Tuesday, December 6, 2016

All Nations Will Stream Into Zion


God’s purpose for Israel was never just about the ethnic descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob only but for all the nations and families of the earth, as the poets and prophets of the Old Testament well understood. This understanding was heightened considerably in the New Testament, to such an extent that Paul considered it a mystery revealed in the gospel.
May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed. (Psalm 72:17)

I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me — Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush — and will say, “This one was born in Zion.” (Psalm 87:4)

Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD. (Psalm 117)

In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” (Isaiah 2:2-3)

They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:9-10)

The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10)

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the LORD and seek the LORD Almighty. I myself am going.’ And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the LORD Almighty and to entreat him.”

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’” (Zechariah 8:20-23)

Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 8:10-11)

Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. (Romans 11:25-26)

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.” Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.” And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.” (Romans 15:8-12, citing Psalm 18:49; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1; Isaiah 11:10)

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness — the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:25-27)

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:1-6)

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. (Revelation 21:23-26)
In the end, the full number of the Gentiles will be grafted in and all Israel will be saved. All the world will know the salvation God brings, and God himself will say of each of us, “This one was born in Zion.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

This One was Born in Zion

He has founded his city on the holy mountain.
The LORD loves the gates of Zion
    more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are said of you, city of God.
(Psalm 87:1-3)
The Lord loves the gates of Zion — the holy city of Jerusalem. Reading this through the New Testament revelation of Jesus the Messiah, that is, through the lens of Christ and the gospel, we understand Zion to be the new Jerusalem, the Jerusalem that is free, the Jerusalem that is above, the heavenly Jerusalem that comes down, joining heaven to earth (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 21:2). It is, in a word, the Church, the body and bride of Christ (understanding that the Church in the New Testament is not a separate entity from Israel in the Old Testament).

The psalm writer sings the praises of the holy city and of God’s love for her. The Lord has founded it on the mountain he has chosen for himself; Christ has built his Church upon the rock of who he is (Matthew 16:18). The Lord loves Zion; Christ loves the Church and gave himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). It is no surprise that glorious things are said about the city of God. What is surprising, though, is how the psalm writer describes that glory:
“I will record Rahab and Babylon
    among those who acknowledge me —
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush —
    and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’” (v. 4)
Rahab? Babylon? Philistia? Tyre? Cush? These had all been troublesome, some even oppressive, for much of Israel’s history. Rahab is a reference to Egypt, who once held the children of Israel in bondage. Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and carried off the people into captivity. The Philistines had been foes of Israel in the days of Saul and David. Tyre, in the region of Philistia, and Cush represented other difficulties and temptations for Israel. Yet, God says of these that they are among those who know him and of whom he will say, “This one was born there.” Born where? In Zion, the city of which the psalm writer is counting the glories. So the NIV supplies “in Zion” where it is actually only implied — but then in the next verses it is made explicit:
Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
    “This one and that one were born in her,
    and the Most High himself will establish her.”
The LORD will write in the register of the peoples:
    “This one was born in Zion.” (vv. 5-6)
This is not a work wrought by any of those nations, not even by Israel. It is the work of God, a matter of divine love, mercy and grace. God has founded the holy city and established the peoples in her, for he never intended Israel to be a nation unto herself but a people for the sake of all nations, as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), and to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that all the families and nations of the earth would be blessed through him and his descendants.

The Lord has founded Zion, and the psalm writer portrays him as recording the people in the registry of the city. Of each one, the Lord writes, “Born in Zion.” Though they have come from elsewhere, now they are record as belonging to Zion, fully accepted as rightful inhabitants, and heir to all the rights and privileges of the city. Here there is no dividing line between Jews and Gentiles, between Israel and the nations. Through faith, Gentiles are grafted into the promises along with faithful Israel. When all the Gentiles have come in, Paul says, then “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25). In his letter to the Church at Ephesus, he addresses the Gentile believers about how the boundaries have been obliterated in Christ and we have become “fellow citizens with God’s people.”
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22)
The psalm writer, then, closes with this note of deep celebration, a song for all who know the blessing of Zion — of Christ.
As they make music they will sing,
    “All my fountains are in you.” (v. 7)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bring the Good News ~ The LORD Reigns

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
    together they shout for joy.
When the LORD returns to Zion,
    they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
    you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD will lay bare his holy arm
    in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth
    will see the salvation of our God.
(Isaiah 52:7-10)
Let the word go out: Good news has come. Break forth with singing. Shout out for joy. Let there be loud rejoicing. Isaiah is speaking about the gospel, the good news, the glad tidings. This is the content, and cause for unrestrained celebration: Your God reigns!

