Archive for November, 2015

Read: Matthew 2; Psalm 2; Revelation 12; Genesis 12

I thought a little more about that genealogy from Matthew chapter 1: "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." So, in some way, Jesus is related to David and Abraham. OK. And the Lord made promises to Abraham ("I will bless all nations through you") and to David ("Your offspring shall forever sit on the throne of Israel"). Now Matthew tells us these promises are somehow fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. So I'm thinking…hear me out…maybe the promise to Abraham originally was that God would bless the world through a king, a ruler. Maybe all along the plan was that God would be king of not only Israel, but of the nations.

Later Jesus says that 'all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.' Why would he say such a thing? What could such a thing even mean? Well, I think it's fairly clear what he means: I am the King. Now, keep that in mind and let's see Matthew 2.

What is amazing about chapter 2 of Matthew is the mention of Herod: "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'" Well, this is all very, very tantalizing isn't it? But it doesn't stop there because Matthew goes on to give us a fairly good description of just who this Herod was.

Ten different times Herod is mentioned in this chapter and we are not given a glowing report. He was 'troubled' by this report that another king had been born and that people wanted to worship him. He summoned the wise men secretly and questioned them–intrigue (see Daniel 11). He was so dangerous that the wise men had to be supernaturally warned (12)! We are told that he wanted to 'search for the child, to destroy him' (13). He becomes furious that he was duped (16) and ordered that all babies 2 years old and under be slaughtered. And, finally, we learn that he died (15, 19) and that his offspring, Archelaus, evidently worse than his father, was ruling.

Here's my point. From his very birth, Jesus was in conflict with the kings of the earth. Why? "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?" Right there is your answer. There was conflict because Herod saw that he had a rival for the hearts and affections of the people of Israel. Herod, like Belshazzar in Daniel 5, saw the writing on the wall. The question the chapter is opening up for us is this: Who is the rightful king of Israel? Who is rightfully the heir of David, the son of Abraham (1:1)?

All we learn about Herod in Matthew 2 is that he was a fearful man, paranoid, secretive, prone to anger, violence, murder, that he died, and left offspring to rule who was, evidently, worse than Herod himself. That's what Matthew tells us about him. Herod was so fearful and unworthy of his position that he murdered innocent children. He did not rule in love, but by fear.

Then Matthew goes on to give us 26 more chapters concerning Jesus–the one we were told in chapter 1 is the rightful heir to the throne of Israel. I don't think this means Jesus is necessarily opposed to earthly kings or rulers. And I don't think those rulers who rule with justice and righteousness need to worry much either. But there is a conflict because Herod rules this way: the sword, fear, aggression, violence. Jesus rules another way: by dying. Jesus is the one who would later say to his disciples, "Put your sword back in its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). Jesus would surrender to violence at the appropriate time, but not until then (see Revelation 12). Jesus would demonstrate his rightful kingship by surrendering to the violence of Pilate, Herod, and others and eventually overcoming it in his Resurrection.

Jesus stands in marked contrast to the kings of this earth because on the mountain in Matthew 28 he said, 'All authority has been given to me.' All. "The point is that now, with Jesus's death and resurrection, the rule of the king of the Jews has been established over the nations, as in Isaiah 11 and Psalms 2, 72, and 89. His followers are to go and put that rule into effect" (NT Wright, How God Became King, 115). Yep.

So what? Well, here's the thing: Jesus is either king of the entire world or someone else is, but if Jesus is king then no one else can be. Herod tried to cling to that title, but he didn't understand that his rule was derivative. That is, like Pilate, he had no authority except that which was granted him by God (John 18-19). The kings of this world do not recognize this either in our day. They just don't. They think the world is their plaything and that they can do as they like, when they like, with whomever they like. Humans are stupid like that. Jesus' point is very simply this: the kings of the world did their worst to him, they tried from a very early age to kill him and end his rule before it began, but Jesus undid them. He exposed them for what they are. He triumphed over them at the cross and the Resurrection.

We have one king. It is not a president. It is not a prime minister. It is not a high priest or a pope. It is Jesus. He rules because he lives. Kings will come in conflict with him and they will lose because at the end of the day all authority belongs to Jesus. And no one else.

So what? The question is: Who is the rightful king of Israel, and consequently, the World? And: To whom have you given your allegiance: Jesus or or someone else?

There's only one king.

