Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Door of My Lips

LORD, I cry out to You;
Make haste to me!
Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.
Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips.
(Psalm 141:1-3)
This is a psalm of David. He cries out to Yahweh; he needs God’s help and he needs it in a hurry. He has no incense to burn, no sacrifice to offer, but he asks that his prayer be heard and answered just as if he did.

His urgent need? There are wicked people coming against him, setting traps and snares for him (v. 9). Even now, the bones of his own people lay scattered at the grave (v. 7). But notice his prayer: “Set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

What is striking about this is that he does not first ask, “Set a guard over me,” or, “Keep watch over the door of my heart.” No, his primary request and the thing that concerns him most is his mouth and his lips — his words! He realizes that it is these, above all else, that needs God’s attention.

Words are very powerful and vitally important. The author of Hebrews says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3). In the beginning, when God saw that darkness was over the face of the deep, He spoke into existence what was needed: “Light, be!” Words are the basis of reality.

When God formed man from the dust of the ground, He breathed the breath of life into his nostrils and man became a “living being.” Targum Onkelos, an ancient translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into its cousin language, Aramaic, says that man became a “speaking spirit.” Man, made in the image of God and created to be like Him, has the ability to speak words just as God does. Indeed, we were created to speak in agreement with the words of God.

Proverbs teaches us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). Our words can be live-giving or death-dealing, so if we want to live and enjoy life we must choose our words with great wisdom and care. This is especially true when we are in difficult situations and the pressure is on us to “do something” (anything is something, so the pressure is to “do anything”). We are tempted to speak in haste (see Don’t Be Hasty), and that can end up causing much harm to ourselves and others. So David’s primary request in the midst of his troubles is, “Set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

This does not mean, however, that he has nothing to say about the wicked and their deeds, but he says them to God: “For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked” (v. 5). Indeed, his prayer is not so much against the wicked themselves as it is against what they are doing. In fact, he recognizes that these are people being led into opposition by treacherous leaders. When such leaders are thrown over — sometimes quite literally, and sometimes by the people themselves — there will be a vacuum. Let that vacuum be filled with wise words, life-giving words, words that agree with the words of God. That is what David wants to bring, instead of words spoken in anger and haste. “Their judges are overthrown by the sides of the cliff, and they hear my words, for they are sweet” (v. 6).

Perhaps that will bring his enemies to their senses and lead to reconciliation. However, a positive result will not come about by a mouth that is volatile or lips that are indiscreet. Set a guard and keep watch over them, O LORD.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jesus, the Law and the Prophets

The other day I ran a brief search on “law” and “prophets” in the New Testament for an overview of how they relate to Jesus. Used together, “law” and “prophets” indicates the totality of the Hebrew Scriptures. So here is a short rundown on how the New Testament understands the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament.

The Kingdom of God Fulfills the Law and the Prophets
Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. (Matthew 11:11-14)

The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. (Luke 16:16)
The Law and the Prophets led up to the days of John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah. He was the forerunner who prepared the way for Messiah, preaching a baptism of repentance. Jesus, after He was baptized by John and tested in the wilderness, began His ministry preaching the “gospel of the kingdom of God,” saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). Since that time, the kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing, and people have been pressing into it, forcefully laying hold of it by faith.

Jesus the Messiah Fulfills the Law and the Prophets

In the Sermon on the Mount (which I call The Sermon of Heaven on Earth), Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus does not set aside the Law and the Prophets; He is the promised King and Messiah who assures us that everything God promised in the Law and the Prophets will be fulfilled. This is the certainty of heaven on earth.
Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47)

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45)
The disciples, sent out as apostles, testified of this throughout the world, making disciples of all nations, teaching them about King Jesus, the one who possesses all authority in heaven and on earth, and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). They were not setting aside the Law and the Prophets but testifying of its fulfillment.

In the book of Acts, for example, we discover Paul’s modus operandi, when he announced the good news in the synagogue at Antioch: “And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, ‘Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on’” (Acts 13:15). Being invited to teach on the Law and the Prophets, Paul stood up and began preaching how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures and what God was doing through Israel (Acts 13:16-41). Many devout Jews, as well as Gentile proselytes to the Hebrew faith, believed the good news he brought (vv. 42-44).

On another occasion, when Paul was accused of profaning the temple and stirring up sedition among the Jews, he made his case before the Roman procurator, Felix. He denied the charges and said, “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14). His preaching was not an incitement to insurrection among the Jews but a call for them to believe the Torah and the Hebrew Prophets concerning Messiah.