Jerusalem was still in ruins and Israel in exile, but the prophet sees behind the veil and beholds God returning to Zion. Though everything seemed dark at present, Jerusalem would not be forgotten. The Lord would come to console his people, to redeem Jerusalem and set her free.

The consolation of Israel was what Simeon had been longing for that day in the temple when he saw Joseph and Mary bringing their newborn infant into the temple courts. He swept the Christ Child into his arms and thanked God: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Then he blessed the baby Jesus: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” (See Luke 2:25-35.)

The redemption of Jerusalem is what Anna had been watching for those many long years she spent fasting and praying in the temple. When she saw Simeon blessing Jesus, she immediately recognized what was happening: the fulfillment of Isaiah’s ancient prophecy was at hand. “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38).

This is the good news of “salvation.” The Hebrew word, which the prophet used twice in this passage, is yeshuah. When it is used as a personal name, it is Yeshua, which is translated into English as Jesus — his name means “salvation.”

Salvation is a person, for Jesus himself is the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem. He is the good news of the gospel, the Lord who reigns, and he has returned to Zion. The New Testament speaks of the new Jerusalem, a Jerusalem that is free, a Jerusalem that is above, a heavenly Jerusalem that comes down, joining heaven to earth (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 21:2).

This new Jerusalem is the Church, which is identified as the body and bride of Christ. It is important, however, to understand that the Church in the New Testament is not a separate entity from Israel in the Old Testament. Indeed, the Church is Israel. What was promised to Israel in the Old Testament is received by Israel in the New, by all who come to Jesus the Messiah. Even the nations (the Gentiles) who receive him as King are, to use Paul’s words in Romans 11, “grafted into” the root, which is Israel.

The Lord Jesus has laid bare his holy arms at the cross, where he defeated the powers in the sight of all the nations. And all the earth will know his salvation.

A few years back, I wrote an Advent version of Psalm 122, in light of Isaiah 2, Isaiah 52, Revelation 21, the New Jerusalem and the coming of King Jesus into the world: Psalm 122 and the New Jerusalem.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

All Israel and the Fullness of the Nations

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25-26)
Paul speaks of mystery, which is not a secret God is keeping from us but one he reveals to us in Jesus Christ. In Romans 9, Paul began addressing the question of what the coming of Jesus the Messiah now meant for the Jews who rejected him: Would they be forgotten? Had God’s promise to Israel failed?
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. (Romans 9:30-31)
The problem was that Israel, and the Jews of Paul’s own experience, tried to identify their place in God’s covenant promise on the basis of keeping the Law of Moses. But that was never God’s purpose for the Law. God’s way has always been about faith, and this was how, surprisingly for the Jews, the Gentiles took part in God’s promise — by faith.

Israel’s lack of faith, however, did not mean that God had given up on them. And in Romans 10, Paul declares his intense desire and prayer that Israel be saved, for the way of faith, which had always been available throughout the history of Israel, was still open for them now. God’s acceptance of the non-Jews on the basis of faith had not foreclosed Israel’s opportunity, even though they currently rejected Jesus as Messiah and King.

Paul quotes the words of Isaiah here: “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people” (Romans 10:21, quoting Isaiah 65:2). Yet, though they were disobedient and obstinate, they were still God’s people nonetheless. “Did God reject his people?” Paul asks, then declares, “By no means!” (Romans 11:1). For one thing, God always had a remnant who remained faithful, as he did in the days of Elijah. “So too,” Paul says, “at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace” (v. 5).

But again Paul asks concerning the non-remnant Jews who had been faithless, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!” Paul answers, “Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!” (Romans 11:11-12).

Israel’s faithlessness did not signal the end of Israel but had unexpectedly, from a human point of view, become an occasion for the Gentiles to come to faith in the Jewish Messiah. And if the present rejection by the Jews “brought reconciliation to the world,” Paul asks, “what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (v. 15). At the same time Paul recognized the rejection of unbelieving Jews, he also acknowledged the surpassing glory that would result from their future acceptance of Messiah.

