Posts Tagged ‘hope’
I'm still thinking about chapter 8 to an extent–that Jesus we follow who mixes and mingles and heals people that we typically reject. Jesus didn't consider himself better than them–which is exactly how we tend to think of most people. We tend to stick with our own because it's comfortable for us. I'm not necessarily saying that is wrong, but I'm not necessarily saying that is correct either. What I am saying is that if we are followers of Jesus then we need to give serious consideration to how we imitate him in the relationships we create and nurture.
It's not easy. There are people in this world we are naturally offended by and people who are naturally repulsive to us. In some ways, too, we will be repulsive to some people. It's OK. I have learned, and to a large degree, I am still learning, that I don't think the Lord expects that we will 'like' every person we meet. I think this is one of the reasons why there are so many personalities available in this world. It means there is someone for everyone. Yes. There are people I will be naturally drawn to; there are people you will be naturally drawn to. And in this, all people can be reached with the good news.
Luckily for us, this Jesus is different. In chapter 9, Jesus continues to rub shoulders with people that others looked down upon–in particular the tax collector named Matthew. Here's something for you to think about for a minute or two….who makes you uncomfortable? Who is out of your comfort zone? Who gives you the creeps? Who are the outcasts that Jesus would hang around that the world might otherwise reject?
So, then, on to some other thoughts. Jesus talks a lot in this chapter, but it's not like he's giving us a big long discourse as he did in chapters 5-7. His thoughts are memorable one liners that challenge the status quo and conventional wisdom of the day. I think he offers those same challenges to us as well. In other words, these things Jesus says are spoken to us as directly as they were spoken to those who would be his followers then.
First, notice that Jesus says, 'Your sins are forgiven' to a man who is paralyzed. I would think the more pressing matter would be the man's paralysis, but Jesus first addresses his spiritual condition as if one were somehow related to the other. The astonishing thing is, however, that Jesus mentions forgiveness at all. Indeed, as they reply, who can forgive sins but God alone? This is Jesus at his realistic best. Think about it, what other major religion in this entire world begins, continues, or ends with the leader of that religion addressing sin? Seriously? The very fact that Jesus addresses sin in a person's life indicates something about the nature of his being here. I think it says more about his purpose than it does about his nature (although, let's not take away from his nature).
Second, notice that Jesus says, 'Go and learn what this mean, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' I can't tell you how much I love this statement because Jesus is claiming it for himself. Notice the 'I' in the sentence. Notice the 'I' in what follows: 'I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.' This means there is hope for us all. Jesus didn't come to earth and say, 'I'm interested mostly in all the folks who have it right.' No. He came and said, 'I came for all the people who are completely wrecked by life, by sin, by anything that wrecks life and humanity.' I love this because it means that I, too, am worthy to be called by Jesus precisely because I'm unworthy of Jesus.
Third, notice that Jesus says, 'But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.' Jesus, in other words, brought something new. He brought a new forgiveness–administered and received through himself. He brought new calling–because any wreck of life can be called to follow Jesus. He brought new reasons to fast and pray–centered around himself and his presence. Jesus brings new things to humans and gives us new reasons to do this things we do. I saw this thing the other day where someone was pointing out that all the traditions surrounding Christmas actually have their roots in pagan festivals and suchlike. The meme ended by saying something absurd like 'you don't have to believe in Jesus to celebrate and enjoy the season.' Well, that's ridiculous. What Jesus did was inspire his people to take all those pagan holidays and infuse them with new meaning and new hope.
Jesus makes all things new and that's what makes Jesus amazing.
He said some other things too. He healed a woman of a bleeding issue and raised a young girl to life. He said, 'your faith has made you well.' He then healed a couple of men from their blindness. Then he drove a demon from a many who couldn't talk. And at this point we hear other voices. The crowds marveled and said, 'Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel.' And we too are amazed at all that goes on in the chapter: the healing, the forgiveness, the claims, the miracles of many sorts.
Yet there are still other voices who are no so impressed with Jesus' words, but instead seem to be a bit sour: 'It is by the prince of demons he casts out demons.' Maybe we are being forced to decide how we will respond to the things we see Jesus do and the things we hear Jesus say. How anyone can see these things and hear these things and see nothing but the work of the satan is beyond me. How? Where does that sort of energy come from that can see a dead girl raised and consider it a matter of the work of the devil? Does the devil do this kind of work? Does he heal? Does he show compassion? Does he set the world straight and undo the things he himself brought about to the world?