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Read: Matthew 1; Romans 1:1-7; Hebrews 1; Isaiah 9:10-25

Advent is upon us and I am glad. It is an important time of the year for Christians to reflect upon the First Coming of Jesus and his subsequent ministry and, perhaps, to begin preparing ourselves for his Second Coming. You see, if the First Coming is any indication of what things will be like at his Second Coming, then I think perhaps we, Christians have a lot of preparations to make before his arrival.

He will come to us and we have to ask if we will be ready. I wonder if those Israelites who were living during his First Coming had any idea what was about to land on their doorstep? Think about it: it had been 400 years (give or take) since a prophet had been heard in the Beautiful Land. Then all of a sudden, John the Baptizer shows up and starts shaking the earth with his preaching about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. What would you have done then? What will you do now if someone starts preaching just the same? Will there be anyone preparing the way of the Lord now?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Matthew 1 is where we begin. We begin with the very beginning, but perhaps Matthew began his Gospel with the end in mind. That is, maybe he wrote chapter 1 while thinking long and hard about chapter 28. Again, I'm ahead of myself. Let's stick with chapter 1 and the genealogy of Jesus. At this point, I'll make four quick observations about the genealogy of Jesus as written by Matthew and then offer an 'application' (since that's what we do.)

First, it's the last genealogy in our Bible. That's strange. Sort of. But there it is. There are genealogies all over the place in the Older Testament, but in the New Testament, we see those Old Testament genealogies (in Matthew and Luke) summed up in Jesus. At the name of Jesus, the genealogy of Israel stops (so to speak) and a new family line begins (see Mark 3:31-35). What we see is a family line from Abraham to David to Jesus. That's important. How can we be a part of Jesus' family? Who are the children of Jesus?

Second, the Lord used an eclectic group of people to bring about the fulfillment of the promises he made to Abraham, David, and others. If you are familiar with the Older Testament, you will see what I mean when you read through and see names like Judah, David, Uriah, Rahab, and others. Bad behavior and poor decisions were not limited to the women included in this genealogy. There are some terribly sketchy men too. Nevertheless, God used all of them to bring about his history, to bring about his plans. And not a single one of these sketchy people thwarted God's plans. So despite the worst intentions of this current world, I doubt seriously anyone alive or dead now can either.

Third, why does Matthew begin his Gospel with a genealogy? Isn't there a better way to begin telling a story about someone so important? Well, perhaps. I guess. But here's the point: not only is Matthew saying that the the family of Israel finds its terminus in Jesus and that beginning with Jesus a new history is taking shape, but he is also saying that the history of Israel led up to and culminated in the birth of Jesus–Immanuel (see Isaiah 9). In other words: Jesus is the whole point of Israel's history (see Luke 24:13-35, 44-49;  John 5:39-47). History terminates and begins in Jesus. Why begin this way? Well, I think it's because it points to the purpose of Matthew's telling of the Gospel story and what you and I should understand as his intentions (I explore this in the next paragraph).

Fourth, two prominent names are found in the genealogy: Abraham and David. Abraham is mentioned three times; David five. On the one hand, Matthew is reminding us of the promise that the Lord made to Abraham especially in Genesis 12–that through Abraham the Lord would bless all nations. Matthew is saying that now, in Jesus, God is bringing that promise to bear upon the world. And isn't this what Jesus says in Matthew 28: Go, make disciples of all nations.  The reference is undeniable. Then there's David, mentioned five times in the genealogy and what's more is that the genealogy is laid out in such a way (notice that in verse 17 we are told 14, 14, 14) that we are to think about David, the great King of Israel. (David's name, using a form of Hebrew numerology called 'gematria', is equivalent to the number 14, D=4, V=6, D=4; DVD=14; they had no vowels). The point is simply this: this is the genealogy of the coming King, the promise made to David that his heir would always sit on the throne of Israel. That's the point. Not only is Jesus the fulfillment of promises to Abraham, but also to David. Verse 1, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. Interestingly enough, this is very much the way Paul the apostle begins the letter to the Romans.

So what? Why is all of this important, if it is important? Why should we care? We should care because the last name in the genealogy is Jesus, called Messiah, called Immanuel. Three things. It matters because Matthew is telling his readers: you need to pay attention to this story of Jesus because in him is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham; in him is the fulfillment of the promise to David; and in him is the fulfillment of the promise to the Prophets. He is saying: this story is not about you, or Israel, or anyone else. It's a story about Jesus and everything I'm about to tell you points to Him as the fulfillment of the ages.

