Old English Illuminated Manuscript of Judith

Old English Illuminated Manuscript of Judith

Reading the Story of God

I don’t usually talk about our daily Bible reading as I usually post our Psalm pray time from the morning. But I read the whole Bible cover to cover each year and it is easy to do. Sometimes more than once. The real inspiration for doing this came from James A. Harding. My Bible has 1223 pages that cover the Old Testament, Middle Testament and the New Testament. To read the whole book in a year I read between 3 and 4 pages a day. Usually mid day about 15 minutes is taken up with this and certainly easy to do (John Mark Hicks and I cover various ways of reading the Bible in Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James A. Harding). 

Classic Bibles, even Protestant ones, have historically included not only the “Middle Testament” but cross references and lectionary readings for the daily edification of God’s People.  It is a shame that American Evangelicals have deprived themselves from what David DeSilva has termed the greatest body of “devotional literature in history.”  William Tyndale’s NT and Old Testament included “epistles” for daily reading that included translated portions of the “Apocrypha.”  You can look at the Tyndale Lectionary HERE.  So since 2011 my yearly run through the Bible has included the “Middle Testament.”

About a week ago we finished the Hebrew Bible and began the “Middle Testament” and have worked my way through Tobit reaching Judith 6-8. Judith 8 is an amazing chapter. Judith shatters stereo types of a woman’s place. After learning that the elders of Bethulia have basically put God in a box she rebukes them soundly, “who are you to put God to the test, and to set yourselves up in place of God in human affairs?

Judith, Blessed Above all Women on Earth

The Book of Judith falls into two basic parts.  The first part describes the war of the “Assyrians” against the Jews (chapters 1-7); the second relates the deliverance wrought by God through the widow Judith (chapters 8-16).
Hostilities had broken out between the Assyrians and the Medes.  Nebuchadnezzar, who is pictured as ruling the Assyrians, calls on the western nations to help him against his enemies, however, they refused (1.7-11).  Angry and vowing to take revenge on them – including the Jews.  After defeating the Medes (1. 12-16) Nebuchadnezzar decides to destroy those who wished his downfall in the west.  He sends out his General, Holofernes, with 120.000 men and a further 12,000 cavalry.  Soon the nations were frightened into submission.
Meanwhile in Bethulia the citizens, fearful that the Assyrians would defile the holy Temple of God, decide they will not acquiesce to Nebuchadnezzar.  They store provisions in anticipation of siege.  They seek God’s favor through prayer and fasting in sackcloth (4.1-15).  After thirty four days of siege, however, with supplies running low the inhabitants of Bethulia began to loose heart and call upon the city elders to surrender to the Assyrians.  A leader, Uzziah, plead with them to hold out five more days, “By that time the Lord our God will show us mercy, for he will not forsake us utterly” (7.30).  Nevertheless, he agreed to capitulate to the Assyrians should help not come (7.19-32).
Thank God for Trials! Shows we are Loved!! Reveals who we are!!!

Judith shows herself to be a true sage. After rebuking the elders, she says some of the most challenging words to hear and and even more challenging to live. She admonishes Israel by claiming we have a responsibility to set an example even in hard times. So she says,

Therefore, my brothers, let us set an example for our kindred, for their lives depend upon us, and the sanctuary … In spite of everything let us give thanks to the Lord our God, who is putting us to the test as he did our ancestors. Remember what he did with Abraham, and how he tested Isaac, and what happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia … For he has tried us with fire, as he did them, to search our hearts, nor has he taken vengeance on us; but the Lord disciplines those who are close to him in order to admonish them.” (Judith 8.24-27)

Trials are hard to thank God for! But Judith says what all Spirit seekers indicate in Scripture. “It was good for me to be afflicted” says the Psalmist in 119.71. The Hebrews Preacher sounds remarkably like his female counterpart Judith.

for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves
and chastises every child whom he accepts
(Hebrews 12.6, citing Proverbs 3.11-12)

Moses informed the Israelites that God led them “these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments” (Deuteronomy 8.2).

Even Jesus himself was driven by God’s Spirit into the wilderness to be tested.  As he wandered around in the deserted places Jesus meditated on Israel’s own sojourn and the quotes the very next sentence from Moses revealing the content of his own heart, “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8.3)

Going thru trials rather than showing the absence of God in our lives just may be the proof the Lord is working overtime in us. That is why Judith suggests we “give thanks” for them!

Judith may be in the Apocrypha, or what I playfully call the Middle Testament, but she challenges me to the bottom of my being and how we conceive our walk with the Lord. Trials are good!! So join Judith in praising and thanking God …

In spite of everything let us give thanks to the Lord our God, who is putting us to the test as he did our ancestors.

I have not arrived! But I am trying to be like Judith.

Judith Postscript

One of the greatest movies of the “silent movie” era was Judith of Bethulia made in 1914 starring Blanche Sweet (by D. W. Griffith).  It is one of the cultural legacies of one of the greatest stories of a woman in the world.   Perhaps you would like to watch it …

 

KJV_Romans_8-11In defense of Romans 8 from its critics in the Spiritual Sword. The current issue of Spiritual Sword has attempted to disprove renewed earth resurrection theology, mentioning myself and John Mark Hicks by name. I felt the article in the SS was incredibly weak honestly.  I have read far stronger challenges.  In spite of the claim in the SS renewed earth theology is hardly an aberration in the history of Christianity nor does the position have only Romans 8.  But Romans 8 is essentially dismissed in the Spiritual Sword as an inconvenient truth.   Resurrection, not only of Christ but of ourselves, matters!

Romans 8 is an amazing and profound text in Scripture. Romans 8 is not however a “difficult” text in the sense that Jesus preached to the spirits in prison or Gog and Magog and others. What do these texts actually mean is up for debate.

Yet Profound does not imply unclear. Romans 8 is quite clear. Romans 11 is difficult but Romans 8 is not. I say this because some want to dismiss the chapter with a wave of the magic wand on the grounds that it is “difficult” in the sense that it is unclear. It is only unclear because it so blatantly contradicts their Platonic doctrines.

In fact, I have long believed that Romans 8.18-24 is one of the most important texts in the bible (a conviction shared by most Church Fathers and other luminaries down thru the centuries).  As John Calvin noted during the Reformation …

I understand this passage to have this meaning—that there is no element and no part of the world which, being touched, as it were, with a sense of its present misery, does not intensely hope for a resurrection. He indeed lays down two things,–that all are creatures in distress, and yet they are sustained by hope … [Creation] shall be participators of a better condition; for God will restore to a perfect state the world, now fallen, together with mankind” (John Calvin, Epistle of Paul to the Romans, pp. 303, 305)

The Text

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Messiah from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through the Spirit that dwells in you …

I consider that the sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits in eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope, that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our BODIES.  For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not not see, we wait for it with patience …

This text is as clear as Acts 2.38 beloved.  The problem comes when some have drunk from the poisoned well of platonic dualism and neo-gnosticism while claiming to read only the Bible.  However as Paul notes here in Romans 8.20-21 God has tied creation to humanity from the beginning in the hope of salvation of all he has made.  Creation and Redemption are tied from Genesis to Revelation in the biblical narrative like the North Pole is connected to the South Pole … they are two ends of same axis.  Chopping the Bible up into proof texts, while simply ignoring the narrative as a whole, and splitting hairs over nonsense has facilitated many imagining that instrumental music was the “heart and soul” of the Bible. What is surprising however so many imagine that Romans 8 is the only text that speaks of the redemption of creation along with humanity.  I will quote a few texts …

Creation Connected to Humanity in Suffering and Redemption

The earth dries up and withers,
the world languishes and withers;
the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth is polluted
under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
violated statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a CURSE devours the earth,
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth
dwindled, and few people are left
(Isaiah 24.4-6, the whole chapter is relevant)

Redemption is pictured as coming with a King and the outpouring of the Spirit which results in new life for both humans and God’s creation in Isaiah 32.

See, a king will reign in righteousness …

a Spirit from on high is poured out on us,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.

Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
The effect of righteousness will be shalom,
and the result of righteousness will be quietness
and trust forever.
My people will abide in shalomful habitation
in secure dwelling …
(Isaiah 32.1, 15-18)

Hosea speaks directly to both creation suffering because of human sin but then speaks of God redeeming Israel because of his covenant with the animals! There is a direct connection between the salvation of the people and the world.

Hear the word of the LORD, O people
of Israel;
for the LORD has an indictment
against the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or love/loyalty,
and no knowledge of God in the land.
Swearing, lying, and murder,
and stealing and adultery break out;
bloodshed follows bloodshed.
THEREFORE THE LAND MOURNS,
and all who live in it languish;
TOGETHER with the wild animals
and the birds of the air,
even the fish of the sea are perishing”
(Hosea 4.1-3)

Therefore, I will now allure her [Israel]
and bring her into the wilderness and
speak tenderly to her.
From there I will give her vineyards,
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope …

On that day, says the LORD, you will call me,
My Husband,” and no longer will you call me
‘My Master.”  … I will make FOR YOU a
covenant on that day WITH THE WILD
ANIMALS, the birds of the air, and the
creeping things on the ground; and I will
abolish the bow, the sword, and war
from the land; and I will make you lie
down in safety. And I will take you  for
my wife in righteousness and in justice,
in HESED and in mercy. I will take you
for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall
know the LORD
(Hosea 2.14-20)

Numerous other texts could be offered.  The most comprehensive of all takes up the book of Joel almost in its entirety.  I have already discussed it in considerable detail here: Do Not Fear, O Earth, Animals, People: Hope of Cosmic Redemption in Joel’s Liturgy.  Redemption in the Bible is specifically the redemption of creation.  God is Redeemer because God is the Creator.

Embracing Creation explores the entire biblical canon revealing the centrality of creation and God's aim to redeem all of it.

Embracing Creation explores the entire biblical canon revealing the centrality of creation and God’s aim to redeem all of it.

Reflections

After several years of reading the whole biblical narrative beginning to end several times a year, being “schooled” by the narrative Psalms and intense study … and reading Irenaeus, Athenagoras, J. Christian Becker, N. T. Wright, Christopher Wright, Alexander Campbell, Robert Milligan, David Lipscomb, James A. Harding, and many more, I have come to some firm exegetical conclusions about Romans 8.18ff that, despite claims to the contrary, are shared across the ecumenical divide in the history of Christianity.

Some have thrown out biblical renewed earth theology by claiming it is “denominational” or “millennial” or worse the “Jehovah Witnesses.” This is the worst kind of sophomoric fallacy beloved and betrays a gross misunderstanding of both the premillennial position and resurrection and the new heavens and new earth. Irenaeus was not a Jehovah Witness! But just because a “denominational” person also believes in the deity of Christ does not mean I should run away from it.

I have asked, many times, and have received nothing but silence in reply, the name of a single Christian writer that did not believe in the literal, bodily, resurrection in the flesh of humanity and a renewed earth as our place of living with Christ that was NOT A GNOSTIC in the first 500 years of Christianity … I have not been given the name nor passage of such a leader.

In this text, Paul offers a concise version of the canonical biblical “grand narrative” in Romans 8. It is a brief, brilliant, and crystal clear statement of how the bodily resurrection of Jesus is paradigmatic for OUR personal bodily resurrection and the “resurrection” (redemption) of all creation as the GOAL of salvation. Paul explicitly does not speak of the redemption of spirits or souls but claims that the Holy Spirit will raise our “mortal body” on the pattern of the resurrection of the Messiah and that we live in the hope of the redemption of our bodies … which takes place when our physical body is raised on the pattern of the first fruit.  Our bodies are part of creation itself and our resurrection is the hope of all God’s good but suffering creation.

Romans 8 contains the three primary characters of the grand narrative:

God

Humanity

Creation.