At the end of the book of Acts, we find Paul at Rome and under house arrest, doing what he had always done: preaching about Jesus and how the Law and the Prophets and the kingdom of God, all come together in Him. “So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening” (Acts 28:23).

Then, in his letter to the believers at Rome, Paul demonstrates how the righteousness of God is revealed apart from the Law, through faith in the Messiah, Jesus — and the Law and the Prophets testify to this! “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).

The Commandment of Love Fulfills the Law and the Prophets

The Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in King Jesus the Messiah, and in the commandment He brings, which is to love one another. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). There is a story told of Rabbi Hillel (b. about 110 BC d. about AD 10), who said something very similar. When a scoffer came and asked the rabbi to teach him the Torah while standing on one foot, he answered, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

One day a Pharisee who was particularly skilled in the Law of Moses came to test Jesus: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

On the night of the Last Supper, as He was preparing the disciples for what was about to happen, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

A new time had come, the time of God’s kingdom. A new covenant had come, instituted in the blood of Jesus (Luke 22:20). And with it, a new commandment — the commandment that fulfills all the Law: “Love one another ...” It is a commandment based on Jesus and His love, “… as I have loved you.” The apostles write of this commandment in their letters:
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:23-24)
The commandment that fulfills the Law and the Prophets is now possible for us because of Jesus, who fulfills the Law and the Prophets on our behalf. He has sent the Holy Spirit — baptized us with the Spirit — the same Spirit by whom He was anointed with power (Acts 10:38). Paul writes about the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, meekness, faithfulness, self-control — in other words, the character of Jesus — something the Law of Moses could never produce in us (Galatians 5:22-23).

Everything God was doing with Old Testament Israel through the Law and the Prophets is fulfilled in the kingdom of God now present in the world, and in its king, Jesus the Messiah, and through His commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Salvation with the People of God

Remember me, O LORD, with the favor You have
    toward Your people.
Oh, visit me with Your salvation,
That I may see the benefit of Your chosen ones,
That I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation,
That I may glory with Your inheritance.
(Psalm 106:4-5)
Christians in the West often think of salvation in individual terms. When I was in Bible college, we used to hand out little leaflets that asked, “Am I Going to Heaven?” It was very individualistic and pretty much oriented to the next life. It was good as far as it went and I am very thankful for all who came to know Jesus through it.
Salvation in the Bible, however, is not merely an individual thing nor is it just about what will happen to you when you die. God’s plan has always been about redeeming a people out of all nations. God’s promise to Abram was not to bless just individuals but families and nations through him: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. (Genesis 17:5-6)
God’s purpose for the children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, was that they would be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). The role of a priest is to represent the people before God and God before the people. Israel’s role, as a holy nation and a kingdom of priests, was to represent the nations before God and God before the nations, that all the families of the earth might be blessed.

Though Israel, as a nation, failed to do this, it would be fulfilled in the Messiah, who would represent Israel before God. In Psalm 2, God says to Messiah:
You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
(Psalm 2:7-8)
It is in the context of God’s people, then, that the psalm writer thinks of salvation.
Remember me, O LORD, with the favor You have toward Your people.
Oh, visit me with Your salvation,
That I may see the benefit of Your chosen ones,
That I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation,
That I may glory with Your inheritance.
It is about the people of God, His chosen ones, His nation, which are His inheritance. The favor of God, the benefits and the rejoicing belong to them as a people. The psalm writer wants to participate in it all, not apart from the people of God but with them.

In the Old Testament, the people of God were identified with the Law of Moses, the Temple and the land of Israel. In the New Testament, in Jesus the Messiah, salvation is offered apart from those things. The new law is the commandment of Jesus to love one another; the new temple is the people of God, the body of Messiah; the new land is the entire world. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel [proclaim the good news] to every creature,” Jesus said (Mark 16:15). “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Now the people of God are identified by faith in Israel’s messiah, Jesus.

We were created for fellowship, not only with God but also with each other. Jesus said that all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). So our salvation is not just as individuals but as part of the people of God. It is together that we know the favor of God, see the good He has for His people, rejoice in His glad nation and share with His inheritance — and indeed, we are His inheritance.

So these days, I do not think of salvation so much in terms of “Am I Going to Heaven?” That is really just part of a larger question and is answered within that larger question: “Am I Part of the People of God?” It is together with the community of faith, the people of the Messiah, Jesus, that we experience salvation and participate in the benefits of God, not only in the life to come but in this present one, as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Taking Hold of the King

Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone. (John 16:15)

Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going. (John 6:21)
Two different groups. Two different responses to Jesus. The first group tried to “take Him by force” — they wanted to make Him king, but they tried to do it by force. The second group “willingly received Him.”