Paul was drawing on the Old Testament practice of offering the firstfruits to the Lord and how that blessed the rest of the harvest and made it holy. “If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches” (v. 16). In other words, the remnant Paul mentioned earlier, the one chosen by grace, served as the firstfruits that made the rest of Israel holy. The fact that God had a remnant showed that God had not given up on the rest of Israel.

“If the root is holy, so are the branches.” Here Paul begins to shift the metaphor, but to the same effect. He is thinking of an olive tree, a classic symbol of Israel. The root is the faithful remnant of Israel, which for Paul represented those Jews who believed on Jesus the Messiah. They are right in line with what God promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from the beginning. The relationship of root and branch is such that the branch derives its life from the root not the other way around. Separate the branch from the root and the branch will soon wither and die.

There are two kinds of branches Paul sees on this olive tree. There are those that have grown naturally from the root — but there are also those that have been grafted into the root stock. In Romans 11:17-24, he talks about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles as that between natural branches and those that have been grafted in. In this metaphor, there are natural branches that have been broken off, which Paul understands as those Jews who rejected Messiah. But there are also branches that have been grafted in; these are non-Jews who have come to faith in Messiah. They are fully accepted into the “root” and now share in its life. But what of the branches that have been broken off, is that the end of them? No. “If they do not persist in unbelief,” Paul says, “they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Romans 11:23).

And now here is where Paul reveals the mystery: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.” The full number of the Gentiles and all Israel — these are strong words of inclusion, quite in line with Paul’s many other inclusive statements elsewhere (see What If All Means All). All of Israel will be saved. The fullness of the Gentiles will be saved, too — not apart from or in addition to, and certainly not instead of Israel, but as a true part of Israel, for they have been grafted into Israel. And now Paul sums up:
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:28-32)
The mystery of the gospel is that disobedience does not get the last word. Mercy does. Israel’s disobedience became an occasion for God’s mercy on the Gentiles. In turn, God’s mercy on the Gentiles becomes an occasion of mercy on Israel. Again, there is an inclusiveness in this. God has allowed disobedience its alien work in everyone so that he may show his mercy on all. Let us, then, sing the doxology with which Paul closes this portion of his letter:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Do You Not Perceive It?

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18)
The Lord says through Isaiah, “Forget the former things.” These were not just the bad things that had happened to Israel, such as the bondage in Egypt or even the Babylonian exile Israel now found herself under. They included even God’s great saving act of the Old Testament, the deliverance of Israel out of Egyptian bondage.
This is what the LORD says — he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: Forget the former things. (Isaiah 43:16-17)
That was a wonderful redemption, and the basis of Israel’s relationship as the covenant people of God. But it was a past event, and what they needed now was a present-day deliverance. God would soon bring them out of Babylon and back home to Jerusalem. Yet even that would become a “former thing” because, historically, although Israel was restored to the land, they still remained under foreign dominion.

But all the Law and the Prophets are ultimately about Jesus the Messiah and are fulfilled in him. It is to him that all the former things point and in whom they find their true meaning. In the Lord Jesus, God brought forth the new thing he had long promised Israel. Jesus is not just another in a long series. He is God’s final word, the perfect expression of God and the one by whom everything in heaven and on earth is turned back to God.

Jesus is the “way in the wilderness” that God promised his people, the way who leads us back to the Father. But he does not just lead us on the way — Jesus is the way. There is no path to follow by which we may find our way home. There is only a person, Jesus the Messiah, the Shepherd who brings us safely back to God.

God also promised “streams in the wasteland,” and it is in Jesus that we discover these waters. To the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus said: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

On the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles, while priests performed the water-drawing ceremony that foreshadowed God’s promise of rivers of life-giving water flowing from the temple (see Ezekiel 47:1-23), Jesus stood up and announced, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:37-38). John tells us, in verse 39, that Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit.

