Saturday, June 29, 2013

Nebuchadnezzar's Fall (part 7 of 8)

What was involved in Nebuchadnezzar’s return to sanity?  A precursor to this return has already been covered, in that the Creator God said that Nebuchadnezzar would live like an animal until he understood “that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever He wishes” (Daniel 4:32e).  This come to fruition when Nebuchadnezzar, sanity returned, can be heard saying “I extolled the Most High, and I praised and glorified the One Who lives forever” (4:34b). 

Now it seems, with real conviction, Nebuchadnezzar points to Israel’s God and says, “His authority is an everlasting authority, and His kingdom extends from one generation to the next” (4:34c).  In humility, he adds, “All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.  He does as He wishes with the army of heaven and with those who inhabit the earth” (4:35a).  With what would appear to be a mild flourish of self-introspection concerning his previous demonstration of high-mindedness, this king adds, “No one slaps His hand and says to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (4:35b) 

As Nebuchadnezzar’s fall has been shown to have mirrored Adam’s fall (the fall of man), would it not be appropriate to say that his restoration will ultimately be mirrored by mankind’s restoration as well?  This would seem to be an eminently reasonable proposition that possesses the full support of the Scriptural narrative.  If it is true that Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity returned, that he was returned to human society, and that his time spent living like an animal was ended upon his acknowledgment of the Most High, would it not reasonable to take the step of making the same, albeit wider application?  Nebuchadnezzar’s time of living a sub-human existence began with his self-exaltation.  This was true for him just as it was for Adam.  Nebuchadnezzar’s period of time spent living a sub-human existence ended when he confessed that it was the Most High God that ruled.  Does it not stand to reason that it would be much the same for all of mankind? 

Until there is an acknowledgment, on the part of man, of the Creator God, of His rights, and of the failings of humanity, mankind remains in a sub-human condition---not being what the Creator God intends, not bearing the divine image, and not being truly human.  It could be said that such is a state of insanity.  With the requisite acknowledgment like that of Nebuchadnezzar,  humanity is freed from that sub-human state, regaining a long-lost sanity, with a restoration and re-purposing to rightly bear the divine image, so as to reflect the Creator God’s glory into this world, and no longer falling short of the glory of God.

According to the Scriptural narrative, all of which points to the Christ as the revelation of the Creator God and His intentions for His creation, this long-needed recognition and restoration occurs through a believing union with Jesus the Christ, which is achieved through a confession of Him as Lord and King of all.  Effectively, this confession and concomitant allegiance is one that looks to Jesus and says “His authority is an everlasting authority, and His kingdom extends from one generation to the next.”   

This is a statement of faith (loyal allegiance), in recognition of the Creator God’s covenant faithfulness as shown through the Christ, that demonstrates that one has come to the place of a trusting allegiance in the One that perfectly bore the divine image in every way.  

Friday, June 28, 2013

Nebuchadnezzar's Fall (part 6)

Of course, something like this has been previously heard from Nebuchadnezzar, when, following Daniel’s revelation and interpretation of the king’s dream about the great statue, Nebuchadnezzar responded by saying to Daniel, “Certainly your God is a God of gods and Lord of kings and revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery” (2:47).  Interestingly, Nebuchadnezzar’s reported response to the telling of the prophecy of the statue was to build a statue of himself, though made entirely out of gold, whereas in the dream, only the head of the statue of himself was gold, while the rest was composed of different materials. 

In the Daniel story, the prophet informs the king that the various materials used from top to bottom represented kingdoms that would rise up and pass away, beginning with his own kingdom of Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar’s response, after speaking quite highly of Daniel’s God because of the revelation and interpretation, was to construct the previously referenced image, doing so completely from gold.  This would seem to be an indication that it was his belief that it was in fact the kingdom that he himself had assembled that would never pass away. 

To the construction of the statue Nebuchadnezzar added the requirement for all peoples to bow down and worship the image, doing so as an act of worship towards him and presumably in recognition of what he had now come to think of as his own eternal kingdom.  This, of course, is what precipitated the “fiery furnace incident”, which in turn engendered his proclamation that is recorded at the beginning of the fourth chapter of Daniel.  So it seems reasonable to surmise that there may have been a small bit of disingenuousness in Nebuchadnezzar’s great proclamation concerning Daniel’s God, so the Creator God that had been so gloriously referenced by this great king, seemingly took it upon Himself to make Nebuchadnezzar into a true believer, with the thoughts of his heart eventually coming to match up with the words of his lips. 

Moving on to the thirty-fourth verse of the fourth chapter of Daniel, the reader finds the Creator God’s words to Nebuchadnezzar ringing true.  There it can be read, “But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me” (4:34a).  Remember, he had been judged and driven from human society.  He had lost his sanity.  He had become, for a specified and appointed time, something less than human. 

These words from Nebuchadnezzar force a consideration of Adam, a recall of his being driven out and his loss of sanity (in a way), as he became (along with all those that followed in his wake) something less than human.  This is said, of course, as one continually bears in mind that man was made as and to be the image of the Creator God, that he might be the reflection of His glory into the world, as well as the being that gathered up the praises of the creation and returned them to their Creator.  Considering this the, truly the failure to rightly bear the divine image---the failure to be truly human---is what it means to fall short of the glory of God. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nebuchadnezzar's Fall (part 5)

As man is driven from the good and bountiful garden, which had freely yielded the fruit of the trees for his sustenance, he is informed about a different way that his food is going to come to him from that point forward.  The Creator God told Adam, “cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, but you will eat the grain of the field” (Genesis 3:17b-18).  This eating of the grain of the field---of what grows from the ground---could be likened to Nebuchadnezzar’s being “fed grass like oxen,” as both are now going to be eating what grows from the ground, as they live among the wild animals, rather than having plenteous quantities of food delivered to them by their humble servants. 

Humble servants?  In Adam’s case, because he was the Creator God’s image-bearing steward over all creation, and because he had been given a responsible dominion over the works of his God’s hands, his humble servants would have been the trees of the garden.  Scripture seems to suggest that creation itself would have willingly yielded its bounty to its steward.  For Nebuchadnezzar, of course, his servants would have been those men and women over which he ruled.  This eating of grass, for both Nebuchadnezzar and Adam, as Adam (man) was now forced to till the ground to yield food (“eating grass” then serving as metaphor), would serve as a constant reminder that they had fallen from what had been intended for them.  Yes, if He truly holds the world in His hands, it is to be borne in mind that the Creator God had purposeful intentions for Nebuchadnezzar.   

As has been said, the respective falls came through pride and self-worship, as both Adam and the king of Babylon presumptuously reached for that which did not belong to them.  Each time they ate the grass of the field, they would be reminded of their having been driven from human society.  Adam would be forced to remember that he had willfully departed from what it meant to be fully human, which was living in a complete, trusting allegiance to his Creator, faithfully carrying out his divine purpose to be the bearer of the divine image.  He now lived in cursing and exile, fallen from glory, and now inhabiting a world cursed because of his faithlessness.  Nebuchadnezzar would be separated from fellowship with his fellow human beings, therefore separated from relationship with others that had been created in the image of the covenant God of Israel, and therefore even further separated from that God, in an awful state of exile and in full experience of the Creator God’s cursing upon himself.

After this pronouncement on the man that is so often thought of as an evil and idolatrous king, the story of Nebuchadnezzar takes what might be perceived as an unexpected turn.  The Creator God makes a promise to Nebuchadnezzar that this state of affairs in which he finds himself living a beastly existence, will go on for “seven periods of time” (4:32d).  So it was not going to be a permanent condition for Nebuchadnezzar.  As the story goes, he was informed that he was going to undergo this cursing and exile so that he would be made to “understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever He wishes” (4:32e). 