Like I said, Matthew begins with the end in mind. Immanuel means 'God with us.' The story ends in Matthew 28 with Jesus promising never to 'leave us or forsake us.' It is comforting to know that whatever we face here and now, we are not alone. When we go forth and invite people into the family of Jesus, when we help continue his family line of mothers, and brothers, and sisters, he is with us. Always.

Finally, if this is what his First Coming was about, how much more is this what his Second Coming will be about also? If the first coming was about announcing a Messiah, a King, who will save his people from their sins, then how much more will his second coming be his very enthronement and final rescue of those people he saved?

So if this is a story of Jesus that we should pay attention to, then what are things Jesus did in his story that we should pay attention to? What kind of a Messiah was he? What kind of a king was he? And if we are members of his family, what sort of offspring are we supposed to be in light of all this?

In his book Simply Jesus, professor Tom Wright lays out for his readers his case that the Bible is, ultimately, a book about Jesus.

“So if, as the Jewish people believed, they were the key element in God’s global rescue operation, it was doubly frustrating, doubly puzzling, and doubly challenging that the Jews’ own national life had itself been in such a mess for so long. By the time Jesus went about Galilee telling people that God was now in charge, it was close to six hundred years since Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians, the greatest superpower of the time. And though many of the Jews had come back from exile in Babylon and had even rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, they knew things weren’t right yet. One pagan nation after another took charge, ruling the Middle East in its own way.”

In particular, the Jewish people believe that the Temple was where their God was supposed to live. The Temple was the place on earth where ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ actually met. They saw ‘heaven’ as God’s space and ‘earth’ as our space, the created order as we know it, and they believed that the Temple was the one spot on earth where the two overlapped. But the Temple seemed empty. God hadn’t come back.

So where did the hope come from? How on earth do you sustain hope over more than half a millennium, while you’re watching one regime after another come and go, some promising better things, but all letting you down in the end? How can you go on believing, from generation to generation, that one day God will come and take charge?

Answer: you tell the story, you sing the songs, and you keep celebrating God’s victory, even though it keeps on not happening….This is the story of the Exodus…This is the story Jesus’s hearers would have remembered when they heard him talking about God taking charge at last….When he was talking about God taking charge, he was talking about a new Exodus. (NT Wright, Simply Jesus, chapter 6)

He makes similar, and yet somewhat concluding comments, in another book How God Became King:

That is to say, when Jesus died on the cross he was winning the victory over ‘the rulers and authorities’ who have carved up this world in their own violent and destructive way. The establishment of God’s kingdom means the dethroning of the world’s kingdoms, not in order to replace them with another one of basically the same sort (one that makes its way through superior force of arms), but in order to replace it with one whose power is the power of the servant and whose strength is in the strength of love.

…Jesus, after all, has come to Jerusalem and found the Temple no longer the place where heaven and earth do business, but the place where mammon and violence are reigning unchecked, colluding with Caesar’s rule. Jesus himself, the evangelists are saying, is now the place where heaven and earth come together, and the events in which this happens supremely is the crucifixion itself. The cross is to be the victory of the ‘son of man,’ the Messiah, over the monsters; the victory of God’s kingdom over the world’s kingdoms; the victory of God himself over all the powers, human and suprahuman, that have all usurped God’s rule over the world. Theocracy, genuine Israel-style theocracy, will occur only when the other ‘lords’ have been overthrown.—205-206

So we live in a world much like the world of the Israelites: Fractured, chaotic, rising powers and falling powers, messiah’s everywhere, promises for luxury, means to ends, terrorists, power, influence, intrigue, Hollywood, and celebrity. There’s also the constant bombardment of sin and the war against the flesh.

The church often does its best to imitate and mirror the world and so we do silly things like publicly declare our political affinities on Facebook and Twitter. And we rant (self?) righteously about the influx of Syrian refugees because clearly Jesus told us to be more careful about our own safety than about who we love. And we are, of course, concerned about salvation—our own, to be sure.

This is the world. And this is the church. We keep trying to wrangle power unto ourselves or sell ourselves to the ones we think offer us the best chance of being safe or whom we think we will share their power with us so we can continue to be the church and American. We do this because for some strange reason we have allowed ourselves to think that being an American is more important than being a Jesus follower. We think loving the right people is more important than loving all people. We think as long as I am blessed I can be thankful. We, even the church, keep pointing to the American Dream and American Government as the solution to the world’s woes.