Here's the kicker. The last thing Jesus says in this chapter, the last thing he does, the last thing he sees. He sees people just like those who would attribute his work to the satan and he has compassion on them because they are helpless and harassed like sheep without a shepherd. Again, this is the Jesus who says, 'Pray to the Lord of the harvest for workers.' Do you hear that? Even after these people basically say that Jesus is doing the work of the satan he still has compassion on them, he still wants them in his fold, he still wants them.
He still wants us.
He still wants us.
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.”
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.
[I wrote this a few years ago for a blog I have long since deleted. I don't recall what exactly was going on that particular day, but for some reason, at that point in my life, God's sovereignty and my free will were on my mind. Lately, I have been studying the book of Daniel with my Bible school class at church and when I 'accidentally' stumbled on this short post in an old file on my laptop, I thought maybe revisiting it would be a good idea. Here it is in its original form with only spelling corrected.–JLH]
Luke chapters 1 through 3 are instructive if one ever starts feeling like their life has run amuck or gotten out of control or that God has somehow loosed his grip on the events of this world. Looking around daily and seeing and hearing about wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes and suchlike, it is easy to think that God has, somehow or other, forgotten about us.
Or at least given us too much of our desired freedom.
So this morning I had to pray it all over again: God I’m sick of being free. It’s a daily struggle: the desire for freedom, the need for control. I grew up in a tradition that has emphasized freedom and free will. And, frankly, I don’t know that I have heard five sermons about God’s sovereignty, in my life, from preachers in my denomination. That’s a terrible way to grow up, that is, thinking that I have it all under control—that I have to make all the decisions, that I have to be so cunning and wise, that I have to figure out a way to get through this or that sticky situation.
It’s a terrible way to live thinking that, as I have done for the better part of 40 years, my life is dependent upon my freedom. The older I get, the less concerned I am with my own freedom and free will. The older I get, the more I want God to be as Sovereign as some believe. But I continue to kick against the goads of God’s sovereignty and probably because I want his sovereignty to be more than a theological proposition: I want it to be as real as I see it in Luke 1, 2, and 3. The older I get, the more suspicious I grow of my competence, of my uniquely human freedom.
I have other reasons, but one line in particular in Luke 1 caught my attention this morning: “For no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37) In Greek it says it is ‘impossible’ for God’s word to fail. So when I think back on all that God has said, all that is written in the Bible that he said, and all the promises he has made—and the fact that the book of Hebrews says it is impossible for God to lie—I think to myself: I should be trusting God’s word far more than I should be trusting my own ingenuity and intellectual prowess.
I know we all say we trust God’s word, but experience has taught me that we don’t trust it nearly as much as we’d like to believe we do. We still find ways to scheme and plan and devise and concoct ways to survive and get ahead. We all say we trust God because we believe that’s what good Christian folks do. Practically speaking, however, I’m willing to bet that there are far more atheists sitting in pews on Sunday mornings that we are willing to admit. (I have firsthand experience of those atheists and I have, at various times in life, been included in their number.)
So it is impossible for God’s word to fail.
What’s amazing about Luke 1, 2, and 3 is that all these things took place while the kings of the earth slept. In chapter 1:5, ‘the time of Herod king of Judea…’; in chapter 2:1, ‘In those days Caesar Augustus…’; in chapter 3:1, ‘In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanius, Annas and Caiaphas…’ All these things took place right under their noses. They ruled, often forcefully (see 3:19-20), violently, ignorantly and with little regard for anything but their taxes (see 2:1-3). And while they did, prophets spoke (see 2:25ff, 2:36ff, 3:4ff, 1:46ff, 1:67ff.), angels announced (1:11ff, 1:26ff), and the host of heaven sang (2;13-14).
While these rulers ruled God was moving quietly in the backwaters of the House of Bread and in the lives of small, unnoticeable people. While these rulers ruled God was bringing about the promises of his word (notice how many times in chapters 1-3 we are told about Abraham and David, for example). While these rulers slept at night, God was stirring in the hearts of women who couldn’t get pregnant and young girls who wouldn’t get pregnant. While these rulers ruled, God was undoing their rule, waking up the world, subverting the world’s economy, and announcing to all who would listen that it was time for the true king of this world to be born.
God was sovereignly moving, putting all the pieces into place, getting all the right people onto the earth—the fullness of time had come upon the world and the world didn’t even notice: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
It’s kind of amusing that all things were going along rather well until John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, cousin of Jesus, started making speeches about these rulers. When John started subverting their rule, their authority, their sovereignty—then things started getting out of control for them.