There is grace and mercy for Nebuchadnezzar here.  Not only is his time of insanity going to have a defined limit, but through it, the Creator God is going to enter in so as to reveal Himself to this king.  He will do this in a way that will, for Nebuchadnezzar, give real meaning and substance and conviction to his previous declaration about that God, in which he had said, “How great are His signs!  How mighty are His wonders!  His kingdom will last forever, and His authority continues from one generation to the next” (4:3).  In these words, Nebuchadnezzar had told “all peoples, nations, and language groups that live in all the land” (4:1), that he was “delighted to tell  you about the signs and wonders that the most high God has done for me” (4:2).  Perhaps this was nothing more than lip service following that to which he had been witness in the situation with Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and the fourth man in the fiery furnace?  Perhaps not? 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Nebuchadnezzar's Fall (part 4)

According to the Scriptural narrative, as the first divine image-bearer, Adam had been given complete dominion over the covenant God’s good creation.  Through his actions however, as creation’s representative before its God---the creation’s king and ruler as it were---that creation had become marred.  In what amounted to bringing himself honor through self-worship, in full knowledge of his desire to be like his Creator God with whom he was said to have regular and direct fellowship (presumably that he might best know how to be the divine image bearer in and for the creation), Adam fell from the position of authority into which he had been placed. 

Due to this, Adam was told “cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, but you will eat the grain of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat food until you return to the ground” (3:17b-19a).  So the creation itself was unable to escape the judgment that came to its representative.  How is this reflected in the Nebuchadnezzar story?  In much the same way that Adam had been driven from the garden of Eden, because of the king’s self-worship, when he was stripped of his rule and authority, the Creator God said to him, “You will be driven from human society” (Daniel 4:32a).  Adam had given up his full humanity, which is a fate that would come to Nebuchadnezzar as well. 

Yes, it must be understood that, in his fall, Adam gave up and rejected what it meant to be fully human.  Adam, having been made as the image of the Creator God for the world---designed to trust and honor and worship his Creator, lost that which the Creator God had apparently intended for humankind.  This realization makes Nebuchadnezzar’s plight of being “driven from human society” all the more fascinating. 

To this fact of being driven from human society, the God of Israel added that Nebuchadnezzar would “live with the wild animals” (4:32b).  With his dominion over creation taken from him, in which he was clearly placed by the Creator God (much like Nebuchadnezzar had been given power and a kingdom by that same God for a particular purpose and time) in a stewarding, care-taking, responsible, and God-like superiority over the beasts of the field (how would the Creator of all things treat His creation?), Adam’s expulsion from the garden now meant that he too was going to live with the wild animals. 

Why?  Why is there this parallel in the stories of Adam and Nebuchadnezzar?  It is because, quite frankly, humans become what they worship.  Adam, as Scripture seems to indicate, turned his thoughts upon himself, essentially worshiping the creature.  Nebuchadnezzar, in many respects, did the same.  With that being so, the Creator God drove both of them to join the realm over which they had previously ruled, and to live like the remainder of the created order---to live like that which they had now come to worship.  By over-reaching, both of them denied the Creator God’s purpose for them.         

Along with being driven from human society and living with wild animals, the covenant God tells Nebuchadnezzar that he “will be fed grass like oxen” (Daniel 4:32c).  As one continues to compare this king’s fall with the fall of the earth’s first ruler (Adam-the divine image-bearer that originally been given sovereignty over the creation), is it possible to find a corollary with this statement in the fall of man?  In a way, yes.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Nebuchadnezzar's Fall (part 3)

Looking to Genesis then, it is not difficult to observe that the fall of Nebuchadnezzar well mirrors the fall of man.  How so?  Firstly, with the statements that are attributed to him, he appears to have assigned himself the place of the Creator God.  He effectively deified himself.  This, of course, was not all uncommon in that day.  Having previously spoken of Daniel’s God by declaring “How great are His signs!  How mighty are His wonders!  His kingdom will last forever, and His authority continues from one generation to the next” (Daniel 4:3), by his declaration concerning “the great Babylon that I have built for my royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor” (4:30b), he re-assigned the words that had previously been offered up in recognition of the God of Israel, to himself.  This is hubris indeed.   

So how does this mirror the fall of man?  If one were to turn to the third chapter of Genesis, the reader would find the serpent speaking to Eve in regards to the “forbidden fruit” and saying, “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil” (3:5).  So what was the temptation that was offered to Eve?  Essentially, it would seem that she was being told that she could be like the Creator God. 

Moving forward then, efforts must be made to place flesh and blood on the story, imagining that, having taken the step of eating but not dying (at least not physically in that moment as she may have expected), she would have taken the next step of communicating similar information to that which she had heard from the serpent to her husband Adam.  Thus he also ate the fruit.  In this, he too, not satisfied with having been made as the divine image in and for the creation, and rather than humbly and faithfully serving as a steward of the creation over which he had been given dominion by the Creator, Adam desired to be like the Creator God.  In the eating of the fruit, in what was a likely a full knowledge of what it was that he hoped to attain (being like his Creator), like Nebuchadnezzar, Adam (and Eve) appropriated to themselves that which was not theirs. 

For Nebuchadnezzar, the awful announcement and execution of judgment came with rapidity.  The Creator God does not ultimately abide those that He ordains for a purpose transgressing their roles.  Thus, the voice from heaven rang out, informing the self-idolatrous king that had put himself in the place of the Creator God and was now thinking of himself along the same lines that he had previously thought of God, “that your kingdom has been removed from you” (Daniel 4:31b). 

It could certainly be said that Adam’s experience, as set forth in the Scriptural narrative, was no different.  Illustrating this, Genesis reports that “the Lord God said, ‘Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’  So the Lord God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken” (Genesis 3:22-23).  In Adam’s situation, it seems that the last thing that the Creator God wanted was for Adam to eat of the tree of life, and therefore, be able to live forever in his now corrupted and completely unintended state. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Nebuchadnezzar's Fall (part 2)

Nebuchadnezzar is said to have engaged in sin, and implored by Daniel to “do right.”  He is further encouraged to break away from his iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.  Here, not only does Daniel provide a rather overt definition of sin and wrong in the eyes of the Creator God, but he is essentially informing the king that he has engaged in the exact same types of activities (calling it sin) that landed the covenant people of which Daniel is part (Judah/Israel) in the position of subservience to Babylon as part of their God’s judgment upon them.  

Nebuchadnezzar, and presumably Israel, were guilty of sin, and the nature of this sin is announced in Nebuchadnezzar being instructed to show mercy to the poor.  Essentially, he was going to experience judgment in much the same way as had Israel, and for much the same reason---failing to live up to covenant obligations, having acknowledged the Creator God of Israel, and presumably having come to an understanding of being raised up by that God for a specific purpose.

So what were the circumstances under which these things that Daniel had told the king were going to take place were brought about?  Well, “he happened to be walking around the battlements of the royal palace of Babylon” and “uttered these words: ‘Is not this the great Babylon that I have built from a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?’” (4:29-30)  By the way the narrative is constructed, it appears that Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten the dream and Daniel’s warning (or perhaps come to disregard it), as well as His proclamation concerning the signs, might, wonders, kingdom, and authority of Daniel’s God. 

Consequently, the Creator God’s response to this statement is swift, as the author reports that “While these words were still on the king’s lips, a voice came down from heaven: ‘It is hereby announced to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingdom has been removed from you!  You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals.  You will be fed grass like oxen, and seven periods of time will pass by for you before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms  and gives them to whomever He wishes’.” (4:31-32)  As the God of Israel apparently did not see fit to waste any time in executing this judgment (He was less lenient and patient towards this king than He had been toward His people), we learn that “in that very moment this pronouncement upon Nebuchadnezzar came true” (4:33), being fulfilled completely. 

What’s the point of going through this story?  What is to be learned from it?  Does it merely show forth the power of the Creator God and the effects of human pride?  Of course it does, but it goes beyond that.  This story fits within the scope of the larger and all-encompassing narrative of the Scriptures that serves to reveal the nature and character of the One about whom these Scriptures speak.  For example, there is a tremendous symmetry between this story of the king of Babylon and the that of the tower of Babel. 

