’s faithlessness. 

He is presented as the who sought to be the light for the world that had been His God’s intention for His chosen people Israel, of which He was, of course, a part.  With such intentions, according to the way that He is said to have presented Himself to the world and the way that He is presented in the stories about Him, Jesus could certainly have been emboldened by the Psalmist’s declaration in regards to Israel’s king that “You grant him his heart’s desire; You do not refuse his request” (21:2).   

Continuing through these verses of the twenty-first Psalm, one finds the third verse saying: “For You bring him rich blessings; You place a golden crown on his head” (Psalm 21:3).  Whenever this mention of “blessings” is found, it is imperative to keep the word in a context that would have been comprehensible and applicable to those that would have been reading these writings, namely Israel in general and members of the covenant people more specifically.  Rather than just thinking of “blessings” in vague generalities of the Creator God’s goodness and generosity towards His people, one is obliged to more appropriately think of blessings in terms of the Abrahamic covenant, in which the covenant God promised to cause Abraham to exemplify divine blessing, to bless those who blessed Abraham, and to bless all the peoples of the world through Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12:2-3). 

Now, because the use of “blessings” in the Abrahamic covenant could be considered to be vague, to find a more specific statement of the “blessings” of the Hebrew/Jewish mindset of the author of the Psalm, one would need to take into consideration the potential blessings of their God that are directed to Israel in the first fourteen verses of the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy (this passage expounds on what is found in Leviticus 26).  The blessings include Israel’s elevation above all the nations of the earth (28:1), their blessings in the city and the field (28:3), blessings for children (28:4), blessings on the produce of the soil, livestock, herds, and flocks (28:4), blessings on basket and mixing bowl (28:5), the blessing of enemies being struck down (28:7), blessings of the respect of the people of the earth (28:10), blessings of rain (28:12), and blessings of being able to lend to all while being free from debt (28:12). 

This consideration demands to be made, and readers must connect the use of “blessings” in the Psalms with the specific ideas that were held concerning the Creator God’s blessings, with this owing to what needs to be understood and always recognized as the continuous, narrative structure of the Scriptures.  Failing to do so reduces the ability to understand the message of what is taken to be God’s Word and the role of Jesus.  

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Psalm Of The King (part 1)

O Lord, the king rejoices in the strength You give; he takes great delight in the deliverance You provide. – Psalm 21:1  (NET)

The first seven verses of the twenty-first Psalm is an amazing passage of Scripture that can serve to point directly to Jesus, the Lord of all  While it is the twenty-second Psalm generally gets far more attention for its part in directing readers to the cross of Christ, from its opening cry of “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (22:1a), through the remainder of the Psalm that seems to point quite explicitly to the ordeal of the cross to which Jesus would be subjected, the twenty-first Psalm deserves similar consideration. 

If Jesus could look upon the twenty-second Psalm, seeing Himself and His messianic vocation in that Psalm in order to gain insight into what it was that potentially awaited Him at the end of His human journey and His revolutionary movement, then surely He could have looked at the twenty-first Psalm as that which could have served to strengthen Him for the purpose of taking on that mission.

Because the record of the Gospel narratives has Jesus referring to Himself as the Son of God and the Son of Man, which were both messianic titles that spoke, in general, of Israel, and more specifically, of Israel’s king, it can be surmised that Jesus understood Himself to be the long-awaited Messiah for Israel.  Naturally, it would be after the event of Resurrection that His disciples also came to understand that Jesus was the Messiah, making sense of His previously questionable statements about Himself, while also reversing the natural conclusions that would have been drawn following His crucifixion, which was that He had failed in His purpose and cause.  

Because of the messianic (kingly) sensibility, Psalms which spoke of the king of Israel could naturally and understandably be a great source of direction, comfort, strength, and encouragement for Jesus.  As He looked forward to what it was that He would be and do for Israel, Jesus could quite easily insert Himself into this Psalm, trusting implicitly in the covenant God of Israel and say, “O Lord, the king rejoices in the strength You give” (21:1a).  To willingly endure the Roman cross, which was the direction that Jesus would have known that His life and work were taking Him, would take a great deal of strength. 

With a confident assurance in the faithfulness of the Creator God, as informed by Israel’s history as recorded in Scripture, Jesus could stand in confident assurance in the deliverance that His God would provide (21:1b).  What would be the appearance to be taken by that deliverance?  The deliverance in which Jesus would be able to take great delight was the assurance of the deliverance from death.  Jesus trusted that, as He took Israel’s curse upon Himself, as Israel’s King and representative, and entered into death (exile from life), that the covenant God of Israel, the One who promised and demonstrated faithfulness to His people whether good or evil (depending on their response to Him), would be faithful to deliver Him, to redeem Him from that exile by granting Him a renewed life on the other side of the grave and of the ghastly and highly demonstrative and definitive means that took Him there. 

Of course, because the Creator God’s Messiah was not only Israel’s King, but a King for all nations and all peoples, when Jesus, as the Messiah, entered into death on behalf of Israel, it could also be said that He entered into death (curse, exile) on behalf of all mankind.  If that is true, then when He was delivered from death and its curse, so too was all mankind delivered as well, with the proof and seal of that deliverance predicated on the response which causes an individual to believe in Him as Lord of all.  From then on, all that would come to be in union with Christ (believing Him to be the crucified and Resurrected Lord of all), would have gained the ultimate victory over death and its corruption. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

My Enemies (part 6 of 6)

As a reward for their belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the world’s true King, Master, Savior, Leader, Ruler and more (as opposed to the Caesar, who was then afforded and honored with those titles by those that worshiped him), large numbers of people, because they were claiming allegiance to that different and greater king than Caesar, were put to death.  In spite of that, people continued to believe. 

Though such a situation is bewildering to contemplate, one should not find this to be all that surprising.  The Psalmist speaks to this, having already written, “When they hear of My exploits, they submit to Me.  Foreigners are powerless before Me; foreigners lose their courage; they shake with fear as they leave their strongholds” (18:44-45).  The world’s powers did not know what to do with the message of Jesus.  They dealt with the challenge in the only way they knew how, which was to meet it with the cowardice and ultimate powerlessness of the sword.  As Paul would write in Colossians, though they could certainly wield the sword, the power of their ancient stronghold had been shaken.  Those powers had been disarmed (2:15), and they had no true and lasting power against those who believed in this Man Who had been resurrected, or in the message of His name.

Looking to the Psalms for strength and guidance, and considering the mortal enemies against whom He was going to do battle, and trusting that His God was going to be completely faithful to see Him through, Jesus could take up the Psalmist’s words of praise, saying, “The Lord is alive!  My Protector is praiseworthy!” (18:46a)  Knowing that He would, even indeed He was correct in His estimations and successful in His mission, eventually hand all rule and all authority on earth back over to the Father, Jesus could say, “The God Who delivers Me is exalted as King!” (18:46b) 

Facing the knowledge of His eventual demise at the hands of Israel’s oppressors, but also the hopes of His subsequent and expected Resurrection (according to then-current Jewish expectation) Jesus would faithfully proclaim, “The one true God completely vindicates Me; He makes nations submit to Me” (18:47).  “Yes,” says Jesus, to the God of Israel, in regards to death at the hands of Rome and of mankind’s curse that began with Adam, “He delivers Me from My enemies; You snatch Me away from those who attack Me; You rescue Me from violent men” (18:48). 

Because of these things---because of the Gospel’s proclamation that Jesus is indeed King over all nations, because many have been and are made to believe this by the power of the Holy Spirit, and because the Creator God works through those that have cast their allegiance with Jesus as His instruments to establish His good in this world as they await the return of our Lord and the final consummation of that glorious kingdom of which they are a part at this very moment, that group of covenant loyalists join with Jesus and declare, “So I will give You thanks before the nations, O Lord!  I will sing praises to You!  He gives His chosen King magnificent victories; He is faithful to His chosen ruler, to David and His descendants forever” (18:49-50). 