The first group was from among those who had just been fed by the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes. Afterwards they watched the disciples gather up the leftovers, twelve baskets full of scraps from what had originally been five barley loaves. “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world,” they said (v. 14), a reference to a prophecy from Moses about the Messiah who would come and rule over Israel.

These men were tired of the Roman oppression that had plagued Israel and were ready to do something about it. When they witnessed the miracle of bread Jesus performed in the wilderness — think Moses and the manna in the wilderness — they intended to “take Him by force.” The Greek word, harpazo, means to seize violently. They wanted to press Him into their political agenda, to use Him for their own plans. Jesus, however, perceived what they were about and would not allow Himself to be squeezed into their purposes.

The second group was the disciples. When Jesus went up into the mountain, the disciples went down to the sea where they got into a boat and set out toward Capernaum. It was now evening and Jesus had not yet come down. As the darkness fell, a strong wind came and the sea rose up. They had had been rowing hard for about three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the water, heading toward the boat. They were fearful, but Jesus comforted them, saying, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they “willingly received” Him into the boat.

The Greek word for “receive” is lambano. It means to “take hold,” not seize violently or take by force, but as something that has been offered. Jesus had come and made Himself known to them. He offered them His presence. They gladly embraced this opportunity and took hold of Him, welcoming Him into the boat.

Now let’s compare the two groups. The first one wanted a kingdom. Jesus came announcing the kingdom of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). And indeed, Jesus came too be king. But the first group wanted to make Jesus and the kingdom all about themselves, their agenda, their timetable. They wanted it when and where and however it suited their own concerns. They would take Jesus by force, if necessary, to make Him be the king. But that was not a decision for them to make, and Jesus would not be their puppet.

The second group, the disciples, also wanted to see the kingdom. They, too, had witnessed the miracle of bread in the wilderness — they had been a part of it! They saw Jesus up close. They loved Him, followed Him, did whatever He told them. They did not try to force Jesus into anything. They understood that the kingdom, whatever it was, would be about Him and would be worth everything they had. They might have been reluctant to leave Him behind at nightfall and were certainly afraid when they saw His shadowy figure walking toward them on the water, but they were very glad when He identified Himself to them and they received Him into the boat.

The difference, then, is this: The first group wanted the kingdom; the second group, the disciples, wanted the King. It is the difference between taking hold by faith and trying to take hold by force. King Jesus will always respond to faith.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Taking Hold in Prayer

For everyone who asks takes hold. (Matthew 7:8 JVD)

Asking and receiving are connected. We think of asking as active, that is, something we do. And so it is. But we often think of receiving as passive, that is, something that happens to us or is done for us. For example, someone might say, “I received a blow to the head.” He did not seek it, did not want it, did not cause it; it was simply something that happened to him. He was passive, sitting quietly, minding his own business when, suddenly — wham! — he was hit on the head.

Jesus has something very important to teach is about prayer: “Everyone who asks receives.” He is not speaking of something active followed by something passive. No, both the asking and the receiving here are in the active voice. That is, they are both about something we do.

The Greek word for “receive” is lambano. It means to take or get hold of something, as if with the hand. Now, it does not mean to take something by force, as if to wrench it away from someone else. There is a different word for that. Rather, it is about things that belong to you or have been offered to you. And that is the case here. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus says, “Ask and it shall be given to you.” When we ask (active voice), something is given (passive voice). In other words, when we ask, something is offered to us, and that means we have a right to take hold of it.

A young man is working his way through college and needs a car. He goes to his father for help. Dad agrees (he’s a nice guy) and arranges to get him a sturdy little sedan. The son believes his father and now his expectation is that the car his father promised is his. He has received his father’s answer; that is, he has taken hold of it and the issue is now settled. There may be a brief time of waiting before the car arrives while the father works out the particulars, but the son has asked and has already received what he asked — he has taken hold of his father’s answer.

“Ask and it shall be given to you,” Jesus said, “for everyone who asks receives.” Asking and receiving work together. But when do we receive what we have asked? Jesus answered that on another occasion: “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). Notice He does not say, “Believe that you will receive them” (future tense), but “Believe that you receive them” (present tense). The NASB translates it as “Believe that you have received them” (past tense, completed action). In other words, the receiving comes at the time of asking, when you ask in faith.