Could one not look at the tower of Babel, from the book of Genesis, and see humanity---in the wake of the Creator God’s great proclamation of His own power that had presumably been demonstrated by means of the flood, building their tower and saying “is this not the great tower that we are building by our own strength and for our majestic honor,” doing so in defiance of the Creator God, as they dared Him to send another flood upon the earth?  Naturally, the correlations between this story of Nebuchadnezzar and the story of the Scriptures goes far beyond that.  In fact, it reaches back to the beginning---to the creation.   

Nebuchadnezzar's Fall (part 1)

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

In the prophetic and apocalyptic work of Daniel, it is said that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had been “frightened badly” (4:5) by a dream.  He would come to recount the dream to Daniel, and Daniel proceeded to inform him as to the meaning and interpretation of that dream.  It is said that Nebuchadnezzar had been frightened by his dream, whereas Daniel was upset and alarmed at what it was that he was going to have to tell the king, going so far as to say “if only the dream were for your enemies and its interpretation applied to your adversaries” (4:19).  One should take a moment to imagine what it would be like to hear such words from somebody that has proven to be reliable in their interpretation of dreams. 

The king had dreamed about a tree “whose top reached to the sky, and which could be seen in all the land, whose foliage was attractive and its fruit plentiful, and from which there was food available for all” (4:20b-21a).  This, Daniel said, represented Nebuchadnezzar.  However, the command came to “Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave its taproot in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze around it, surrounded by the grass of the field.  Let it become damp with the dew of the sky, and let it live with the wild animals, until seven periods of time go by for him” (4:23b). 

Before going any further, it should be pointed out that just before Nebuchadnezzar tells his dream to Daniel, he had made the proclamation to the whole of his empire, in regards to Daniel and Israel’s God: “How great are His signs!  How mighty are His wonders!  His kingdom will last forever, and his authority continues from one generation to the next” (4:3).  Interestingly, within seconds it seems (at least as far as the Biblical narrative stands, though it could have been a much longer period of time between the two events), Nebuchadnezzar is being given a dream which, as he will hear, has him being cut down and temporarily removed from his place of power. 

Having informed the king that it is he that is the tree of his dream, Daniel tells him that “It is the decision of the Most High that this has happened to my lord the king.  You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals.  You will be fed grass like oxen, and you will become damp with the dew of the sky.  Seven periods of time will pass by for you, before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes” (4:24b-25).  This must have certainly been a bit befuddling to the king, especially when viewed in the light of his grand proclamation concerning this very same God.  Also, this is the same Nebuchadnezzar that the Creator God has raised up, and who seems to realize that he has been raised up, to bring that God’s judgment upon and against His covenant people that had failed to live up to their covenant obligation to be a light to all nations and reflect His glory into the world. 

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

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 12 of 12)

To this statement about authority, eternal life, and knowing the Creator God, Jesus reverts once again to speaking about the glory that will be demonstrated and accomplished by adding “I glorified You on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do.  And now, Father, glorify Me at Your side with the glory I had with You before the world was created” (17:4-5).  Here, He spoke of His work in terms of His God’s glory, while also speaking of His own glorification in terms of that same God’s glory. 

In the final use of “glory” in what has come to be called Jesus’ “high-priestly prayer”, as He presumably, looks past the grave to the new world and the new age of His established and eternal kingdom that will come into existence at what He hopes to be His Resurrection, Jesus goes on to say, “Father, I want those You have given Me to be with me where I am, so that they can see My glory that You gave Me before the creation of the world” (17:24).         

Finally, after His Resurrection that was wholly unexpected by His followers, as Jesus appears in Galilee to His disciples, dining with them and taking the opportunity to restore one that was heartbroken because of his denial of his Lord, Jesus speaks to that restored one and says, “I tell you the solemn truth, when you were young, you tied your clothes around you and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up and bring you where you do not want to go” (21:18). 

The author informs the reader that “Jesus said this to indicate clearly by what kind of death Peter was going to glorify God” (21:19a).  This final mention of glory is the first and only time in this Gospel that the glory of the Creator God is attached to anybody but Jesus or the Father.  Of course, the glory is indirectly associated with Jesus, because Peter was only going to experience his martyrdom because of the message of the Gospel of Jesus (He is Lord of all, including Caesar and all worldly powers) that he was going to preach.  He would only preach that message because of his believing union with Christ, having been cemented into that trusting allegiance, for life or death, through the mysterious and inexplicable infusion of faith from the covenant God, via the Spirit, somehow made possible by the Resurrection. 

Yes, it seems that it can be said that the Creator God is glorified by His martyrs---His witnesses---in life or in death.  The Creator God is glorified when the Gospel is preached, and people hear a testifying witness that Jesus is King and Lord of all.  Before one is ever able to preach that message, for the Creator God’s glory, it must be heard, there must be an assent, and in a way that has the appearance of that which happened to Lazarus (though altogether different), there must be a raising from death to new life.    

Though Jesus’ communication to Peter is in reference to the death that he himself will suffer at the hands of those who oppose the message of the Christ, through it, Jesus also communicates a truth concerning His God’s ways.  For His glory, because He is a faithful God that redeems exiles to Himself for His purpose of carrying out His work through the Spirit that will animate their lives, the Creator God takes those individuals from their path of doing whatever they want, He somehow works within them to stretch out their hands to Him, to bind them to Himself, and to bring them, in some cases, to places that they may never have wanted to go.  By all appearances, He does this, raising them up for His purposes, so as to give them a life that will glorify Him.            

Friday, June 21, 2013

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 11 of 12)

That crowning and culminating and climactic event of all of history, of course, would be the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  Lazarus’ raising, which Jesus indicated would reveal the glory of the Creator God, is the seminal event that stirs the pot, roils the people, irritates the Jewish leaders, creates the tension, causes issues that had been seething under the service to boil over, and drives Jesus’ pre-Resurrection life and mission towards its grand conclusion. 

Based on Jesus’ ongoing responses to that which He knew awaited Him, together with the glory-related narrative that has been constructed in the Johannine narrative and that to which the narrative drives, it can most assuredly be said that raising Lazarus was for the purpose of glory.  So how did Jesus feel about what was coming?  How did He respond to the events as they took place? 

Continuing that narrative of the coming glory, at the “last supper” one finds that “When Judas had gone out,” for the purpose of completing his promised handing-over of Jesus to the authorities, “Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him.  If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and He will glorify Him right away’.” (John 13:31-32)  Here Jesus is found to be speaking of His death in terms of God’s glory. 

As Jesus goes on to speak to His disciples in the dramatic moments that follow, he can be heard to say “And I will do whatever you ask in My Name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (14:13).  He seems to speak of His ongoing presence with and through His disciples---it what appears to be an obvious speaking of the strengthening, performing work of “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My Name” (14:26a)---in terms of the glory of Israel’s Creator God. 

The record of Jesus’ “farewell discourse” to His disciples is quite lengthy, spanning three chapters in John’s Gospel.  Upon its conclusion, Jesus “looked upward to heaven and said, ‘Father, the time has come.  Glorify Your Son, so that Your Son may glorify You’.” (17:1b)  There’s that expectation of glory again, which has appeared to hinge upon Lazarus’ raising.  He looked to His pending death, while appearing to faithfully look forward to His deliverance from the coming grave, seemingly speaking of the Resurrection and its power that was going to be unleashed into the world in order to accomplish His God’s purposes and plans for His fallen creation, and spoke of it in terms of His God’s glory. 

In what appears to be His full expectation of the life to come through His Resurrection, where He will be shown forth as the Son of God in power (Romans 1:4) for all the world to see, Jesus continues speaking to the Father, saying, “just as You have given Him authority over all humanity, so that He may give eternal life to everyone You have given Him.  Now this is eternal life---that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom you sent” (17:2-3). 