The way in the wilderness. Streams in the wasteland. Do you not perceive it? It is not a matter of observation. It does not come to us by reason but by revelation. God’s ways are not our ways. Yet God has revealed his way — revealed himself — to us in Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

There are physical aspects to this revelation: The Virgin Birth, the miraculous ministry of Jesus, the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, and also the sacraments, such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are historical, for in Christ, God has stepped into history in a singular way and joined himself to humanity — he became a human being and dwelt among us. But the meaning of it all must be imparted to us by the Holy Spirit, for it is mystery, and we should otherwise never be able to perceive it at all. Paul speaks of this in one of his letters to the Church at Corinth.
However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him — these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except their own spirit within them?

In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:9-16)
In Jesus Christ, God has done a new thing and now it springs forth.

Do you not perceive it?

Father of Glory, give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation that we may know you more and more. Open the eyes of our heart that we may know the joyful anticipation of what you have called us to, the wonderful inheritance you have placed in us, and the incomparable greatness of the power you are working for our sake ~ through Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Sowing to the Spirit and Reaping Life

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:7-10)
It is a simple truth, one easily observed in nature and is applicable to life in general, even in the spiritual realm: we reap what we sow. What Paul has in mind here is the contrast between sowing to the flesh and sowing to the Spirit, and he seems to be referring back to chapter 5, concerning the “acts of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.”
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
When Paul speaks of the flesh, he is talking about what we are apart from the Spirit of God. So the “acts of the flesh” are works done apart from the Spirit. It is important to understand that Paul is not addressing people who want to do corrupt things but people who want to do good things: they want to follow the Law of Moses. The history of Old Testament Israel, though, is largely a history of faithlessness and failure to keep the Law. So these are not works of the Law that Paul is describing but works of the flesh failing to keep the Law, for the Law was of absolutely no use against the corrupt ways and desires of the flesh and provided no means for producing what the Law required.

In Romans 7, Paul describes this problem and how easily it leads to desperation. He sums it up this way: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” (Romans 7:14). The problem was not the Law but bondage to sin, a problem that affected not only Israel but all of humanity. But God promised that the solution would one day come: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

The good news of the gospel is that, in Jesus Christ that time has arrived. For through Christ, God has not only broken the bondage of sin but has also put a new spirit in us — God’s own Spirit. So in contrast to the works of the flesh, and the inability of the Law in the face of them, Paul offers the fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
The Law of Moses is certainly not against this. Indeed, it is love, particularly, that fulfills the Law (Galatians 5:14). Yet what the Law was helpless to produce in us, God has given the Holy Spirit to bring forth in us.

Back to chapter 6, now, where Paul draws the contrast between sowing to the flesh and sowing to the Spirit and the harvest each one brings. Sow to the flesh and you will reap destruction — ruin, decay, corruption. Sow to the Spirit and you will reap eternal life.

Let’s take a closer look at “eternal life.” We are accustomed to thinking of it as being outside the time frame of history and having very little, in anything, to do with this present world. But the Greek word for “eternal,” aionios, has to do with ages, particularly the age or ages to come. The truth of the gospel is that in the resurrection of Christ, the age to come has broken into this present age and God’s new creation has already begun. “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining,” is how John puts it (1 John 2:8).

“Eternal life” (zoen aionion), then, is the life of the age to come. But since Christ and his resurrection have already entered into this present age, so also has the life he brings. It is available to us now and may be experienced now, for it is not merely a duration of life but, more importantly, a quality of life.

What does this life look like and how may we experience it? It looks like the fruit of the Spirit and it comes forth through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. It is a life of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When we sow to the Spirit, we reap the lively fruit of the Spirit. We can think of this fruit as the character of Christ manifesting the life of Christ in us.

How, then, do we sow to the Spirit? It is a matter of trust, of faith. For the fruit is not something we could ever produce in ourselves, otherwise we would be back in the same predicament as Israel was with the Law, trying to live up to a certain standard but without the wherewithal to do so. No, the fruit is the Spirit’s and therefore something only the Holy Spirit can do in us. So we yield ourselves to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit rather than to the flesh, and we do not try to accomplish by Law what can only be done by the Spirit of God.