So we see God moving. We see God acting. We see God challenging the status quo of this world. The rulers of this world oppress and control. The rulers of this world believe they are the power. Luke 1, 2, and 3 teaches us otherwise. Those poor saps had no idea what even hit them. As I get older, I find myself submitting to God’s sovereignty more and more. I find myself relying on my own strength more and more. I find myself choosing to love him precisely because he is in control and less and less because I feel like I need to demonstrate my own self-sovereignty. You know what I mean, I hope. It’s that attitude that wakes up saying, “I am the master of my life. I am in control. I will worship God because I can.”
I’m done with that sort of life. I want to wake up each day to the God who kept the world from free falling into the sun and who kept Betelgeuse from exploding. I want to wake up to the God whose mercies are new every day. I want to wake up, even now, to the God who takes this world—yes this world, run into the ground by political agendas and want for power—and shakes it, bringing it into continual alignment with his purposes and his will. I’m reminded of a song by Rich Mullins:
From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever 'til you see
What time may never know
What time may never know
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world
And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope
To run wild with the hope
I cannot run wild with hope that I feel like I have created or mustered up because I have schemed my way to safety. I can run wild with a hope that God has in his wisdom crafted out of the circumstances of hurt and disappointment. I can run wild with the hope that the God who shakes this old world has created and given us in Jesus even while the kings of this earth rule. I can run wild with the hope created by God who subverts this world by sending a baby to grow and live in this world and change it from the inside.
Title: Surprised by Scripture
Author: NT Wright
Anyone who has read any of my book reviews knows that NT Wright typically gets rave reviews from me–both as a lover of literature and as a Christian who loves Wright's theological perspective. Fact is, I can scarcely ever find anything in his books with which I disagree.
With this book, that changed just a little because I found much of what he wrote to be provocative and challenging to some long held theological ideas I have held. Letting go of long-held ideas isn't easy; being challenged at an intellectual level is sometimes discouraging. If we are not careful, we can label those who challenge us as abrasive or mean. He doesn't hold back, challenging all those sacred-cows current Christians have championed as 'thou shalt not violate orthodoxy in these matters' kind of doctrines. Sad truth is that entire ministries have been built around some of these sacred-cows in recent years–trumpeting theological perspectives that are important, yes, but often exist to the exclusion of a more comprehensive narrative, or to the exclusion of the Person to whom they point. It's kind of like the way a lot of books are put together in today's Evangelical publishing houses: authors find a single verse that supports an idea and then scratch around other tangential passages to find more support and then, voila!, a book is born. And all the while these authors pay very little, if any, attention to the meta-narrative of Scripture.
Yet this is precisely what NT Wright refuses to do in his writing. Taking a sort of 'damn the torpedoes' approach to the sacred-cows and theological pillars of current incarnation of the church, he plows through each subject by constantly reminding of us what Scripture says, and not just what a verse says. What I mean to say is that the meta-narrative is always in his view when he writes. It matters not the subject matter: Wright always has 66 books in his vision when he is writing about even the smallest word, sentence, paragraph, or book of the Bible. And so it is with Surprised by Scripture. There's not a subject he touches that isn't somehow connected to the larger context of the Bible, of the story of God coming down to rescue broken and sinful humanity in Jesus and the project begun at Jesus' resurrection to rebuild this earth and it's people.
This is what I simultaneously love and hate about NT Wright's books. On the one hand, he always has the meta-narrative in mind so I know that he is not trying to hoodwink me or convince me of some specious theology that is born out of a reaction to some perceived threat or otherwise. Many authors/preachers are good at this and it is reflected in the lack of depth in their work. On the other hand, he always has the meta-narrative in mind so he is constantly challenging my presuppositions about Scripture and God and what God is doing, or has done, in Jesus. That is terrifically threatening and makes me constantly uncomfortable. It ought to be so with all authors who dare speak on matters of faith. It ought to be so with all preachers: comforting the afflicted; afflicting the comfortable.
Surprised by Scripture made me clench my teeth more than any other of Wright's books precisely at this point. Yet I think this is exactly what happens when you take the bulk of Wright's heavy theologies and filter them down to the every day church. And if we do, and if we are honest, we simply must admit that we have gotten a lot of it just plain wrong. We might also go along with admitting that many of the ministries that are build around some of these wrongs are also, sadly, beside the point. Taking the example of the creation stories, for example, we might say something like: It's important that God made the universe; it's not so much important how he did it. But we might go further and say: It's important that God made the universe, and it's tremendously important that all throughout the Scripture the authors affirm that God is going to remake & recreate the universe. We can go even further: It's important that God made the universe, sustains the universe; that the authors reaffirm this frequently; that the authors reaffirm frequently that God will renew, recreate, remake the universe; that God has already begun to do this in Jesus and will bring it to fruition at some point. One way of saying this ignores the big picture; one way affirms it.
