Saturday, February 6, 2016

We Shall See Him as He Is

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:28-31)
The Transfiguration of Christ is found in Matthew and Mark as well as here in Luke. In all three, the sequence of events leading up to it is the same: Peter receives the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus foretells his impending death, then speaks to his disciples about the need to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. This is followed by the statement that some standing there would not die before they saw “the kingdom of God” (Luke), “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew), “that the kingdom of God has come with power” (Mark). About eight days later, Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him to the mountain to pray. The Transfiguration, then, is a very powerful revelation of the kingdom of God and the glory of Christ the King.

Jesus was deep in prayer when his face and clothes became radiant with light. Moses and Elijah appeared suddenly, also full of glory and splendor. Moses was the great Law-giver and Elijah the great prophet of the Old Testament. They were conversing with Jesus about his “departure,” which would soon be accomplished at Jerusalem. They had both had unusual departures themselves: Moses was buried by God and nobody ever found the grave, and Elijah did not see death but was translated to heaven in a “chariot of fire” in the middle of a whirlwind.

The word Luke chose for “departure” is significant. It is the Greek word exodus, a very evocative term, being the Greek title for the second book of the Old Testament. The book of Exodus was about how God led the children of Israel out of Egypt through Moses.

The exodus Jesus was about to fulfill was his death on the cross but also his resurrection from the dead and his ascension to his throne at the right hand of the Father. It was not a departure through death but a departure from death, for his death became the death of death itself. By his death, we also are set free from death, and from the one who holds the power of death. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). The exodus Jesus accomplished became our own “deliverance from Egypt,” for in him we are crucified, made alive again and seated in the heavenlies at the right hand of the Father (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:4-6).
Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.

A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen. (Luke 9:32-36)
Peter, James and John had been asleep — it was often Jesus’ way to go off and pray in the night or early morning hours — but now they were fully awake, though understanding very little of what they were witnessing. They had missed much of it and by now Moses and Elijah were leaving. Peter, being the earnest and impulsive man that he was, wanted to build three dwelling places: one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. He did not understand what he was saying — so he went ahead and said it.

At that moment, a cloud came over them and Peter left off what he was saying, terrified as it enveloped him and the other two. The voice of the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” It was not Moses or Elijah but Jesus alone who is the Son and whom the Father anointed as Messiah. Moses and Elijah — the Law and the Prophets — were always about him, and in him they find their fulfillment. “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Christ is God’s final and complete word. He is the one we are to listen to, and in him we will understand the meaning of Moses and Elijah.

But now let’s consider the transfiguration itself, for Christ is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3). The transfiguration was not a transformation of who Jesus was but a revelation of who Jesus is, a manifestation of his divinity in the form of his humanity. It was his divine glory being revealed for what it is.

In the beginning, man was created in the image of God, to be like God and to bear his glory. However, Paul reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We have each turned away from God and broken the connection — fellowship with God, each other, the rest of creation, and even our own selves. But God became one of us, joining himself to us in order to reconcile us back to himself, that humankind might bear the divine glory for which we were originally created. That we might, in the words of 2 Peter 1:4, “participate in the divine nature.”

In the transfiguration of Christ, we see what God has always intended for humanity — to conform us to the image of Christ, transforming us as we allow him to renew our minds. He is at work in us not only empowering us with the ability to do what pleases him but also creating in us the desire to do so.

As Christ was revealed in his transfiguration that day on the mountain, that is how we, too, shall one day see him — and we shall be like him, for the revelation of Christ transforms us. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Even now, “the darkness is fading and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Christ is the Meaning of the Law

Earlier in Psalm 19, we saw Christ as the meaning of the stars and also wonderfully portrayed by the sun. As we continue in this psalm, we discover that Christ is the meaning of the Law of Moses, which is to say, we understand the Law through him. All the Law and Prophets, he said, are about him. In the Sermon on the Mount he made it very clear that he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. He is the perfect revelation of God’s purpose in them. If we want to know what they are about, or ever were, we have only to look to the Lord Jesus.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
    enduring forever.
The decrees of the LORD are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.
(Psalm 19:7-9)
Christ is God’s ultimate word to the world, the perfect expression of God’s being. He is the Good Shepherd who “refreshes” or “converts” (KJV) our souls, turning us back to the path of what is right and true and loving. His teaching is a sure and trustworthy foundation upon which the wise may build their house. His ways are straight and true and lead us to joy. He is the very radiance of God’s glory, giving us light by which we may see God. He is the personification of pure love and awe toward God, doing only what pleases the Father. His law is summed up in this commandment: Love one another.
They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
(Psalm 19:10-11)
There is nothing in this world that can satisfy our desires like Christ — indeed, none can satisfy us except Christ, who made us and gave himself for our sake. And there is nothing sweeter in life than to know him. He shows us the paths and the pitfalls so that we may come to know the blessing and peace of God in this life and in the ages to come.
But who can discern their own errors?
    Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
    may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
    innocent of great transgression.
(Psalm 19:12-13)
Through the cross of Christ, divine forgiveness has been revealed and the power of sin broken. God’s purpose is to conform us to the image and likeness of Christ, transforming us by the power of the Holy Spirit and the renewing of our minds by Christ. In this way he delivers us from the faults and inclinations of which are we are unware as well as the sins we know all too well.