It is this knowing of God---and knowing of God in and through the Christ---which will happen through the work of the Spirit that will be sent into the world, that is the manifestation of eternal life.  Eternal life, it should be said, is not simply a life lived in heaven for all eternity.  Rather, and as understood by His hearers and those that would first receive this Gospel story, eternal life was the life of the age to come---the messianic age of the renewed creation---breaking into the world, being the overlap of heaven and earth wherever it is shown forth in word and deed that the Creator God rules on earth, with this accomplished through the Christ and His Lordship. 

This eternal life is not static, but is shared with and through the knower so that it may flow with and through the knower into the world, so that the Creator God’s faithfulness might be known and shown, with this ultimately said to take place through the Christ.  This eternal life that is the sharing of the power of the Resurrection with all who believe, is the power of the Creator God that operates in the world through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, to redeem and deliver a cursed and exiled humanity, along with a creation that was cursed through humanity’s fall. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 10)

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

This issue of “glory” is quite pronounced in the Gospel of John.  It would almost seem to be the crux of the author’s narrative.  It can be seen in the first chapter, where one finds that “the Word became flesh and took up residence among us.  We saw His glory---the glory of the One and only, full of grace and truth, Who came from the Father” (1:14).  In addition to this mention of glory, there is a steady stream of references to “light” throughout this Gospel, which can be safely taken as a sideways reference to “glory,” as the Creator God’s people, and therefore the one who came and stood as a representative for those people, were to be lights in the world for the purpose of their God’s glory. 

The next use of “glory” is to be found in the eighth chapter of the Gospel narrative, where Jesus says “If I glorify Myself, My glory is worthless.  The One Who glorified Me is My Father, about Whom you people say, ‘He is our God’.” (8:54)  These words are shown to have been uttered in response to a declaration by the people that they had Abraham as their father.  They gloried in this fact that demonstrated themselves to be the Creator God’s special people through physical descent.  Jesus mocks this as nothing more than self-glorification, demonstrating its kinship to idolatry, as the people glorify Abraham, and then themselves through Abraham, basically putting aside the covenant God that they claim as their own. 

What is to be noticed is that the issue of “glory” become quite a bit more pronounced once the reader reaches the story of Lazarus.  This story, of course, essentially begins with Jesus’ statement about the glory of the Creator God being shown through Lazarus sickness and death, and the raising that Jesus apparently already had in mind.  It has already been demonstrated that the Lazarus event becomes the catalyst to the rapid succession of events that brings about Jesus’ crucifixion and eventual Resurrection, but it also appears that the story of Lazarus, and his being raised, becomes the major turning point of the story, being that which serves to bring and advance the Creator God’s glory, which is intimately connected to Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection.  With what follows from what Jesus says about Himself and the death that He was going to die, and the multiple announcements about and references to glory to come, a rapid movement is made to the culmination of the narrative and to the crowning event of all of history, in which the glory of the Creator God will be fully manifest.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 9)

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

It seems possible that the whole of the Lazarus scenario has fed into and led up to this point.  By all appearances, it can be reasoned that these Gentiles have been induced to come to Jesus because of the events and situation that have occurred because of Lazarus’ raising.  Having spoken of the glorification of the Son of Man, Jesus then goes on to speak about the kernel of wheat falling into the ground and dying, and its provision of grain (12:24).  At this point, in the context of His God’s glory, it seems that Jesus has His pending ordeal in mind, as He says, “Now My soul is greatly distressed.  And what should I say?  ‘Father, deliver Me from this hour’?  No, but for this very reason I have come to this hour” (12:27). 

To what had He come?  As the story goes, He had come to the time of His death.  He had come to the time that He was referring to as His glorification.  He had come to the time that would show forth the covenant faithfulness of Israel’s God, thus bringing that God the glory that Israel had been raised up and separated out to bring to Him, but had failed in that task.  It is in this context that Jesus says “Father, glorify Your Name” (12:28a).  What follows that statement?  The author reports that “a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’.” (12:28b)      

The story goes on to report that upon the hearing of this thundering sound from heaven, “Jesus said, ‘This voice has not come for My benefit but for yours.  Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out’.” (12:30-31)  When one reads about “judgment,” many are naturally prone to think of God’s wrath, having been conditioned to do so.  However, that need not always necessarily be the case.  In this case, and in relation to the glorification of the Creator God, “judgment” is accompanied by the driving out of the ruler of the world.  Judgment marks the beginning of the renewed creation and the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven.  Because of this, there is both a positive and a negative aspect of judgment. 

Indeed, the positive aspect of judgment is that of “liberation.”  Taking the positive sense then, the ruler of the world that is being driven out is death, as death has been understood to have reigned since Adam.  Through His comprehension of His now pending and rapidly approaching crucifixion and Resurrection, Jesus insists that death will be defeated.  With that defeat, the world will be liberated from its bondage to and fear of death, as the power of the Resurrection (the same power that raised up Jesus from the dead) will reign in this world through those that are in a believing union with Jesus, calling Him Lord, doing so in a trusting allegiance in Him as King, and interacting with this world accordingly.  This Resurrection power, presumably and mysteriously in operation by the Spirit of the Creator God, in and through the people of the covenant, who are those people because of their confession of Jesus as Lord, will be the tool that the Creator God uses to deal with evil in the world and to push back darkness, as He makes His people to be reflectors of His light and glory. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 8)

To this point, this study has traversed a chapter and a half of the Gospel of John, with the bulk of the trek related in some way to the death and raising of Lazarus.  On two occasions, mention has been made of the glory of the Creator God in connection with the raising.  The first mention of the Creator God’s glory was upon Jesus’ hearing about Lazarus’ sickness.  The second time was in response to Martha’s insistence that Lazarus would stink, having already been in the tomb for four days.  Both times would lead the reader to believe that Lazarus’ raising itself was that which would reveal the glory of the covenant God, but further observation will allow one to conclude that such was not necessarily the case. 

Immediately after the Pharisees can be heard saying, “Look, the world has run off after Him” (John 12:19b), in reference to the welcome of Jesus into Jerusalem as King, one goes on to read, “Now some Greeks were among those who had gone up to worship at the feast.  So these approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested, ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus.’  Philip went and told Andrew, and they both went and told Jesus” (12:20-22). 

It can be presumed that the Greeks that were in Jerusalem for Passover had seen (or at least heard about) this rousing welcome of Jesus, having also, along with the teeming masses, learned at least some information about the raising of Lazarus and the growing number of people that were, because of that raising, looking to Jesus as the Messiah.  It can also be imagined that these Greeks, in making inquiries about this Jesus fellow, who was now being loudly hailed as Messiah, had learned about some of His rather strange practices of regularly interacting with Gentiles.  Though they were Greeks, since they were in Jerusalem for Passover, it is likely that they had adopted the covenant markers (the works of the law), and were justified (saved, righteous, part of the covenant people).  It is the combination of a number of factors that most likely served to induce these Greeks to ask Jesus’ disciples for an audience with Jesus. 

Because they were in Jerusalem for Passover, and therefore in recognition of the Creator God’s covenant and His covenant people, which was likely indicated by their adoption of covenant markers themselves, it can also be deduced that they were aware of what were taken to be the prophecies of messiah, and would have been especially keyed in on those prophecies which clearly showed forth the messiah as so much more than a messiah for ethnic and national Jews alone, but which, according to some readings, announced a messiah for all peoples and all nations. 

It is worthwhile to attempt an examination of the scenario, in an attempt to determine why it was that they would want to see Jesus.  What was their peculiar motivation?  It is quite possible that, even though they were Greeks (Gentiles) that recognized the covenant and the covenant people, and even though they were in Jerusalem to recognize the Creator God’s saving deliverance in association with the Passover, that they were systematically excluded from full fellowship with those of ethnic and national Israel, even if they kept to the covenant marker of circumcision, along with the food and Sabbath laws. 