The Bible steadfastly points to Jesus, the Messiah, the Lord, the King as the solution. It’s not without significance that while the world points to everything but Jesus as the fix to what ails us, Jesus continually said: I. Am. The way.

And for the apostles, writes Scot McKnight, “it was all about King Jesus.”

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So, Thanksgiving. This is what I was asked to speak about today because we are approaching that time of the year when we make a point to be thankful. It is that time when we, Americans, gather together with family and friends and enjoy the fruit of our labor and the company of our people.

It’s also the time when we will forget about what really makes us human because we will spend some time the day after Thanksgiving being thankful for nothing except that which is green and or plastic.

But I digress. I want this sermon to be uplifting to you and I’d like to answer a specific question: for what can we, the church, be thankful? Or maybe I should phrase it this way: What can I say to you this morning that will sustain your hope and enable you to give thanksgiving in the midst of all that we see in our world—all the violence, hate, death perpetuated as it is by the leaders of this world.

If you pay any attention to things at all then you know full well that the world is not quite happy right now. There’s a lot of grumbling and complaining and fighting and war and terror and politics and disease and confusion and tumult and chaos. Everybody is fighting something or someone somewhere. It’s all very disheartening.

Everyone is seeking power.

I see nation rising up against nation. I see brothers rising up against sisters. I see children rebelling against their parents. I see Republican Americans rising up against Democrat Americans. I see one Christian denomination rising up against another Christian denomination. It’s all very disheartening.

It’s all very stupid. Especially when the church imitates it.

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I've been thinking a lot for the past several days or so and the Lord has really convicted me of something. This morning he cornered me and left me no other option but to surrender.
 
It's far more complicated than simply changing my mind and agreeing with another person's idea. Fact is, some people simply cannot contain their ignorance when it comes to giving others space to grow and learn. I saw some people saying that if you reject refugees, you are rejecting Jesus. Yeah. That's the sort of statement that helps change a person's mind. (/sarcasm). Nor are people who are concerned about refugees racists. It's not quite that simple. I’ve seen people misusing the Bible to make their point as if the United States is somehow or other equivalent with the Church of Jesus and, therefore, obligated to act in a way that Jesus expects Christians to act.
 
It’s not as simple as simply condemning someone or calling into question their faith–ironically, that’s the easy way to disagree with someone: just dismiss them as lunatics, racists, or heretics. This is not what I have learned about thoughtful engagement with people. I’m still learning. I don’t always succeed. Yet here we are.
 
It might just be that some folks are not ready to make such decisions yet. I confess that is exactly where I have been since the attack on Paris and the rise in awareness that the the country where I live was to receive Syrian refugees. You can call it fear. You can call it politically motivated. You can call it whatever you like. I am not ashamed of the fact that it took me several more days to come to my conclusions than it did other people. I’ve learned the dangers of making quick decisions about such things–be them complicated or simple.
 
I am ashamed, however, of some of the things that other Christians have said about their brothers and sisters in Messiah who have arrived at different conclusions or are still thinking through all the things that go along with welcoming Syrian refugees into our states, our cities, and our homes. There’s a lot of judgment being hurled around by some church folks on social media towards other church folks. I’m sure that looks worse than those who have legitimate concerns about the welcome of refugees. It’s a shame, really, that thoughtful dialogue goes by the wayside when we are politically motivated.
 
The truth is more complicated. A person is not rejecting Jesus just because they have legitimate concerns about the safety of their family or others. Nor are they lesser Christians because they have political disagreements with the current presidential administration. Some people will not, admittedly, change their minds. You know what? That's cool. It doesn't mean they are a terrible person. And it doesn’t mean people who disagree with them are somehow smarter, better, more politically astute, or more Jesusy. It means that some folks have concerns and in our current world's climate, I think to reject legitimate concerns of anyone is the ultimate hubris.
 
Rather, I think love is patient. Love gives people room to grow and change and be molded into the attitude of Jesus who, although being in very nature God, did not take hold of it and use it for his own purposes. But He served people and gave his life for them. And love is kind. It means nurturing those who are a little slower with whom we disagree. It means what whatever we do we do in love. Whatever we say or do, we say or do in love. Even when we disagree. Even when you are right and I am in error.
Can I have space to grow and learn and think and research? Can the Holy Spirit of Jesus have time to work on me too?
 