Jesus is Lord because the Creator God is faithful.  Because Jesus is Lord, death has no power.  Because He rose, all of those that rise up with Him in order to bow down in humble service to the world, stand in defiance of death and dismiss the fear it brings, for it is a conquered enemy and a defeated foe. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

My Enemies (part 5 of 6)

Jesus’ leadership and authority is a dramatic component of the Gospel message (Jesus is Lord of all), and as insisted in the writings of the Apostle Paul, the Gospel message contains power in itself (Romans 1:16).  Amazingly enough, when Jesus’ disciples went forth and preached the Gospel message---first to Jerusalem, and then to Judea, and Samaria, and ultimately to the farthest parts of the earth (Acts 1:8), in accordance with Jesus’ command to do so (Matthew 28:18)---it was believed.  This, in itself, is quite amazing.  Though there were many myths of dying and rising gods, a story like this was an oddity.  Who would tell the story of their king being crucified?  Frankly, no one would tell a story like this, especially if they hoped to be taken seriously. 

On the surface, the story of Jesus, which is most assuredly not to be told without the stories of crucifixion and Resurrection, while highlighting His rejection by the vast majority of His countrymen, lacks any semblance of power.  Yes there are stories of miraculous occurrences and the occasional large crowd, but such stories could be told of a number of charismatic leaders.  In fact, Israel had such characters and stories in its own historical narrative.  The primary elements of the story of Jesus that was to be noised abroad (Paul would talk of preaching nothing but Christ crucified and glorified) are defeat and a highly improbable (impossible) event.  This would be an altogether unfortunate means of gaining followers and growing a movement.      

It must be understood that there was an excellent understanding of death by crucifixion in that day.  Not only was it understood that people did not survive a Roman crucifixion, but it was understood that the one that was crucified was crucified for rebellion against Rome. Crucifixion was the ultimate act of shaming, the significance of which cannot be discounted in a culture that lived and breathed the codes of honor and shame.  Yet in telling the story of Jesus’ Lordship and power, the act of shaming was front and center. 

Along with that, a generally held sentiment was that Israel’s messiah was to somehow throw off the Roman yoke, perhaps by military prowess and victory.  In Israel and throughout the empire, death by means of crucifixion flatly implied that Rome had won yet another victory.  Not only was it a symbolic victory over a lone individual that was foolish enough to make himself an enemy of the Caesar, it was a highly effective method of suppressing any continued actions by the supporters of the one crucified.  The shame attached to crucifixion would spread beyond the cross to the associates of the one that had suffered the fate.  In an honor and shame culture, this made crucifixion an even more effective deterrent. 

At the same time, it was also quite well understood that people did not come back to life in bodily form.  Nevertheless, that is what the disciples preached.  There were familiar ways of speaking about phantoms and gods (or god-like men) that had risen from the underworld, but such language was never adopted by the disciples and followers of Jesus.  They not only preached a physically resurrected and living Jesus, but against all common sense for those that wanted to project power and the kingdom of the Creator God now established on earth, they preached an ignominious and shameful crucifixion that had precipitated the death from which He was physically resurrected.  They preached that this crucified (cursed) and resurrected Jew was Israel’s Messiah and also the Lord and Ruler of all people and all things.  With full understanding of what was implied by all that had occurred, they eventually came to preach that this Jesus was, in fact, the actual embodiment of Israel’s Creator God.  They preached all these things, and because this Gospel (Jesus is Lord) somehow contained the power of the Creator God and conveyed it when spoken, people actually believed it in vast numbers.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Enemies (part 4)

Not only was Jesus the Son of God, Son of Man, Son of David, and King of Israel (all of these being understood firstly as royal titles, and only secondly as having divine implications), He is also presented as the One in whom Israel’s God Himself had entered into history in order to vindicate His people, inaugurate His kingdom on earth, and begin to set to rights His world that had been marred by sin (the failures of divine image-bearers, be it Adam or Israel, to keep covenant with the Creator God) and death’s corruption, doing so by the power of the Resurrection, which was the power of the age to come now breaking in upon creation (the kingdom of heaven coming to earth).  This breaking in of the Creator God’s power and plans for His creation had been foreshadowed by Jesus’ life and His miracles, but was now going to be made manifest because of His death and what it implied and accomplished, along with the miracle of His Resurrection.   

Having been rescued from hostile armies on both sides of the cross and raised up with all power as a clear demonstration that He was indeed the Messiah for whom His people had been waiting, the remainder of the eighteenth Psalm becomes even more striking and dynamic for both Jesus and later observers.  Jesus, while exploring the possible paths upon which His vocation could take Him, could continue to read Himself into this Psalm, speaking to the one He would have called Father (like all members of the covenant people) and saying, “You make Me a leader of nations; people over whom I had no authority are now My subjects” (18:43b).  Throughout the New Testament, this exaltation of Jesus as a leader of nations is a regular theme, as has already been seen in the previous reference to Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. 

Naturally, the theme of Israel’s messiah as a ruler is only a recurring theme in the New Testament because it is so prevalent in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The repeated insistence of the prophets and the Psalmist is that the messiah will be a ruler not just for Israel, but for all peoples.  Though this was routinely misapplied both before and after Jesus’ day to mean that national Israel, through the rule of its messiah, would also rule all nations.  This would lead to an unfortunate exclusiveness by Israel, as the covenant God’s people isolated themselves and set up prohibitive boundaries around their God’s covenant and its associated blessings. 

This, as can be readily gathered from Scripture, was never their God’s intention.  From the outset, and especially as recorded in the Creator God’s dealings with Abraham, all peoples were always in view.  This is made explicit in and through Jesus and the Christ-event, the instruction that were reported to have been given to His disciples in regards to all the world, and the ready application of its meaning (both the instructions and the Christ-event) as recorded in the New Testament. 

Yes, Jesus Himself makes it quite clear that He was a King for all peoples, and the Apostle Paul seizes on the implications of Jesus’ life and actions, along with the “all nations” presentation from the Hebrew Scriptures, to show forth that the Creator God’s kingdom on earth (the kingdom of heaven---heaven as the realm of the Creator God and earth as the realm of those made in His image over-lapping) was inclusive of all peoples, in accordance with the covenant that God had made with Abraham.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My Enemies (part 3)

In Jesus’ day, the Roman cross was the symbol of Rome’s power of death over the lives of its subjects.  It was an instrument of terror and domination.  Because Israel was still in subjection to a foreign power, they still correctly considered and understood themselves to be in exile and under their God’s cursing.  Thus, the cross, and it’s use against members of the Jewish populace, was an incredibly stark reminder of the curse of covenant failure. 

In the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, for violations of His covenant with them, the Creator God promised to His people to “raise up a distant nation against you, one from the other side of the earth as the eagle flies” (28:49a).  Now, numerous nations had carried the eagle as a symbol, and the eagle was also the symbol of Rome’s Senate, its people, and of imperial Rome.  It is said that approximately twenty years prior to Jesus’ birth, King Herod the Great placed an eagle, in deference to Rome, over an entrance to the Temple.  For multiplied reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it reminded the people of Rome’s domination (and therefore their God’s cursing) as well as passages such as that of Deuteronomy above, this mightily offended large numbers of the people of Israel. 

So through an understanding of the power of Rome and the cursing that was part of Israel’s narrative that was symbolized by the cross, along with the eagle in conjunction with Rome’s military might, as well as the Psalmist’s insistence in regards to rescue from a hostile army, one can make a realistic analysis and re-construction of Jesus’ mindset as He considered His role in regards to the establishment of the kingdom of heaven, on behalf of His people and the world. 

While Jesus did not rise up to conquer Rome (as many in His day expected of Israel’s messiah), by being raised up from the dead after having been put to death on the Roman cross, He was rescued from that which represented the oppressive subjection of the world’s power, which was the cross.  Not only that, it must also be said that Jesus went directly into that which His own people saw as a representation of being accursed by God, which was being hung on a tree (a cross), that He traversed death in the grave, and that he came out the other side, completely vindicated by the covenant God’s power and faithfulness.