Well, we cannot prove creation in any ex nihilo sense of creation. We can surmise. We can guess. We might ask: Is it a mountain upon which I am willing to die? But what we can do is point to the Resurrection of Jesus (chapter 3) as a point in history where God's breaking in and stirring up the pot of recreative materials that can actually be demonstrated. The point, of course, is that we Christians get all frustrated because we have tied ourselves to the posts of things that are not quite as important as some other things–or because we feel compelled to prove something about Jesus that doesn't need proving because we think that if we don't the whole world of faithism will die. But we are to be found in Jesus, loving Jesus, loving people. Seems to me that everything else is so much frosting.
If we are more willing to die for a doctrine than we are for a person then we have utterly missed the point. I suspect at times this is Wright's point.
The only real gripe I have with this book is Wright's points about politics–especially American politics. He seems very sensitive to the way American politicians do things–especially as it relates to events surrounding September 11, 2001 and the ongoing drama of how 'we' deal with terrorist organizations. He says he's no pacifist; I believe him. But he seems to forget that the 'war on terror' although led mainly by the USA was, in fact, a coalition of nations who decided enough was enough. I disagree with his subtle criticisms of then president Bush (although he never mentions him by name) and the manner of response to the actions of evil people. I think this is even more pertinent now as we see our current president simply doing nothing against terrorist threats, beheadings of women and children, and the systematic destruction of churches and christians in the Middle East.
The problem with Wright's critique of American political processes is that he gives us no viable alternatives. He thinks American democracy is worse than his British Socialism. He thinks that we should be voices in the wilderness hammering out our prophecies against politicians and governments, and perhaps we should, but he doesn't tell us with what or with whom we are to replace them. Should we go back to Medieval Feudalism? Should we revert to the monarchy we escaped from? Should we adopt Sharia? Perhaps we should let Anarchy rule and go back to the time of Judges when 'everyone did as he saw fit in his own eyes'? My point is, it's fine to criticize the way we do things in America if in fact you have a superior alternative. I simply do not see in any of Wright's books a superior alternative to the representative republic in which I happen to live. And if I may add one last point, for as much as I love Wright, for as much as I think he is dead on in keeping the narrative vision alive and in front, I think he is dead wrong when it comes to his critique of the United States. Dr Wright has indeed benefited greatly from the freedoms we enjoy here in America–not least of which is freedom to say what he wants, write what he wants, and criticize who he wants and then return back to the safety of Great Britain. I think it is disingenuous to say on page 112 that 'Western politicians knew perfectly well that al Qaeda was a danger…' and then criticize the reaction to September 11, 2001 as a 'knee-jerk, unthinking, immature lashing out.'
This is a case where the president at the time was damned for doing and would have been damned for not doing (when in fact nearly everyone in government at the time supported the idea of taking action). Frankly, I think Wright's critique beginning on page 112 and ending somewhere on page 114 is wrong (as I think much of his criticism of the American political system is wrong). Perhaps if the British government, who had suffered worse before the USA on September 11, had done something we wouldn't have had to act in the way we did or at all. Fact is, however, no one was doing anything about rampant terrorism until our president took action–and if that's true, then who is to say his actions were merely 'knee-jerk, unthinking, and immature'? It's easy to shift blame which is what Wright does here. His government did nothing about it so when ours did it was, somehow, wrong. And this is all beside the point that our president was acting as the president of a sovereign nation–humanists, atheists, christians, Jews, Gentiles, etc. All of us. He was not acting on behalf of a church or a synagogue or a mosque or professor's chair; he was acting on behalf of the people he swore to protect.
All that being said, I enjoyed the challenge the book afforded. I especially found the last chapter to be one of the best chapters I have read in a long time on the subject of hope. It also goes without saying that Wright is his typical exegetical genius. He brings fresh insights to the Scripture and challenges our presuppositions in a host of ways. I think he would be the first to tell you he doesn't have all the answers to all the problems we face, but in my opinion, he has laser vision on where we should start looking.
Sometimes I'm not even sure why we bother. I have a wish for peace. I have a wish that the people of this earth will get along and throw down their implements of war. I'm sick of war and death and famine and disease. I'm sick of violence. I'm sick of politics and intrigue. I'm sick of all the hate and discord. I'm sick of the church being a place of ego and not Jesus. I'm sick of the lines that divide us being so apparent.