I have grown weary of those people in the church who think that because they are ‘right’ they have the ‘right’ to ridicule and judge those with whom they disagree. This is not the attitude of Jesus. This is not love for your brother. If I disagree with you politically, will you love me less?
“If I smelled like Vapo Rub; if I talked like Elmer Fudd; if you found reptiles in my tub; Would you love? Would you love me? Would you love me anyway? (Elliott Parks)
Anyhow, I've been thinking a lot about refugees. I thought about them this morning when I was at a school doing some observations. I saw a little child who, for all intents and purposes, was a wreck. He looked malnourished. He looked like he had just woke up. He looked bad and he was easily the kind of kid the some people will reject because of his appearance, his slowness, and for other reasons. But when I saw him I was overcome with conviction because the reason I teach is for him. I always tell people that I want the kids no one else wants. Give the most difficult children and I will teach them. I saw the face of Jesus in this child. I repented on the spot because I saw the face of an innocent child who looks neglected and impoverished. I saw Jesus.
 
Statue of Liberty: Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.
 
Jesus said it first: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
 
Here’s what I got to thinking. Maybe the rest of the world lives in fear and rejects refugees because they practice Islam or because they had a cousin who wore a bomb vest. Maybe the rest of the world says, “you cannot come here, because we hate you.” Maybe the rest of the world, right now, hates those of Middle Eastern descent. Maybe they have no where else to go. Maybe they feel unloved. Maybe Jesus wants me to think differently. Maybe, even though this is clearly a political move on the part of Washington, just maybe God has other plans. Maybe they are impoverished and unkempt.
Maybe in coming here and finding mercy, compassion, and love…maybe they will also find Jesus.
 
Honestly? I wouldn’t want to live in the Middle East–torn from the chaos of war as it is. Maybe coming here refugees can find peace, and hope, and mercy, and love such as they are not able to find in their homeland. Maybe the Lord will use us and our open doors as instruments of his peace. Maybe we should hope he does.
 
And maybe now is the time to build relationships with people who will likely someday return to their homeland. And maybe do so with Jesus in their heart and the Gospel on their lips.
 
Is there risk in taking in refugees from the Middle East? I suspect there very well may be. Are there angry people among the infirm, women, children, and elderly? Probably. That is a risk we take and whether we agree politically with the president or not; whether we agree with the loudmouths on the other side of the political aisle or not; we agree with Jesus. And Jesus wanted people. Jesus never said that love was easy. Jesus said that love is risky. For his love for us, it cost his life. And in order for us to love, I think we must be prepared to do the same. Really it’s not a matter of political allegiance; it’s not a matter of religion; it’s not a matter of my Christian faith (in the sense of whether I have it or not); it’s not a matter of anything but love.
 
Jesus told Christians to loved and I suspect that he means if the world goes north, we should go south. It means that our attitude should be that of Jesus, not the world. It means we should be different. And noticeably different.
 
I’ll close on this. On the way to work this morning I was listening to Rich Mullins. It’s an old CD called ‘Songs’ and is a compilation of some of his better or, at least, his more well known songs. I had a longer ride to work this morning so there was more time to listen to music. I made it through the first several songs and then the CD, because it is old and scratched up, froze up in my CD player. I had to skip a couple of songs and I ended up on a song called ‘Let Mercy Lead’. I said at the beginning that the Lord boxed me into a corner. When this song came on my car stereo, the last song before I had to work, he sealed the deal and slay me.
Let mercy lead
Let love be the strength in your legs
And in every footprint that you leave
There'll be a drop of grace
If we can reach Beyond the wisdom of this age
Into the foolishness of God
That foolishness will save
Those who believe
Although their foolish hearts may break
They will find peace
And I'll meet you in that place
Where mercy leads
Love doesn’t make sense. It’s somewhat irrational at times, I suppose. It does things, or forces us to do things, that often make no sense to others who do not know about Jesus. Love takes risks. Love is the very thing Jesus told us to do and I don’t suppose that Jesus meant for us to be picky about who we love. Just. Love. Always. All.
 
Not everyone will buy what I’m selling. I’m cool with that. Take your time. You may never arrive here. I’m cool with that. There are probably areas of life where you are leaps and bounds ahead of me with your love of others. I’m happy to grow and learn from you. Imagine if all of our thoughts and actions and words were lead by mercy. Imagine if people are coming here because the Lord Jesus wants to send them back to the Middle East with himself in their hearts?
 