As the writer brings this psalm to an end, so I close echoing the same prayer: May these words and this meditation be pleasing in your sight, Lord Jesus, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Random Thoughts

Thoughts culled from my random file. About divine love, relationship with God and new life in Christ. Some have come to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Many have been my tweets and Facebook updates. Some have been my Instagrams. Offered as “jump starts” for your faith.
  • Faith in God is relational, more about trust than certainty.
  • Today I repent of the prides and arrogances I know about ... and ask forgiveness for the ones I have not yet realized.
  • The humility of Christ and His cross exposes evil for what it is: pride against God and one another.
  • Biblical justice is relational, about readiness for community.
  • The justice of God is not about retribution but about restoration to fellowship.
  • The judgment of God does not come to condemn us but to transform us.
  • The cross was not a penalty Christ paid but a victory Christ won.
  • The cross was not the reason for God’s forgiveness but the revelation of God’s forgiveness.
  • In Jesus Christ, God forgives our betrayals, removes our shame and leads us back to holy community with God and one another.
  • In Jesus Christ we become part of the new creation. The whole cosmos cries out for this revelation.
  • What is God showing you about what he wants to do in the world? Pray that!
  • Thank you, Lord, for your healing presence.
  • Forgive me, Lord, for baptizing bitter fear as righteous anger, for being quick to take offense and slow to love. Teach me the strength, gentleness and humility of Christ. Amen.
  • The resurrection of Christ exposes the truth about death: it is a helpless and defeated foe, and cannot stand.
  • The abundantly available grace of God transforms sinners into saints.
  • In Jesus Christ, sins are forgiven, shame is removed and new life begins.
  • Remember today that your blessing is not rooted in your job but in God.
  • Remember today that your significance is not found in your work but in the love God has for you.
  • How deep the love, how wide the mercy, how abundant the grace, how joyful the fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • God doesn’t do “pay back.” He does “pay forward” ... and he does it with grace.
  • God is love. Love casts out all shame.
  • There are no boundaries to the grace of God. He is always working for our good.
  • DREAM ~ A communication from a deeper realm, a vignette from the spiritual dimension.
  • We live in between the great things God has already done and the greater harvest yet to come.
  • Don’t worry about your significance in the world. God has already taken care of that. Just go on and live your life in him.
More random thoughts ...

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Christ is Revealed in the Temple
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. (Malachi 3:1-4)
In the book of Malachi, the Lord speaks of two messengers who would come. The first is “my messenger.” This is John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the second messenger. The second is “the messenger of the covenant,” who is Jesus the Messiah, the Christ. He would come suddenly into his temple and those who were seeking him would see him. He would be a refiner’s fire to purify his people like silver or gold, turning them once again to the Lord.

In the Gospel, we learn that Christ was revealed in the temple in an unexpected way. This important event is known as the Presentation of the Lord and is celebrated every February 2nd, forty days after Christmas. The story is recorded in Luke 2.
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22-24)
Joseph and Mary came to perform what was required by the Law of Moses. They would consecrate Jesus to the Lord, just as all parents of firstborn sons would do. For that occasion, they would sacrifice a pair of doves, one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. It was all perfectly according to custom — except that what happened next was quite out of the ordinary.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. (Luke 2:22-27)
Simeon had long waited for the Christ to be revealed and the consolation of Israel to begin. In fact, the Lord had promised him that he would witness it before he departed this life. Now that time had suddenly come upon him and, being led by the Holy Spirit, he immediately recognized Jesus for who he was.
When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “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.” The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. (Luke 2:27-33)
Joseph and Mary had not expected to hear such wonderful words of revelation that day concerning their son, and coming from the lips of a stranger. Nor were they prepared for what Simeon said next.
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “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. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)
Jesus would be the dividing line in Israel between those who would fall and those who would rise. There would be those who rejected him and those who repented and received him. There would be a sign of contradiction, the cross. There would be those who would crucify him and those who would take up their crosses and follow him. How they responded to him, whether in faith or unbelief, would reveal their hearts. Jesus would be, in the words of Malachi, a “refiner’s fire,” cleansing his people and reconciling them to the Father.

But there were also words for Mary, concerning her own soul, that she would be pierced as she witnessed the rejection and suffering her son. It would be a very deep sorrow. They were somber words but necessary for the great rejoicing that would follow as God’s salvation was made known to the nations. The author of Hebrews understood both the necessity of all this suffering as well as the resulting joy, and so the following passage is also read on this day:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Amazed and Furious
The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:4-10)
Jeremiah was called of the Lord to be a prophet while yet a young man — “too young,” he protested. Being a prophet is a tricky undertaking, a dangerous occupation with many opportunities to be heavy with fear and in dire need of escape. But the Lord promised, “I am with you and will rescue you.”

The outstretched hand of God touched Jeremiah’s reluctant lips, and now the message that came from Jeremiah’s mouth would be God’s own words, full of divine power and authority. Jeremiah would need that because Jeremiah’s message would not be a welcome one. Neither kings nor kingdoms take kindly to being uprooted, torn down, destroyed or overthrown. But there was much wickedness in the land and many hearts that needed to be changed before God could rebuild and plant again, for God cannot bless anything that does not come from him, that does not originate from his love.