Faith is very important when we pray. It is how we receive, or take hold of, what we are asking for. The author of Hebrews says that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.” (Hebrews 11:1). The Greek word for “substance” is hypomone and refers to the underlying reality of a thing. In some ancient Greek documents, this word was used to refer to the title-deed of a piece of land. The word for “hope” speaks of expectation or anticipation. So faith is the underlying reality, the title-deed of what we are fully expecting to see.

Jesus says that when we ask, it will be given to us. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11). Jesus does not lie; when He says the Father will give it to us, then the Father will give it to us. We can fully expect that we will have it. Indeed, by faith we possess the substance of it, the underlying reality, the title-deed for it.

Now let’s put this all together, with the understanding of what it means to receive and how we actually do it.
Ask and it shall be given to you, for everyone who asks takes hold. So whatever you ask when you pray, believe you take hold of it, and you will have it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Don’t Be Hasty

For I said in my haste,
“I am cut off from before Your eyes”;
Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications
When I cried out to You.
(Psalm 31:22)

Nobody likes turbulence. When things get rough, it is natural to quickly engage all of our senses to assess the situation. Often we panic, because we believe our senses are giving us the truth instead of just facts. There is a difference: facts change; truth does not. It may be a fact that today there is a storm on your horizon, but the truth is that it may be gone by morning. What we do in those difficult moments is very important. It is the difference between being driven by the facts and led by the truth.

David begins Psalm 31 with a declaration of trust, “In You, O LORD, I put my trust.” And a request, “Let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness” (v. 1). He affirms that God is his rock, his fortress, his strength (vv. 3-4) and entrusts himself completely to Him, “Into Your hand I commit my spirit,” and follows with this a confident assertion, treating his request as already answered: “You have redeemed me, O LORD God of Truth” (v. 5).

The troubles he has been experiencing are not new but have been going on for a while, ebbing and flowing. But he has always come out on top. “You have known my soul in adversities, and have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a wide place” (v. 7-8).

Now trouble has arisen again, and stronger than ever, it seems. Or maybe it just feels stronger because David is worn out: “My eye wastes away with grief, yes, my soul and my body! For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing” (vv. 9-10). The voice of guilt takes a toll on him: “My strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away” (v. 10). Not that there is some specific transgression in his life from which he has not yet repented, but the memory of sins past and the tendency of human nature haunt him. He feels the reproach of enemies and friends alike, and that he has become repulsive to all who know him, or just know about him (v. 11). He is forgotten and broken, slandered and surrounded (vv. 12-13).

Had he stopped there, the picture would have been relentlessly bleak. He has described the place for us, but he does not dwell there. He returns, instead, to declarations of trust in Yahweh: “But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand” (vv. 14-15). He calls again for Yahweh to deliver him, to make His face shine upon him (vv. 15-16). Let it be the wicked who are ashamed, not David. Let it be them whose lips and lies are silenced, who speak arrogantly and contemptuously against the righteous (vv. 17-18). He follows this with a declaration of God’s goodness and assurances of deliverance for the righteous (vv. 19-20). And then — there it is! — the outcome for which he has been believing:
Blessed be the LORD,
For He has shown me His marvelous kindness in a strong city!
For I said in my haste,
“I am cut off from before Your eyes”;
Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications
When I cried out to You.
(Psalm 31:22)
Yes, he had been in a panic, and had spoken out of anxiety, saying something that on better days he knew was not true. He had not been cut off from before the eyes of Yahweh — not by his circumstances, not by his enemies, not even by Yahweh Himself. Fear held him for a brief time and might have swallowed him up, except that he returned once again to words of faith, speaking light in the dark. “I trust in You; You are my God. My times are in Your hand.” God heard his prayer and his cry, which is to say that God answered and delivered him, just as He had intended all along.

You see, there is very often a period of waiting between the time we first pray and entrust a matter to God and the time the answer shows up. And sometimes, between “Amen” and “There it is!” we are tempted to become impatient and lose heart. But that time differential (I hesitate to call it “delay” because that assumes we always know what the correct timing should be) does not mean that God has not heard or has not already arranged what is needed.