Let mercy lead. Jesus, Lord, open my heart to your forgiveness. And grant that I, sinner as I am, will demonstrate your love and mercy to all who will receive it.

BabylonThis book, Agents of Babylon, contains thirteen different chapters, an epilogue, an appendix, and a couple of other book sections. Each chapter is divided into roughly two sections. In the first section, Jeremiah offers his readers a 'fictional narrative about the subject of the chapter' (x) and in the second section he gives his readers an 'exposition of the Scripture behind the [fictional narrative].' It's a unique approach to a book written about the Bible and one that I did not fully appreciate. I read only the first three chapters of the 'fictional narrative' before skipping each subsequent one and going straight for the 'scripture behind' it. In short, I didn't appreciate the fictional narratives. I think they added too much to the narrative of Daniel, speculated entirely too much, and, to a certain degree, detracted from the narrative of the Book of Daniel.

The Book of Daniel does not need a fictional narrative to help explain its point, to make its point, or to point to its point. Then again, perhaps as justification for writing another book on Daniel this fictional narrative was necessary. I think it could have been eliminated and the book cut from nearly 400 pages, down to about 250 and the substance could have been deeper and better. As it is, however, the fictional narrative is, frankly, out of place. I didn't appreciate it at any level.

With that said, I'm a little uncertain my take on this book. On the one hand, Jeremiah starts out exactly where I would have started: "Daniel 1:2 introduces us to the theme of the entire book: the sovereignty of God" (13). I think this is dead on and correct and throughout the book he touches upon this very point and, at times, does so well for example, "May we live lives of astonishment over how God has broken into human history for our benefit–to give us a future and a hope that is absolutely certain" (219). On the other hand, the book delves into the nether regions of millenial, Antichrist, and physical Israel theology that does nothing to inspire hope or courage and everything to drain me of vitality and strength. It's my opinion that the theological perspective under-girding the majority of this book is misguided and as much fictional as the Fictional Narratives. An example should suffice to make my point. 

In chapter 10, The Herald, Jeremiah quotes from Clarence Larkin (1850-1924). Here's the quote:

Daniel's seventieth week (Daniel 9:24-27), Jesus' Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24), and John's seals, trumpets, and vials (Revelation 6:1-18:24) cover the same period, and are Jewish and have no reference to the Christian Church. (257)

I simply cannot comprehend how a respected preacher can quote something so unbelievably wrong with a straight face. But this is the kind of result one gets when a theological system is the lens through which one reads the Bible. There is so much emphasis on the trees in this book that, despite the good beginnings, the forest missed almost entirely. How one can account for saying that three lengthy, significant portions of the Holy Writ have no bearing on the church is stunning. I suppose we may as well excise those portions from our Bibles and throw them away. But here's the point: in order for Millenial theology to work, that is exactly what one must do to Scripture. I don't think I'm the only one who sees the significant problem this creates.

Here's another problem I had with the book. I took a fairly long look at the the Notes section of the book. Considering the type of book this is, and who it is intended for, the notes are fairly detailed and I appreciate that very much. But I also take a look at who is being noted, what works are being quoted, and when the works quoted were written. Aside from Jermiah's own works and a couple of other non-specific titles, the works the author cites as authorities on the Book of Daniel range from Calvin's 1853 commentary to Stortz's 2004 Preaching the Word contribution. Along the way there are citations from 1879 (Seiss), Larkin (1929), Keil (1877), Scofield (1945), Anderson (1909), and others. This is 2015. Are we as readers really supposed to take seriously a book whose author has, apparently, not read anything on Daniel since a 2004 publication whose overall Amazon rank is over 800,000? These other men were great. Sure. Their books are classic and probably somewhat important. Yet there are countless works available from reputable scholars in the last ten years that Jeremiah has, apparently, not even bothered to investigate. This was disappointing. (As also was the absence of a bibliography which a work of this sort should have.)

I appreciated that Jeremiah was not afraid to keep this book in its historical context. There is a great deal of emphasis placed on this book as prophecy and I think that is important given how many writers and scholars write off Daniel as pseudo-prophecy (ex eventu). I appreciated that he didn't skimp when it came to his exegesis of the individual chapters of Daniel but that he took the time to explain concepts and other difficult to understand aspects of the book. I didn't always agree with his conclusions, but I appreciated that he took the time to do the work nonetheless.