Now jump forward several hundred years. It is a Sabbath and Jesus is standing at the lectern of the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown. The text is Isaiah 61, about the year of divine favor on the people of Israel, and the day of vengeance on their oppressors. Jesus reads it, leaving off the part about the vengeance, then sits down to teach.
He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. (Luke 4:21-22)
There is an ambiguity here. Although the NIV says “all spoke well of him,” the underlying Greek text speaks simply of bearing witness, which could be either for or against Jesus. The people were “amazed,” which, again, could be taken in a positive or negative way. It was the “gracious words” Jesus spoke that was at the center of their reaction.

We should think they would have been glad for the graciousness of Jesus’ message, but it was the part he left out that was the object of their disquiet. They were glad to hear about the year of God’s favor on Israel, but they also wanted to hear about the day of God’s vengeance on the Gentiles. And Jesus did not go there. His words left God’s grace open to the Gentiles as well as towards Israel.

So the crowd began to question. “Who is this? Isn’t he the son of Joseph? Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? By what authority does he speak this way?” They would use their imagined familiarity with Jesus against him, to discount his words. But Jesus knew exactly what they were up to.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed — only Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:23-27)
Did they need to see miracles before they would accept this hometown son as a true prophet of God? That is not how true prophets work, and that is not how Jesus works. Faith does not come by seeing miracles but by hearing the word of God. The people of Nazareth were not ready to receive Jesus’ words, so they were not ready to believe his miracles.

The reason Jesus’ message was so gracious and open-ended was because God had often showed his mercy to Gentiles. In Elijah’s day, Israel was a faithless generation, unwilling to receive the word of the Lord. When famine came, it was only a pagan widow of Sidon who believed the prophet and received a miraculous provision. The story was much the same in the time of Elisha, and it was only Naaman, a Syrian general, who believed the prophet and was cleansed of leprosy.

These examples would have had a hard bite in Nazareth because Sidon and Syria were especially loathed by the Jews. Yet God showed mercy on these despised ones because they were willing to trust him. The real question, however, was whether the people of Nazareth were willing to trust God even if he intended to be gracious towards the pagans. The answer quickly appeared.
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (Luke 4:28-30)
The people were seething. They did not want to hear of a God who would show mercy on their enemies, and they would have no part with a prophet who would teach such things — away with him. The soil of their hearts was hard and unyielding, not good ground for the seed of the kingdom, not yet ready for the building and planting Messiah came to do. So Jesus went on his way, passing quietly through the crowd, whether by miraculous disappearance or the power of his presence. Either way, God was with him and rescued him.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Christ is the Meaning of the Sun
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.
(Psalm 19:4-6)
The theme of Psalm 19 is the revelation of Christ in the heavens and in the “law” (or “instruction”) of the Lord. For Christ is the creator of the cosmos, and all the Law and Prophets, which is to say all the Old Testament scriptures, are about him.

God has “pitched a tent for the sun.” Through Christ, he has created the heavens and the skies that surround the earth, and indeed, all that is. Christ is the Sun. The sun portrays him before our eyes. Just as the sun is always present in the sky, so Christ is always present in the world. For all things are created in him, through him and for him, and are sustained by him. The psalm writer describes the sun as a bridegroom coming out of his marriage chamber and as a mighty champion who gladly runs the course for his people.

Christ is the Bridegroom, lavishing his love upon his people and preparing them as his holy bride. The bride is the Church, “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). This is, Paul says, a profound mystery.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25-32)
Christ is also the Champion for his people, pouring himself out willingly for our sake so that, through him, we are more than conquerors. And there is nothing that can separate us from this great love.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:31-37)
As the sun traces its path across the sky from east to west, giving its light and heat to all the earth, so also Christ rules over the world and gives light to all, penetrating every corner of darkness. This is the testimony of the New Testament: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).

Christ is the true light, and the meaning of the sun. The sun is but one means by which his light is made present in the world. It is an icon of his glory. Christ is the reality, the light that was from before the beginning, and the light that will remain when all things come to their fulfillment in him. As Isaiah the prophet said, so also John the Revelator:
The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. (Isaiah 60:19-20)

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 ... There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 21:23; 22:5)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Christ is the Meaning of the Cosmos

Star. Photo by Tom Hall
The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
(Psalm 19:1-4)
The whole cosmos bears witness. The depths of space describe the glory of God. The skies demonstrate his workmanship. Every day they speak to us, every night they bring revelation. But here is a paradox: They have no speech, no sound, no word — yet they have a voice that is heard everywhere and a language understood all over the world.

They speak to us about God. Paul says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:20). More precisely, they speak to us about Christ. That is how Paul understands this psalm when he quotes from it in Romans 10:18. The revelation of Christ begins in the cosmos.

All the Law and the Prophets are about Jesus, and that is how the New Testament writers and the early Church understood the Old Testament. So creation speaks to us of Christ, for it is he who is the creator of all: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). “In him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16).