As in the grand narrative there is human and nonhuman groaning. And just as in the grand narrative the nonhuman is “subjected” to this agony by the Creator, binding it to the ones meant to guard it (humans). Just as in the grand narrative, so here God has moved to bring about redemption that results in the glorification of all thru the work of the Messiah (whom Paul identifies as the second Adam in ch.5!). The groaning or mourning of the creation is something Paul picks up from numerous prophetic texts in the grand narrative (Isaiah 24; Joel 1.10-12, 17-20 just a couple quick examples).

So I believe that Romans 8.18-23 offers a hermeneutical lens for reading the whole Story (especially eschatologically) and at the same time the whole story is revealed in what it is “about” by Paul.

The Goal of the narrative is the goal of Romans 8. The Spiritual Sword can try to dismiss this as “carnal” or taking our minds off of “heavenly” things for “earthly” things … all of which is an abuse of the terms “heavenly” and “earthly” by defining them in pagan dualistic terms.

Romans 8 is hardly alone as we have seen. It is in fact just one of a whole sweep of Scriptural texts that are swept away by ignoring them. I believe in salvation! I just do not believe in Gnostic salvation beloved. As the apostle that wrote Romans 8 says, God reconciled ALL things things in heaven and earth uniting them in the Messiah (Ephesians 1.8-10) and that the Messiah created all things visible and invisible and through his death in the flesh reconciled all things visible and invisible to God (Col 1.15-20. On Colossians 1 see Christ the Creator, Conqueror and Reconciler of Creation).  The book Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission by John Mark Hicks, Mark Wilson and myself gives a Bible wide overview of this entire subject.

Romans 8 is the goal of the Gospel of Christ … God, in Christ, heals the world he has made and it become the inheritance that the resurrected Christ and Resurrected people will share communion with the Father thru the Holy Spirit. If some one wants to call that “carnal” than I gladly embrace it … it beats gnosticism beloved.

This is not some minor or peripheral matter. It is endemic to the meaning of redemption, the cross and resurrection of Jesus itself. The Resurrection of the flesh matters.  I will let James A. Harding have the last word, not because he is inspired but because he is correct.

Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin,’ and far and wide has extended the curse that thus came through Adam. All briers, thorns, and thistles; all sickness, pain, and sorrow, all jealousy, enmity, and hatred; all war, bloodshed, and death, with every evil thing began with the fall in the garden … The earth itself, with every man, woman and child that has lived on it … has come under its blighting influences and suffered its awful power.
“But—thanks bet to God—through Jesus Christ grace came with a mighty hand to meet this great, dark, cursing, onrushing tide of woe and death, to roll it back, to free men from death and the earth from every curse of sin, and to give to it a glory and beauty never dreamed of by Adam and Eve in the midst of their Edenic home. This earth, with its surrounding heaven, is to be made over, and on the fair face of the new earth God himself will dwell with all the sons and daughters of men who have been redeemed through grace … through Adam we lost the garden of Eden; through Christ we gain the paradise of God”
(James A. Harding, “Three Lessons From the Book of Romans,” in Biographies and Sermons, edited by F.D. Srygley, p. 249)

Just food for thought.

Old Vs NewGrowing up with Dispensationalism

Some Manic Monday questions for you. Sometimes a cup of java provides stimulus for thinking. These have actually been percolating for a long time.

I was raised in my local congregation and trained on an undergraduate level to automatically distinguish between the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant.” This was in fact a foundational hermeneutical and theological principle within the Churches of Christ.  Sometimes these were called the “Old Dispensation” and the “New Dispensation.”  The hermeneutical orientation is in fact called “Dispensationalism” (not to be confused with Dispensational Pre-Millennialism).

This strand of thought has its genesis among us through the “Sermon on the Law” by Alexander Campbell and his frequent labors afterwards.  This was, in fact, the primary hermeneutical labor of restorationist thinkers for years rather than “Command, Example, and Necessary Inference.”  David Dungan’s textbook Hermeneutics expends considerable energy on the distinction between the covenants but never mentions CENI.

What is interesting about Campbell and other leading restoration theologians of the day is they seemed to realize that dispensationalism can easily distort Scripture as a whole.  Thus they developed a redemptive-historical framework for biblical theology seemingly at odds with dispensationalism.  Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott and even Robert Milligan knew that New Testament doctrine/theology is impossible without the “Old Testament.” It seems that Campbell resorted to dispensationalism primarily when the question had to do with specific church structure or specific church practices a rather limited category indeed.

Today several generations later dispensationalism is ingrained within the identity of Churches of Christ.  So ingrained is it that the first 76% of Scripture is simply marginalized for any actual theological use in our churches. As such our fellowship has fallen victim to many doctrinal extremes and distortions. Today there is one extreme distortion called “MMLJBC” that throws even the Gospels, the teaching of Jesus himself, into the “Old Covenant” and therefore not binding on Christians.  The most important page in the Bible for the mainstream dispensationalists is the title page between Malachi and Matthew, while the most important page for the MMLJBC extremists is Acts 2.

In graduate school we learned that the relationship between the “New Testament” and “Old Testament” was far more complex than most imagine.  Even those who are today seen as conservative lights have for years taught in Harding Graduate School, ACU or other institutions that it is not as simple as a title page (that of course the apostles never heard of).  I think of Jack Lewis, Everett Ferguson, John Willis and others who trained hundreds of teachers in smaller institutions like Stephen Broyles at IBC who first taught me in a class called “Religious Teachings of the New Testament” (cannot call it NT Theology!) on ways the NT and OT relate and how the NT presupposes continuity and the authority of the OT.  (By mentioning these great men I do not imply they would agree with me but rather than the process for thinking about these things did indeed begin with them and their critique of false exegesis).

Slowly but surely the old House of Cards began to crumble under the weight of the exegesis of these old masters … even when they often ignored the practical implications of their own exegesis. Thus the Old Testament was not nailed to the cross in Colossians 2.14 (as I had been taught and taught!).  Thus Jesus did not teach that he came to do away with the Law (Mt 5.17ff).  Thus the early New Testament writers themselves “establish biblical authority” by quoting the Hebrew Scriptures. Thus 2 Timothy 3.15-16 speaks of the authority of the Hebrew Bible and only by “implication” of the New Testament! Thus the Hebrew Bible was every bit a covenant of grace and love as the “New Testament.”

Ironically, Alexander Campbell understood far better than modern dispensationalists that even with dispensationalism we simply cannot have the faith once delivered to the saints without the 76% of the Bible.  The problem with dispensationalism, where we simply chunck over two-thirds of the Bible by saying it was nailed to the cross is that it is absolutely wrong! It cannot be sustained exegetically from the New Testament itself … even from the book of Hebrews!!  Paul simply assumes the absolute authority of the “Old Testament.”

The phrase “Old Covenant” in the New Testament is not, beloved, identical with what is commonly called the “Old Testament.”  The phrase “Old Testament” where it means a collection of documents/books is never occurs in the Bible anywhere and was coined over a hundred years after the death Peter, Paul and James by Melito of Sardis in a sermon on the Passover/Easter (which early Christians in fact observed).

CovenantS and Old Covenant

So the old false division of the Bible between “Old” and “New” Covenant is simply unbiblical. It is clear the biblical writers never equate “old covenant’ with the section of Scripture known as the Old Testament as a whole. This is true even of Hebrews which makes a clear distinction between the “OC” and “the law” itself. Most ignore this however.

Notice what Paul states boldly about Gentiles, because of the Jewish Messiah, have been now brought into the commonwealth of Israel and are now heirs to the “covenantS of promise” (they once were excluded from both).

“So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth … were at that time without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenantS [plural] of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. BUT NOW in Messiah Jesus you have been brought near [near to what!? the answer is v.12] by the blood of Messiah …

You Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, sharers in the promise …” (Ephesians 2.11-13; 3.6).

What are these “covenantS” that Paul refers to? Most Church of Christ folk, again, simply chunk the Hebrew Bible collectively as the “old covenant.” What ever the law is that was taken away in verse 14 it is clearly not synonymous with the covenants of promise that Gentiles once had no part in but do so now.  So here Paul makes a clear distinction between the “covenants” and “the law” itself.  The covenants have not been done away with or nailed to the cross rather now Gentiles are citizens of Israel along with the saints and heir to these very covenants in the Hebrew Bible.

This is what Paul does in Romans too. Romans 9-11 affirm the very theology of Ephesians. Paul says Gentiles are now grafted into Israel (which is the same thing as Eph 2.11-13; 3.6). Paul uses similar language as Ephesians 2.11-13 at the beginning of his section on Israel in Romans 9.

They are Israelites, and to them belong … the covenantS [plural], the giving of the law [covenants and law are NOT equated by Paul], the WORSHIP …” (Romans 9.4-5)

Paul clearly is not simply tossing out 76% of the Bible.

The Preacher in Hebrews is true to his text in Jeremiah 31 too.  Contrary to the what I was lead to believe the Hebrew’s Preacher does not think 1) that their was a problem with the covenant 2) the “new” or “renewed” covenant is made with the identical people as the “old” one and the law (not the same as the covenant) is the same.  The difference is where the “law” is written.

God finds fault with them [not the covenant nor law] when he says:
the days are surely coming says the Lord,
when I will establish a new/renewed covenant,
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah;
not like the covenant I made with their ancestors,
on the day I took them out of the land of Egypt;
for they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I had no concern for them,
says the Lord.
This is the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people …
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities
and I will remember their sins no more.
In speaking of a new/renewed covenant he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear” (Hebrew 8.8-13)

This text, like its setting in Jeremiah, is speaking specifically about the Mosaic covenant.  “Old Covenant” in this text cannot be made to mean by any law of context to mean 76% of the Bible.  The text does not equate law with covenant either old or new either.  This is a fascinating text and is a traditional Jewish one at that.  But to say more would take me away from what I want to do in this blog.  For more though see Hebrews: Common Assumptions, Uncommon Surprises.  But the “old covenant” is specifically the broken and defiled marriage between Yahweh and Israel at Mt Sinai that Israel broke … it is  not the law, it is not the same as the “Old Testament” (meaning 39 books).

The Covenants Israel Knew

So again what are these “covenants” that Paul says that Gentiles are now joint heirs? If we turn to the Deuterocanonical book Sirach and look at chapters 44 to 50 we find a “Hall of Fame” of faith that Hebrews 11 is a practical cliff notes version of. Ben Sira two hundred years before Jesus of Nazareth reviews the covenants that Jews in the Second Temple celebrated and praised God who stands “by the covenantS” (44.12) Beginning with Noah whom God gave an “everlasting covenant” (44.18) to Abraham (44.20, 22), to Moses (45.5), to Aaron (45.7, 15), to Phinehas Yahweh made a “covenant of friendship” (45.24). To David the Lord made a covenant of kingship (45.25; 47.11).

It is not without significance that baptism makes Gentiles also the children of Abraham “in Christ” (Gal 3.26-29).  Thus baptism upholds the covenant.  It is not without significance that Jesus is the Son of David and we “in Christ” are part of Israel of which the son of David is King (many texts, God is upholding the covenant with David).   As James said in Acts with the coming of the Gentiles into Israel God has “rebuilt the house of David” (Acts 15.13-21)

Some Thoughts on the Covenants and Us

The “new covenant” is the REnewAL of the promises to Abraham and David by expanding the Mosaic covenant to include Gentiles in the definition of Israel. Is this not exactly what Paul says in Ephesians when he declares the “mystery?”

for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you [i.e. Gentiles], and how the MYSTERY was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words (i.e. 2.1-22), a reading of which will enable y’all to perceive my understanding of the MYSTERY of Messiah. In former generations this mystery was not known to humanity, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Messiah Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3.2-6)

The “new covenant” is not the repudiation of the “Old Testament” (a phrase the apostles never once used much less heard of).  Rather the “new covenant” is the affirmation of the never ending promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel and David. I would go so far as to say the new covenant includes God’s covenant with creation itself.

Psalms and the Rest of the Hebrew Bible

So if the new covenant includes the covenant with David rather than its repudiation is the Book of Psalms part of the Davidic covenant?