I'm sick of debt. I'm sick of disease.
I'm sick of the hate that lifts our hands
And raises us from our knees.
Hate, rising, filling us with heat.
Today's readings are as follows: Psalms 128-130; Numbers 22:41-23:12; Romans 7:13-25; Matthew 21:33-46.
Psalm 130 Who hasn't been here? Sunken deep into the pits of some filth, swallowed whole by the depths. It's the proverbial bottom of the barrel. It's the bottom of the ocean. There's no place to look but up. We can't reach out and save ourselves. We can't walk out on our own. We can't see the face of God or another human. We can't taste hope. We can't smell salvation. Our muscles have atrophied. All we have left is a voice filled with the salt of our tears and with that voice, and no one visble near or around us, we simply cry out: "Out of the depths I cry to you Lord; Lord hear my voice." That looks like a present tense verb to me. It's not, "I cried out," or "I will cry out." It's: "I cry to you." It's present tense. Maybe what we do not realize is that in one way or another we are always in the depths and that we need to constantly, every day, cry out to the Lord. Maybe this is a way of saying something like, "Lord, wherever I am, compared to you, I am always in the depths. Lord, wherever you are I am always crying out to you, my voice is always filled with tears, and my eyes are always laden with the burdens of life. Lord as often as I cry out to you, hear my voice. Hear my words to you through the tear choked misery of these blackened depths. Lord, mercy!"
Then the Psalmist waits (5-6). Five times in these two verses the Psalmist waits. I wait. We wait. It's kind of sad that the Psalmist seems to have to wait alone. I wait. I wait. I wait. Isn't that like us though? Wouldn't life be better if we had someone to wait with while we wait? Wouldn't it be better if we had someone in the depths with us? Wouldn't it be better if we had someone to wait through the long dark nights with us? Nevertheless, who else can we wait upon but the Lord? It's almost like the Psalmist knows that no one else is going to show up so there's not much point in waiting on anyone else. Or perhaps it is because he knows that no one else can even come close to helping him in whatever depths he happens to be in at the time. I might pastorally ask you, as I have asked myself many times, "Who are you waiting on?" I think the answer to the question also reveals who we are hoping will show up.
And we are told in this Psalm several things about the One whom the Psalmist is waiting for: with the Lord there is forgiveness; his word is full of hope; with the Lord there is mercy; with the Lord there is unfailing love; with the Lord there is redemption. There is, in other words, a lot to wait for if we are waiting for the Lord. But I guess who we are waiting for tells us a lot about what we are waiting for, doesn't it? I mean, are we hopeful for hope? Are we hopeful for love? Are we hopeful for redemption from an empty, hopeless, loveless life? Are we hopeful to be rescued from our sins or are we content to live within their depths? At its heart this is a Psalm about needing rescue from ourselves, from the sin we are mired in deeply. And the Psalmist is correct: being mired in sin prevents worship (v 4). So the question is thus: do we desire the fellowship of the Lord? Do we desire his presence? Do we want his mercy? Do we want his love? Do we want his hope? Do we truly want to worship him again? Are we stuck in the pits of sin?
There's only one way out of it. Cry out. Take your throat dry with sin and wet with tears and lift up whatever last breath you have to him. Cry out for his mercy and forgiveness. Keep crying out. Keeping hoping and braying like a broken animal. Do whatever it takes to get your voice into the halls of heaven. Do whatever you have to do to be heard by the one who seeks and saves. He'll find you because that is far more important than you finding him. He is our hope.
So if you are waiting alone, if you are mired in the depths, if you are stuck in sin, if you are muted by your suffering and drinking only tears, where are you going to turn? Who is your hope? Who is your help? If you had one last breath to cry out one last song for mercy, to whom would you sing it?
For more information, see Luke 23:42-43
Title: Plain Faith
Author(s): Irene & Ora Jay Eash with Tricia Goyer
[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of Plain Faith by Zondervan in exchange for my faith and unbiased review. I hope that helps clear up any confusion.]
I'm going to go out on a limb and break my book review tradition by stating upfront how I feel about this book: I loved it!! This is a book that I will definitely read again and will share with others too. In fact, I cannot wait for my wife to read it and my landlord.
I live in a rural community in the southernish part of Ohio. We are surrounded on all sides by Amish folks and their families. In fact, two out of my three years teaching I have had a young Amish girl as a student. The community where we live is largely populated by Mennonites and there is a fairly large Mennonite congregation about 500 yards from our rented house. Living in this community has given us a new perspective on simplicity and quietude. After reading this book, maybe some of my opinions will change.