With that vindicating Resurrection from the grave clearly in mind, the Apostle Paul, also operating under the influence of messianic ideas and the inspiration of the Psalms and the prophets according to the historical narrative of the covenant people, writes that Jesus “was appointed Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit” (Romans 1:4a).  This title, of course, was one held by the Caesar.  Paul indicates that this man, Jesus, that had been subject to a violent and gruesome form of death in which the world’s power clearly overcame Him in a way that was visible to all people, contrary to any reasonable or rational way of thinking, had come out the other side of death and was now in the position of true power. 

His Resurrection from the form of death that represented the power of death over life, showed the world that it was Jesus, and not the Caesar, that now had the power of life over death.  This point is even more significant when one remembers that it is made in a letter to the believers that lived under the nose of the one looked to as the son-of-god-in-power.  Among a number of other things, this improbably Resurrection vindicated His claims as Israel’s Messiah.  It is with this in mind that Paul now insists that all that was said to be true of that messiah throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, must now be said to be true of Jesus. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Enemies (part 2)

The Apostle Paul would latch on to this theme of kneeling, echoed elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, and include in his letter to the believers in Philippi “that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow---in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (2:10).  Not only could Jesus come to believe that, if He was correct in His assessment of the messianic vocation, His enemy would kneel and bow before Him, but Jesus could also look to this Psalm and go to the cross with the confident declaration that “You make My enemies retreat” (18:40a).  With the power of the faithful, covenant-making-and-keeping God at His back, Jesus could make the assertion that “I destroy those who hate Me” (18:40b).  Surely, the powers of death and destruction could be understood to hate the bringers of life, renewal, restoration, and re-creation. 

His enemies would not go down without a battle, nor without an assertion of their rights.  In fact, those enemies would cry out.  The Psalmist would write, “they cry out, but there is no one to help them” (18:41a).  More than that, His enemies, death and the grave, would even “cry out to the Lord, but He does not answer them” (18:41b).  Wait a minute.  How could death cry out to the Lord?  Why would death cry out to the sovereign Lord of the cosmos? 

In crying out to the Lord, if in its own death throes as the power of resurrection life was about to be unleashed into the world, death would be doing nothing more than asserting its rightful claim against all of mankind.  According to the narrative by which Jesus would have ordered and defined His own life, and by which His thinking would be shaped, that rightful claim began with Adam.  More specifically, death would be asserting its rightful claim against Israel (of which Jesus was part), which had been in constant violation of their God’s commandments to them, as evidenced by their ongoing experience of His promised curses and their continual state of exile, being oppressed and subjugated while in their own land 

Among a number of reasons, it was this failure of Israel that would make it necessary, because the covenant God is faithful to His promises, for their King to undergo that which was seen as the greatest curse, the cross, going there as the representative of His people, to undergo the curses of suffering and death.  Though death was certainly a usurper and an interloper in the God of Israel’s good creation, it was not an unlawful usurpation, as death had only entered because of mankind’s failure, and remained through the divine image-bearer’s (whether Adam or Israel) relinquishing of his God-given dominion over all things.  Though death and its associates cry out, the Creator God’s answer would come through His anointed King’s power to “grind them as fine windblown dust” (18:42a), and His strength to “beat them underfoot like clay in the streets” (18:42b).  This would be accomplished by a Resurrection, as God would brook no bargains with death in the process of setting His world to rights (and right standing with Him) through His Christ.  

As one ponders what has been accomplished by the death and Resurrection of Jesus, and as one continues to imagine the strength and confidence for His mission that Jesus would have gained through His study and exploration of the Scriptures, one is able to go on to read “You rescue Me from a hostile army” (Psalm 18:43a).  For Jesus, this involves a two-fold application.  Though in the natural He was not rescued from a hostile army---that being the Roman army---by being raised up from His grave (which actually does indicate something of a rescue from Rome’s military might), He was rescued from death and its vengeful hordes.  By going into the curse of death on a cross as the singular representative of His people Israel, it can be seen that Jesus took yet another aspect of the Deuteronomic curse upon Himself. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

My Enemies (part 1)

I chase My enemies and catch them; I do not turn back until I wipe them out. – Psalm 18:37  (NET)

When a Jesus-believer finds him or herself venturing into the Psalms, such should be done with an ever-present reflection on the primary reason why one ever ventures into the Word of God---our resurrected Lord Jesus.  Upon arriving in the Psalms, and more specifically the eighteenth Psalm, and doing so mindful of the historical narrative of Israel and its covenant and associated promises, one is confronted with words and thoughts that could very well be ascribed to Jesus, and certainly reflected upon and embraced by Him, as He tread the earthly path of ministry that was going to take Him to His cross. 

In the midst of first century expectations concerning Israel’s messiah, and of the kingdom of God on earth that would be established by the messiah’s victory over the enemies of the God of Israel’s people, it is not difficult to imagine Jesus, as a would-be messiah attempting to work out the nature of His vocation, searching the Scriptures as He contemplated what He had come to believe was His role and His task and His method of ushering in that long-expected kingdom. 

Clearly, His searching and reflection would have Him going about that ushering in of the kingdom and all it would portend, in a way that stood contrary to what many of His fellow countrymen were imagining and in some cases pursuing.  The Jesus that is presented on the pages of the Gospels is a Jesus that obviously came to realize that the Creator God’s kingdom would not be established in the way that every other kingdom (including Israel’s kingdom) had been established in this world---that of the violence of sword and spear.  Such was the method of the old age, and Jesus indicates that such means had no place in the new age of Resurrection and new creation. 

At the same time, Jesus knew that there was going to be violence, but that the violence, if it was going to align with what He understood to be the purposes of the Creator God for renewal and restoration, would be that which He would suffer and endure at the hands of the Romans.  Yes, Jesus knew that there was going to be a massive conflict, and that there was an enemy to be defeated, but also realized that the enemy with which He was going to engage in battle, was far more ferocious and powerful than the ones that His countrymen sought to overthrow.  Earthly foes and oppressors such as Rome were merely a shadow---meager representatives and parodies of the true enemy of creation and the divine image-bearers 

Ultimately, Jesus would realize that He was going to do mortal battle with death---that enemy which ruled unchecked and with apparent absolute sovereignty through its power over all men and all things at all times and all places.  Jesus, relying on His understanding of Scripture and the faithfulness of the God of Israel, trusted that His God was going to empower and enable Him to emerge victorious over this enemy, through a Resurrection, thereby stripping death of its power.  In its place, the Creator God, through Jesus, would make an offer of life to all men and all things, in submission to His Messiah. 

It is with such things in mind that Jesus could certainly return, time and again, to this Psalm (as He hears it as an Israelite and therefore according to Israel’s defining narrative as the covenant people of the Creator God), inserting Himself with a growing and eventual full understanding of His vocation, reflecting on the Roman cross to which that vocation was surely leading Him, and read “I chase My enemies and catch them; I do not turn back until I wipe them out.”  To that could be added, “I beat them to death; they fall at My feet” (18:38).  Recognizing the source of such power, Jesus could read, “You give Me strength for battle; You make My foes kneel before Me” (18:39). 

Everyone Who Calls (part 4 of 4)

Verse ten of the tenth chapter of Romans chapter reads, “For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation” (10:10).  Oftentimes, these two concepts are allowed to coalesce.  However, it is necessary to make a delineation and see that belief in or on Jesus is somehow a work of the Spirit, owing to the power of the Gospel proclamation, in which the believer is made to experience the Creator God’s covenant faithfulness (righteousness), which is represented by the resulting fact of belief (in an altogether incredible proposition) and its power to include the believer as part of that God’s covenant people. 

This righteousness is most certainly not a moral quality that is given to the believer.  Though one could and should become a more moral person as a result of the righteousness (covenant inclusion, right standing).  The proclamation of submission to the claims of the Gospel---the open confession of Jesus as Lord (a highly-charged and risky proposition in the day in which Caesar himself is declared to be Lord, with claims contrary to this being punishable by death), and a life live in line with the proclamation, is what breaks the curse of Adam (death) and ends the exile from pure fellowship with one’s Creator.  That is salvation, and it is distinct from righteousness.    