Don’t be hasty and speak out in the panic of the moment. Keep your mouth shut and meditate on the faithfulness of God, who has never forgotten your or cut you off from before His face. “Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the LORD,” is the advice David gives at the end (v. 24). Then let the words of faith return once again to your lips. All will be well.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tabernacle for the Nations

My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore. (Ezekiel 37:27-28)
This is a promise God made to Israel in one of her darkest hours, when she was divided and taken into captivity because of her idolatry. There would be a return, a restoration, a rebirth. The past would be past and God would create a new relationship with her.
David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Ezekiel 37:24-27)
“David” would be king over them. David was long dead by this time, but the reference here is to the Son of David, that is, the “Anointed One” God promised would reign on the throne over Israel. As David was literally a shepherd, so his descendent would also be a Shepherd over them. There would be a return to the land where they would dwell forever. God would make a new covenant with them, a covenant of peace — shalom, the wholeness that comes from God — and it would be eternal. God would establish His sanctuary, His holiness, among them. His tabernacle, His divine dwelling place, would be with them and they would be His holy people, set apart for His pleasure and purpose. They would enjoy special relationship with God, fellowship with the Divine.

This promise is fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, who is called the Good Shepherd. He is the mediator of a new and better covenant, which is established on better promises (Hebrew 8:6). He is not only the High Priest of that covenant; He is the sacrifice upon which it was based. On the night before He was crucified, He blessed the bread of the Passover table and gave it to the disciples: “This is My body which is given for you.” Then He took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:19-20).

Jesus is the tabernacle of God. He is the Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Greek word for “dwelt” (skenoo) relates linguistically to the Hebrew word for “tabernacle” (mishkan). Literally, the Word became flesh and “tabernacled” among us (see The Shekinah Dwelling).

“The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” The promise was for Israel and the land God gave to Jacob, but this would be a witness to all the nations of the world that God has created a people on earth and dwells among them. Indeed, the promise was for the sake of the nations, for God created Israel to be not only a holy nation but also a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). That is, they were to bring the blessing and promise of God to all the nations.

We find this fulfilled in the New Testament. Before He ascended to His throne at the right hand of the Father, Jesus came to the disciples and said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). It was not just for the land God gave to Jacob, for Abraham was heir to the whole world (Romans 4:13; the Greek word for “world” here is kosmos). And it was not just for ethnic Israel but all the nations were to be discipled and baptized and instructed.

However, this does not mean that the nations would receive the promise in addition to or apart from Israel — and certainly not instead of Israel. But, in Paul’s metaphor, they are grafted into the root stock of Israel, to be partakers of the blessing and promise of God as part of Israel (Romans 11:16-24).

So the tabernacle of God, Jesus the Messiah, comes to abide all over the world, in every nation. All who believe Him receive the promise and become part of the sanctuary, the holy people with whom God dwells. And all the nations will know.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Promise of the Father

After the resurrection and before He ascended to His throne at the right hand of the Father, Jesus was with the disciples, “being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). His whole ministry had been about the kingdom of God. Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He promised the disciples, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). But now, He spoke about the promise and the kingdom in a different way.
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)
The same words are also recorded in the Gospel of Luke (the book of Acts was also written by Luke). “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The “promise of the Father” was the promise God made through the prophets:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:26-28)

And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth:
Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
(Joel 2:28-31)
These prophetic promises spoke of the messianic age, the day of God’s new covenant (see Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 37). He preached about the kingdom of God and demonstrated the power of it throughout His ministry in signs and miracles. He established the new covenant, based on better promises than the old one had been (Hebrews 8:6), and He cut it in His own blood. “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you,” He said on the night He established the Table of the Lord (Luke 22:20). On that same night, He also spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit:
I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:16-18)

The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26)

When the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)

It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:7-15)
Now, on the fortieth day after the resurrection, the disciples asked, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus answered:
It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:7-8)
Jesus did not ignore their question; He answered it in a way they were not expecting. They wanted to know about the timing of the kingdom. The Greek word for “time” here is chronos, that is, chronological time, the sequence of time measured by calendars and clocks. He did not answer with regard to the chronos of the kingdom. There is another Greek word for time, kairos, which refers to the fullness or ripeness of time, the acute moment of significant fulfillment. But Jesus did not speak to them of kairos, which is translated here as “seasons.” He answered, instead, with regard to the nature and the power of the kingdom. They wanted to know when the kingdom would come; Jesus told them how the kingdom would come.

It would come in the power of the Holy Spirit, the same power by which He had performed all His kingdom miracles. When they understood the how of the kingdom, they would know the when. They would be the witnesses, bringing the evidence of it to all the world and testifying about Jesus. Jesus’ ministry was about the kingdom; the ministry of the Holy Spirit would be about the ministry of Jesus. The promise of the Father was about the Spirit — and the kingdom of God.