The heavens and the earth always bear a fresh testimony to Christ, for he is not only the creator of all things, he is ever sustaining them. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).

The testimony of the heavens does not reduce down to data points or arguments for the apologist’s toolkit. The cosmos is always speaking to us about Christ. More than that, it is always revealing the glory of God through Christ, always presenting him before our eyes and our understanding, always manifesting his presence throughout all creation by his sustaining power. Christ is the meaning of the cosmos.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Today This is Fulfilled in Your Hearing

At the end of the Babylonian exile, Ezra and Nehemiah were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city. When the walls were completed, the exiles began returning, though still under foreign dominion. After they settled in, they came together and had one request of Ezra.
All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law ...

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. The Levites ... instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. (Nehemiah 8:1-8)
Ezra was called the “teacher of the Law.” He and the Levites read to the people from the book of the Law, instructing them, making the meaning clear to them so that they could understand what was being read. This tradition endured for centuries and eventually developed into the Rabbinic form of Judaism.

Now let’s jump ahead about 500 years. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist with water and by God the Father with the Holy Spirit. Then he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days where he was tested by the devil. Then this:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21)
Here at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61, which speaks in terms of the Jubilee God prescribed in Leviticus 25. Jubilee was to be celebrated every 50th year, a year to “proclaim liberty” and restoration. It was a time for release from the bondage of debt, for bond-servants to be set free, for homes and lands to be returned to their original heirs. It was good news for the poor … except that there is no indication that Israel ever actually kept the commandment and practiced Jubilee.

Isaiah prophesied to a people who had not yet gone into Babylonian exile, but the prophesy in chapter 61 was about how God would bring them out, set them at liberty and restore them to their land. It was the promise of Jubilee. Yet hundreds of years later, the Jews were back in Judea. However, they still were not a free people but under foreign rule, a part of the Roman Empire.

But now Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit and taught in the synagogues. In Nazareth, he stands and reads this passage from Isaiah, then he sits down to teach on its meaning. He speaks about it a most startling way: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

He was announcing that the time of God’s true Jubilee had finally come. More than that, he was saying that it is fulfilled in him. That he is the one whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit. That he is the one God sent to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. That he is the one God sent to set the oppressed free. That it was he whom God sent to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. In short, he was saying that he is Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed King. This is the message of the gospel, and in this announcement, Jesus was laying out the charter of his ministry. This scripture was being fulfilled in their hearing — they were witnessing it.

Jesus is the ultimate teacher of the Law. All the Law and the Prophets are about him, and in him they all find their fulfillment. He is there in Leviticus 25, in the commandment to observe Jubilee. And he is there in Isaiah 61, in God’s promise of the greater Jubilee. Indeed, he is God’s Jubilee, for the kingdom of God has come into the world and Jesus the Messiah is Lord of all. In him and through his cross, God is making all things new.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Gospel According to John the Baptist

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. (Luke 3:15-18)
This is how John the Baptist preached the gospel, or at least how Luke summarized his preaching of the gospel. It is all about the Messiah, the Christ, and there are two main points to his message. First, while John baptized the repentant with water, Messiah would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire.

In Ezekiel, the Lord had promised that he would sprinkle his people with clean water, cleanse them from all their impurities, give them a new heart and put his own Spirit within them (Ezekiel 36:25-27). At Pentecost, the promise of the Father was fulfilled and the Church received this baptism when the Holy Spirit came upon each of them as “tongues of fire.”

This fire of the Spirit burns with the love of God, for the God whom the Scriptures call a “consuming fire” is also the God who is love. His love is a refining fire that burns away the dross so that the gold may shine brightly. In this sense it is a judgment, separating what is good from what is evil. So also, the baptism of divine fire refines us, burning away what is worthless so that the light and life of Christ may shine brightly within.

The second point of John’s message flows from the first: There was to be a winnowing, a judgment that would separate the wheat from the chaff. Messiah would gather the wheat into the barn and the chaff he would burn up. As the Holy Spirit is doing in us, so Christ is also doing in the world. The fire of God’s love through Christ burns away what is evil and worthless so that what is good and fruitful may be safely gathered into his own.

The good news of the gospel is that the Lord Jesus Christ comes to judge the world — with the consuming fire of his love. For as Paul said to the Athenian philosophers, God has “set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed [Christ]. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

God’s purpose in Christ is to “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20). So shall Christ make all things new, with the fire of the Holy Spirit and the love of God.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Wedding Glory at Cana

In the season of Epiphany, we remember how the glory of Christ was first revealed to the world. We think of the Star and of the pagan wise men who followed it to honor the new-born King of Israel. We celebrate the baptism of the Lord Jesus, not only for how he identified with us in our need for repentance but also for how the Trinity was revealed — the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and the voice of the Father commending his Beloved Son. Now let’s consider a third important moment, which took place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, at a wedding at Cana.
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)
It is significant that the first miracle Jesus worked was at a wedding, not only because he was affirming the goodness of man and woman coming together in marriage but, more than that, because marriage reveals the intimate relationship between God and his people. We see this in the prophet Isaiah, where the Lord says to Israel:
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:1-5)
Though Israel was deep in difficulty at the time because of her unfaithfulness, God promised he would not be silent but would rescue and restore her before the eyes of all the nations, and would give her a new name. No longer would she be called Deserted and Desolate but My Delight (Hephzibah) and Married (Beulah). In short, God would marry his people and rejoice over them just as a bridegroom delights in his bride. It is a profound relationship, that the Creator of all would claim a people for his own, to marry them and build a household and a heritage with them. Because God presents this relationship as marriage, every marriage then represents (re-presents) that divine relationship before our eyes.