So how does one know that the Apostle Paul is addressing the divisions and claims of Jew and Gentile as he writes of belief, righteousness, and salvation?  Paul appears to go on to make this quite clear in verse twelve, writing that “there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek” (10:12a).  It would be difficult to be more clear than that.  He goes on to write, “for the same Lord is Lord of all, Who richly blesses all who call on Him” (10:12b). 

One cannot lightly dismiss or skim over Paul’s repeated use of “all” throughout the letters that are attributed to him, as it is highly significant for his worldview and opinion concerning the reach and purpose of the Gospel.  Additionally, with his use of “richly blesses,” Paul seems to be making what should be considered to be an unmistakable allusion to the Abrahamic covenant (which would also pass through Isaac and Jacob, on to Israel).  

Before bringing this study to an end, it is worthwhile to pay a quick visit to the words of that covenant, as one turns to Genesis to read, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name” (12:2-3).  The rich blessing of the covenant God is a key component to the worldview of the covenant people.   

Yes, by calling on the name of the Lord---by believing in Jesus as Lord and confessing Him as such, the blessings of Abraham would fall to all, both Jew and Gentiles, with no distinction.  Paul is desperate to make it clear that without boundary or work of the law or division or claim to superiority or inferiority, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13).         

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Everyone Who Calls (part 3 of 4)

In that day (the time of Jesus and Paul), these marks of the covenant people would be generally referred to as the “works of the law.”  Their purpose was to mark them off from the Gentile nations that stood against Israel, and therefore, according to the way of thinking maintained by the larger part of the people of Israel, did not deserve their God’s blessings.  Paul insists that with this way of thinking, Israel did was not submitting to the Creator God’s plan of covenant faithfulness, which was that all peoples would be blessed through His chosen people, beginning with Abraham, with whom the covenant had originally been struck. 

Rounding out this line of thinking, Paul then writes, “For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes” (10:4).  What the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ would accomplish would be the tearing down of those boundaries of the “works of the law” (circumcision, food laws, Sabbath-keeping).  Having torn those things down, He would set up in their place, a new standard for entering in to the blessings of the Creator God’s covenant faithfulness.  That way of entering into the covenant, and so being able to share the blessings (as outlined by Israel’s self-defining narrative), would be that of believing upon Jesus as Lord.    

As one reads through this letter to the Romans, it must be continually borne in mind that Paul is writing to a mixed group of both Jews and Gentiles.  There would have been a faction of the Jews, as is to be found repeatedly throughout the New Testament, that did not want to see the Gentiles come under the blessings of their God’s covenant.  There would have been a faction that would have insisted that Gentiles, in order to truly be a part of the Creator God’s covenant people, would need to undergo circumcision, and along with that, would need to diligently keep to the prevailing dietary restrictions and Sabbath laws. 

In addition to those factions of Jews (who could certainly be counted as committed Jesus-believers), there would have been Gentiles (also Jesus-believers) that held to the thought that the covenant blessings had passed completely from the Jews to the Gentiles, as they could point to Israel’s nearly wholesale rejection of Jesus as Messiah as evidence in favor of such a verdict.  One could presume that these various factions could have eyed each other suspiciously, seeking to draw boundaries where none should rightfully be allowed to exist, and Paul can be seen dealing with these things throughout this letter.

Thus, Paul’s talk of “righteousness for everyone who believes” (right standing in the covenant and access to the covenant faithfulness of the Creator God) also serves to address any Jewish provincialism, along with Gentile high-mindedness, as Paul makes it a point to inform them that all can be saved.  The implication that all can be saved would also seem to imply that all need to be saved, which further implies that all, Jew and Gentile, are in the midst of cursing and exile and in need of salvation from such.  For the Jew, the curse and exile was associated with their violations of the law delivered to them through Moses.  For the Gentile, if one considers the whole of the Scriptural narrative, the cursing and exile would go all the way back to Adam, and his purported actions that resulted in the bringing of the curse of death and exile from God’s presence into the creation (which would naturally apply to the Jew as well). 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Everyone Who Calls (part 2)

Not only were there many in Israel that were expecting their messiah to accomplish the overthrow of the subjecting Romans, but many of those that harbored that expectation also expected that the messiah, with the sovereign power of the covenant God of Israel at his back, would subjugate all nations (Gentiles) to them as the covenant people.  For many (though not all), this was a zealously held position.  However, it would turn out that this was not at all in line with the revealed truth (using Paul’s language) that the Creator God intended to bring all nations, both Jew and Gentile, into a single covenant family under the rule of His Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. 

As Jesus would come to demonstrate, the creation and construction of this worldwide family (a global empire) was not going to be accomplished through a zealous taking up of arms, but rather, through a laying down of nationalistic claims and aspirations, and the embracing of an entirely different kingdom ethic. 

The Apostle Paul cuts right across all of these Jew versus Gentile issues, getting directly to the heart of the matter when he writes, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).  That’s it!  This salvation, which must be understood in accordance with and according to Israel’s covenant narrative, was for Jew and Gentile alike.  Salvation, as understood by the covenant people, was not to be the exclusive domain of Israel alone. 

Restricting considerations to this letter to Rome, it can be insisted this was “the word of faith” (10:8) that Paul said was his singular message, and this can be demonstrated to be true, as effectively, verse nine outlines the message of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord).  Belief in this Gospel, as ridiculous as the claim may be in light of the crucifixion (which would indicate the failure of a messiah figure) and a supposed resurrection (it was a well known and readily accepted fact that people do not simply come back from the dead), and submission to its strange power that would serve to make it possible to order one’s life according to the Creator God’s purposes, was that which would graft (to use terminology from chapter nine) an individual into the grouping of the Creator God’s covenant people, and allow that person to experience the blessings associated with being a member of the covenant people (as addressed to Abraham, as outlined in Israel’s historical narrative, as expounded upon by Jesus Himself, and as would have been understood at the time by Paul). 

The next verse follows in the same vein, as Paul goes on to write: “For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (10:3).  Paul says that they ignored the covenant God’s righteousness.  That is, they ignored their God’s covenant faithfulness to His oft-stated desire to draw all nations to worship Him because of and as a result of the knowledge of Him and the light of His glory that they would be able to see and experience in and through His people Israel.  Rather, Paul insists, they sought to establish themselves as the separate and autonomous people of their own separate God, setting up strict and un-breachable boundaries of covenant markers such as circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and food-laws, that would serve to identify them as the Creator God’s chosen people, and therefore as the exclusive recipients of the benefits to be had from allegiance to Him.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Everyone Who Calls (part 1)

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. – Romans 10:13  (NET)

A great hope for the believer.  A great comfort to those that previously stood outside of covenant with the Creator God.  It is certainly an oft-quoted statement, but regularly and almost exclusively set forth with a complete lack of context.  Regularly, and certainly without any type of malicious intent (one would hope), this verse is lifted from its setting here in the tenth chapter of Romans and made to serve duty as part of a statement regarding nothing more than a personal salvation, with the concept therein expressed presented as something of a free-floating aphorism. 

It is a duty for which the statement is ill-equipped, especially when one is made to consider that the personal salvation with which it is always associated is a salvation of the soul, so as to enable a believer to “go to heaven” when he or she passes from this life.  Unfortunately, such a presentation and way of viewing the saving that is associated with calling on the name of the Lord, falls well short of the message of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord).  So while these words do represent a great hope, putting them in their proper context serves to make the hope even greater, as it demonstrates the covenant faithfulness of the Creator God.

Throughout chapters nine and ten of Romans, the Apostle Paul spills a fair amount of ink in writing about his national brethren, the Jews.  This ongoing dissertation concerning the Jews provides the context for verse thirteen of chapter ten, as well as what comes before and after.  After outlining Israel’s rejection of the Gospel message (Jesus is the crucified and resurrected Messiah of Israel and Lord of all creation) in the ninth chapter, Paul begins the tenth chapter (though, of course, Paul had no conception of chapter and verse in the composition of his letters to believers) by writing, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation” (10:1).  It was well understood that, until the messiah came---until the covenant God of Israel personally acted within history to deliver His people from oppression and exile---that Israel was still under their God’s curse, while continuing to live and labor and experience the exile that began with the Babylonian conquest of Judah in 586 B.C. 