With the “Jesus situation,” combined with their understanding of a presumed understanding of the messiah as a figure that would transcend the traditional covenant boundaries, they desired to see Jesus.  A direct audience with the one being hailed as messiah could certainly put these controversial issues to rest.  The question was, with the knowledge that they were Gentiles, would He see them or would He rebuff them---putting them off as unworthy, regardless of potential bearing of covenant markers, because they were not of Israelite descent? 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 7)

These revolutionary movements that had been previously put down by the Romans had obviously been localized uprisings, dealt with rather easily, without widespread impact for the whole of the country.  It seems clear at this point in John’s tale that Jesus had gained country-wide support and popularity, at what appears to be a level far beyond what had been realized by messianic claimants that had come before Him. 

Naturally, the reports of miracle-working would have played a role in this, but perhaps had much to do with Jesus’ inclusive practices, inviting all and sundry to join with Him in His movement.  Because of this, a response by Rome commensurate with the breadth of the movement would have to be far more severe.  Rather than Jesus being dealt with locally, in the way that Rome had dealt with those had come before, Rome’s inevitable response to this far more popular rival to Caesar, as imagined by the current political leadership of the nation, would be to “come and take away our sanctuary and our nation” (11:48b). 

In addition to that, the Romans were not unaware of the history of the peoples that they ruled.  Jesus, some seem to forget, was not the first man to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, with this riding accompanied by shouts of “Hosanna.”  Appealing to the sensibilities of the Jewish people, this would have been taken to be a conscious re-enactment of Solomon’s crowning.  Not only was this a re-enactment of a previous coronation, this riding into Jerusalem in such a manner was something that had also occurred again within the two hundred years prior to Jesus, as a great Jewish military hero was feted in this way (donkey and shouts of Hosanna). 

It should be well nigh impossible to believe that the Romans would have not have been aware of this, and therefore, when coupled together with the larger-than-usual population of Jerusalem due to Passover and the possibility of igniting the passion for exodus and deliverance from oppressors that could easily be sparked by Passover celebrations, they would probably have been on even higher alert than usual.   

The Johannine author adds a parenthetical statement after writing about the king’s coming on a donkey’s colt, attuning those that would hear or read his story to the previously referenced (mentioned by Jesus) subject matter of God’s glory.  He writes, “His disciples did not understand these things when they first happened, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that these things had happened to Him” (12:16).  Continuing to connect Lazarus’ raising with the Creator God’s glory, though not in the way that some are inclined to consider it, he would go on to write that “the crowd who had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead were continuing to testify about it” (12:17).  So here the author writes of glory, while quickly going to mention Lazarus.   

Obviously, the testimony of the witnesses to the Lazarus raising continued to produce an ever-growing number of believers, enlarging the size of the crowd that “went out to meet Him” (12:18b), welcoming the One they seemed to be coming to regard as their Messiah King.  Moving the observer closer to understanding where the Creator God’s glory is to be found in all of these things, the Pharisees’ response to the entirety of this situation that had been greatly spurred on by the situation with Lazarus, was “Look, the world has run off after Him!” (12:19b)   

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 6)

Though it’s difficult to conceive of this, Jesus was perceived as something of a corruptor of the people and a subverter of faith and practice.  Thus, those that followed Him, who believed in Him as the Messiah, and who thus began mimicking His practices---especially in the area of table fellowship with “sinners”, interaction with Gentiles, involvement with those that were ritually unclean, and general acceptance of all who were considered to be outside of the bounds of covenant---would invoke the anger of Israel’s God and delay His long-awaited entrance into history to work on behalf of His covenant people. 

As far as many were concerned, especially the Chief Priest and Pharisees, if more and more people began to disregard the works of the law (covenant markers that identified those holding to the covenant of the Creator God in thankful response) that were then in place and somewhat stridently enforced, then all that would result would be the extension of the curse of their God under which they continued to find themselves, as they were in exile from their God’s promises to them.  That exile was primarily evidenced by the fact that they were ruled by a foreign power (Rome), in accordance with the clear enunciation of curses to be found in the Torah (in both Deuteronomy and Leviticus). 

Generally, this would have been the attitude that would have been adopted by the Pharisee Saul, as before his “conversion,” he was, according to his own testimony, doing everything in his power to stamp out the pestilent heresy (the crucified man from Nazareth was resurrected and was the Messiah) that was serving to drive the people of Israel away from the keeping of the required marks of covenant (remember, these were not good works designed to earn their God’s favor so that they could be saved and go to heaven when they die), and thus delaying their God’s redeeming action (deliverance, exodus).  

Continuing on in chapter twelve of John, subsequent to the raising of Lazarus and the return to Bethany, the reader learns that “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem” (12:12).  Part of this great crowd, of course, consisted of those that were causing great consternation amongst the chief priests and Pharisees---specifically, those that “were going away and believing in Jesus” (12:11b).  By way of reminder, they were believing in Jesus in these great numbers because of the knowledge that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. 

This belief was foundational in the growing movement towards that which was going to show forth the Creator God’s glory.  This crowd “took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him.  They began to shout, ‘Hosanna!  Blessed is the One Who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Blessed is the King of Israel!’” (12:13)  This was a large-scale messianic confession.  This was a widespread identification with Jesus’ kingdom movement.  Significantly, this was being done openly, before both Jewish leaders and Roman officials. 

As if that was not enough, “Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Do not be afraid, people of Zion; look, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt!’” (12:14-15)  Why is it significant that this was being done in front of both Jewish leaders and Roman officials?  Well, in chapter eleven, following Lazarus’ raising, in acknowledgement that Jesus was “performing many miraculous signs” (11:47b), the Jewish council had already said, “If we allow Him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation” (11:48).  This reminds the reader that there had been other messianic claimants that had risen up, movements that had gained some small measure of popular support, and had been subsequently put down by the Romans. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 5)

With this question from Jesus, and His reference to belief and the glory of God, an observers thoughts are returned to the beginning of the story of Lazarus.  As Lazarus and his plight is introduced into the Gospel narrative, Jesus says that “This sickness will not lead to death, but to God’s glory” (11:4b).  Once again, one must look past the immediate circumstance of the Lazarus issue, hearing the story as a component of a wider narrative (within a wider narrative) with a certain theological, sociological, and religious objective, in order to truly understand that to which Jesus is referring when He speaks about the Creator God’s glory.  Without making that effort, it would be tempting to think that the glory of the Creator God will be demonstrated through the raising of Lazarus, but in reality, the raising is only relational, and it serves only as a catalyst to that which will truly reveal the glory of the covenant God of Israel. 

The author reports that Jesus casts His eyes heavenward (11:41), and, one would have to imagine, thinking through what it was that is going to be accomplished through the events that this Gospel portrays as being set in motion through this raising, Jesus offers thankfulness for the power that will be put on display that will have the result that the people “may believe that You sent Me” (11:42b).  Having done this, Jesus, with a loud voice, said, “Lazarus, come out!” (11:43b)  As should be expected from all that has been reported to this point in the story of John, that is precisely what happened.  Lazarus came out of the tomb.  What was the result?  The author says that “Many of the people who had come with Mary and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him” (11:45), thus setting the stage for the previously mentioned glory of the Creator God that was soon to be manifested. 

John indicates that this growth in the number of those that believed in Jesus caused a widespread furor.  Honestly, one can only imagine the response to reports about a dead man being raised back to life.  In what is said to be a direct response to this occurrence and the furor that it created, “The chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said… If we allow Him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in Him” (11:47a, 48a).  This statement thus continues the march towards uncovering that to which Jesus was referring when He spoke of the glory of His God in connection with Lazarus’ death and raising. 