Jesus attended the wedding at Cana with his mother, and a problem arose: the wine ran out. Wine was important to any feast, a symbol of great rejoicing. A wedding feast could last up to seven days — that’s a lot of wine! — and to run out midway would be a social disaster. Jesus’ mother brought the matter before him, but he answered, “Why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.”

To which hour was he referring — the hour for his glory to be revealed? Perhaps. And yet, his glory truly was revealed before the day was over, and it caused his disciples to have faith in him. But perhaps what he had in mind was the deeper truth to which the wedding pointed, the marriage of God and his people, and he was thinking of a wedding yet to come, in which he and his bride would be the central figures. This is the wedding John the Revelator described in a divine vision:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready ... I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 19:7, 21:2)
This bride is the Church, for whom Christ has given himself and whom he is preparing for himself. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Jesus followers at Ephesus, where he teaches husbands how to be toward their wives.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25-32)
This profound mystery can be experienced, in significant measure, in the loving, self-giving, intertwining nature of marriage and it is cause for great rejoicing and exuberant celebration. For in Christ, God takes us as his bride and receives us into his house where we may feast on the abundance of his glory and drink deeply from the wine of his love.
Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.
Continue your love to those who know you,
    your righteousness to the upright in heart.
(Psalm 36:5-10)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

When You Pass Through the Waters

But now, this is what the LORD says —
  he who created you, Jacob,
  he who formed you, Israel.
When you pass through the waters,
  I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
  they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
  you will not be burned;
  the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD your God,
  the Holy One of Israel,
  your Savior.
(Isaiah 43:1-3)
God’s promise is that he would be with his people when they passed through the waters and the rivers and the fire. As he was with Noah, when he and his family passed safely through the deadly waters of the flood in a wooden, pitch-covered ark. As he was with Moses when Pharaoh had every infant male Hebrew cast into the Nile and drowned. Placed in a tar-coated papyrus basket by his mother, Moses passed safely through to new life.

God was with the children of Israel when they miraculously passed through the waters of the Red Sea, escaping bondage and death in Egypt, but Pharaoh’s army all drowned. God was with them again when they passed through the waters of the river Jordan, which miraculously parted for them to enter into the Promised Land.

As for fire, God was with the three young Hebrew males who were cast by Nebuchadnezzar into the blazing furnace. A fourth person, who was “like the Son of God,” stood with them in the flames, and they passed through unharmed.

Messiah is hidden in all these passages, and he it was, as the eternal Son of God, who was with his people in all those instances. Now as we come, in the season of Epiphany, to the celebration of the baptism of the Lord Jesus, we are presented again with water and fire. And we find John the Baptist preaching the gospel about the coming of Messiah:
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. (Luke 3:15-18)
The ministry of John was a messianic one, announcing the coming of the kingdom of God and preparing the way for God’s anointed King by means of baptism. There is no surprise, then, that many were wondering if John himself might be that Anointed One. But no, he explained, he only baptized with water, but the One to Come would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit indicated the time of Messiah, when God would cleanse his people with water and give them a new heart and a new spirit — God’s own Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-27). Baptism with fire is the burning away of whatever does not belong, whatever does not come from God. For God is a “consuming fire.” But God is also love, so what his fire consumes must be for the sake of love, burning away everything that does not come from love. This is good news for all who belong to God, who hunger and thirst for what is good and right, who hunger for the love of God to be revealed throughout the world. But first we find that the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire comes to be baptized with water.
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
The people who came to John for baptism came in repentance, for the baptism he preached was one of repentance. They were turning away from their sins, from their old life and their old ways — dying to themselves — that they might know the life of the age to come, the age of God’s Messiah King.

They were passing through the waters of death. Yet into these waters stepped Messiah himself, not that he needed to repent himself, but to identify with his people in their repentance and death, and from that death bring life. He passed through the waters with them and in that way blessed them. But in his baptism, he also prefigured his death on the cross — a death for the sake of his people, and indeed, of all the world — and his resurrection from the dead. And now all who are baptized into him, Paul tells us, are baptized into his death, that we may know his resurrection life.
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4)
But let us go back to Isaiah’s prophecy for a moment. For there God, the Holy One of Israel, and their Savior who passes through the waters with them, promised to gather in all their children from the far reaches of the world.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
  I will bring your children from the east
  and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, “Give them up!”
  and to the south, “Do not hold them back.”
Bring my sons from afar
  and my daughters from the ends of the earth —
everyone who is called by my name,
  whom I created for my glory,
  whom I formed and made.
(Isaiah 43:5-7)
As we discover in the gospel, it is not only Israel that is being gathered back to God through Jesus the Messiah, all the nations of the world are being drawn to him by the shining of his light, to be grafted into the “olive tree,” the Israel of God.