The coming of messiah, their acknowledgment of their God’s faithful fulfillment of His promise in the sending of that messiah (or perhaps coming to His people and returning to His Temple in the person of the messiah), along and their submission to the claims of that messiah and his lordship, would signal Israel’s salvation.  This did not mean that members of the nation of Israel could now go to heaven when they died, and this way of thinking would be quite foreign to a member of the covenant people.   What Israel’s salvation signaled was that Israel would be delivered from the curse of separation from their God, with their long exile from fellowship with Him brought to an end, and their subjection to foreign powers discontinued.  That is an extraordinarily large part of what it would mean for Israel to be saved. 

To the words of the first verse, Paul adds, “For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth” (10:2).  What was the truth?  In Paul’s estimation, the truth was that the Creator God had sent His Messiah, that being Jesus, to His people, but that He had been rejected.  By rejecting Jesus, it was surmised that they also rejected the model for the inauguration of the kingdom of God that Jesus had presented to them, and which was now being espoused by those that continued to look to Him as Messiah, who believed Him to be and now worshiped Him as the incarnation of the Creator God, and who were convinced that the long-awaited kingdom of God had been inaugurated and brought to bear on earth via His death and Resurrection.  Contrary to this, many in Israel believed that the kingdom of God---the kingdom of heaven---would have to be ushered in through the overthrow of those who oppressed them, that being the Romans.  They were zealous for this.  As Paul insists, this zeal was not in line with the truth. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Four Hundred Ninety Years (part 2 of 2)

However, the historical narrative of Scripture, as carried forward from the Hebrew Scriptures into the Gospels, tells a story in which the covenant God was in complete control and quite faithful to His promises.  When the four hundred ninety years were fully complete, as the Creator God saw it, then His covenant people would have their King.  They would have the shepherd to whom the prophet Zechariah pointed.

Interestingly enough, this was not the first time that the Creator God’s people had waited four hundred ninety years for their King.  This was not the first time that, though they were in their promised land, they were not autonomous.  It would not only have been in Nehemiah’s day that the people could have said of their land, “Its abundant produce goes to the kings you have placed over us due to our sins…and we are in great distress!”  This was not the first time that the people could have said “today we are slaves,” as they looked forward to a King, and a shepherd to lead them. 

In the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul makes a speech in which he says that “The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay as foreigners in the country of Egypt (ruled by a foreign power), and with uplifted arm He led them out of it.  For a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness.  After He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He gave His people their land as an inheritance” (13:17-19). 

For Paul and others, this could easily be made to correspond to the history of the remnants of Judah (the families of those that had been exiled to Babylon) returning under God’s direction, from Babylon to Jerusalem, to rebuild the Temple in their land.  What does Paul add to this?  He says, “All this took about four hundred fifty years” (13:20a).  Four hundred fifty years is not quite four hundred ninety years, but one must continue so as to get the full effect, the revelation of the mindset of the earliest believers, and the connection to Jesus. 

According to Luke, Paul goes on to say  “After this He gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet” (13:20b), in which the Creator God’s people would be ruled by an alternating series of foreign powers, which would be not at all unlike the period of time from Daniel to Jesus (as the land and the people were ruled by an alternating series of foreign powers).  Continuing, the Apostle offers the reminder that “Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man from the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years” (13:20c-21). 

Four hundred fifty years, plus forty years, is four hundred ninety years.  What happened next?  “After removing him, God raised up David their king.  He testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after My heart, who will accomplish everything I want him to do’.” (13:22)  According to the popular narrative, David was the first shepherd-king of the Creator God’s people.  Paul, fully aware of the importance of the four hundred ninety years of Daniel and its presentation of the coming of the messiah (the Son of David---a royal term packed with significance), constructs a narrative in which David himself is given to Israel after a period of four hundred ninety years.  Upon doing that, Paul immediately turns his thoughts to Jesus the Messiah, saying that “From the descendants of this man God brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, just as He promised” (13:23).  It is likely that Jesus, in Paul’s was of thinking, was the greater Shepherd-King.      

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Four Hundred Ninety Years (part 1 of 2)

Seventy weeks have been determined concerning your people and your holy city to put an end to rebellion, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in perpetual righteousness, to seal up the prophetic vision, and to anoint a most holy place. – Daniel 9:24  (NET

This was popularly understood to be seventy weeks of years, or four hundred ninety years.  Further information about the significance of this period of time is provided in the following verse, which says, “So know and understand: From the issuing of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an anointed one, a prince arrives, there will be a period of seven weeks and sixty two weeks” (9:25a).  This apparently served to color the expectation of the people in the days of Jesus.  At the time in which Jesus lived, the four hundred ninety year period, as many saw it, had been completed, and a great many of the people, partially owing to the ongoing subjection to Rome, were looking for their “anointed one,” their “prince,” their messiah” to appear. 

Over five hundred years prior to the time of Jesus, groups of people had returned to the land of Israel and the area of Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra, with this coinciding with the decree from Cyrus, the king of Persia, to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.  Though there had been a return to their land of promise, because the people were still under the rule of a foreign power, the people of the Creator God people did not yet consider themselves to have fully and truly exodused from the state of exile.  Rather, a popular conception amongst the people was that they remained under the promised curses of their faithful, covenant God. 

Due to subsequent rule by Greece, Egypt, Rome, and others, this popular mindset would persist through Jesus’ day.  In the days of Nehemiah, though they lived in their land, the people readily confessed that “today we are slaves!  In the very land You gave to our ancestors to eat its fruit and to enjoy its good things---we are slaves.  Its abundant produce goes to the kings you have placed over us due to our sins.  They rule over our bodies and our livestock as they see fit, and we are in great distress!” (Nehemiah 9:36-37)  This self-understanding is also reflected in the book of Ezra.  This way of comprehending their position lined up with the curses of Leviticus and Deuteronomy that were associated with the Creator God’s covenant with His people. 

So though they lived in (and many possessed ownership of) their own land,  Israel waited for its messiah.  A number of potential messiahs came and went, with one failure after another.  As Daniel’s four hundred ninety year period began to draw to a completion, something of a fever pitch was created amongst the people.  Many insisted that their God, if He was indeed as faithful as He was believed to be, had to act according to His promises.  It must be remembered that the promises of their God, in accordance with the covenant, coupled with the dramatic display of the exodus that was such an important part of the way that Israel defined itself, were part and parcel of the way that members of the nation of Israel looked upon the world. 

This way of thinking concerning the way that the promises were to come to fruition, and especially the messianic way that those promises were viewed through the lens of prophets such as Isaiah, produced a substantial number of messianic movements, a great deal of high-minded words, a substantial amount of activity on behalf of more than a few well-intentioned (for the most part) members of the covenant people to establish themselves as the messiah, and ultimately many empty and futile claims.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Terms Of The Covenant (part 2 of 2)

What the Creator God is presumed to have said to Judah through Jeremiah, the same God effectively and presumably said to Adam, which was “Obey me and carry out the terms of the agreement exactly as I commanded you.  If you do, you will be My people and I will be your God” (Jeremiah 11:4b).  Had Adam been faithful to the covenant conditions that had been delivered to him, death would not have come upon him and (again, presumably) the creation over which he was given dominion. 

The Scriptural narrative suggests that Eden and the covenant God’s creation would have remained in the state of perfection in which it was delivered to man.  If His chosen people were faithful, Israel’s God promised to “keep the promise I swore on oath to your ancestors to give them a land flowing with milk and honey” (11:5a).  “Milk and honey” could certainly also be rendered as “fertile fields and fine pastures,” which could also serve as a description of the land into which man had been placed before the curse of his covenant failure caused it to be overrun with thorns and thistles.