Continuing this same story that began with the report of Lazarus’ sickness, some short period of time later, when there was “six days before the Passover” (12:1a), the reader learns that “Jesus came to Bethany” (12:1b).  This place, of course, was inhabited by those that had seen the great miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead.  This would, undoubtedly, be a defining moment for Bethany for all of its existence, so it is wholly unsurprising that the author reports about “a large crowd of Judeans” that “learned that Jesus was there, and so they came not only because of Him but also to see Lazarus whom He had raised from the dead” (12:9).  Here one can note that Lazarus’ raising, as it was drawing people to Jesus, and ultimately to His mission and way of ushering in the kingdom of heaven on earth, was still being used as an instrument in the Creator God’s hands for the purpose of His own glory. 

Apparently the “Lazarus event” was quite well known, so much so that “the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too, for on account of him many of the Jewish people were going away and believing in Jesus” (12:10-11).  This was a problem on many levels.  One of the reasons that it was a significant problem in the eyes of the chief priests and Pharisees that the people were going away and believing in Jesus, was that Jesus was seen as somebody that was not rigorously keeping to the covenant markers (works of the law) that were so vitally important to Israel’s national interests in that day.  

Friday, June 14, 2013

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 4)

In Jesus, Peter says, the Creator God has performed the resurrection of the righteous dead, and now invites all of Israel, and all of mankind, to join Him in His Resurrection, which is the expectation of the “last days” now brought forward into their present.  This invitation is “accepted” through believing “beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus Whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36b).  What Peter tells his hearers is that their messianic expectations have indeed been confirmed, albeit inexplicably, through the vehicles of a Roman cross and a family tomb. 

This Resurrection had taken place in what should now be considered to be the last days (or at least the beginning of the “last days” --- a term that did not denote the end of the creation, but the messianic age and the beginning of the renewed creation, in which Israel’s Creator God was King and Lord of all); and now, a new day and a new age has dawned, and the long-awaited kingdom of God has been inaugurated, with Jesus as its Messiah-King.  Jesus is to be recognized as King and Lord of all, which was the role that was believed to have been reserved for the Creator God Himself. 

Thus, Jesus, as Messiah and the herald of the messianic age, comes to be equated with the God of Israel.  With this, the inexorable, unrelenting march towards the Creator God’s final restoration of all things has begun, with that God’s covenant people, now identified by belief in Jesus, the vehicles by which the Creator God will continue to reveal Himself, through what is taken to be the inward to outward working of the Spirit, sending His light and glory into the world.    

With this declaration of Jesus as Lord and Christ, or Lord and Messiah---presenting Him as the “Lord” that Israel’s King David had called Lord, as well as being the King of Israel (Son of God, Son of Man), Peter seizes on the well-understood concept that Israel’s king would always serve as a representative of the people, with the fortunes of the people of God waxing and waning based on the performance of their king as it related to what their God required of His covenant people (avoiding idolatry, reverencing the sanctuary, keeping the Sabbaths---what was then understood as the “works of the law” and the identifying marks of those in good covenant standing and therefore able to participate in the age of the renewed creation, resurrection of the righteous dead). 

This representation of the covenant people by the King can be most explicitly seen in King David’s infamous “numbering of the people.”  When David did this, without carrying it out appropriately and in the way that God had commanded (which would have been in association with an offering as outlined in the book of Exodus), a plague came upon the people.  This, as promised.  When David repented, built an altar, and made a sacrifice (an offering), the plague stopped.

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

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 3)

Before one can return to the issue of Lazarus’ sickness and death and God’s glory, it is necessary to traverse the territory that is laid out before the reader with the exchanges that take place between Martha and Jesus, and Mary and Jesus.  Jesus goes to Bethany, where He encounters the grieving sisters of Lazarus, whom He loved (along with his sisters).  Upon His arrival, Martha greets Him, 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). 

There is, it needs to be said, a faith-rooted belief to be found in those statements.  Martha, apparently believing Jesus to be the Messiah, and combining that belief with some type of knowledge that part of the work of Messiah will be to restore all things, along with the general belief in the resurrection of the dead, appeals to her awareness of His powerful, healing and restoring works, in hopes that a restoration to life will be granted to her deceased brother.  Jesus responds to Martha’s faith and messianic understanding by saying, “Your brother will come back to life again” (11:23). 

Martha, who is merely reflecting the general hope of Israel in that day, which was the resurrection of the righteous dead (the Creator God’s covenant people) into their God’s good and restored creation, replies by saying, “I know that he will come back to life again in the resurrection at the last day” (11:24).  Jesus’ response to this is to flatly inform Martha that “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).  An interesting statement to be sure. 

Jesus punctuates this statement of response with an inquiry, saying, “Do you believe this?” (11:26b)  With this, Jesus confirms both Martha’s belief in Him as Messiah, as well as the Jewish hope in the resurrection of the Creator God’s covenant people into a renewed created order in which the God of Israel has put down death and corruption (as they were most definitely not looking towards a spiritual, dis-embodied, heavenly existence for all eternity), defeating the evil that had been launched into the world at Adam’s fall, all of which was connected with the coming of messiah at the last day.  Martha’s enthusiastic reply is “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God (King of Israel) Who comes into the world” (11:27-parentheses supplied).   

This worldview that Martha presents is that upon which the Apostle Peter will seize in what is generally referred to as his Pentecost “sermon” in the second chapter of Acts.  As a member of the nation of Israel, Peter himself had been looking towards their God’s action in history, which would eventually culminate in the resurrection of the righteous dead into the renewed creation.  The righteous dead were the saints---those who were the Creator God’s covenant people, Israel.  In that tremendous piece of oratory, Peter said, with an ultimate reference to what had been wrought in the world via the Resurrection of Jesus, that “this is what was spoken about through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16).  Following that, Peter recounts Joel’s prophecy, which, prior to the Christ-event, was generally understood as a presentation of that which would accompany the resurrection of the righteous dead, Israel, in the last days. 

After quoting Joel, Peter would go on to speak of Jesus, saying “God raised Him up, having released Him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held in its power” (2:24).  This was what the people of Israel, Peter’s fellow Jews, were expecting to be said of all of their God’s covenant people in the last days.  Peter makes it clear that the expectation of Israel has been fulfilled in Jesus, and that He had gone down into death and had been raised up, experiencing these things as Israel’s representative.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 2)

Getting back to the situation with Lazarus, one can see that Jesus did in fact say, “This sickness will not lead to death.”  However, just a few verses later, after the two days of delay in His going to see Lazarus, Jesus tells His disciples that “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.  But I am going there to awaken him” (John 11:11b).  Because of His disciples’ reported confusion about what Jesus was attempting to communicate to them, Jesus clarifies His meaning and says, “Lazarus has died” (11:14b).  This would seem to run contrary to His previous statement, but one must keep an eye on the bigger picture.  Thus, to this He adds, “and I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe.  But let us go to him” (11:15). 

Here again, the reader is presented with another question to consider.  Did Jesus expect that His raising of Lazarus from the dead would finally cause His disciples to believe that He was Who He seemed to be indicating that He was, namely, Israel’s Messiah (King=Son of Man & Son of God)?  In similarity to the first answer proffered in this study, this is unlikely, as if these disciples had not yet come to believe in the strong possibility that He was in fact the long-awaited Messiah that would usher in the kingdom of heaven and a new golden age for Israel and all the earth, especially after all that they had been said to have seen and experienced to this point in the Gospel narrative, it is improbable that this event would serve to convince them. 

At the same time, it would seem to be more than likely that they already believed that He was the promised Messiah, and that they were firmly ensconced within His movement, though there could certainly be lingering doubts about the manner in which He was going about His mission, and an ongoing wondering if He was going to eventually take up arms in the style of King David, so as to drive the Romans from the land, which would have been part and parcel of the widely held messianic considerations. 

Now that’s not to say that they would or could not be quickly shaken from this belief---the evidence as it is reported following His arrest and crucifixion suggest otherwise.  At this point however, they do seem to be largely on board.  In fact, one of the disciples---the one referred to as a doubter---might very well have been put on display in the story as the first and only one to both realize that Jesus was the Messiah, and that, contrary to what the rest expected, that He was also going to die on behalf of the people, as their King. 