There are some helpful charts, graphs, and illustrations that add flavor to the book and help the reader visualize a concept from Daniel. I also appreciated that at the end of each chapter Jeremiah added a brief 'Daniel for Today' section to help the reader make some relevant applications. Again, I'm not buying all his applications, but at minimum they get the reader thinking about the content of Daniel. I would appreciate more depth to these applications, but I can read other books to obtain the depth I desire.

Here's the bottom line, and I'm gonna stop because I can go on all day knocking the theology behind this book and nit-picking every little thing I dislike about it, there's nothing in this book that is entirely 'wrong.' For all I know, Jeremiah and the pre/post-millenialists of the church could be correct. I'm not staking my faith to it, but the truth is that they are, to one degree or another, looking for Jesus. And this gives me some courage. For my money, the system is entirely too clean, it all fits together too neatly, and the dates are all too convenient. I don't think Daniel is about giving us a specific historical timeline about this or that. I think Daniel is about pointing us to Jesus whose Kingdom will come upon us when we are not expecting it, will not find its origins from earth, and which will destroy all the other kingdoms that seek to kill, steal, and destroy. At the end of the day, I'm not looking for a timeline. I'm looking for hope. I'm not looking for a particular evil person (e.g. the so-called 'antichrist') or event; I'm looking for the return of Jesus and the Kingdom that takes over the world, the Kingdom not built by human hands, the Kingdom that belongs to the saints of the Most High.

Jeremiah writes:

While we don't know when this world as we know it will come to an end, we know from the prophecies of Daniel and others what will happen: Christ, the invincible Agent, will appear; He will cleanse the world of its evil; and He will set up His perfect Kingdom, which will completely reverse the ravages inflicted on earth by the Fall. (340)

I'm not going to support his methods of dating or the theological overlay that necessarily accompanies this statement, but I will support generally the point he is making: Daniel teaches us about a Kingdom that is coming to earth, whose origins are not here, and whose King is not like the kings of this earth. This I support. And here I agree with the author.

PS-One final aspect of the book that I thoroughly enjoyed and found appropriate was the appendix titled The Agent of Agents. Many books take the approach that the Bible is about 'I' and 'Me'. Agents of Babylon does this a lot too, but I was super impressed with this appendix precisely because the first word of every sentence is 'He', as in YHWH. This was an exquisite addition to the book and one that I wholly embraced. See pages 341-350 for the appendix in question.

3/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Agents of Babylon: Amazon ($13.74); Tyndale ($24.99); Christian Book Distributors ($15.49)
  • Author: David Jeremiah
  • On the Web:
  • On Twitter: David Jeremiah
  • Academic Webpage:
  • Editor:
  • Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
  • Pages: 361
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience: christians, prophecy buffs, preachers, general, millenialists
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided an advance reader's copy courtesy of  Tyndale Publishing's Tyndale Blog Network blog program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.

 

Lazarus-Awakening-set325About the time I finished reading Lazarus Awakening, I also finished The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scott McKnight. In his book, McKnight argues that part of the problem with the Gospel today is that we, Christians, do not really know what to do with the story because we do not really understand what the story is about in the first place. He argues that the Gospel is "all about the Story of Israel coming to its resolution in the Story of Jesus and our letting that story become our story" (Kindle, 153). He goes on to write: "There is one and only one way to become People of the Story of Jesus: we need to soak ourselves in the Story of Jesus by reading, pondering, digesting, and mulling over in our heads and hearts the Four Gospels. Genuine soaking in this story always leads to the Story of Israel because it is only in that story that the Story of Jesus makes sense" (Kindle, 153, his emphasis).

He is, of course, correct. We become who we are meant to become when we know Jesus–not when we fluff our way towards warm, fuzzy feelings.

When I was a mere twenty-two years of age, I was ordained into Christian ministry. I accepted the charge given me by the elders of my home church preach the Gospel wherever I went and to be welcomed by the church. I chose for my preaching text that evening the passage from John 11 upon which this book is constructed. I recall that sermon very well because I chose John 11 as an allegory for my own personal resurrection from several teenage defeats and struggles and conflicts. I preached it nearly exactly the way Joanna Weaver has constructed her book from being in a stuck place to coming out of the tomb to leaving our graveclothes behind. It was a tightly constructed sermon worthy of my twenty-two years of age. And it very well may be the worst sermon I ever preached precisely because I'm not sure I really understood preaching at that time let alone Jesus.