It is possible to hear the Creator God not only speaking to the people of Judah, but to all that would eventually come to be His covenant people, as He says, “I solemnly warned your ancestors (Israel & Adam respectively) to obey Me.  I warned them again and again, every since I delivered the out of Egypt until this very day” (11:7).  Obviously, Adam was not personally delivered out of Egypt, though He was placed, as Israel would eventually be, in a land of the Creator God’s choosing. 

The described paths of Adam and Israel converge again, as one reads “But they did not listen to Me or pay any attention to Me!” (11:8a).  Clearly, this could be said of both, which lends credence to seeing Adam as the embodiment of Israel in the creation narrative.  “Each one of them,” the Creator God says, “followed the stubborn inclinations of his own wicked heart.  So I brought on them all the punishments threatened in the covenant because they did not carry out its terms as I commanded them to do” (11:8b). 

For His covenant people, the punishment was the curse that Jeremiah insisted was on its way; and for Adam and all of humankind, the punishment was death.  Why?  Because the Creator God is faithful to His covenants, even if and when those that are charged to be His image-bearers are not.  The Creator God of Israel demanded and expected trust, but the story of Scripture indicates that He did not receive it.  He expected these creatures that had been made in His image to reflect His glory, but they failed.        

For Israel and for Adam (and all the descendants of Adam), it could be said, “The people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem have plotted rebellion against Me…  They too have paid allegiance to other gods and worshiped them” (11:9,10b).  Both rebelled and, for all practical purposes, fell into idolatry.  Israel found itself bowing to the gods of the surrounding nations, whether by choice or through force, whereas Adam, beginning the idolatry with which each of his progeny (according to the Scriptures) is afflicted, seems to have bowed down to and worshiped himself, making himself the measure of all things, in trustful worship of the creature rather than the Creator.  The sovereign Lord’s response to this is consistent, as He says, “those gods will by no means be able to save them when disaster strikes them” (11:12b).  A redeemer would be necessary.    

Monday, April 15, 2013

Terms Of The Covenant (part 1 of 2)

Tell them that the Lord, the God of Israel, says, “Anyone who does not keep the terms of the covenant will be under a curse.” – Jeremiah 11:3  (NET)

So it was for the people of the Creator God, Israel (specifically those of the southern kingdom of Judah in the time of Jeremiah).  The curses under which they would find themselves are presented with utmost clarity in the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy (expounding on the Levitical curses).  Because Jeremiah is speaking on the coming destruction of Jerusalem and subjugation of Judah by the Babylonians, and because such subjugation and oppression can be located within the extensive list of curses that Israel’s God had promised to bring upon His covenant people if they did not keep the terms of the covenant, it can be reliably affirmed that the Creator God’s people had not kept to the terms of the covenant. 

More specifically, the covenant people had not lived up to their responsibility to properly bear the divine image, as set forth in the laws that were understood to have been provided to them by their God, through Moses.  To Judah in Jeremiah’s day, in reference to the terms of the covenant and its curses, the Creator God said, “Those are the terms that I charged your ancestors to keep when I brought them out of Egypt, that place which was like an iron-smelting furnace” (11:4a).   

However, it would behoove later observers not to look down upon them or speak poorly of them because of this.  The covenant people were unable to keep the terms of the covenant because they were human, and therefore, as the story of Scripture seems to be supposed to be understood, subject to the same failings to be found in the head of the entire race, that being Adam.  The covenant that Israel violated was not the first covenant to be violated.  They were not the first to find failure when it came to the Creator God’s expectations.  To find that occurrence, one must look to the book of Genesis, remembering that the Genesis narrative is crucial for the self-identification and self-understanding of the people of Israel. 

There one is able to read that “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it” (Genesis 2:15).  This care and maintenance was a portion of the Creator God’s covenant with the being that had been created in His image.  Reading on, one  also finds it said that “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die” (2:16-17).  Of course, owing to the knowledge of pain and suffering, information about which provides a daily bombardment of the sense, all are quite aware that the terms of this covenant were violated. 

Again, as the Scriptural narrative seems to insist, owing to that violation, because the Creator God is faithful to His covenants, all of humanity and creation came under a curse, as death is said to have made its entry into the world.  The curse came upon the good creation of the covenant God for the same reason that the curse came upon that same God’s people, Israel.  Terms of the covenant were not kept.      

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Change Your Ways (part 3 of 3)

Therefore, do Christians, recognizing that they are living in a world in which the Creator God’s kingdom on earth has been inaugurated and where Jesus reigns as King over all of this creation that began to be renewed and re-made and set to rights with His Resurrection, oppress foreigners who live in their land?  It may seem like a strange question, because so many Christians are so accustomed to speaking and thinking in terms of being persecuted for faith or hated by the world.  One has to remember that in Judah (and all Israel), foreigners in their land would have been those that were not members of the Creator God’s covenant people.  Likewise, let us consider that believers, before being brought to the place of belief through the activity of the Holy Spirit as exercised through the power of the proclaimed Gospel of Jesus, could certainly be looked upon as foreigners in the midst of the Creator God’s kingdom on earth.       

If that is understood, then the believer must also consider how they find themselves treating those that currently stand outside of the Creator God’s covenant that is marked by belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Ruler of all things?  Are they oppressed?  How are they oppressed?  Is it not the case that believers are the ones that are oppressed?  In a sense, yes, but in the end, believers stand with and serve the One that is King of all, with all rulers subjected to Him.  So rather than being the oppressed ones, believers actually find themselves, like Israel, in the place in which they can become the oppressor, inviting judgment. 

So again, how can believers oppress foreigners---those outside the covenant.  Well, are they shunned?  Does the believers think him or herself better than those that are not inside the covenant through belief in Jesus?  Do believers isolate themselves from non-believers?  Do they separate themselves from who and what they speak of as “the world,” and by doing so, think that they are living holy and righteous lives that are pleasing to God?  Do they merely shine as lights for each other, while leaving the “foreigners” groping about in an oppressive and chaotic darkness?  Do they judge and condemn them for engaging in those things that are subjectively labeled as “sin,” and “preach” against “sin” rather than being the lights of God’s intention by preaching in word and in deed the message of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord), and so find themselves possibly engaging in what it is that their God finds far more heinous and deserving of His curse? 

In addition, the covenant God says to stop oppressing “children who have lost their fathers, and women who have lost their husbands” (7:6b).  The covenant God’s people had an obligation to orphans and widows.  Not caring for them was the same as oppressing them.  In the midst of all of the worthwhile endeavors in ministry as the renewed Israel in Christ, that is, the Creator God’s re-constituted covenant people, it’s worth asking how believers are doing in this regard?  Along with the directive concerning the oppression of foreigners, orphans, and widows, the Creator God says, “Stop killing innocent people in this land.  Stop paying allegiance to other gods” (7:6c).  The Creator God says that all of these things “will only bring about your ruin” (7:6d). 

Believers are always quick to emphasize the idolatry of the covenant God’s people that brought judgment to Israel and Judah, but it comes last in this listing of offenses against their God that will bring ruin and exile.  Idolatry would naturally grow out of the oppressions here recounted and the killing of innocent people, because forsaking that which was their God’s purpose for them, that God’s people would be determined to find a god in whose image they could actually believe themselves to have been made, and who would sanction their oppression. 

The Creator God’s message to His people is “If you stop doing these things, I will allow you to continue to live in this land which I gave to your ancestors as a lasting possession” (7:7).  If Jesus-followers, as people under the covenant of belief in the Gospel (Jesus, the crucified and resurrected man from Nazareth is Israel’s Messiah and Lord of all creation) desire to have a continued place in God’s kingdom on earth---in the land that He has given to His image-bearers and wise stewards as a lasting possession---then this passage from Jeremiah should serve as a clarion call to the duties of their vocation.  Is there a need to change some ways and to start doing what is right?         

Friday, April 12, 2013

Change Your Ways (part 2)

This second time that the Creator God speaks to His people about changing their ways and doing what is right, follows the mocking repetition of the high-mindedness of the people, in thinking that they were safe from judgment, because they could simply say, “The temple of the Lord is here!  The temple of the Lord is here!  The temple of the Lord is here!” (Jeremiah 7:4b). 