There are some that desperately want the Psalms to be nailed to the cross (a grosser misinterpretation of Colossians 2.14 could not be made, See What Was Nailed to the Cross? Col 2.14) because it mentions instruments. I had a preaching brother tell me last week in a private discussion that “if the Old Testament is not nailed to the cross then instrumental music is not wrong.”  Therefore he refused to even entertain the idea that the “Old Testament” was not nailed to the cross.  So much for actual biblical authority! But basing theology on sectarian agendas is poor exegesis.

In the Hebrew Bible, David is not just a King but assumes the role of worship leader (priest). A number of texts in the Hebrew Bible does this though they are unfamiliar to many.  When the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem, David was clearly in charge of the ceremony.   The Lord was clearly present for the event as “God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD” (1 Chronicles 15.26).  The text goes on to say,

David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the music of the singers; and David wore a linen ephod …” (15.27)

Then the text further describes the priestly leadership of David in remarkable ways.

They brought in the ark of God [David and company], and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and they offered burnt offerings and shalom-offerings before God. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings  and the shalom offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD” (1 Chronicles 16.1-3).

David is unabashedly described as a priest by the Chronicler.  He is not only dressed like a priest but a high priest (the linen ephod) but he offers sacrifice and blesses the people … a clear allusion to the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6.22-24.  David is a Priest-King.  This is not unusual at all in the ancient world as kings from Egypt to Assyria to Babylon to Rome were viewed as having priestly functions.

By ascribing the Psalms to David, the Bible continues to have David as the Priest-King who leads God’s people in worship. This is not just an Aaronic function … and this is what Jesus does.  Jesus is the King-Priest, the “son of David” leading God’s people in the worship of the one true God. In Hebrews it is JESUS that is speaking and singing with the congregation in the Psalms (Heb 2.11-13).

“For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying,
I will proclaim your name [Yahweh’s] to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you”

The Hebrews’ Preacher says that JESUS is the worship leader in the middle of the Gathered people of God and he 1) proclaims the holy name of Yahweh and 2) he leads in praise.  But this is Psalm 22.22 the Preacher quotes.  The Preacher quotes Psalm 95 throughout chapters 3 and 4 saying that it speaks to his congregation authoritatively “Today” (Heb 3.7, 13; 4.7).

So if the Son of David is singing the Psalms with us, then why is it that the Psalms do not teach us the way of worship to the One True God? Are we not “heirs” of the Psalms? Clearly the Hebrews Preacher did not think the Psalter was old, obsolete  and passing away. In fact, as we saw, it is non-other than  the voice of Jesus in the Psalter.

I am convinced that, from a “New Testament” perspective, that we worship exactly as they did in the Hebrew Bible. The Son of David heir of the promises to David, as the Priest-King, continues to lead the People of God which now includes Gentiles in the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel. This is one reason why, when we turn to the book that uses the word “worship” more than the rest of the NT combined, it looks, smells and sounds so much like the Psalms and the Hebrew Bible … that book is of course Revelation.  See Revelation: The NT’s Most Ignored Book & It’s Ignored Message or ‘What Jesus Wished New Testament Christians Understood about Revelation.’

Conclusion

The Old Covenant is not and never was simply thirty-nine books of the “Old Testament.” Even the “law” is not simplistically equated with the “old covenant” in the New Testament writings.  There are aspects of the Hebrew Bible that are not prescriptive on Gentiles as Galatians makes quite clear.  However, Paul does not cast aside the Old Testament even in Hebrews but affirms that Gentiles are now heirs of the covenant on the same basis that Abraham himself was.

Thinking out loud btw …

 

Isa 60Today’s blog comes from The Bean Coffee House in Colorado.

A Hidden Gem

One of the great overlooked chapters of the Bible is Isaiah 60. Now of course the opening lines are familiar too many because we sing them but perhaps not realizing from where they come.  It is a breathtaking vision of what happens when Yahweh graciously gathers his scattered people and the healing of the world that results from such astonishing mercy. The chapter is practically an outline of the New Testament itself while describing the missional agenda of God’s People.  We may appreciate dimensions of the New Testament and the “church” more fully when we prayerfully soak in the Spirit message from the prophet.

Yahweh’s Parousia (60.1-2)

Arise, Shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness for the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.”

These majestic words comes near the end of the canonical book of Isaiah and to perceive just how explosive these words are we need to have the whole sweep of the previous chapters before us.  The book is divided rather easily into three major sections. Chapters 1-39 highlight what Moses testifies to in Deuteronomy 9, that Israel had “been rebellious against the LORD as long as he has known you” (9.26, NRSV). God has called for loyalty as he has continued to be gracious in the face of “wickedness, rebellion and sin.” But judgment did arrive and exile came.  Chapters 40-55 are like a lightening bolt at midnight! Just when Israel is deemed dead and buried, the voice that called forth the creation of the universe now summons Israel from the grave of exile.  The Creator of the world and of Israel is now the also the Redeemer leading Israel out of Babylon in a brand new Exodus.

Is it any wonder that the origin of the NT word “gospel” is to be found in these chapters of Isaiah!?  Chapters 56-66 we find the newly redeemed from the grave people of God still rebellious, still full of sin, still a complete failure before the Holy One of Israel.  Thus we have the graphic description of God’s people hopelessly lost in the grip of sin and death:

For our transgressions before you are many,
and our sins testify against us.
Our transgressions indeed are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
rebellion and treachery against the LORD,
turning our backs on our God,
inciting rebellion and oppression …
So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance …
Truth is nowhere to be found …
(59.12-15)

This is the condition that prevails a the opening of chapter 60.  God’s people are not the light of the world as they were called-created-to be (cf Isa 49.6).  God’s people are as lost in the dark as the idolaters themselves! How often it is still the case that disciples are no better than the “nations” around them.

But what Israel could not do, Yahweh has done! That is the explosion of verses 1 and 2. Yahweh has come.  The glory of the Holy One of Israel has shown forth and it has “appeared over you.” The church has been correct through the centuries when these verses have been read at Epiphany … God’s glory has arrived in the midst of the darkness in Jesus (so many texts come to mind from Angels in Luke to John’s celebration of the light shining in the darkness!).  Grace burst through darkness, sin and most of all death to heal the world.

But is Isaiah 60 the light of grace is first over the fallen, blind, impure, unfaithful children of God! God heals the nations by healing his people! This of course echoes the old Abrahamic covenant where God promises to bless the whole world through the children of Abraham. Yahweh has come back to his people!

LightThe Nations See the Light of Grace (60.3-16)

We need to be careful and prayerful readers of Scripture.  Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God’s goodness to Israel has a missional thrust. That means Yahweh shows himself to be the True God to the Gentile pagan world by being gracious to Israel! This is true in the Exodus, in the Wanderings, in Ezekiel, in the Psalms and also here in Isaiah. Again Moses in Deuteronomy is instructive here.

Why did God decide on Israel? Moses says it was not because they were “numerous,” which is an ancient way of saying they were insignificant, so insignificant that people had no qualms in feeding infant Israelite boys to the crocodiles! Ezekiel tells us that Israel was like an exposed and abandoned baby girl that was left to be eaten by the wolves.  Israel was the refuse of the world!! No one wanted them!! That is why God picked them … Yahweh has a habit of picking “the least of these.” But the chosen ones are also incredibly ungrateful.  Everyone would be happy to get rid of Israel … sort of like a pest.

So the world is in shock, or to use the biblical language they are in wonder or awe that Yahweh sticks with them.  It is as if Yahweh’s faithfulness to Israel in the face of their blatant faithlessness is a test of his own character. If Yahweh can be true to them then imagine then imagine what kind of God the Israelites really have … the Only God!

So in Isaiah 60.3-16, Yahweh’s blindingly bright grace brings about a revolution within the created order for both his people and the nations.

Nations shall come to your light
and kings to the brightness of your dawn

The light is not Israel, her holiness or anything of the sort.  The Light that is “your light” is Yahweh himself! Israel is blind and in the darkness.  But when the nations see what Israel’s God has done for Israel they see him, they are astonished by him (not us!).  The Light draws the nations just as Jesus said “if I be lifted up I will draw all …” The drawing power is not us but the beauty of the astonishing grace of the Holy One of Israel.

So Isaiah says the nations will come and they will bring even Israelites with them (vv. 4 & 9). How often it is the case that the grace of God comes to the faithless people of God through those we assume do not know God.  I have experienced it many times in my short life.  But in some of the darkest moments of my life God has used “nonbelievers” to reconnect me back with himself over and over again.  Such a divine mystery.

When the light dawns on the people of God the nations respond by bringing gifts.  This, again, echoes the Bible’s paradigmatic moment of salvation the Exodus.  When God redeemed the nobodies from slavery he disposed the Egyptians to give them riches (Ex 12.35-36) so now the nations bring their wealth to the light.

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill  and rejoice
because  the abundance of the sea
shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall
come to you …

Foreigners shall build up your walls …
Your gates shall always be open:
day and night they shall not be shut,
so the that the nations shall bring their
wealth ...”

This is all done “because he [Yahweh] has glorified you” (60.5, 9, 10-11)

Those in tune with the biblical narrative will certainly recognize NT allusions to this passage from the Magi at Jesus’s birth to Paul bringing his collection from the Gentiles to Jerusalem to descriptions of the New Jerusalem in the renewed Earth in Revelation 21-22.

But the Gentiles do not simply bring treasure to the Light that is revealed in Israel.  The Gentiles now come to worship!  Once Yahweh has appeared in the midst of this blind people we call God’s People, we see taking place what was supposed to occur from the inception of God’s people at the beginning.  Israel was called to be a “kingdom of priests” for the nations (Ex 19). The entire nation of Israel is to the world what the Levites were to Israel itself. They were to mediate God’s glory to the world and simultaneously reflect Yahweh’s glory back to God in worship.

There are plenty among God’s people that still do not quite grasp this most basic purpose of the church.  The church exists to lead the world in worship of the one true King who has been so astonishingly gracious.

So Isaiah says the Gentiles will come and worship because of God’s supernova of grace upon Israel

They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and proclaim the praise of the LORD …

the rams of Nebaioth {an Arabian tribe} shall
minister to you; they shall be acceptable on my altar,
and I will glorify my glorious house …

The glory of Lebanon shall come to you,
the cypress, the plane, and the pine,
to beautify the place of my sanctuary;
I will glorify where my feet rest
(60.6, 7b, 13)

The nations are not coming again because of Israel’s goodness but because of God’s shocking act of grace.  Not only will the nations come and worship God (not Israel) but the people of God themselves will finally know who the One True God is … Yahweh.

THEN you will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior,
your redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob
(60.16)

God’s grace “converts” the nations but it also “converts” those who should have known who God is.  How tragic it is to this day that so many believers-even those that quote the Bible-have no “knowledge” of the God of Israel.  In light of Isaiah 60 it is no wonder that the great student of Isaiah, Paul, said that it is the “God’s kindness leads to repentance” (Rom 2.4).  That Spiritual truth is written in neon lights across the pages of the Hebrew Bible, including Isaiah 60.

Arise Shine AtarahShalom Descends Upon the World (60.17-22)

Isaiah tells us when Yahweh arrives and shines the light of his Presence that the something happens to the broken world that we know from personal experience and Genesis 3-11 epically describes. The division between nations disappears.  Those who once were conquerors and victims are not so any more. Those who once worshiped false gods do so no longer and those who worshiped the True God but lived faithlessly now gather together to worship the One God as One People.  The Savior of Israel says

I will appoint Shalom as your overseer
and Righteousness as your taskmaster.
Violence shall no more be heard in your land,
devastation or destruction within your borders;
you shall call your walls Salvation,
and your gates Shalom.”
(60.17-18)

God’s grace to faithless Israel results in the healing of the divisions of the world.  It is akin to a return to Eden where shalom and righteousness reign.  But that is not it.  It results in the restoration of humanity to communion with God as in Eden.  God’s Presence is so brilliant that “the sun will no longer be your light of day … but the LORD will be your everlasting light” (60.19).  Israel and the Nations restored to a proper relationship to God brings the world into the fellowship of peace, righteousness and the glorious Presence of the creating and redeeming God.