There is a verse in the Bible that reads thus: "As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields see for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11). I intend someday that this verse will be inscribed on my headstone because it is the very foundation upon which I constructed my ministry when I used to be a preacher. The problem I believe we have in our world today is that most preachers simply do not believe it. So concerned are they with growth, so concerned are they with ideas, so concerned are they with themselves they fail to have the simplest of faith in the unadulterated, unfiltered word of God. Does that sound too simple? Does it make no sense that if a preacher stood up on Sunday morning and simply read from Scripture that the congregation would go home filled and satisfied? Is that too naive?
"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near" (Revelation 1:3). It seems to me that the Scripture is powerful to effect such results that we can scarcely imagine. Yet we think we have to be so innovative and imaginative in order to 'get results'–I'm not sure yet what the word 'results' means just yet–but that's what I constantly see from leadership gurus: get results! results matter!
Well this is all so much of a rant to say that this book proves exactly the opposite is true. It tells the story of a man and a woman, Amish, who were thrust into a wilderness none of us would every wish upon anyone: the death of two of their children. This event in their lives began to reveal the emptiness of their Amish way of life, their Amish way of Christianity, and their Amish way of thinking about the God they claimed to worship. In other words, it thrust them into a wilderness not of their own making and the Enemy, taking every advantage to keep them enveloped in pain and sorrow, kept pressing the issue of their faith. But the enemy is shortsighted and did not foresee what his pressure and chaos would give birth to in their lives.
What may seem at first glance as arbitrary, as pointless, as utterly devoid of anything remotely resembling fairness ended up being the very thing that opened their hearts to a greater and more fuller expression of faith and trust in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. And to think that all of this, happened simply because at some point during their journey they opened up a Bible and started reading for themselves what it said: "As God's Word grew clearer, we found more freedom" (105). They go on:
Even as our eyes were opened, change came slowly over time. Our Amish traditions were deeply ingrained, including the belief that it was by our works that we are saved. But as we read, we saw a little spark of grace. The Word of God came alive, almost as if God was tapping us on the shoulder and saying, 'Take a look at this.' (104)
Isn't that just like God though? They tell the story about getting in trouble for reading the Bible on their own. "Bible reading was for preachers," they were told, and "to read too much was to make one 'wise in their own eyes'" (99). And prayer was "taking pride in your own words" (99). They conclude by writing, "Yet that taste of reading God's Word wasn't something we could shake" (99). Wow. I mean it is amazing that as the book went along they kept seeking and hoping and eventually, naturally, they became who they became. There didn't seem to be anything acting on them save for the Word of God and God's Holy Spirit.
For me this book is far less about their conversion from an Amish way of life–which brought them great struggles as a family–or the tragedy that in its own way served as a catalyst for their exodus and far more about how the Word of God continued to provoke them, prod them, and pursue them down every alley, every struggle, and every step. I was in awe at their development and growth in Scripture and how they continued pleading for their family to see the grace that God was leading them in and to.
This is a remarkable book. I love the alternating style of hearing from both Irene and Ora Jay. I enjoyed reading the letters they sent to family members and the circle group (for greiving families). I enjoyed very much learning about the Amish culture. The main point for me though was simply reading about how the Word of God did exactly what it was sent forth to do: it went back to the Lord with results.
The reader will enjoy this book too. It is a quick read, but not shallow. This is a book to be shared with people who are going through their own struggles with faith. This is a book to be shared with someone who is struggling with the legalism of a church. This is a book for someone who needs encouragement to simply and daily read the Bible. It is packed with raw emotion that is not easily shaken off. In other words, it's a difficult book to put down or to forget. Read this book and marvel at God's mysterious ways, and his amazing Grace.
Grace. "It's a name for a girl" (U2). Grace falls all over us and colors us clean. Grace marks as children of the living God. Grace prevails upon us when we have no clue who we are, what we are doing, or where we are going. Grace guides, teaches, sustains, and reveals to us the mystery of God. All we need to know is found in grace–charis.
And why not? While all the other gods of this world demand from us, Jesus gives to us. Grace enlivens the heart and enlightens the eyes. Grace creates space inside of the void of our selfish and survivalist existence and then fills the vacuum. Then slowly it begins to expand like a universe and what started as a mere pinpoint of light eventually has expanded into a galaxy full of light and life within us. We are consumed. We are lost and found again in grace. We are destroyed and made by Grace.