Why would they say that?  To answer that, one must understand the purpose that the temple served.  Along with being a reminder and representation of their God, of the tabernacle of the wilderness, and therefore of their redeeming exodus from Egypt at the hands of their covenant-making-and-keeping God, the temple was the place where the covenant people could go for the purpose of offering sacrifices for transgressions of the provisions of the law.  It was central to the life of Israel and served an extremely important role. 

Members of the covenant people could go to the temple, and through offering the requisite sacrifices prescribed under the law, receive atonement for their covenant failures.   In that day, the Creator God’s people relied upon this aspect of the temple every bit as much as the Creator God’s people, in this day, rely upon the sacrifice of the Christ to provide the necessary atonement for transgressions that represent their failures to be the divine image and light bearers that the Creator God intends His people to be. 

So when the Creator God directs His people to change their ways, it needs to be determined what it is that they are doing that needs to be changed.  When God instructs them to do what is right, to what is He referring as their actions that are wrong in His sight?  What are His people doing that has their God looking upon those things and saying, “If you keep doing these things, I am going to bring My promised curses and send you into exile away from the land that I have given to you”? 

After imploring them to treat others as they would want to be treated, the covenant God gives a list of those things that are severely offending Him.  Having been so long steeped in a Christian culture that highlights certain types of “sins” (sex, drugs, alcohol, etc…), one might register a bit of surprise to hear the Creator God speak through His prophet and draw attention to that which offends Him most by saying “Stop oppressing foreigners who live in your land” (7:6a).  Apparently, the Creator God’s people had forgotten that they had been foreigners in the land of Egypt.  They had forgotten their previous exile from the land that had been given to Abraham.  They had forgotten their exodus.  They had forgotten Who it was that was represented by the temple, and from Whom they were seeking their atonement.   

The oppression of foreigners in the land of Judah is such an interesting phenomenon, not only in that it demonstrated such a tremendous amount of forgetfulness on the part of God’s people, but also because it seems that a great many Christians think that this does not really apply to them, primarily because of the unfortunate (and anti-Scriptural) long-held tendency, insisted upon by so many erstwhile and well-meaning preachers of the Gospel, for Christians to think of themselves as foreigners---as strangers in a strange land (the mindset of “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through”). 

However, if the body of Jesus believers represents a renewed Israel, then it is incumbent upon that group to recognize that they are not the foreigners.  They are not the strangers.  As those that represent the kingdom of the sovereign God of the universe, and as harbingers of the renewed creation that is and will be brought to bear in this world, they are those that ultimately possess the land and are actually the ones in the position to be potential oppressors.  They are living in a world that began to be re-claimed two thousand years ago, serving as kings and priests to the most High God, through their believing union with the Christ. 

Change Your Ways (part 1)

The Lord God of Israel Who rules over all says: Change the way you have been living and do what is right.  If you do, I will allow you to continue to live in this land.– Jeremiah 7:3  (NET)

As the prophet Jeremiah is still in the early stages of his proclamation concerning the destruction and desolation and exile that is to come upon Judah because they have failed to be what their God intended them to be, he passes along the instruction, from God, that His covenant people must “change the way” that they “have been living,” and to that end, must “do what is right.”  The Creator God tells them that, if they do so, then He will allow them to continue to live in the land. 

By speaking of the land, and such an allowance, the covenant God is attempting to bring His people to the point of remembrance of perhaps the most significant component of the curses that had been presented to them in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that would result from their not being faithful to the covenant into which they had been brought by their God.  Because the promise to their progenitor, Abraham, included the promise of a land, and because the defining moment of their history was the exodus event that would allow them to return to that land promised to their forefather, the greatest of all of the curses that were on offer from their God was the curse of being driven from their land and subjected to foreign oppressors, in exile from the land of their heritage.    

Along with those warnings rooted in their historical narrative and their own self-understanding, the people of Judah would have had ready access to the extraordinarily vivid reminder of what had transpired in the not-too-distant history of their northern neighbor, Israel.  More than a century earlier, Israel (the northern kingdom of the divided kingdom) had been conquered by Assyria and removed from their land of covenantal promise. 

The Creator God’s curse had come upon the northern kingdom, and exile had ensued.  It would be none too difficult for Judah to equate the exile with the promised curses, as did the prophets of Israel, and adapt accordingly.    That group of people had been scattered to the winds, never to be re-constituted in the form of the ten tribes that had composed the nation.  As seems to be the case, the warnings had come to Israel through their prophets just as warnings were now coming to Judah.  Repeatedly, Israel had been directed to change their way of living and to do what was right.  Because they did not, the covenant God faithfully executed His solemn, covenant promises by not allowing them to continue living in their land.    

The Creator God can be heard repeating Himself in the fifth verse of this chapter, where the reader finds “You must change the way you have been living and do what is right” (7:5a).  That’s twice in the span of just three verses, so clearly attention is being drawn to the covenant-violating actions of the people.  To that is added “You must treat one another fairly” (7:5b).  Now, because fairness is often taken to be such a personally subjective and eminently fluid concept, a right understanding is probably best served by perceiving this insistence on fairness as something more along the lines of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Birth Of A Nation (part 2 of 2)

Through the Resurrection and its power that brought to birth these sons of the kingdom, the Creator God says through Isaiah that “I am coming to gather all the nations and ethnic groups; they will come and witness My splendor” (66:18b).  These nations and ethnic groups, presumptively, will be gathered by the preaching of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord), and by the apparent pure power that is contained in the act of preaching (in word and deed). 

With an understanding of the prophetic literature and the scope of the Scriptural narrative, it seems that Jesus had come to an understanding of the idea that the kingdom that had been promised to the Creator God’s Messiah (Israel’s King, Son of God) would require His own crucifixion, and that afterwards, had been inaugurated by His Resurrection.  It would appear that it is for this reason, reflecting on His understanding of Daniel (and others), that He would come to insist that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Matthew 28:18b), before setting His disciples on their global kingdom path. 

Because it seems that Jesus understood that it was the goal of the Creator God, Israel’s purpose as the covenant people of that God, His purpose as the embodiment of Israel (as the King of Israel represents the whole of the people), and the purpose of the renewed Israel that would be brought into covenant through belief in Him as their Lord and King, for the purpose of gathering all nations and ethnic groups to witness the splendor of that Creator God, He added, “go and make disciples of all nations” (28:19a).  The general understanding of those that believed in Jesus as their Lord and King was that the making of disciples would come about through the Holy Spirit’s application of the power of the Resurrection to hearts and minds, gifting faith to believe what, on the surface, was a wholly incredible thing. 

Furthermore, through Isaiah the Creator God communicates to His people, saying “I will perform a mighty act among them and then send some of those who remain to the nations… and to the distant coastlands that have not heard about Me or seen My splendor” (66:19a,c).  Turning to the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, one is able to read about Jesus telling His disciples “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth” (1:8).  Reading on a little bit farther, one finds “when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting…  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:1-2, 4a). 

With this mighty act, the firstborn of those long-awaited sons of Zion received that power that would enable them to begin taking the message of the Gospel of Jesus to the nations and to the distant coastlands, thereby revealing the splendor and the majesty and the faithfulness of the Creator God.  Through Isaiah, that God said that this new country, this new nation, these sons of Zion “will tell the nations of My splendor” (66:19d).  Indeed, they did, have, and are doing that very thing, empowered by the Spirit, as a nation under the rule of a resurrected and exalted Lord. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Birth Of A Nation (part 1 of 2)

Can a country be brought forth in one day?  Can a nation be born in a single moment? – Isaiah 66:8b  (NET)

The answer to this question, posed by the prophet Isaiah, is yes.  A country can be brought forth in one day, and indeed, a nation can be born in a single moment.  This is especially so if that day and that moment is the Resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, from the grave, with the birth of a nation (a kingdom, an empire) without borders, encompassing the entire globe.  In his proleptic vision of a world in which Israel’s God rules without challenge (though certainly post-Christ-event observers read messianic events back into the text), Isaiah writes, “Yet as soon as Zion goes into labor she gives birth to sons!” (66:8c)  Zion, in popular prophetic language, is the Lord’s mountain, often serving as the purported location of the New Jerusalem, of which it is said, “Be happy for Jerusalem and rejoice with her, all you who love her!” (66:10a) 

With what appears to be a nod to the sixty-sixth chapter of Isaiah, the author of the letter to the Hebrews pens, “But you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly and congregation of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven” (12:22-23a).  Let it be said that the language of “Zion,” while also standing in for a physical location, is the language of the kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of heaven that will be enlarged by the Gospel proclamation that Jesus is Lord of all, is that which was inaugurated and unleashed upon the earth as a kingdom without end at the Resurrection of Jesus. 