Conclusion: Isaiah Outlines the NT and Mission of the Church

My attention was first drawn to Isaiah 60 reading Christopher Wright’s magnificent work The Mission of God back in 2006/7.  I have since come back to it repeatedly prayerfully working through the text line by line. It is one of those texts that hold the entire biblical narrative within a few verses.  It was Wright that stopped me in my tracks when he suggested that Isaiah 60 is an outline of the NT itself (my books are in storage so I do not have access to CW or I would provide page numbers but here in the The Bean Coffee House in Gunnison, CO, I am going on memory).  But I think he is basically correct.

Isaiah 60 is addressed to a “raised from the dead people” … renewed Israel today has no more righteousness than those addressed in this epic chapter.

Isaiah 60.1-2 = Gospels, birth & resurrection: God has come in Christ, the Light has dawned, salvation is an accomplished fact of God

Isaiah 60. 3-16 = Acts and the Epistles, the mission of the church, God dwelling among us through the Spirit, the people of the new creation standing out in the sea of darkness calling others to worship the living and saving God

Isaiah 60.17-22 = takes us to the consummation of the Story of God in Revelation 21-22 where sin, darkness, death are banished and God makes his home shining his the light of his glory, shalom and righteousness in the renewed earth.

Thus in a very real sense we have “New Testament Christianity” in the Hebrew Bible laid out for us in Isaiah 60. Isaiah 60 shows what God’s people are supposed to be.  If God dwells with us then we are attractive. If Yahweh chose to appear among a sinful people then we his people must do the same! Why do we think God shall be gracious to us when we demand holiness on the part of the world before we go.  But “arise, shine” is what WE do. We shine forth in the power of God’s own redeeming love to dispel the darkness.

Why is it that there is not a single verse in the New Testament about going and knocking on a door but there are several that say things like “when the pagans see the hope that lies within you …” “make the teaching of God attractive …” or some such idea.  God’s New Creation People are placed by God within the old fallen world as Salt, Light, Leaven whose message is:

“Look at what the God of the Universe has done to Us! He in his stunning grace wants to do this to you!”

Such a people-those that “know the Lord”-have only one message to the world … Look at the beautiful God of all grace. He will come live with us as we together show the world what the new world looks like.

Such a message, Isaiah says, is our Gospel.  The Gospel is never the message about God’s People for we are blind and sinful.  The message is what God, the Lord, has done and he draws all to the Light.  It is lofty. It is majestic. It is bold and it is so powerful that Isaiah quotes God as saying …

I am the LORD; in its time I will accomplish it quickly” (60.22)

This is why we pray “Come Lord, quickly!”

Amazing-GraceFor we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This saying is sure.

I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works, these things are excellent and profitable to everyone.” (Titus 3.3-8, NRSV)

Have you ever wished you could start your life over? Be given a clean slate? Or maybe use a magic wand to undo all the mistakes and failures in your life? Most of us know the how the past can be used as a powerful weapon against us.  We all want to change our past!

But the reality is l cannot fix the past!

THE NEED TO BE REALISTIC ABOUT OUR PAST (3:3-4)

Most people do not like to honestly evaluate themselves. The process is depressing and  painful. We prefer self-delusion that I am OK. But Paul, in good Jewish fashion, does not let us Jesus followers forget where we have come from.  Our ancestors routinely confessed their history of unfaithfulness to God (Pss 78, 106, etc, etc).

Self-deception is one of the greatest obstacles to the power of God’s grace in our lives! So Paul says “Be realistic, remember where you came from.” Humans are fallen creatures, disciples are not proud of that. We don’t brag about how low our sin has taken us. We are, however, extremely thankful for being rescued from slavery to sin.

What the world (=those outside of Christ, not planet Earth) still is, we once were! We were foolish and disobedient, deceived and slaves to ungodliness. We were incapable of anything truly good. Our minds were duped by Satan in our sinful state. Because of our deception and slavery Paul says we lived in “malice and envy.” People hated us and we hated them. We hoped the worst for people, we wanted them to fail, indeed we did what we could to make them fail.

The internet bears sad but eloquent testimony to the truth of Paul’s words. This is not a pretty picture of humanity, but it is very realistic. You know in your own life the suffering caused to you and what you have caused others. How jealous we are when overlooked? How badly we treat people when we don’t get our own way?

Remember this is what we lived in — I don’t want to go back to it, do you? I don’t like being a slave to anything but Jesus. Some are slaves to sex or food. Some are controlled by alcohol, tobacco, politics, “religion” or any number of the powers that be. Anything can enslave us and being a slave to anything but Christ is a path to destruction.

Those who minimize the glory of grace usually have not taken honest stock of where they have come from. Remembering forces us to cast ourselves upon the mercy of the Holy One of Israel.

THE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE GRACE CHANGE IN THE PRESENT (3:5-7)

We all wish for that magic wand to change the past. But God has given us something even better — Grace to change the present! Notice carefully what Paul says to Titus. In verses 5-7 (one sentence in Greek) he shows how all three Persons of the Trinity are involved in our redemption.

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…”

This is almost the language of doxology! We did not save ourselves, he saved us.  We “got saved.” What do you do? Praise God for his kindness, love and grace.

When did that kindness and love appear? Precisely while we were slaves to ungodly lusts, while we were hating and being hated! That was our condition when the Logos became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth and dwelt among humans to demonstrate God’s infinite love.

God’s love is prominent in four texts on grace in Paul (cf. Rom. 5:8; Eph, 2:4; Gal. 2:20)? It is God’s love that “drove” him to save us in spite of our sin and slavery.

Also Paul calls God our Savior! That is because salvation rests in the hands of God, he always initiates and we receive. People needing rescue do not take credit for the rescue. This is a cardinal truth of both the OT and NT:

God called Noah, God sought pagan Abram, God redeemed sinful Israel, God chose little David, God sent Jonah to Nineveh even when they didn’t ask him, God sent his Son to a world that hated him!

Such is the mystery of Grace, so Paul says “Salvation is God’s work and don’t forget it!”

What happened when that “kindness and love” appeared? Paul tells us, when

“HE SAVED US!”

How did he do that? Paul tells us explicitly in 2:13-14. God saved us through

our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness..”

He saved us by redeeming us with the Blood of the Lamb! He “redeemed us;” this is an important word we need to understand. In Romans 5 Paul used a ward-picture (reconciliation) from the family. In Galatians 2, he used a metaphor (justification) from the Court Room and now he uses a picture from the Exodus — Redemption! Paul uses these and more because none of them can totally explain or exhaust the Cross.

Redemption was a business term used especially in the purchase of slaves, as Yahweh “purchases” Israel from slavery in Egypt. In fact it was almost a technical term to purchase a slave (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 176). If I wanted to buy a slave in the ancient world I would go to the market place and approach the slave block and bid on a slave. I would exchange my money for the life of the slave thus redeeming him/her. This is also called paying the “ransom.” We still use this term today in much the same way.

Josephus tells us that the Roman general Crassus came to Jerusalem to plunder the Temple in 54-53 B.C. A priest named Eleazar who was guardian of the sacred treasures gave Crassus a large bar of gold worth 10,000 shekels as a “ransom” for the temple treasures (Antiquities xiv. 107).

This is what God did in Jesus did for us. He saw us, enslaved to our useless life, and had compassion on us. We the ones on the slave block of the vandalized world were helpless as could be. We could never free ourselves even if we had wanted. So God, thru Jesus, redeemed us? That is he bought us off the block and set us free! Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves! The price for our redemption was his own blood, that is his blood “ransomed” us.

What a great Savior we have. Paul tells us this is how God saved us when his kindness and love appeared–it appeared perfectly at the Cross in Jesus.

Paul explicitly denies that our “righteous things” had anything to do with our redemption. Paul, in Titus, commands us to do good deeds several times so as to make a good impression on non-believers. Here, however, the apostle makes sure no one gets the idea that these deeds count toward our salvation (cf Eph 2.1-10).

It was not our works but because of “God’s mercy’ that we are now redeemed.

Paul has told us the When, the What and now he tells us the Means of salvation. He saved us through “the water of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (NRSV). The “water  of rebirth” (traditionally “washing of rebirth”) and renewal is the MEANS by which we are saved by God’s grace. The word “water/washing” (loutron) is probably a metaphor for baptism, or more likely a metaphor of what takes place in baptism.

These are not two separate events 1) being baptism and 2) coming of the Holy Spirit. “Washing of rebirth” and “renewal of the Holy Spirit” are synonymous (Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, pp.781-83).

In baptism we are reborn or renewed by the power of God’s grace through the Holy Spirit. We are washed by him in the Blood of the Lamb: Ananias said to Saul, “what are you waiting for ? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).

Paul is alluding to the promise in Ezekiel 36:25-27 (LXX) where the Prophet says God will wash us to make us clean and will pour out his Spirit into our hearts so that we will be able to keep his decrees. It is because of the Spirit’s action of renewal in baptism that Alexander Campbell could use a provocative expression, “the Gospel is in the water!” (Campbell, again, following Martin Luther’s lead in this expression). That is baptism proclaims the Gospel of Jesus not human ability or righteousness.

The water does not save, but the Spirit who works in the “water of rebirth” is who saves us. The washing is a Spirit bath, it is the Spirit that cleans, it is the Spirit that “works” in this washing of rebirth.  We do not grab the soap and wash ourselves, Paul does not give us that credit. Baptism is grace!

The Spirit is lavishly poured out on us. The God who saves on the basis of his mercy does not scrimp! God will not have his children suffering from anemia. The lavish supply of the Spirit is what makes it possible for us to obey the imperatives in v-8 (which is also the reason for giving the Spirit in Ezk. 36). The Spirit is the Enabler of obedience.

graceJustified by Grace

The Spirit is poured out in abundance by Jesus Christ our Savior. The fact that we have the Spirit shows we have been “justified by his grace.” Grace is that awesome gift of God that changes our present. Grace allows us to have our clean slate. But we must be clear, what is grace?

Grace is God’s snowfall in our lives. Our live are like a cow pasture; filthy, muddy and full of dung. Our past is a nasty place! I grew up next to several pastures so I know from first hand experience haw dirty they are. But the magic of snow is that it brings freshness, renewal and most of all beauty — even to cow pastures!

Our lives covered in sin are much like a cow pasture. Our mistakes cannot be covered up by us, no more than a cow pasture can clean itself. But when the snow comes it covers the ugliness of the pasture. It covers the mud and dung leaving a beautiful, spotless blanket covering the ground. What was ugly is now breathtaking. The snow covers the blemishes just as God’s grace covers us. Isaiah, the great Hebrew prophet even compares God’s grace to snow. He said “though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as SNOW…” (1:18), that is God’s Amazing Grace! Paul says that we the vandalized people (sometimes the vandalizers!) have been justified by that amazing grace.

We are not justified by works, by getting “it” right, by not not using instruments in worship, by having the right name on a building, by having correct theology.  Rather we are “justified by his grace” so that “we might become heirs according to the hope … this saying is sure” (3.7-8). This is why K. C. Moser exclaimed “Grace is the GLORY of God!”

I am no longer a slave to envy, lust, sex, anger, religion or anything else . . . except the Lord himself.  By grace I was redeemed from ungodliness and now I have the “hope of eternal life.” As a result of being saved by God we are to stress these things” (3:8).  Paul says:

“Titus, if you want motivated Christians, ones who will work in the Lord’s Kingdom then you need to stress these things.”

Paul does not tell us to stress “why I am a member of the Church of Christ.” Paul does not tell us to stress instrumental music or any number of things that have been the subject of so many debates and so called meetings.  Paul says if you want healthy Christians, faithful Christians, then stress what God has done for us! Squeeze us, impress upon us like a stamp, the grace of the Father, the Son and the Spirit who has saved us while we were yet his enemies.