To this day, I am embarrassed by that sermon.

I think every person is going to have to decide for themselves if they think Weaver handled the text of John's Gospel in an appropriate manner. I have not read the main text, only the study guide, but if the study guide mirrors the main text, then there are likely serious exegetical and theological issues in the book. Here's how the Study Guide begins: "The story of Lazarus shouts hope to our anxious hearts: 'You are loved. You are accepted.'….So are you ready, my friend? It's time to learn what it means to truly live" (1, her emphasis). But you see all the emphasis in this opening salvo is focused on 'me.' (I was also left mouth agape after reading pages 20-21 where every passage of Scripture is redirected to talk about 'I'.

  • Do you ever feel stuck…
  • As though you have one foot in a new life…..
  • Do you struggle to believe that God could love you….
  • I know I have…
  • You are loved…
  • You are accepted…
  • We can cry out to our Savior…

And there is so much more…so many more first person personal pronouns…it's so overwhelming. I'm not denying that any of these things are true. They are. Yes, we are loved. Yes, we are accepted. Yes, we can cry out to God. Yes. Yes. Yes.

But John 11 is not the place to make those points. John 11 doesn't make those points. John 11 may as well be a fairy tale if these are the points we can gather or make after reading the story of Jesus' actions in that chapter–the chapter where his emotional roller coaster is painful to watch (he loves, he gets angry, he weeps, he resolves, he is troubled–all of this because someone died), the chapter where he gives an advance sign of Who he is and What he is about and Why he was there in the first place. The story of John 11 really isn't about us or, for that matter, Lazarus. It's about Jesus the one who came to complete Israel's story, the one who came not just to put a stopper in death, but to completely unravel and demolish it–as previewed by his demonstration at Lazarus' tomb.

From my perspective, Weaver did not handle the text appropriately; furthermore, I think it matters if authors do or do not. I have grown weary in my middle years on earth of what passes for Bible Study materials in our churches. I have grown weary of what is passed off by publishing houses as worthy of our money and time. I have grown weary of authors who take the Scripture and make it little more that a christianized version of Stephen Covey or Tony Robins. Seriously.

That's my take on the substance of the book: It's deplorable. If you need to feel good about yourself, fine, do so. But please read Scripture carefully, in context, and try hard not to make outrageous points about it from your specious exegetical methods.

As far as it goes, however, I'm sure there's nothing about the book that will cause anyone harm. It's a fairly fluffy study guide book featuring eight weeks' worth of study. There are places for prayer requests, homework, memory verses, 'Israel Moments' (coordinated with the DVD), and so much more. I'm sure it will all be helpful to someone. It just wasn't for me. I simply cannot envision a scenario where I would use this material to teach a small group or my Bible school class on Sundays.

The DVD packaging is nice. One box contains three DVDs. Each disc contains 2-3 lessons and 2-3 'Israel Moments.' I didn't care for the DVDs any more than I cared for the Study Guide. I had a lot of trouble making a connection with the host for some reason. This is simply a package that didn't work for me at any level–mostly for the reasons I stated above concerning Scripture.

I'll give this program 2 stars and I'm probably stretching to get there. I think we are right to study the Bible. I think there might be a place for such esteem building programs. I'm not sold entirely and as I get older and more widely read I find myself bored with all the feel good finding yourself in God's heart kind of teaching. I want Jesus. I want to hear his story. I want to hear what he did and how The story finds completion in Jesus. I want to know how the story of Lazarus advances God's promises to Israel and, by extension, to us. I want to know more about Jesus. I know enough about myself. What I really want to know is Jesus because I think if I know Him and know Him deeper, well, then I will, like John, decrease and Messiah will increase.

Seems to me that should be a lofty goal considering Jesus, who being God in very nature, didn't consider it but humbled himself, taking on flesh. I want to know Him. I don't need esteem. I need Jesus.

2/5 Stars 

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Lazarus Awakening Study Guide and DVD Combo Amazon ($27.96); Waterbrook Multnomah ($39.99)
  • Author: Joanna Weaver
  • On the Web: Lazarus Awakening
  • On Twitter:
  • Academic Webpage:
  • Editor:
  • Publisher: Waterbrook
  • Pages: 142
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience: small groups, women
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided an advance reader's copy courtesy of  Waterbrook's Blogging for Books blog program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.