If Thomas does realize this (or something like this), it would be widely contradictory to the commonly held worldview that a messiah, by definition, is not going to die.  If this realization is realistic, it seems that Thomas, following the death of Jesus, may have had a change of heart, which is more than understandable (though “doubter” as an epithet simply does not seem to fit Thomas any more than the rest of the disciples, at least when the Gospel narratives are broadly taken into consideration). 

After Jesus informed His disciples that they were going to be returning to the area around Jerusalem, of which the disciples had previously reminded Jesus that “the Jewish leaders were just now trying to stone You to death” (11:8b), this one disciple was heard to have said, “Let us go too, so that we may die with Him” (11:16b).  It does seem possible that, at least here, the “doubter” might have been the one with understanding, grasping the nature of Jesus’ mission, what would be required of Him, and what it would ultimately accomplish.   

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Raising Lazarus For Glory (part 1)

When Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness will not lead to death, but to God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” – John 11:4  (NET)

Prior to making this statement, Jesus had received a message about a good friend.  In that message, He had been told that “the one You love is sick” (11:3b).  As an aside, it should be noted that Lazarus is the only man in the New Testament of whom it is said that Jesus loved him, while here it can also be learned that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (11:5).  It is fascinating to consider that it is these people alone that are of spoken of in this way (Jesus loved him/them), and spoken of this way here in this Gospel alone, which makes an internal claim to be authored by the disciple whom Jesus loved (21:20,24). 

Upon hearing this, Jesus---the one that had demonstrated power to turn water into wine, who is said to have pronounced from afar the healing of the son of a royal official in Capernaum, reported to have healed a long-crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, multiplied a few loaves and fishes to feed a multitude of people, walked on water, and gave sight to a man that had been blind from birth---did not run to Lazarus’ bedside and He did not pronounce healing from afar, though presumably, based on His track record and what is reported about Him, He could have done so.  The author reports that He simply replied to the message by saying that “This sickness will not lead to death, but to God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  Additionally, having heard this report about the one (the only individual in Scripture) that Jesus is specifically said to have loved, somewhat oddly, “He remained in the place where He was for two more days” (11:6b). 

So what did Jesus mean by this statement concerning sickness, death, the Son of God, and glory?  Many conclusions can be drawn.  As possible answers are considered, it must be remembered that these Gospel narratives were not compositions of random occurrences.  Rather, the Gospels, John included, are continuous narratives.  As continues narratives that leave out some details of Jesus’ life, while including and highlighting others, are designed to tell a story that is subsequently designed to prompt the reader of the story to draw a conclusion about the person upon Whom they are focused. 

When Jesus said that this sickness would lead to God’s glory, was He indicating a knowledge that Lazarus was going to die, and that He was going to go and call him forth from the tomb, thus bringing glory to the Creator God?  This is possible and simple, but it seems to be unlikely.  In fact, it is probably as unlikely as the idea that the man that had been born blind, about whom can be read in the ninth chapter of John, spent an entire lifetime suffering in blindness and darkness so that one day Jesus could come along and heal Him and the God of Israel could be glorified through the healing.  That would seem like nothing more than a great, cosmic joke by a prankster god unworthy of praise.  That does not seem like the type of God that Jesus is said to reveal.  

Considering the record of the man that was born blind, Jesus said that this condition existed “so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him” (9:3b).  Thus, that case would seem to  less about the healing and more about Jesus’ Messianic claims, as the fall-out over the healing, as recorded in the Gospel narrative that must be read as a continuous and connected story, would ultimately center on questions about Jesus as Messiah and Jesus’ presenting Himself as the Good Shepherd, which carried patently messianic undertones.  Through the healing, the acts of the Creator God were in fact revealed, in that one of the widely held expectations about Israel’s messiah was that he would be the physical, human embodiment of the faithful and covenant God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that He would be acting on behalf of Israel to fulfill His promises to them.  In addition to that, through the healing, the reader, who has been introduced into the Johannine story about the true divine image-bearer with the words “In the beginning,” is given a glimpse into what the Creator God had always intended for humanity.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Believing For Pleasing (part 2 of 2)

So when the author of the first letter of John writes that “this is His commandment” (3:23a), He is speaking to a group of people that should be in a position to well understand what is meant by “commandment” and that which “pleases God.”  This is especially so among Jewish believers, as it is borne in mind that Christianity (to use a general referent) was a Resurrection and creation restoration movement that had its roots in Judaism, that looked to the one now confirmed to have been the Jewish Messiah as its founder and resurrected Leader, was informed and undergirded by the history and prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures, and which was understood to be the movement of the Creator God in fulfillment of His desire and His promise to bless all nations through His covenant people. 

Because of these things, the reader also does well to remember that the Jewish understanding of righteousness, covenant, commandment, and Resurrection would be fundamental in forming the theology of the new movement that was now centered upon Jesus, the son of Joseph, who was said to have hailed from Nazareth.  So even if the author is writing to a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles, or to a group predominantly composed of Gentiles, Jewish understanding of the primary concepts would always have to be front and center in order to make any sense of the message of Jesus, of the Kingdom of heaven, or of the sovereign, creative, providential, and covenant God.

With that covered, one can infer that, with talk of commandments, reference is indeed being made to covenant markers.  Reference is being made to that which denotes a person as being in positive covenant standing, and therefore part of the kingdom of the Creator God that was understood to have been unexpectedly inaugurated in the midst of history with the Resurrection of Jesus, and therefore righteous (justified) and pleasing to God.  This was always an important and controversial issue within the very early church.  There was a group of believers that firmly believed that the works of the law---the established covenant markers---needed to be kept in place to identify believers as people under the covenant.  These individuals should not be painted as enemies, but rather, as those that also sought to live by faith. 

Likewise, and contrary (in this matter) to those that believed that the established covenant markers needed to be maintained so that covenant members could be readily identified, there was a group of believers, of which the Apostle Paul seems to be the loudest voice, that said that the only thing that was necessary was a confessed belief in the Gospel of Jesus (He is Lord of all), and that it was this alone, which sprung from a faith that was somehow gifted by the Holy Spirit as a gracious and sovereign act of the Creator God, signaled a believer’s membership in the kingdom of the Creator God, making them righteous (justified), pleasing to God, and partakers in the covenant God’s promised blessings for His people. 

The author of this letter seems to be very much in agreement with this second position, as even though he takes the liberty of redundantly adding “and love one another” (which would be the natural outworking of a believing union with Christ that would make one a vehicle for God’s blessings), it is quite clear that he is of the opinion that believing in Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Son of God (King of Israel/Messiah), is that which brought one into the covenant, sealing a person into the kingdom of the Creator God.  Belief in Jesus and in His Gospel (messiah-ship, crucifixion, Resurrection, rule as Lord of all) was paramount.  All else was secondary, flowing from the faith and power housed within that message.    

Believing For Pleasing (part 1 of 2)

Now this is His commandment: that we believe in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He gave us the commandment. – 1 John 3:23  (NET)

Prior to writing this, the author of the letter (presumably the disciple named John) alerts his readers, with the words that comprise the twenty-second verse, that the commandments that are spoken of here in the twenty-third verse are “pleasing to Him” (3:22b).  Is there a context that will enable the reader of the letter, then and no w, to better understand the weight of what it is that is here being passed along for consumption and reflection by the community of Jesus-believers?  Of course there is, and it is a context that is created by the use of the words “righteous” and “righteousness” in the lead-up to these statements about the commandments and what is pleasing to the Creator God. 

The use of “righteous” and “righteousness” among those that are steeped or, at the least, partially educated in the narrative of Israel by which the work of the Creator God and the Messiah’s mission and kingdom must be understood, would naturally invoke thoughts of covenant, covenant requirements, and covenant faithfulness in the mind of the reader.  Attending those various thoughts concerning covenant would be a consideration of the works of the law. 