Christians are motivated by grace not fear. We respond to him out of gratitude. It is only when these things are stressed that we as a church will grow and devote ourselves to do good works in the name of the Lord. These good deeds are to make God’s teaching “attractive” to outsiders (2:10).

But Paul makes it clear to Titus, we cannot expect folks to live as God wants them to without stressing the grace of the Triune God.

CONCLUSION

Do you long to start over? God gives us that chance by making us a new creation through the new birth. The past is over, it has no power over us. God has redeemed us from our sinful pasts and gives us the present.

joel-overview-bible-minor-prophet-plague-locusts-day-of-lordWhy this Blog

Another version of this paper was delivered to the 2016 Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars Conference held on the campus of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee.  I almost called my paper “Earth, Wind and Fire” to make a play off of a rock group but I went old school and stuck with the wording from the prophet Joel himself.

I have decided to post this paper on my blog for a variety of reasons (I have removed most of the citations of secondary literature, added the text of Hosea, and left out a few things to keep it short).  One reason was because the current issue of the Spiritual Sword has published a special issue on eschatology in which John Mark Hicks and myself have been mentioned by name in reference to the biblical doctrine of a renewed earth.  The writers in the SS seem, in my judgement, fairly uninformed on the matter from virtually every angle: the overall redemptive theme of Scripture itself, the exegesis of specific passages, the meaning of resurrection, the history of this healthy teaching.  The irony remains that the alternative of a nonphysical eternal state was held only by Gnostics in the early church.  I have asked for the name and passage of a recognized teacher that held that view (other than a Gnositc) in the first five centuries and have not received one yet.

One final reason I have chose to post this is because so many simply do not realize just how wide spread the idea of creation and redemption going together is.  God has not surrendered his prized creation to Sin or Evil.  From Genesis to Revelation redemption is redemption of creation not immaterial souls.  Creation, human and nonhuman, is bound together in suffering and pain because of Sin.  Creation, human and nonhuman, is bound together in glorious redemption.  So this blog is a response to the Spiritual Sword from a specific text. So to the Prophet Joel … Do Not Fear, O Soil, Animals, People: Hope of Cosmic Redemption in Joel’s Liturgy

A Problem with the Land

The prophet Joel offers us the most comprehensive picture of how sin, lamentation, repentance, and renewal are intertwined. The book of Joel is a communal lament with a divine response.[1] It leads God’s people through a liturgical procession. Joel calls the “inhabitants of the land,” the “drunkards,” and “priests” (Joel 1:2; 5; 13) to weep, wail, mourn, and cry out.

A deadly locust plague, perhaps symbolic of some army, has scorched Palestine. In Joel 1:6– 7, as in Jeremiah 8– 9, God laments. The army has invaded,

My land . . .
My vines . . .
My fig trees
 . . .

God is depicted as weeping over the condition of his property.  Sin has hurt not only people but the creation that God loves and said was “very good” (cf. Genesis 1; Psalm 104)

The ferocity of the devastation leads to a wider participation in lament: “The fields are devastated, the land mourns” (Joel 1:10). It is no longer merely humans and deity that are mourning but the earth, the land, the physical creation that is crying under the scourge of the locusts. Joining the land in lament, the animals “groan” or “cry/pray” to the Lord.

How the animals groan!
the herds of cattle wander about

because there is no pasture for them;
even the flocks of sheep are dazed

Human sin has resulted in the suffering of the animals.  Sin does not simply affect humanity but vandalizes God’s creation in every dimension.  The groaning of the animals results in them praying to the Lord, just as Joel has told us humanity has been called on to assemble and lament.  The prophet adds his own voice “To you, O LORD, I cry …” Then he states

Even the wild animals cry to you,
because the watercourses are dried up,
and fire has devoured the pastures
of the wilderness
(Joel 1.20)

There is nothing left in the land following the invasion. The wine is gone. The crops have disappeared. Things are so bad, brides dress in sackcloth instead of white (Joel 1:8).  God laments.  The Land laments.  The animals lament.  The people are called to join the lament.

Lament

What can be done? Joel calls for a solemn assembly in the temple of “all the inhabitants of the land” (Joel 1:14–20). Just as in Hosea 4:1– 3, this includes nonhuman participants: “How the animals groan! The herds of cattle wander about because there is no pasture for them” (Joel 1:18). “Even the wild animals cry to you because the watercourses are dried up” (Joel 1:20). They groan like oppressed slaves in Egypt (Ex. 2:23). Lament appeals to God for deliverance. Joel 1 leads God’s people and God’s creation to their Savior.[2]  Hosea says it like this,

Therefore, I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her, from there I will give her her vineyards,
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she shall respond as in the day of her youth,
as as the time when she came up out of the land of Egypt.
On that day, says the LORD, you will call me ‘My husband,’
and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal/My Master.”
For I will remove the names of the Baals from her
mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more.
I will make for you a covenant on that day WITH THE ANIMALS,
the birds of the air, the creeping things of the ground;
and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land;
and I will make YOU lied down in safety. And I will take you
for my wife forever in righteousness and in justice and in
steadfast love and in mercy.”
(Hosea 2.14-20)

Most modern Westerners dismiss such talk as mere metaphor or hyperbole.  But It is in the biblical narrative repeatedly.  God ties human redemption to his promise to the animals … remember the first time the word covenant occurs in the Bible is after the flood when God enters a covenant with creation … not people but all flesh where he promises them that they would no more be punished because of the failure of their divine steward, humans (Genesis 9.8-17).

Joel 2 reveals the problem. Gathered in solemn assembly, human sin is exposed as the reason for the devastating day of the Lord. Solomon, at the dedication of the temple, warned how locusts were among God’s tools to bring about repentance.[3] In repentance, “God will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 6:28; 7:13– 14). The locusts, whether Assyrian, Babylonian, or Roman, are representatives of the Creator, the commander in chief.

Once again, creation suffers with humanity and because of human hubris.[4] The Promised Land is a virtual Garden of Eden raped by sin:

Fire devours in front of them,
and behind them a flame burns.
Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
but after them a desolate wilderness,
and nothing escapes them
. (Joel 2:3, NRSV)

The judgment of God upon Israel reverses creation itself. The fate of the land is bound up with the fate of Israel and the fate of Israel points to the fate of the land. What was good, beautiful, and full of life has now retreated into a useless void (Gen. 1:2; cf. Jer. 4:23).

Nevertheless, “even now,” Yahweh is ready to redeem and heal. God stops the army at the doorstep and offers yet another opportunity for repentance: “Even now,” if God’s people join in genuine penitent lament, hope remains. The prophet, quoting the “God Creed” (Ex. 34:6– 7), declares God “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing” (Joel 2:13).

In the light of such a gracious proclamation, another solemn assembly is summoned. The people gather before the Lord and the priests stand before the altar to weep in prayer: “Spare your people, O Lord” (Joel 2:17).  It is the people who have sinned but all who have suffered because of that sin.

God’s Response: Targets of Divine Mercy

God’s response to the priestly prayer (Joel 2:18– 27) is breathtaking. In fact, this gathering is the hinge of the book (Joel 2:15– 17). We move from a death to a resurrection. Though the army of locusts belonged to God, there was no joy in it (cf. Lam. 3:31– 33). The land was “collateral” damage (as in the Flood) in Yahweh’s judgment upon sin: “Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people” (Joel 2:18).  Note carefully those words.  Land is not a synonym for humanity.  God is guaranteeing the safety of his nonhuman creation just as he did in Genesis 9, Hosea 2 & 4, and now in Joel.

However, the jealousy of God for the land is akin to his jealousy for Israel. Indeed, they cannot be separated. God has compassion on all creation. Remembering the covenant with creation given after the flood, and seemingly renewed by Hosea, Yahweh simply refused to extend the damage further. Instead of punishment, God announces three targets of grace:

Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field . . .
O Children of Zion, be glad and
rejoice in the Lord your God
.
(Joel 2:21– 23, NRSV)

Soil!

Animals!

People!

God directly addresses the earth and animals, not just humans. Bound together in sin. Bound together in redemption. Each of these had cried out in lament. The suffering of creation was a sign of a lack of repentance. So now the praise of creation is a sign of alignment with God. God pours out healing grace.

Grace on the Earth.

Grace on the animals.

Grace on the people.

As creation joined humanity in lamentation, so now— as in the psalms— creation joins humanity in praise for the restoration of Eden.

So astounding is Yahweh’s grace, God seemingly apologizes for the damage done: “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locusts has eaten” (Joel 2:25). What was lost—grain, wine, and oil—because of sin is restored beyond measure.

Eden Renewed-Communion Restored

As amazing as God’s healing grace is to the land, the animals, and the people, this only points to the greatest grace—restored communion with God. The redemption of creation serves the purposes of God from the beginning: to mediate fellowship with God. After the miracle of salvation, Joel declares, “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God” (Joel 2:27). Humanity, expelled from the divine presence, enjoys the redeemed “community of the world” as the Lord comes to dwell within creation again. This is the very promise of Revelation 21 and 22.

Concomitant with the renewal of creation is the pouring out of the Spirit. As the Spirit brought life in the beginning, so now the Spirit restores creation. The inhabitants of the world become the community of the Spirit:

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my Spirit.

(Joel 2:28– 29, NRSV)

Restored Eden is radically different from the social structures of the fractured world. Hierarchy, patriarchy, and social position lose their significance in God’s new creation. Resurrection is not just a renewed relationship with God but a redefinition of human society itself. The women called by God within Israel in unusual circumstances— Miriam, Deborah, Huldah— are now ordinary.

God’s church is a re/new creation within the old. Peter quotes Joel’s text on Pentecost to identify the dawning of the new age (Acts 2:17– 18). Less well known is how significant Joel 2 is for Paul. Paul’s appeal to baptism as our incorporation into the Abrahamic covenant in which all people shall be blessed echoes Joel’s promise:

Galatians 3:26–28                   Joel 2:28– 29
Jew/Greek                              All flesh
Male/female                          Sons/daughters
Free/slave                              Free/slave

The church is the future of the world on display within the old as a demonstration (or we are the leaven of life from God’s renewed creation sprinkled within the old) of what God intends to do with all of us.  Just as Jesus’s resurrection is the first fruit of God’s new world for all of us. Renewed Israel is the place where the old power structures are removed.

Yet we still wait for the final consummation of Eden’s return in the restoration of all things (Acts 3.21).

A New Notes:

[1] Joel’s relationship to the temple cult is explored in G. W. Ahlstrom, Joel and the Temple Cult of Jerusalem (Leiden: Brill, VTSup XXI 1971) and more recently in Laurie J. Braaten, “Earth Community in Joel 1-2: A Call to Identify with the Rest of Creation,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 28 (2006) 113-129.

[2] Graham S. Ogden, “Joel 4 and Prophetic Responses to National Laments,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 26 (1983): 103-105.

[3] Locust invasions and drought are among the curses which come upon the land when humans sin (Deut 28.23-24, 38; Lev. 26.19-20)

[4] Scholars have identified nine “suffering” or “mourning” of the land passages in the Hebrew Bible. These are: Amos 1.2; Hos 4.1-3; Jer 4.23-28; Jer 12.1-4; Jer 12.7-13; Jer 23.9-12; Isa 24.1-20; Isa 33.7-9 and Joel 1.5-20.  See Laurie Braaten, “The Groaning of Creation: The Biblical Background for Romans 8:22,” Biblical Research 50 (2005): 19-39; Donald E. Gown, “The Fall and Redemption of the Material World in Apocalyptic Literature,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 7 (1985): 83-103

holy-spirit-piccyThe winners of Wineskins book drawing done through my blog to receive a copy of Mark Powell’s Centered on God are: Robert C. Bliss; Eric Whelchel; and Jerry Starling.

Introduction to Caricatures 

Ok! I grow tired, can I confess that?, of caricatures of the Old Testament. They are prevalent among Christians.  What is most disappointing is that many that profess to be “teachers” also perpetuate these false notions about God’s word.  Paul warned about those that wanted to be “teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Tim 1.7).  They do not invest the time to learn to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2.15) though Paul told Timothy these Scriptures make us wise unto salvation (2 Tim 3.15-16).  In each of the texts just cited, Paul is talking about what some Christians call the Old Testament.