In the book of Revelation, which possesses its own vision of the presence of the kingdom of heaven and which rests upon the same over-arching Scriptural narrative on which rests Isaiah and the letter to the Hebrews, the heavenly Jerusalem comes to earth.  One recognizes the influence of the Isaianic vision there as well, as the believing community continued to draw from the narrative of the Hebrew Scriptures in their attempt to understand the work of the Christ and its implications, in the Creator God’s declaration that “just as the new heavens and the new earth I am about to make will remain standing before Me…so your descendants and your name will remain”(66:22).  That new heavens and new earth seem to be tied to the birth of this new nation, which is an eternal nation that is populated by descendants that share in eternal life in a renewed creation---at the intersection of heaven and earth.      

Tying the birth of a nation to the Resurrection of Jesus and the labor and birthing of sons of Zion, it can be said that yes, as soon as Zion goes into labor---as soon as the kingdom of heaven begins to be manifest on earth by the power of the Resurrection, the preaching of the Resurrection, and the power of the preaching of Gospel of Jesus (He is Lord) and the consequent belief in these things---Zion does indeed give birth to sons.  Those sons are indeed sons of the kingdom of heaven.  Those sons are the manifestation and the revelation of the sons of God (a name given to the covenant people), brothers in the union of belief with the risen Christ, for whom the creation has been eagerly awaiting (Romans 8:19).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Mordecai & Jesus (part 2 of 2)

Though in the grip of certain death, deliverance comes to the covenant people.  Figuratively, because of Esther’s actions, the Creator God’s people were resurrected from the dead.  Fitting quite well with the controlling narrative and presentation of the covenant God’s plan of redemption, as it presents itself throughout Scripture, this figurative resurrection shares echoes with the story of Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac. 

In that story, Abraham considered Isaac to be dead, but trusted that his God would raise him because of the promises that had been made to Abraham.  Isaac, figuratively, went through death, and  (again) figuratively, was raised from the dead.  Returning then to Esther one reads that “Contrary to expectations, the Jews gained power over their enemies” (9:1b).  Yes, the Creaor God’s covenant people triumphed, just as they would one day be made to triumph over the final enemy, that being death, through and because of the Resurrection of Jesus and their believing union with Him, with belief in the Lordship and Kingship of Jesus being the mark of the Creator God’s new covenant people and the way in which they are made to share in His Resurrection, prefiguring and pointing to their own (and that of the entire creation).    

Tying in the title of this study, one of those people of the covenant, that being Mordecai, is not only resurrected, but he is exalted, ultimately coming to represent in himself the complete vindication of the people of the covenant God.  As the story goes, Mordecai is exalted to a royal position, adorned “in purple and white and royal attire, with a large golden crown and a purple linen mantle” (8:15b), symbolizing that royalty and its association vindication.  Yes, one man becomes the representative of the Creator God’s chosen people.  With his (and his people’s) passing through persecution and suffering and a figurative death, he comes out on the other side, effectively crowned as a king, as “Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus” (10:3a).  This was what would eventually come to be be experienced by Jesus the Christ as well, who would be exalted as King by His Resurrection, though in submission (second only as He would insist) to the Father. 

Indeed, all that will be said here of Mordecai would, could, and certainly should invoke thoughts of the Lord Jesus, who was persecuted, went into death, experienced a Resurrection, and was shown forth as King.  It is said of Mordecai that “He was the highest-ranking Jew” (10:3a), which is another way in which one could be justified in thinking of Jesus.  It is said of Mordecai that “He was admired by his numerous relatives” (10:3b), which would also eventually become true of Jesus following His Resurrection.  Of Mordecai, it is said that “He worked enthusiastically for the good of his people and was an advocate for the welfare of all his descendants” (10:3c).  This too can most definitely be said of Jesus, the one mediator between God and man. 

Prior to such things being said of Mordecai, the reader (and the hopeful Jew undergoing persecution under the heel of an oppressor) learns that “Mordecai was of high rank in the king’s palace, and word about him was spreading throughout all the provinces.  His influence continued to become greater and greater” (9:4).  As it was for the figuratively resurrected Mordecai, so it was for the physically resurrected Jesus.  Jesus, as it comes to be said of Him, is given the name above all names and set above all rulers and powers.  The Gospel of His Kingdom (He is Lord) spread throughout all lands and His influence grew, with that influence, as planned, spreading and growing to this day.      

Monday, April 8, 2013

Mordecai & Jesus (part 1 of 2)

Now Mordecai went out from the king’s presence in purple and white and royal attire, with a large golden crown and a purple linen mantle. – Esther 8:15  (NET)

After all that had taken place, this was Mordecai’s vindication.  Not only that, but this represented the vindication and deliverance of the covenant people of the Creator God, as the Jews were saved from the destructive decree that had been issued by Haman, and unwittingly enforced by the king. 

The narrative of Esther informs the reader that Haman had been exalted and set above all of the officials of the kingdom of Persia (3:1).  “As a result, all of the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate were bowing and paying homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded.  However, Mordecai did not bow, nor did he pay homage…  When Haman saw that Mordecai was not bowing or paying homage to him, he was filled with rage” (3:5).  Because Mordecai would not bow to Haman, not only was he enraged at Mordecai, but “Haman sought to destroy all the Jews (that is, the people who were the kin of Mordecai) who were in all the kingdom” (3:6b).  Here, hatred directed towards Mordecai is converted into a plan to wipe out the Creator God’s covenant people.  In effect, for Haman, Mordecai stands as the representative for all of the Jews.      

So even though a decree of destruction against all the Jews was set forth, the plan is reported to have been foiled through the faithful actions of Esther, as she is urged on her Uncle Mordecai.  In a very messiah-like role, she willingly took her life in her hands and interceded on behalf of the covenant people, so as to spare their lives.  This would have the added effect of bringing punishment upon all that would present themselves as enemies to her people.  Effectively, prior to her brave intervention (again, as urged by her uncle), the Jews were as good as dead.  The covenant faithfulness of the Creator God was at stake.  “Throughout each and every province where the king’s edict and law were announced there was considerable mourning among the Jews, along with fasting, weeping, and sorrow” (4:3a).  They knew that they had been sold into death.  Mordecai himself “went out into the city, crying out in a loud and bitter voice” (4:1b).  The reader of the story can almost hear him crying, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” 

Yes, it was as if the people of Israel had gone down into the very pit of death.  Apart from the intervention of their God to deliver them from certain destruction, there was no hope.  But something happened.  Though it is well known that the God of Israel is not mentioned in the Hebrew version of the book of Esther (though the Creator God is invoked in the extended, Greek Septuagint version), it is resoundingly clear that their faithful, covenant God is on their side and working on their behalf, fulfilling His promises to them.  Clearly, the implication is that intervention is necessary for the covenant people to continue, and for their God to be vindicated as well. 

In their fasting, weeping, and sorrow, they are clearly humbling themselves and seeking God, according to God’s promise to Solomon that can be found in the second book of the Chronicles (7:14).  They are under intense persecution and they are in need of redemption and deliverance.  This is the same story that is presented in the book of Exodus (the foundational narrative for the people that would identify themselves as a people of exodus), repeatedly in the book of Judges, and also in the prophetic work of Daniel.