By baptism, Jesus passed through the waters of death with us, that by baptism, we may pass through the waters with him to resurrection.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Epiphany: Light to the Nations

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.

Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.

Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:1-6)
“Arise, shine,” Isaiah says to Jerusalem, “for your light has come.” In a world of darkness, light shines brightly. The Law and the Prophets, Jesus said, are about him. So the Church has, from the beginning, understood this light as Jesus himself.

John the Gospeler tells us of this Light, the Word who was in the beginning with God, and is God, and who became flesh and dwelt among us. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it ... The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9).

All the nations and kings of the world will come to this Light and see its brightness, Isaiah says. In the season of Epiphany, we celebrate how the Light of Christ first began to be revealed to the world, and how the world began to come to its brightness. The Magi who followed the light of the Star all the way to Bethlehem were the first from the nations to recognize Lord Jesus as God’s Messiah King (Matthew 2:1-12). They came, as Isaiah foretold, “bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.”

“Lift up your eyes and look about you,” Isaiah says, “All assemble and come to you”— sons and daughters from afar, gathered from among the nations. The mystery hidden here in Isaiah but revealed in the gospel is that these sons and daughters include the nations.
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. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. (Ephesians 3:1-6)
Paul’s great glory and delight, then, was to shine this light to the nations, for God is gathering many sons and daughters to the new Jerusalem, to reveal the light of Christ not only to them but through them. This has always been God’s purpose, “that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:10-12).

Friday, January 1, 2016

A New Year with Eternity in Our Hearts
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
The Preacher of Wisdom offers us a musing that is appropriate for the turning of the year, about times and seasons and eternity. In the LXX, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, the words offered for “time” and “season” are chronos and kairos. Chronos is time kept according to clocks and calendars. Kairos is the purposeful aspect of time, the pregnant moment that signals a significant shift in the world.

Time and purpose move ever forward, though by turns and not in the straight lines for which we often long. There is, “a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,” and so on (verses 2-8). But what is the point of it all? “What do workers gain from their toil?” the Preacher asks. “I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race” (verse 9). There is a travail and a humbling, but in his answer there is also a revelation and a yearning.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (verses 10-11)
God has made everything beautiful, but according to its “time.” Here, the LXX uses kairos. Everything comes to its own moment of fullness when its virtue and value are revealed, for God is always working his purpose and nothing is wasted in his plan, but is turned to beauty. Even the evil that occurs, he is able to redirect it toward his own good ends, to bestow “beauty instead of ashes” and “joy instead of mourning” (Isaiah 61:3).

Everything is pressing us towards eternity, the age of the world to come. There is a fullness yet to be discovered, the depths of which we do not and cannot now understand, but God has set it in our hearts. This fullness toward which we are heading is found in Jesus Christ.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 21:1-6)
God has set this yearning in our hearts. Indeed, he has set Lord Jesus, the True Light who gives light to everyone in the world, in our hearts, and we are restless until we turn to him. For in him is eternal life, the life of the age to come. Yet his life is for us even now, in this present age, to be lived and experienced as we yield to the Holy Spirit. In Christ, “the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). Let us begin this new year, then, embracing eternity, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, in our hearts.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Random Thoughts

Here are a few random thoughts as we turn the page for another go around the sun. About divine love, relationship with God and new life in Christ. Some have come to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Many have been my tweets and Facebook updates. Some have been my Instagrams. Offered as “jump starts” for a Happy New Year!
  • Love is not merely an asset or attribute of God. Love is the essence and energy of God, for God is love.
  • God practices what Jesus preached.
  • O Blessed Fellowship! I am in the Three and the Three are in me. It is a good day.
  • King Jesus, who made all things in the beginning, will make all things new again.
  • Jesus has been given the keys to death and hell. What do you suppose he will do with them?
  • Faith in Jesus is trusting him with your past, as well as with your present and your future.
  • Hell is not the absence of God but the soul unprepared for the presence of God in the radiance of his love.
  • God always gets the last word ... and his final answer is love.
  • Real love is cross-shaped.
  • The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, dwelling in eternal community, know the all-surpassing power of love.
  • Whatever happens — Keep Calm and Remember that JESUS is LORD!
  • Put not your trust in judges or politicians ... nor fear them. King Jesus is Lord over all, and his love will prevail.
  • All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus the Messiah. Love is the outworking of that authority. When we walk in love, we walk in the authority of King Jesus.
  • The full revelation of God is not found in a book, not even the Bible, but in a person: Jesus the Messiah.
  • The revolution has come and Jesus the Messiah is Lord of all. Follow him.
  • I worship the God who is man, the man who is God. His name is Jesus.
  • King Jesus is making all things new by the consuming fire of his love.
  • The mercy of God is available to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Always has been, always will be.
  • One day everyone will get what they want ... but not everyone will like what they get. What is it you want?
  • Lord, in your mercy, strip away in me everything that does not belong. Some things, I can easily tell. Other things, I do not trust myself to know the difference. Let only love be left in me. Amen.
  • My faith is not in how the future will be taken care of, but in God, who will take care of the future, for he is greater than the future.
  • Fear not the future. It is in God’s hands ... and God is love.
  • This is the judgment of God: Jesus the Light has come into the world and exposed the darkness of our hearts. Follow the Light.
  • God is not in the damning business. He is in the Search and Rescue business.
  • The mysteries of God and His love are not for us to understand but to experience.
More random thoughts from this past year …