What is baffling about these caricatures is that Jesus’s own faith is in the God of the Hebrew Bible. Jesus’s mission in the world is defined by the explicit words and theology of the Hebrew Bible (Luke 4; Isa 61; Lev 25). Almost every time Jesus opens his mouth it is with a word from the Hebrew Bible. He was so immersed and shaped by the Hebrew Bible that even in the greatest of all crises of his life, hanging on the Cross, he has no words to pray but those of the Psalms.

Do we not know that Paul, like his Master before him, cannot think apart from the Scriptures of Israel in Hebrew or their Septuagint translation. So he claims that his Gospel itself is “according to the Scripture.”  That is not Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Acts and the Letter to the Romans (you know the song!).  The Good News is the Good News because of it has an ancestry.  When Paul speaks of salvation by Grace thru Faith he bases his entire theology upon the “Old Testament.” Abraham and David are prototypical.

So the caricatures are rooted in wilful ignorance.

A Sad Example

Several years ago I found myself involved in a discussion with a preaching brother who castigated me over some point about the Hebrew Bible.  I had published a blog about the grace of God in the Hebrew Bible.  He believed the myth perpetuated by many that the HB is “carnal” (his word) and that Jesus brought a brand new religion … grace-faith religion.

I shared numerous things with him that he simply refused to read. So I invited him to simply read the Psalms with me for a couple of months. That is a daily run thru the Psalter. He refused to my dismay even after I tried to explain how important they were for Jesus and the NT church.

He finally “marked me” because I clearly did not know the OT was “nailed to the cross” and “do not understand the distinction between the covenants.” I was sad but amused.

The Israelite, The Holy Spirit & Relationship with God

One of the greatest caricatures of the Hebrew Bible has to do with the Spirit of God. This is directly related to the old saw that the “OT” was a religion of legalism, form without substance, and ritual without life.  Certainly the Jews do not recognize themselves in our caricatures of them.  So the question can be formulated as follows:

Were Israelites/Jews aware of the need for and reality of God’s personal presence and aid to understand the word, to obey the word and to have communion with God?

Most recently I was involved in this discussion because my conversation partner hold the view that Israelites could obey God’s word without the indwelling of the Spirit therefore contemporary believers do not have any need of an actual indwelling of the Spirit either.  I disagree with the position from every quarter.  But I want to focus on the assumption that Israelites knew nothing of a personal presence of God in his Spirit and they were left without enabling divine aid to walk in the ways of God.  These assumptions simply do not reflect what is in the Hebrew Bible itself.

This is not intended to be a theology of the Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Bible rather we are exploring the idea of whether or not the Israelite had a personal relationship with his or Creator and Redeemer and if they knew how that was sustained.

Three Points Need to Be Made

The position just noted above is simply false and is based on misreadings of both Testaments. Serious ones.

First, God’s “word” in Scripture is not the Bible. I do not know of a single text where the word phrase “word of God” refers to a page with hand written words on it.

Second, the power of God’s word is not conditioned on which Testament it appears. The Hebrews Preacher believes that the “Old Testament” is nothing if not the Spirit himself talking (Heb 3.7, etc). So the Spirit is addressing people even in the Hebrew Bible.

Third, though we may be able to say that Israelites did not have the personal indwelling of the Spirit in the same manner as disciples in the Messianic Spirit age, it is decidedly NOT the case that they were not aware of the Spirit and their need for divine aid in accomplishing God’s will, for understanding the will of God and for faithful obedience.

The Spirit and Personal Divine Aid for the Israelite

The word ruach occurs about 400x in the Hebrew Bible. About fifty times it is clear in the context that ruach means air or wind (in the sense of the matter of Earth’s atmosphere) that leaves hundreds of times when it refers to a spirit from God.  This basic fact stuns many because they have trouble remembering any texts about the Spirit in the Hebrew Bible.

Typical of Hebraic theology is Psalm 51. Prayer is itself a request for divine aid even when such is not explicitly stated. But in Ps 51, a text that belongs to ALL Israelites that come to the temple to worship not just the author,

Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps 51.10)

The context is that of gross sin.  Sin of such a nature the psalmist believes that he/she does not have the power to overcome with her human willpower.  The editors of the Psalter thought it was a fitting Psalm to illustrate the horrific fall of David when he murdered Uriah and raped Bathsheba. Divine power is appealed to change the heart.

Isn’t this what Moses commanded Israelites in Deuteronomy, that they are to “circumcise your hearts” (10.16)? But did not Moses prophesy that Israel would fail? Did not Moses prophesy that Yahweh would circumcise the hearts of Israelites, “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your soul and live” (30.6).

Significantly this Psalm also uses the word bara (create). This is not the word “make” but “create.”  This is evocative of creation itself and only God can bara in the Hebrew Bible.  “In the beginning God created (bara) …” The ancient Israelite encountered the creation stories the same way they did the psalms, in worship.  In Genesis, God’s creation of the pristine and good world is accompanied by the “Spirit of God” filling the useless chaotic void with life and goodness.  So the psalmist pairs her own prayer with creation and the Spirit … to to me what you did “in the beginning” … make me new … such an act of grace is nothing an Israelite could do by his strength, work, obedience or anything else.  It must be a new creation of God himself through his own ruach.

Psalm 51 is the prayer that thousands upon thousands of Israelites confessed and prayed in the context of their own struggles for God to do to them what Moses promised. They need God to do what they proven to be a failure at. Each one prays for Yahweh to create a clean heart, this is a brand new heart. The Jew knows this is not done by their own initiative or boot straps.  There is no illusion of self-sufficiency here.

Do not cast me away from you Presence
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps 51.11)

John Goldingay suggests this as the proper translation of Ps 51.11-12

Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.
Give me the joy of your saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit

This is a nonsensical statement and plea if the average faithful Israelite had zero conception of personal fellowship with God thru His Spirit. Further the person praying this prayer in worship recognizes that Yahweh sustains us with the Spirit and with the parallelism makes it abundantly clear that the saving help is from the ruach.

The saving help of Psalm 51 is God’s ruach, his Spirit. Not only is the Spirit the instrument of help in overcoming sin and the creation of the clean heart but the Spirit functions as the means of fellowship with God.  Communion with God was therefore in and through the Holy ruach of God.

holy-spirit1Praying for Divine Aid

All through the Psalms the psalmists are praying for divine intervention to enable them to understand and even obey just as we saw in Psalm 51.  In the longest and most complex meditation upon God’s Word within the pages of the Bible, Psalm 119, we are confronted repeatedly with the prayer of one that confesses love for God’s word but not the wisdom to understand nor the strength to be precisely obedient to it without God’s personal aid.

 

I treasure your word in my heart … teach me your statutes” (Ps 119.11, 12)

teach me your statutes, make me understand the way of your precepts” (119.26)

Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me your law” (Ps 119.29)

Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (Ps 119.34)

Direct me in the paths of your commands, for there I find delight” (Ps 119.35)

Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain” (Ps 119.36)

The earth, O LORD, is full of your hesed, teach me your statutes” (Ps 119.64, see v.65, 73, etc)

Your statutes are forever right: give me understanding that I may live” (Ps 119. 144)

Many more texts can be cited but this final one says it all …

I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me” (Ps 119.102)

Let’s be clear about one thing as we read these words, the psalmists that pray this prayer are no asking God to give them the power of literacy.  They are not want to know how to read.  The psalmists already know what the “Bible” says! They are not praying that God give them lessons in grammar and syntax. God does not become the teacher by saying “read the book.” The commands, statutes, ordinances, etc are already known. The prayer is precisely,

open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things in your torah” (Ps 119.18)

Something divine had to happen! The prayers of Psalm 119 are precisely the prayer of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 1.17-18 that the eyes of disciples hearts may be “enlightened” so they can know God!

The Israelite prays that God will personally teach him or her.  The Israelite prays that God will personally direct her or his steps.  The Israelite prays that God will personally enable the him or her to love the word in the first place. The Israelite prays that God will personally save them “I am YOURS; SAVE ME” (Ps 119.94; cf. v.76-77, etc)

In short Israelites pray in Psalm 119 exactly what they pray in Psalm 51.10-13.  They need Yahweh to personally sustain them through his Presence … through his ruach.

Isaiah’s Word on Israel’s Personal Relationship with the Spirit

Our Spiritual ancestors were very much aware of the stark truth that they depended upon the Spirit of the Lord for life, communion, power and even the source of obedience.  Isaiah looked could look back on Israel’s history from the time of her birth and testify that it was God’s Holy Spirit that was with them from the beginning.  Indeed in words not to distant in thought from Psalm 51 we note that it was gross sin that would drive God’s Spirit from dwelling with Israel.

I will recount Yahweh’s acts of commitment, Yahweh’s praise …
He was the one who restored them, lifted them up,
and carried them all the days of old.

It was no messenger or angel
but his presence that saved them …

But they rebelled
and hurt his Holy Spirit …

But he was mindful of the days of long ago,
of Moses, of his people.
Where is the one who brought them up from the sea,
the shepherds of his flock?
Where is the one who put in its midst
his Holy Spirit,
the one who make his majestic arm go
at Moses’ right hand,
dividing the waters in front of them
to make himself a name in perpetuity
enabling them to go through the depths like a horse in the wilderness,
so they would not collapse,
like a beast in the vale that goes down,
the Spirit of the LORD gave them rest,
thus you led your people,
to make for yourself a glorious name
(Isaiah 63.7-14)

Isaiah tells us that it was not an angel that God used to bring Israel out from slavery or who was “with” the Israelites. Rather it was his Holy Spirit doing what is prayed for in Psalm 51.

Wisdom of Solomon, Relationship Sustained with God through the Spirit

Jews certainly were aware of God’s personal presence, Gods personal empowerment, God’s personal teaching and they did NOT confuse that personal presence, personal teaching, etc for the Bible.  The Psalms more than demonstrate that many Israelites seemingly had deeper and more intimate relationships with Yahweh than many of their Christian descendants. He is the “God of my salvation” after all (Isaiah 12.2, see vv 1-6)

It is simply a misrepresentation of the Old Testament (something Protestants and Restorationists do routinely anyway) to imagine that Israelites some how were confronted by God’s holy word and left to pull up their obedience by their bootstraps. The book of Psalms shatters the idea for the bunk it is. Having God withhold his Spirit was a terrifying thought for the faithful Israelite as we see in Ps 51.

But even if the one rejects the Apocrypha those books show what Jews believed that had been reading the same “Old Testament.” Thus in complete line with Psalm 119 we see in Wisdom of Solomon written in the two centuries before Jesus (scholars are divided on the date)

I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called on God, and the SPIRIT of wisdom came to me” (6.7)

But I perceived that I would not possess wisdom unless God gave her to me” (8.21)

who has learned your counsel, unless you have given wisdom and SENT YOUR HOLY SPIRIT FROM ON HIGH” (9.17)

God’s word is activated and carried by the source of its power – the Spirit. It was mediated to Israel, so the Jews believed, thru the Spirit/Presence/Spirit of the Lord. Thus we read, Wisdom says,

your all-powerful word LEAPED FROM HEAVEN (clearly not the Bible), from your royal throne into the midst of the land that was doomed” (18.15)

The Conclusion of the Matter: Walking with God Requires God’s Personal Ruach

God word is equally powerful in the Hebrew Bible and the Messianic age. Same God, same Spirit, same word empowered by the Spirit!

To understand God’s word required personal divine aid for which worshiping Israelites plead for routinely. To obey the holy commands revealed required that God personally “direct” our steps. Israelites personally knew the communion of God’s presence else they would not pray take not your Spirit from me.

Luke did not INVENT the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. Jesus could not have accused some of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit had those Jews no inkling of who or what that was! They did know. And they knew divine aid was required for walking with God.