“Works of the law,” contrary to being a negative term or a set of rules or works by which one gained righteousness or attempted to achieve heaven upon death, was simply a first century term used to denote those things that served as responsive markers to demonstrate inclusion in the Creator God’s covenant people (Israel).  The works of the law were circumcision, and Sabbath-keeping, along with food and purity laws.  Adherence to these works of the law identified a person as being a covenant member in good standing.  Additionally, it is worth bearing in mind that these works were not ways to get into positive covenant status, but were the responses to the grace of the Creator God and His offer of the opportunity to be in good covenant standing with Him (righteousness). 

Because the modern reader is likely to be so far removed from this sensibility, having had the false dichotomy of “works versus grace” hammered into his or her consciousness, it is worth reiterating that adhering to these things, or the works of the law, simply identified an individual as being in positive covenant standing.  They were not designed to earn anything, much less the favor of their God.  This adherence demonstrated that one was righteous.  If one was considered to be righteous, then that person was justified before the Creator God, experiencing that God’s covenant faithfulness, or His righteousness. 

Amongst the covenant people, and most likely the new covenant people that were Gentiles, this was well understood in that day.  It was part of the air that they breathed.  It cannot be said enough, contra so much of the sensibilities of modern Christianity, that the works of the law, most assuredly, did not function or stand as attempts to earn entrance into heaven after death by valiant efforts at keeping the law.  Performing the works of the law, again, was a covenant marker that, interestingly enough, demonstrated a trust in the Creator God and in His power to perform according to His promises, in a firm reliance on His covenant faithfulness.  Adhering to the works of the law, and making sure that they were performed appropriately, was an act of faith.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Pure Nonsense (part 4 of 4)

The travelers on the road to Emmaus went on to say, that “some women of our group amazed us” (Luke 24:22a), relating the tale of the women that had been to the unexpectedly empty tomb and returned to His disciples to inform them of what they were told was Jesus’ Resurrection.  Undoubtedly, this recounting of the story, to Jesus Himself, included the fact that such talk was accepted as “pure nonsense,” thus provoking Jesus’ response of “You foolish people---how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (24:25)

Eventually, after Jesus is said to have provided a thorough explanation of the Scriptures concerning Himself, they finally recognize Him.  This recognition occurred in conjunction with His breaking of bread, which should be a signal for all of His followers that Jesus’ table fellowship practices were a significant and telling part of His ministry.  The recognition of Jesus coincided with His disappearance, and with this, “they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem.  They found the eleven and those with them gathered together” (24:33).  In the meantime, something else had happened.  After Peter’s experience at the empty tomb, apparently Peter had an encounter with the risen Jesus.  These Emmaus road disciples heard the eleven and the others saying, “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon!” (24:34)  Perhaps the incredulity at this amazing turn of events was dissipating?

With Peter’s testimony, it seems that they had finally come to believe that the report of the women had been something more than pure nonsense.  Or did they?  “While they were saying these things, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.” (24:36)  Did they welcome Him into their presence as the resurrected King of Israel?  No, “they were startled and terrified, thinking they saw a ghost” (24:37).  The fact of a physical resurrection of Jesus was still unbelievable.  At this point, they still had not come to terms with the idea that somebody could truly be bodily raised from the dead.  It would take a further showing of His hands and feet to convince them.  He would speak of his flesh and bones, in stark contrast to what they would expect of a ghost.  Jesus would even have to eat a piece of broiled fish before they truly believed that He was risen.   

Eventually though, they would come to believe, and come to believe in the proposition and what it implied so firmly, that a world was turned upside down, forever changed, and forever changing through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus as the Christ.  What was it that changed their mind?  What was it that upended their own dearly held worldviews and countered every expectation that they had?  What was it that allowed them to finally accept that the idea of a resurrection of the crucified and shamed Jesus was something more than pure nonsense?  Clearly, it was Jesus, risen from the dead, and appearing before their very eyes, though even this took some work on Jesus’ part.  Their belief was made firm when what had been promised by the Father God of Israel had been sent (24:49a), and they had “been clothed with power from on high” (24:49b).  Without this, which must seemingly be understood as the Spirit’s gift of faith, the idea of the Resurrection of Jesus would have remained nothing more than pure nonsense. 

In reality, such a thing is pure nonsense.  The Apostle Paul, coupling it with the preaching of the cross as the place of Jesus’ victory, would call it foolishness.  Yet by its very proclamation, with the power of the Spirit somehow inherent in the very words of the Gospel (Romans 1:16), hearts and lives are brought into submission and transformed.  By this odd idea, which is that of the preaching of a crucified and resurrected King, the kingdom of the Creator God, with its purposes and plans and its overlap of heaven and earth as the life of the age to come is brought forth into the present age and made manifest wherever the Lordship of Jesus is proclaimed in word and deed, is extended.  Thus, believers are asked to boldly proclaim, this day and every day, the foolish nonsense of the resurrected Lord and Savior, putting His power to work, through themselves, in this world.      

Friday, June 7, 2013

Pure Nonsense (part 3)

The Gospel author reports that after Peter makes his observations there at the empty tomb, “he went home, wondering what had happened” (24:12c).  The reader must bear in mind that, at that point, Peter did not believe that Jesus had been raised.  This is not suggested by the text.  Why would he?  Such was an absurd notion.  Peter is not said to have, then and there, come to a belief, but that he merely wondered at how and why the tomb was empty.  One can only imagine the potential explanations that were then running through his mind.  Surely, it is reasonable to conjecture that Peter believed that the body had been stolen.  At any rate, the fact that Peter is not said to have come to immediately believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead as the explanation for the empty tomb, is yet another indication that there was no expectation of Jesus’ resurrection.           

Peter’s position reflected what would most likely have been the generally held position of the followers of Jesus.  As far as those followers were concerned, Jesus was dead and His movement was over.  Yes, there had been some successes, but He had been crucified as a false messiah by the leaders of His own people, and as a rebel challenger to Rome’s power and the claims of the Caesar.  Now, those that were closest to Jesus would have been in fear for their own lives, and quite rightly based on the common practice of the day, hiding behind locked doors, knowing that the execution of previous messianic claimants was followed by the gathering up of his followers by the Roman authorities, and their subsequent execution as well.

The disciples, as evidenced by the Gospel narratives, thought that the report of the women was pure nonsense.  Peter, as one that had gone to the garden, was bewildered and unable to come up with a suitable explanation for what he saw at the empty tomb.  Of course, they were not the only skeptics.  Further evidence that a resurrection was the last thing on the minds of those closest to Jesus can be found in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  There, the reader finds some disciples (not part of the twelve, but disciples nonetheless) traveling from Jerusalem.  While traveling, “They were talking to each other about all the things that had happened.” Luke writes that “While they were talking and debating these things, Jesus Himself approached and began to accompany them (but their eyes were kept from recognizing Him)” (Luke 24:14-16). 

Even a personal appearance by Jesus was not able to undo the fact that these people knew that dead people stayed dead.  Their speech betrayed their mindset and the realities of the day, as they, in speaking about Jesus and His crucifixion, said “we had hoped that He was the one Who was going to redeem Israel” (24:21a).  They spoke in the past tense about Jesus.  This redemption, for them, would have meant the overthrow of Rome and the Romans and any of those that supported Rome being driven from the land with the establishment of the kingdom of God (Israel regaining national autonomy and beginning to rule all over nations), thus signifying the end of their God’s cursing and Israel’s long exile from their God’s promise to them of land and self-rule and the respect and admiration of all nations. 

They “had hoped” that He was the One Who was going to accomplish this, but with His death, that hope rightly ceased to exist.  No actual messiah would be crucified by Rome; and again, they knew that dead men do not lead messianic movements.  The death of the leader of a messianic movement meant the end of the messianic movement.  If that death was via crucifixion, with the potential messiah put down by the ruling powers, then that person, the movement, and all of its followers were shamed.