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Small Town, Eternal Significance

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be our peace. (Micah 5:2-5)
The prophet Micah alternates, as the prophets often did, between the warning of judgment and the promise of restoration. He foretold the fall of Samaria, capital of the northern Kingdom, Israel, and the people were carried off into Assyrian captivity. He foretold the fall of Jerusalem, capital of the southern kingdom, Judah, which was later carried off into Babylonian captivity. But then, in chapter 5, he speaks of a remnant, a return and a Ruler whose reign would cover the earth. He speaks of Messiah, God’s anointed King.

It would begin in the small, seemingly inconsequential town of Bethlehem, but one mighty in eternal significance. For from there this Ruler would arise who comes from long ages past, indeed, from eternity. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” says John the Evangelist. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).

But until then Israel would be abandoned, given over to captivity, for as with all births, there is a time of travail. And though the Jews were eventually allowed to return to Jerusalem, they remained under foreign rule and so also in exile. Yet there would come a true return, a gathering together of Israel with this Messiah who was to be born in Bethlehem.

Messiah would stand up for his people and shepherd them. He would not be a transient ruler who would pass away or be overtaken but would persevere and endure for their sake. “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11). Jesus identified himself as this shepherd: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

This Messiah does not stand in his own strength but in the strength of the LORD. He does not stand in his own name, yet he has been given the majestic name of the LORD, and his greatness extends to the ends of the earth:
Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does ... By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:19, 30)

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
“He will be our peace,” the prophet says. Not only Israel, but all the world benefits from Messiah’s reign and will know his peace. In the end, every knee will gladly bow before him and every tongue gratefully confess him as Lord. After the cross and resurrection, but before he ascended to his throne at the right hand of the Father, Lord Jesus gathered his disciples and said to them,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)
The nations will not lose their identities but will find them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. They will be included in God’s people, Israel — “grafted in” is how Paul puts it — through faith in Jesus the Messiah. “And in this way all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

God’s Wild, Exuberant Joy Over Us

Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.

On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

“I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you. At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the LORD. (Zephaniah 3:14-20)
The burden of the book of Zephaniah was a warning to the people of Judah and Jerusalem to repent, for the Lord was about to allow judgment to fall on them because of their wickedness. Historically, this occurred when Jerusalem was captured and the people were carried off to Babylon. But then, in the last half of the last chapter, there is a word of hope and restoration. God would remove their “punishment” and “turn back” their enemies. Benton’s translation of the Septuagint (an ancient Greek version of the Old Testament) says, “The Lord has taken away thine iniquities, he has ransomed thee from the hand of thine enemies.”

This was a prophecy about the return of Judah from Babylonian captivity. Yet it was never quite fulfilled, for though the Jews were able to return to Jerusalem, they were never free from foreign rule and in that sense were still in exile. But the New Testament teaches us to read this now in regard to Messiah, because all the law and the prophets, Jesus said, are about him. And, indeed, that is how the early Church understood them.

Especially at Advent, then, we read this passage theologically, as fulfilled in the coming of Messiah. For he has taken away our iniquities, which distanced us from God. In him we have forgiveness of sins and through him we are reconciled to God. He has also delivered us from the enemy of our souls. Paul puts it this way in the New Testament: God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).

In Jesus the Messiah, we now have exuberant celebration: “Sing, shout aloud, be glad and rejoice.” But that translation doesn’t quite capture the enthusiasm of the Hebrew text. More like: wild singing, ear-splitting shouts of triumph, exhilaration and jumping for joy. For Jesus has delivered us from the oppressor — he has disarmed the “principalities and powers,” destroyed the works of the devil and broken the power of death. He “rescues the lame” so that we may walk straight and sure. He gathers us from our exile and replaces our shame with honor.

God joins in the celebration, too, taking “great delight” and “rejoicing” over us with “singing.” Again, the NIV seems too tame here. Rather, God exults over us with exhilaration and dancing, whirling and twirling over us in boisterous song. For he is gathering his sons and daughters and bringing them home. He is like the father of the prodigal, with unbridled joy at the return of his son:
Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. (Luke 15:22-24)
As we draw near the Christmas season, let your heart be open to God’s wild, exuberant joy over you.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent and the Refiner’s Fire

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. (Malachi 3:1-4)
This passage in Malachi speaks of two messengers. The second one is the Lord himself and is called the “messenger of the covenant,” because he is the covenant God makes with the people. The prophecy speaks here of a desire fulfilled, but the question that then follows is a sobering one: Who can endure the day of his coming? Who will be left standing when he appears?

This is the solemn language of judgment, of sorting out what is good from what is evil, a sorting we must all eventually go through. It may not seem a cheery thought, but it is a necessary one. And it is for this judgment that Jesus the Messiah came into the world, to set everything right — and that does bring us hope.