“The only thing that counts,” says Paul, “is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). Sowing to the Spirit is dependence on God. Yet even that dependence, that faith, must come from God — we receive it as a gift. We can no more work it up within ourselves than we can conjure up love from within ourselves. The nature of the faith that comes from God is that it is energized by the love that is the fruit of the Spirit. That faith and love, then, are the manifestations of the life of the age to come, and by them we do what is good.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Reading the Scriptures with Unveiled Heart

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:16)
For the Church, the Old Testament is a theological book that reveals the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus himself showed us that the Law and the Prophets are about him and that he is their fulfillment (see Luke 24:25-27, Matthew 5:17 and John 5:39-40, 46). Jesus also showed us that the Old Testament cannot be understood properly apart from him. On the night of his resurrection, he came to his disciples and said, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then, Luke says, “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45).

The disciples had been with Jesus for three years — following him, watching him, listening to him, learning from him — yet there was still something vitally important they were missing about the Scriptures. What they needed was for Jesus to “open their minds.” The Greek word for “opened” is an intensive one and means to open thoroughly and completely. The word for “mind” is nous, which encompasses not only the intellect but also heart and soul. Jesus helped them put it all together, to understand it not only in their brain pan but deep in the core of their being, in the realm of the spirit. This is revelation from the Spirit of God communicated to the human spirit, something Paul talks about in his letter to the Church at Corinth.
What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind [nous] of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:12-14)
Christ opened the nous of the disciples, imparting by the Spirit something of Christ’s own nous to them, and they gained a new understanding that had up till now eluded them. And now they could see the Scriptures for what they had been all along: a testimony to Christ.

In another letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul spoke of a dullness and a veil that hindered a good understanding of the “old covenant” (that is, the Old Testament). But in Christ, he says, that veil is lifted.
We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory into glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:14-18)
We do not really understand the Old Testament until we read it with the veil removed and discover the glory of Christ there. The revelation of Jesus Christ changes how we see everything. He is the lens through which we read the Scriptures and the context by which we understand the world. His glory is a light by which we can see what we could not see before but was there all along, that it is all about Christ and has ever been so. This same glory that illuminates and reveals Christ to us in the Scriptures also illuminates us and reveals the image of Christ in us, transforming us in ever-increasing glory.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Atonement and the Lamb of God

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There are several significant things to notice about this. First, John identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” By this, he was recognizing the nature of what Jesus came to do. In the Old Testament, sacrificial lambs played a very important part in Israel’s devotion to God. The sacrifice of a lamb without blemish was an important part of the Passover, not only the original meal when God delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt, but also in the yearly remembrance of that event. It was also part of the daily ritual in Israel’s worship.

Second, notice that John did not identify Jesus as the one who takes away the wrath of God, but rather, who takes away the sin of the world. By his death on the cross, Christ was not placating an angry God, as if God were going to rain down his wrath and punishment upon us but then Jesus stepped up and said, “Father, punish me instead.” No, he was delivering us from sin, and from the death that naturally and inevitably results from it. In theological terms, this was expiation, not propitiation. Expiation is the removal of sin; propitiation is the appeasement of anger. The sacrifices of the Old Testament were about cleansing the people from sin, not about assuaging an angry deity. Appeasement was not necessary, for God was already graciously disposed toward his people in providing them with a way of cleansing.

Third, John identified Jesus as the one who takes away the sin of the world — not sins (plural) but sin (singular). Individual sins could simply be forgiven, but at the cross, Jesus destroyed the very power of sin itself. Sin (singular) is the brokenness of our relationship with God, with each other, with the rest of creation and even within our own selves. Sins (plural) are the countless ways this brokenness reveals itself in the world. The individual acts are merely the symptom of the underlying sickness, and it is the underlying sickness that Jesus came to deal with.

Finally, by his death on the cross, Jesus did not take away the sin of only certain individuals or groups — he took away the sin of the whole world. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). “The death [Christ] died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (Romans 6:10). For “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). God does not hold any of our sins against any of us — and never has. It was never God who needed to be reconciled to us but we who needed to be reconciled to God, for God never turned away from us but we turned away from God. In Jesus Christ, through his death on the cross, the power of sin has been broken and the healing has come for us all. Therefore, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

At the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, allowed sin and death to do their worst to him. He broke their power, shattered the system of accusation and scapegoating and shame, and destroyed the works of the devil. This is the atonement, how the death of Christ saves the world. Behold, the Lamb of God.