To recognize that the Israelite, or Second Temple Jew, may not have had full Trinitarian view of the Spirit does not in any fashion support the false idea they had not idea what Presence was, communion with God, felt the need for and received divine aid in following the will of God. They knew “something” about the Spirit. Simply because the doctrine of the Trinity was not fully comprehensible prior to the Incarnation does not mean that God became Triune at the birth of Jesus. God has always been Father, Son and Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was not unemployed in the Hebrew Bible.

This blog is no stranger to recommending good books for Bereans.  Today something a little different is happening.  I will be offering brief “book notes” for three books all published by members of the Churches of Christ and in conjunction with Winekins three copies of Mark Powell’s Centered in God will be given away on Friday July 8.  To be eligible you have to comment. Wineskins will place the responders in a randomizer to pick the three winners.  The winners will be announced on Facebook and my next blog.  I am delighted to partner with such a wonderful resource as Wineskins and if you do not already regularly read it I cannot recommend it enough.  It is without a doubt the best source for healthy teaching in Churches of Christ today.  I have included Amazon links for each book to facilitate ease in getting them.

CenteredMark E. Powell, Centered in God: The Trinity and Christian Spirituality

Mark Powell is associate professor at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tennessee.  There are many technical works on the “doctrine of the Trinity,” but Centered in God is not one of them. In fact what Powell has given us is a vision of Christian Spirituality by describing the practical implications of the Trinity.  So many Christians within the Stone-Campbell Movement think the Trinity is just some esoteric  notion that has no practical significance at all.  This is because of massive failure to understand and communicate on the part of thought leaders in Churches of Christ.

After briefly describing the foundations of the Trinity, Powell moves to the meat of his book which explicates how the Trinity is the foundation of virtually every dimension of truly Christian thinking, praying and worship.  Christian life is itself Trinitarian from beginning to end.  The Trinity keeps us from embracing Platonic and Gnostic views by leading us to embrace creation (I was gratified to see this phrase).  The Trinity is the basis for authentic human living and discipleship in the present age.  Three of the richest chapters in Centered in God are “Community,” “Worship,” and “Unity.” I wish I could just pull them out and pass them out at the Christian gathering and pay people to read them.  The book closes with a much needed meditation on the role of genuine mystery within the Christian worldview.

Centered in God is a genuinely good book. It is insightful, meditative and surprisingly easy to read. There are not many things in this world that could be more foundational to our Spirituality than taking time to reflect on and seek to be centered in the Triune God who reveals himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Worship and praise will flow from you as you eat this book.

Make sure you comment below to be entered into the give away for this rich work.

PPPRLatayne C. Scott, Passion, Power, Proxy, Release

I received this book from the author near the end of April.  I have known Latayne Scott’s work since the 1990s when I needed reliable information on witnessing to Mormons (The Mormon Mirage; After Mormonism, What?; ). Then she wrote a work on worship, Crises: Crucible of Praise, that has left a phrase with me ever since I read it: “sometimes we praise God through clenched teeth.”  When Songs of Faith and Praise was published we were blessed with her poetry.

Passion, Power, Proxy, Release is a work of devotion focusing on the atmosphere of the Lord’s Supper.  The title gives us the four angles in which to we move during that holy meal.  Passion as we see his suffer; Power as we witness his resurrection; Proxy as we identify and participate in his suffering; and Release as we also share in the power of his resurrection.

Each devotion consists of a Scripture, an original piece of poetry and then a short meditation.  I made the mistake of rifling through this work as I camped out at Joshua Tree National Park on the way to the Pepperdine Bible Lectures.  I have since gone back and gone thru most of the meditations again.  Scott is a master poet and she offers some arresting examples.  Poetry is not simply some short rhyming limerick.  She shapes words in such a way that they rest in our mind and just sit there and slowly work their way into our subterranean nature where they do their work.  One of my favorite pieces is a meditation on Exodus 15.11-13 and the spontaneous outburst of praise by Moses, Miriam and the Israelites …

The force of your love
Awes me,
Like a great mountain I cannot ascend
But whose warming breezes
And crags of protection I crave.
I stand on the beach
of this limitless sea
Of forgotten depths;
I would drown myself
In its richness.
Shine forth, great mountain,
Roll forth, great ocean–
Your bursts of light
Pierce my dimmed eyes,
Your thunderings
Soothe my sluggish ears
Your beauty
Makes my heart sing
(Passion, Power, Proxy, Release, p. 46)

I think Passion, Power, Proxy, Release would be a great work of personal devotion and even shared in the context of corporate worship and small groups.  I also see it as a guide for specific seasons of the calendar. For example I think it would be a wonderful guide for Lent to focus our hearts, minds and souls on the heart of the gospel for a season. You will be so enriched by this work.

RRTanya Smith Brice, Reconciliation Reconsidered: Advancing the National Conversation on Race in Churches of Christ

Racism is a sin beloved. It is not some insignificant matter, some individualistic personal problem. Racism is a theological rejection of the Gospel itself.

My friend Tanya Brice, Dean of the School of Health and Human Services at Benedict College, has assembled a remarkable team of black, white, male and female thinkers and doers of racial reconciliation within Churches of Christ.  Reconciliation Reconsidered is divided up into three sections: Historical Realities; Contemporary Challenges; and Concrete Examples.  In the historical section I was gratified that the historical work has paralleled much of my own research revealing accommodation to the racist culture with occasional challenges here and there but mostly silence in the face of evil.  More focused chapters are by John Mark Tucker on “People of Faith at Racial Barricades: Little Rock, Arkansas 1957,” is fascinating.  In the section on Contemporary Challenges we are confronted with how do deal in Radical Love in the wake of Ferguson and the challenge of refusing to be silent.  The third section provides us with a hands on guide to congregations that are actually doing something and helping people like me have the courage to examine my own life and behaviors (microaggressions).

Reconciliation Reconsidered would be an excellent resource for small groups or personal study.  Ministers and elders ought to read the book and meditate upon it so the pulpit can be a healing voice in bringing the meaning of the Gospel’s reconciliation to visible manifestation in the local church.  I cannot help but believe that interaction with this outstanding volume can help Churches of Christ image the creational beauty and diversity of the Kingdom of God more faithfully.  Put it on your must read list and then actually read it.

Bring the Books

When Paul was languishing in prison he told his friend Timothy to bring the books.  I hope you will get all three of these books, I think each has something worthy to share and will bless you, enrich you and challenge you to kingdom living.

Remember to make a comment so your name will be entered into the randomizer for one of the three free copies of Centered in God to be given away by Wineskins.  The drawing will occur on Friday, July 8, 2016.

17_jews-gentiles-one-bodyThe “Soul” of Hebrew

Though Alexander Campbell advocated a dispensational hermeneutic in relating the so called “Old Testament” and New Testament his views are far more nuanced than most of his heirs in the Stone-Campbell Movement.  Campbell recognized that it is simply impossible to properly understand Paul apart from the Hebrew Bible.  Sounding incredibly modern, Campbell wrote in the Preface of the Living Oracles that a student of the Greek New Testament would be better served by spending hours reading and studying the Septuagint (LXX) to understand Paul than virtually any other commentary or discipline.

Paul wrote in Greek, Campbell said, but did so with a thick Old Testament and Jewish accent.  In fact a significant problem with the King James Version, he said, was that the King’s men did not recognize the “special character” of NT Greek.  Paul’s language has “the body of Greek but the soul of Hebrew.” A look at the most recognized Greek lexicon, BDAG, confirms Campbell’s insight. The LXX is more than a source of words and shaper of syntax, rather it is even more fundamental as supplying the worldview or structure of thought that is used within the New Testament.

The influence of the LXX on the NT is enormous and simply cannot be exaggerated.  All the words that we recognize as significant doctrinal words in the “New Testament” are first encountered in the LXX and had been there for hundreds of years by the time of Jesus, Paul and the early Way, as James noted that “Moses was read in every city” (Acts 15.21).  These words are themselves translations of Hebrew and they carry with them meanings that arrive out of the Hebrew text not classical Greek.  So we find “faith,” “grace,” “covenant,” “mercy,” “love,” “righteousness/justification,” “redemption,” “salvation,” and many more. One important word is the word “church.” The New Testament, and Paul in particular, did not simply invent the “doctrine” of the “church” out of thin air, as I have written about in two blogs on how the Hebrew Bible shapes the notion of “church.”  I hope you will check them out here: Old Testament Roots of the NT Doctrine of Church, Pt 1; and Old Testament Roots of the NT Doctrine of Church, Pt 2.

Hebrew Root of Paul’s Ekklesia

In my blog “Who Are We? Perhaps Not Christian: Luke’s Designations for the Followers of Jesus,” I showed that Luke uses the word ekklesia as a traditional Jewish word. Likewise it is not a word or idea that Paul came up with because of his missionary work. The apostle Paul inherits more than a word in ekklesia rather he inherits a whole perspective, a theology, or as we usually say, a doctrine.

Many make the mistake that Campbell cautioned against way back in the 1820s. They read Paul’s use of ekklesia as if they were reading Plato rather than Deuteronomy, the Psalms and Chronicles. Thus Robert Banks in his book Paul’s Idea of Community (many house church and “progressive” folks hold his work in esteem, and his work has value though in many ways he is not correct) argues that the word ekklesia simply means merely assembly without much theological/doctrinal content.  There are a couple places where this classical Greek meaning seems to be in view in the NT.  However, this position has been examined critically in many writers and does not work in Paul nor the rest of the NT by and large.

Indeed Paul did inherit the concept of ekklesia.  The word ekklesia appears around 100 times in the LXX, twenty-two of those in the Apocrypha.  The root of the concept of ekklesia lies with the Hebrew qahal.  The word qahal is translated in the LXX as synagoge 35x (and used of the “church” in James 2.2) and ekklesia over 70x.  When we examine the 100 or so times ekklesia is used in the LXX some interesting things emerge. Nearly every one of them refer to Jews (Psalm 26.5 and Ezekiel 32.22-23 being exceptions) that are actually assembled in reference to God or the torah (for example Deuteronomy 9.10; 18.16; 23.1ff and 31.30).  Thirty-three times in 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles ekklesia refers to Israel gathered as a worshiping community (in many of these texts ekklesia is used as a concrete noun for the people). In the Psalms and Sirach ekklesia is used of groups of Jews gathered for worship (cf. Pss 22.22,25; 26.12; 35.18; 40.9; 68.26; 107.32 and Sirach 15.5; 21.17; 24.2; 38.33; 39.10; 44.15).

The last book of the Hebrew Bible is 1-2 Chronicles and in its Greek translation uses ekklesia quite a lot. There were three great days of “church” in the “Old Testament:”  the day Israel was gathered before God at Mt. Sinai; the day Israel was gathered before God at the dedication of the Temple by Solomon and the day Israel was gathered before God and renewed as the people of God at Hezekiah’s Passover. I will offer a few examples from the day of the Temple.

According to the Chronicle’s telling of the story, the Temple dominates the end of David’s life and consumes the first years of Solomon’s reign. Indeed Solomon’s story in 2 Chronicles is taken up by the Temple. Thus from 1 Chronicles 22 to 2 Chronicles 7 everything is about the Temple.  Significantly the building of the Temple follows Solomon’s miraculous gift of wisdom (2 Chron 1-3).  The Ark of the Covenant is brought to Zion in a great ceremony.  Just as at Sinai, all Israel gathered “at the festival that is in the seventh month” (2 Chron 5.3). Israel breaks out in loud and joyous praise and worship singing a Psalm with instruments.  And “the house of the LORD was filled with a cloud, so the priests could not minister  because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God” (5.13-14; 7.1-2). It is not only Mt. Sinai redone but the Tabernacle redone (Ex 40.34-38).  At this point Solomon turns and blesses “the ekklesia/church of Israel” (6.3).  Standing before the Presence of the Lord (i.e. Altar and the Cloud), Solomon in the presence of the “ekklesia of Israel” (6.12, 13) and prayed to, and worshiped, the God of Abraham.  Similarly in Hezekiah’s Passover a great gathering/ekklesia was called (2 Chron 30.2, 4, 13, 17, 23, 24, 25) for the purpose of worship and renewing the people of Israel as a whole … the Passover is sort of a “reconstitution” of Israel itself. When ekklesia is used it is never a mere assembly but a manifestation of the people of God in the Presence of the Lord.