The Church season of Pentecost celebrates the fulfillment of that promise.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ascension: For He Must Reign

For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. (1 Corinthians 15:25)

First Corinthians 15 is known as the resurrection chapter, because Paul preaches how important the bodily resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead is to the Christian faith and the salvation of the world. But it is also a chapter about the Ascension, the Second Coming and the ultimate fulfillment of all things. They all flow together.

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:20-28)
Adam, the first man of the old creation, died because of his rebellion against God, and all who are in him are subject to his death. But Jesus is the firstfruits, the first Man of the new creation, by whom has come the undoing of death!

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father, where “He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.” The ascension was not merely the return of Jesus to heaven; it was an enthronement. The Father is now bringing all things under submission to Him.

This is what God had promised in the Old Testament. “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool’” (Psalm 110). The Jews of Jesus’ day understood this to be a reference to Messiah, but Jesus used this Scripture to demonstrate that Messiah, the Son of David, must also be the Lord of David (Matthew 24:41-46).

However, there is another Old Testament scripture that is very interesting in regard to our Corinthians passage, particularly because the language is more closely aligned: “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:6). What is interesting is that it refers to man as God originally created him, calling to mind the first chapter of Genesis:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
God intended man to have dominion over creation. Adam failed because of his disobedience to God. But what was lost to us in Adam has been restored to us in Jesus the Messiah, who is fully human as well as Son of God. When He ascended to the throne of heaven it was in His humanity as well as His divinity.

King Jesus is now putting an end to “all rule and all authority and power,” that is, to everything that opposes God in the world. This work will find its completion when He comes again. Death, “the last enemy,” will be destroyed and all those who belong to Jesus will be raised from the dead—the full harvest, of which Jesus is the firstfruits. The kingdom of God will be here in all its glory and power, and the will of God will be done on earth exactly as it is in heaven. Then Jesus will deliver it to the Father, that God may be glorified in everything.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Community of the Blessed

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:5-6)

The first of the month finds me once again at Psalm 1. Usually it is something in the first half of the psalm that captures my attention. Today it is the last half that has grabbed me.

Verse 1 begins with “Blessed is the man,” not “Blessed are the men.” The psalm writer is talking about an individual, not a group. Indeed, there is one group he is definitely not a part of: the ungodly, sinners, mockers. Rather, he delights in the instruction of the LORD and meditates on it continually (v. 2). So he is like a tree bearing fruit in season. He prospers in everything he does and becomes a blessing to others (v. 3).

The ungodly are not like that at all but are blown away with the wind, in emptiness and vanity, and are not missed (v. 4). When the time of divine judgment comes they cannot stand up under it. There is no place for them in the “congregation of the righteous,” for they have not kept faith or bothered to become one with them. Indeed, everything they have do demonstrates that they are detrimental to the life of the community.

Here is part of what causes the righteous one to prosper: He has become like a tree. A tree has roots. The righteous one is rooted, established by rivers of life-giving water. We can liken the rivers of water to the instruction of the Lord, certainly, and also to the Spirit of God. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38; verse 39 tells us that He was speaking about the Holy Spirit). But we should also think of the rivers of water as the community of the faithful, the people of God. He is part of them and established together with them in God. When the circumstances of life come and test him, he holds up well — he stands in the “congregation of the righteous.”

“Righteousness” is a term of covenant. A righteous man is one who has kept covenant. God made a covenant with Israel. They became His people, He became their God. It is in regard to this covenant that He revealed His name, Yahweh, because as His people, they bore His name. Those who believed Him and kept the covenant were considered fit for fellowship with Him in the community. That is, they were considered righteous.

Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, that is, He has regard for their manner of life — it is a life of faith. The Hebrew word for “righteous” is in the plural form. They are bound together in community, with each other and with God, so they remain and are blessed. But the way of the ungodly perishes, vanishes in destruction. The Hebrew word for “ungodly” is also in the plural. It does not portray a community bound together in covenant but a collection of individuals who have nothing more in common than their wickedness.

In the New Testament, King Jesus the Messiah established a new covenant, a better one based on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). Better because it is not just for ethnic Jews but has been broadened out to include all the nations of the world, whoever will believe in Him. Better because Jesus Himself has faithfully kept it on our behalf, enduring the cross for our sake. Better because it is a covenant cut in His own blood. That is why on the night He was betrayed, He took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” He established a new table of fellowship for the covenant people of God.

Jesus is the one Psalm 1 speaks about. It is in Him that we have become the people of God. It is as Him that we now have access to every blessing of heaven and the prosperity God has promised His people. Blessed is the Man and the community that has fellowship with Him.