Grace is our peace. Grace is a thought we can never lose, yet we can never track it down. We can scarcely pin down and yet it never lets us go. Never let me go. Never let us go. Let your grace conquer the abyss of wickedness that swims and swirls in our hearts and minds. Dear Father replace our inclination to evil with a bent towards your mercy and love and forgiveness.
Grace like rain. Grace like a waterfall. Grace like an ocean. These are all ways various artists have spoken or sung about grace. It's always about drowning, being overwhelmed by a fluid density that we cannot stand up under: we are lost, we are drown, we are suffocated, we are consumed and of us there is nothing left when grace is finished. Can we overstate the case for grace? Can we condense grace to a single point? Can we contain grace or keep it from expanding in our lives until it replaces all of us we hate and even bleeds into the lives of others? I think not.
If grace once infects us, we can neither contain nor control its growth. It grows and spreads with a rapidity we cannot imagine or believe. We cannot stand before the flood, the rushing tidal wave of forgiveness, mercy and love. Once we see it, it's too late. Grace utterly wrecks and makes us less useful to the world of self-interests and more useful to the ministry of Jesus.
And we cannot stand before God any longer without fear and trembling once grace has taken over our lives. So with reckless abandon we hurl ourselves and are ourselves hurled into a broken world where the Father invites us to trust and believe and hope despite all that speaks against such things. We are asked to live as though his grace is all we will ever need–it is sufficient–and that it will somehow sustain us now and forever come hell or high water.
We need grace just to live in grace.
“For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God…” Paul to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 23
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…” John the Apostle, chapter the third, 16th verse.
Today, my attention was drawn to this post at a certain ‘that which is not to be named’ blog. It is a serious blog post. It is seriously depressing. And it is seriously stupid. (I’m sorry if you had the unfortunate ‘pleasure’ of reading it. I wish I didn’t have to link to it, but you may need context for my words.)
There I said it: It is stupid. I’m sorry. I feel badly about writing it, but there is simply no other way to express my outrage and heart-brokenness.
I know that is harsh and mean and if anyone from ‘that side’ bothers to comment on this post they will most certainly point out that I ‘missed the point’ or that I am ‘ignorant of the facts’ or that I am ‘a stupid non-Christian who is so unconcerned about abortion and the plight of the unborn that I ought to be defrocked (even though I was never frocked to begin with) and run out of the church to the tune of tar, feathers, pitchforks, torches and labeled anathema.’ To be sure, ‘they’ will probably point out that Jesus does not approve of what I am about to write in this post because Jesus hates abortion.
There I said it: The post is stupid.
I am willing to run the risk that I might be labeled by others in order to point out the sheer stupidity of the post mentioned above.
Did I mention the post is stupid? It has been a long, long time since I read something so incredibly insensitive at a blog claiming to be a voice for the Kingdom of God. I’m sorry. I’m desperately trying to be objective and compassionate. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. I have read the post four or five times now trying, searching, scanning for hope and I just cannot find it. The most hope we can expect out of this post is that we might enjoy some ‘hauntingly beautiful hymn-like‘ music. If an expectant single-mother or a suddenly pregnant husband and wife swimming in debt is debating her/their pregnancy right now read that post, she/they would be left despairing and hopeless; feeling nothing but condemnation.
There is nothing about the Gospel. Nothing about the hope of Christ. Nothing about the penal substitutionary atonement death of Jesus. Nothing about forgiveness of sins. Nothing about grace. Nothing about repentance. Nothing about the new heavens and new earth. Nothing about resurrection. For someone who writes so passionately, so wonderfully about the damnable offense that is abortion, I just cannot believe that there is no mention of hope for forgiveness. No mention of reconciliation. No mention of peace in Christ. No reconciliation. No ransom. No redemption. No substitution. Just condemnation. *Shakes head.*
For someone who so frequently castigates preachers and churches and bloggers for not including a (the) message of the Gospel, I cannot believe the best there is to offer in that particular post is that we might get some good music out of it at the end of the day. No mention whatsoever of how people who have had abortions can be forgiven and changed by the work of Christ Jesus. (As if a purely moralized America is equivalent to the Kingdom of God.)
I’d like to begin by noting a few things for the careful reader of this blog. You may not agree entirely, but I’ll bet we are close. What I’d like to do, is offer the invitation here, at Life Under the Blue Sky, that was not offered at SOL. I begin, however, elsewhere:
- It is wrong to steal.
- It is wrong to have gay sex.
- It is wrong to lie.