Looking at Paul

Most biblical scholars today will say that ekklesia was not a technical word among Jews in Jesus and Paul’s day, rather it was a loaded term.  We might want to think of the word “American” as a possible analogy. The word “American” is not, in fact, a technical term for a citizen of the United States.  Technically citizens from Mexico, Canada, Panama, and Brazil are also Americans. But in most common usage “American” is a loaded term and not a few people would imagine that it is indeed a technical term for citizen of the United States.  Just so there are a number of words that have the same basic analogous function in Second Temple Judaism, ekklesia is among those (Philo and Josephus tend to use the term as the LXX does).

If what we have explored above has any validity at all, and I think it does, then this informs our understanding of Paul in many ways and places.  The people reading the LXX in Paul’s gatherings are no stranger to the word ekklesia linguistically nor as a concept. I want to suggest that we find Paul using the word ekklesia in four ways against the backdrop of his inherited understanding of that word.

  1. ekklesia can simply refer to the people of God as an entity.
  2. ekklesia can refer to all the disciples, or the people of God, in a specific geographical area.
  3. ekklesia can refer to all the disciples, or the people of God, in the world.  (in these first three usages ekklesia is practically equivalent to “the people” [ho laos] which it is used in conjunction with in numerous LXX texts.  That is like using the word “American” noted above which most will interpret as citizen of the USA thus ekklesia of God, for example, is practically like using the word “Israel” and indeed Paul can use the phrase “Israel of God.”  “the people” is not just a loaded phrase but indeed a technical one and always refers to Israel)
  4. ekklesia can refer to a small gathering of disciples who are a local manifestation of the people of God.

Let me provide a few illustrations.  In full continuity with the LXX Paul uses ekklesia in the following places that carry significant theological weight.

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism, I was violently persecuting the ekklesia of God” (Gal 1.13)

For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the ekklesia of God” (1 Cor 15.9; cf. Phil 3.6)

Ephesians 2.11-22

Ephesians 2.11-22

In these texts Paul recognizes that there was something called ekklesia before his own encounter with the Messiah, therefore Paul was not the first to appropriate this term for disciples. Likewise Paul’s usage in these passages clearly does not mean a mere local assembly of people as in the classical Greek sense.  Rather what we have in these passages is an identification with the historic people brought to God and by God. As in 2 Chronicles the ekklesia of Israel was simply Israel constituted as the laos of God.  Paul had attacked not mere groups of people rather he attacked people of God as an entity.  The word ekklesia does not replace the word, much less the concept, Israel.  Rather it stands for Israel, the people of God.

We can see how Paul does this (what I claimed in the last paragraph) by his interweaving of the second usage of ekklesia in the list above with two other distinctly Old Testament terms for Israel.  In 1 Corinthians we can observe Paul wrapping #’s 1 and 2 above into one, that is all the disciples in a specific location identified with the concept of the people of God

To the ekklesia of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Messiah Jesus, and saints by God’s call …” (1.2)

Those who, unlike Paul and his readers, that are unfamiliar with the Hebrew Bible simply miss what Paul has done.  As Campbell said, a few hours reading the LXX does as much for understanding Paul as ten hours with a commentary (provided one actually learns the vocabulary).  Here in the space of a single sentence Paul has directly applied one loaded term and two technical terms straight out of the Septuagint directly to the disciples in Corinth.  The two technical terms further modify the loaded term.  The terms are ekklesia, kletoi, and hagioi.

In the LXX, Israelites are the “saints.”  On that great day of ekklesia at Mt. Sinai, by the act of God’s grace, the refugees from Egypt became the saints. Israel, that rebellious and faithless people, were declared to be Yahweh’s holy people (Ex. 19.6; Lev. 11.44, 45, etc, etc). Israelites were thus the saints (Num 16.3; Deut 33.3; Pss 16.3; 34.9; 89.5; Isa. 4.3; Dan. 7.18, 21, 22, 25, 27; etc).  Saints was a common term in Jewish literature of the time finding its way into the Psalms of Solomon, 1 Enoch and throughout the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In the LXX, Israel is the “called.” This is the idea of “election” or even ‘the elect” (hoi eklektoi).  This idea is in fact basic to the biblical teaching on Israel in the Hebrew Bible.  Israel is the called ones or chosen ones (1 Chron 16.13; Pss 89.3; 105.6; etc.)

In 1 Corinthians 1.2, the “saints” and “the called” refer to the very thing ekklesia does. Paul is designating all the disciples in the geographical area of Corinth with two terms that are the sole preserve of Israel in the LXX.  In using them Paul is identifying the Corinthians with Israel.  As Kevin Giles notes in What on Earth is the Church? An Exploration in New Testament Theology, the ekklesia of God must bear the same force as the previous terms.

Thus in 1 Corinthians 1.2, Paul does not use “ekklesia” as mere assembly.  Nor does he appropriate the term in contradistinction with the people of God in the “Old Testament.” Rather Paul uses the terms specifically to identify the Corinthians with Israel, the people of God.  It is not replacement but identification with. This is plainly evident as we read through the material of 1 Corinthians. Coming to chapter 10 we notice what is so frequently overlooked. The apostle places is Gentile converts squarely within the Israelite Story making no distinction at all.  “I do not want you to be unaware brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses …”  The heritage of Israel is now the heritage of these Gentiles, they are “our ancestors.”  The Corinthians have become part of the one people of God. As Christian Beker notes in his classic, Paul the Apostle, “the church, in its Jewish-Gentile unity is the proleptic dawning of the future destiny of Israel, but it is not Israel’s replacement” (p. 316).

Paul’s use of “church” is shaped by his “Old Testament” theology!  A lot can happen when we follow Alexander Campbell’s advice and read the New Testament through the Hebrew Bible. Or a Gerhard von Rad said bravely in the heart of Nazi Germany, there are many paths into the New Testament but only one that opens the proper meaning.  That is the path that goes through the “Old Testament.”

Conclusion

It has not been the purpose of this blog to write a complete “doctrine” of the church. My goal is far more limited. I want to caution us against two disastrous misconceptions both rooted in a failure to enter Paul through the Hebrew Bible.

For some people the doctrine of the church is merely organization (elders, deacons, name, etc). While we cannot say that Paul has zero interest in such matters we can say that such matters are not very prominent, and indeed simply absent from most of Paul’s letters.

Some conceive of “church” as something different and separate from the Old Testament and Israel.  The is patently not true of the book of Acts and, as I have argued here, it is simply not true of Paul’s Epistles either. For Paul his apostolic ministry is rooted in the mission that God gave Israel in the Hebrew Bible.  Israel, God’s saints, were to be a kingdom of priests and a light unto the nations.  Now the Jewish Messiah has come and Paul in his own mission to the nations is doing what Israel was called to do … that is to get the Gentiles to come worship the God of Israel because the King has come. In the Hebrew Bible in the new age the peoples of the world will join Israel in worshiping Yahweh as the true God.

The ekklesia is that renewed Israel of God that now includes Gentiles as children of Abraham, grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel, now “fellow heirs, members of the same body, sharers in the promise in Messiah Jesus” (Eph 3.6) no longer “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph 2.11-13).  Paul does not use the word “church” to distinguish believers in the Messiah from Israel in the so called Old Testament.  Rather he uses that loaded word precisely to identify believers in the Messiah WITH Israel in the so called Old Testament. It shows the continuity of the One People of God … the Children of Abraham.

The “root” of Paul’s ekklesia is the Old Testament. It is Israel.  It is the promise to Abraham.  “[R]emember that it is not you [gentiles] that support the root, but the root that supports you” (Romans 11.18).

In fact the root of Paul’s ekklesia is so Old Testament in his concept, that we can say the ekklesia is the eschatological people of God as gathered before God in worship and as we witness to the coming glory of God which we celebrate in the present.  Paul is able to use the work ekklesia in four ways but all are the threads of a single rope that starts in the Hebrew Bible.  The ekklesia is the gathered by the call and grace of God people, who like in ancient Israel, stand in the Presence of God calling the world to join us in the worship of the Creator and King of all.

Jesus Christ Praying Wallpapers

Jesus wrestling in prayer

I have been in full time preaching ministry since 1992.  In that time I have worked with churches in radically different social settings.  Some ministers when they move they go fifty miles down the road. When I have moved it has been from New Orleans, to Grenada, MS, to Milwaukee, WI to Tucson, AZ.  Not only are these locations geographically separate but they are radically diverse culturally.  Each time I have been confronted with what does it mean to minister.  This year I am faced again with the question of what are the qualifications of being a minister?

I have reflected on these questions many times.  On the twentieth year of preaching I wrote my blog So You’re a Minister … Leaves from a Journal Spanning 20 Years. I asked Is Preaching Folly?

There are many things that help equip us for ministry.  A sense of calling. A deep life of prayer. Being equipped through training. But I have come to believe there are other “intangibles” that qualify the person for ministry with God’s people.

The Qualification of Struggles 

Maybe we can learn something about being a minister from the one who is the Son of Man himself.  He was a man “familiar with suffering.”  Struggling … wrestling … is not a sign of weakness.  It is a sign that one may very well be in tune with God. God named his people Jacob, the one that wrestles/struggles with God.  Flowing out of this wrestling comes ministry itself.  That is the minister’s own life becomes a training ground for ministry.

Jesus’s ministry was molded and shaped by events in his personal life and in the lives of the people he met. Thus the timing and place of Jesus’ first miracle was determined by the relationship he had with his mother. Jesus’s interaction is different with Nicodemus than with the Samaritan woman. Jesus’s words to the Pharisees are radically different than those to the woman “caught in the act” (where was the man??) of John 8. And Jesus’s own experience of prayer is quite different in the “Lord’s Prayer,” the Garden, and his prayer on the Cross.

My philosophy of ministry, therefore, holds that ministry flows directly out of our own pain, hurt, triumphs and failures seen in light of God’s purpose. Though the Hebrews’ Preacher is talking about an ancient Jewish high priest it is, nonetheless, true that the Christian minister can best serve precisely when he has struggled with the same life situations as are common to humanity. This kind of ministry majors in mercy.

Light from Hebrews on Being a Minister

I recently read through Hebrews, again. It is a text that I think is frequently misunderstood. But as I was reading it dawned on my to ask, what does the ministry of Jesus as described in Hebrews have to say about OUR ministry today?

I am really coming to believe that “life” is a major requirement for ministry. Listen to what the Hebrews Preacher says about the “qualifications” that God used to see if a person was fit for ministry.

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are …” (Heb 4.15)

He is able to sympathize with people who don’t know very much, or who wander off in different directions, since he too has his own share of weaknesses” (5.2)

Although he was a son, he learned the nature of obedience through what he suffered” (5.8)

That word there in v.2, ‘since‘ perhaps we should translate as “because.” The meaning is the same. Thus some “qualifications” for ministry might be:

1) Must know what temptation is like to the point that it is a “struggle”

2) Must have gone through some valleys in life to know what “suffering” is.

3) Must have come to a knowledge of obedience by wrestling with God.

It would seem, according to the Preacher, that such qualifications actually make one “fit” to actually minister with God’s own people. The “priest” is never above or apart from the people because he is himself one who sins and has to seek forgiveness for his own weaknesses. It would seem such “qualifications” are an antidote to self-righteousness.

The result of such training seems to be “gentleness” or “mercy.” Some of the harshest people I have met over the years are people who see their own life history above the fallenness of this world. Some of the best elders, deacons, preachers, teachers and disciples I have ever met are ones who know what it is like when the hurricane strikes. The struggles of the “priest” make him a minister of compassion and love and mercy.

Just another perspective on being a minister for, and of, the people.