It is also heartening that it is not we who do the sorting out but God. If it were left to us, we would get it all wrong, for it is we who are the problem. With us, judgment and mercy are two different things, and either one can be very destructive. But with God, judgment and mercy are the same thing and work toward the same purpose.

Now, note what Messiah is like on the “day of his coming.” He is like a refiner’s fire and a launderer’s soap. The purpose of the refiner’s fire is not to destroy the silver or gold but to purify it. And the launderer’s soap is not meant to destroy the garment but to cleanse it. Likewise, the judgment of God does not come to destroy us but to burn away the impurities in us and cleanse us — and that is a great mercy. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).

The testimony of Scripture is that “God is a consuming fire” but also that “God is love.” Whatever God’s fire is, then, and whatever it burns away must always be for the sake of love. It burns away whatever is not love or does not come from love — which is to say, whatever does not come from God — and purifies in us what does come from love, from God: the divine image and likeness in which we were created.

Here is something important to understand about the season of Advent: It has just as much to do with the second coming of Jesus as with the first. The two complete each other, establishing in the earth the fullness of the promise of God. This passage in Malachi appears to indicate both. For the first messenger is John the Baptist, who heralded the kingdom of God and focused our attention on Jesus of Nazareth, the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” But then the “day of his coming” and the question of who can endure it sounds like the great day of Messiah’s return.

Yet, the first coming, when God became human and dwelt among us, was just as much a judgment as the second one will be. His light judged the darkness of the world. His love judged the fear that grips the world. His wholeness judged the brokenness of the world. His goodness judged the wickedness of the world. His cross judged sin and death and the devil, and his resurrection was the beginning of the new creation, the renewal of all things. The second coming, then, is the outworking of the first and will bring completion to it.

In between, there is the refiner’s fire, the ongoing process by which God is purifying the world and cleansing it. This refinement is not only the burning away of what does not belong but also about what is being instilled, a restoration of what is lacking in us. God does this by his own Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in us and manifest the fruit of divine love and the life of Messiah in us. In the Advent lectionary, Malachi 3:1-14 is paired with Philippians 1:3-11, where Paul speaks of the continuing refinement God is doing in us, that we may be prepared for the day of Messiah’s return.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus ... And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Messenger and the Messiah

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:1)
The book of Malachi presents us with two figures — two messengers. The first is the one God calls “my messenger,” who comes to prepare the way before the Lord. This is John the Baptist, who came announcing “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He is the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:4-6, quoting Isaiah 40).

The second figure is the Lord himself, whose way the messenger is sent to prepare. This is Messiah, who comes “suddenly,” which is to say, unexpectedly. But he is also himself a messenger, “the messenger of the covenant.” Indeed, he is the covenant, as foretold in Isaiah: “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6-7).

Jesus is that second messenger, the Messiah. The covenant of which he is not only the messenger but also the substance is the new and better covenant prophesied in Jeremiah and is made in his own blood. At the Last Supper, we are told, Jesus “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:19-20).

The people of Israel looked for Messiah and desired his coming. But when he came suddenly, in a time and manner they were not expecting, many refused to recognize him, even though the way had been prepared by the preaching of John the Baptist and the “baptism of repentance.” He was not who they wanted him to be. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him,” says John the Evangelist. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12).

King Jesus the Messiah is God’s covenant for the people and God’s light for the nations. He came — and comes — to open the eyes of the blind, set captives free and release those who are bound in darkness. To those who embrace him in faith, he gives the authority to become the children of God, to become the likeness of God.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

King Jesus and the New Jerusalem

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.” (Jeremiah 33:14-16)
At the time this was spoken, Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians. The city was destroyed, the temple decimated, the people carried off into captivity. God allowed this to happen because of their wickedness, their faithlessness, their idolatry. But that would not be the end of the story. Not by any means.
Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it. (Jeremiah 33:6-9)
“Nevertheless” — a wonderful word with wonderful promise: Restoration. Rebuilding. Return from captivity. Healing. Abundant peace and security. Cleansed of sin and rebellion. Forgiveness. Prosperity. Awe. Praise and honor to the Lord before all nations.

“The days are coming,” says the LORD, and in those days, two realities would come to pass. The first concerns the “righteous Branch” that would “sprout from David’s line.” God had promised King David that there would be a son and heir who would reign on his throne forever. After the kingdom divided into Israel and Judah and their thrones eventually fell, it was understood that this promised king would be the Messiah, who would restore Israel and rule over the nations with his peace.

This promise is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus the Messiah, who is called the Son of David. He came in an unexpected way, born in a lowly cattle stall, to the Virgin Mary. He established his reign through the contradiction that was the cross and resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God the Father.

This leads us to the second promised reality: Judah restored and Jerusalem dwelling in safety. As with the promised Messiah, this too would be fulfilled in an unexpected way, for 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.
  • But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:26)
  • But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem. (Hebrews 12:22)
  • And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. (Revelation 21:2)
This new Jerusalem is the Church, which is identified as Messiah’s body and bride. However, it is important 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 coming of King Jesus into the world fulfills the promise God made through the prophet Jeremiah. He is the Lord Our Righteous Savior, who comes to bring his peace and set things right in the world.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.