- It is wrong to cheat.
- It is wrong to fornicate.
- It is wrong to commit adultery.
- It is wrong to be racist.
- It is wrong to get drunk.
- It is wrong to be arrogant.
- It is wrong to be prideful.
- It is wrong to be gluttonous.
- It is wrong to murder.
- It is wrong to get an abortion.
- It is wrong to lust.
- It is wrong to lie about the preacher.
- It is wrong to gossip.
- It is wrong to abuse your spouse or children.
- It is wrong to worship idols.
- It is wrong kidnap.
- It is wrong to disobey your parents.
- It is wrong to swindle.
- It is wrong to be greedy.
- It is wrong to rape.
Yes. Yes. I could go on and on and on. I agree with the post at SOL: Abortion is a heinous, despicable, vile, disgusting offense. I don’t know anyone here who disagrees with that assessment. Those things mentioned above are wrong; they are sin, abortion included.
But it is not the unforgivable sin. Never has been. Never will be. In the crazy economy of the kingdom of God, a person could have 490 abortions in one day and repent and God, in his mercy and grace, would forgive that person because of Jesus Christ. I mean, why wouldn’t he since he expects us to do nothing less? I don’t think God expects people to do things that he himself isn’t willing to do. Thus, forgiveness.
Abortion is not an unforgivable sin.
None of the things I mentioned is the or an unforgivable sin.
Friends, we have ample evidence in our world of all the things that are wrong with us and all the things we do badly and all the sin we have committed and all the idols we have worshiped and all the judgment we have invited into our lives and all the times we have crucified Christ all over again and again and again…
We have sufficient testimony to all the grievous destruction that our sin has wrought upon this earth.
We have enough people pointing out the sin that plagues the United States of America and Russia and England and Brazil and Antarctica and, well, you get the point.
Jesus did not tell us to go around moralizing did he? (This is not rhetorical.)
I’m not even sure he told us to go around pointing out sin, although, when the Gospel is properly preached I think that sin will necessarily be a part of the discussion. After all, it is terribly difficult to call folks to repentance if some mention of sin has not happened.
Jesus did tell us to go and preach the good news, the Gospel. “…He gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick…So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the Good News and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:12, 6).
We have good news! We are told to preach good news! Where’s the Good News in the SOL post? A musical legacy? For one who spends a lot of time criticizing the lack of Gospel in churches and pulpits, the post is decidedly barren of any hope and Gospel. Shall we merely criticize and condemn those who have had abortions or shall we offer them the hope of Christ Crucified and Resurrected?
Is there any hope for those who were the subject of the SOL post?
I hate to write this post, but the bottom line is that I have decided that I will make it my life’s ambition to teach the grace of God every chance I get. I want to find 100,000 ways to say: God forgives you in and because of Jesus Christ. I hate writing this post because some might conclude that I am not opposed to abortion, but that would be to miss my point. I am very opposed to abortion, but I also realize that people sin and that it was the sick, weak, broken, hurting, desperate sinners, like me, whom Christ came to save, redeem, ransom, and atone for.
Jesus didn’t come to condemn; why do we think he has assigned us that role?
The author of the SOL post did a great job pointing out a great sin, but the problem with the post is simple: She gave us a great picture of a moralized America where everyone plays in an orchestra or knits flags and worships at the throne of conservative politicians. It’s a powerful picture, but it is not necessarily one Christ has drawn. It is a terrible problem, but there was no solution offered. What’s the point of ranting about the problem when there is no solution offered at all?
She didn’t give us a picture of the Kingdom of God. She gave us a picture of her moralized America where there is condemnation for every perpetrator and no hope whatsoever.
The author would have us condemn all who have had abortions and reject them as mere weak Americans who lack courage and are interested only in their bank balance and credit card statements. Christ would welcome them into his kingdom as the very ones he came to save precisely because they are greedy, murderous, and lack the intestinal fortitude to be self-controlled–because they are sinners! Well, of course they are. That’s normally what happens when people do not know or have rejected Christ.
So here I offer what the author of Slice did not offer: Hope. If you have ever had an abortion or over-spent on your credit cards, if you have filed bankruptcy because you have no self-control, if you are a coward, if you are hopeless and think you are running on empty, if you have no where to go and you think you are out of options–there’s hope. There’s grace. There’s forgiveness of your sins. Christ has payed the price for your sins. There’s Good News! Christ has not rejected you. There’s still hope! There’s still a message of peace and forgiveness to you because of Jesus. Christ will take away your guilt. Christ will heal your wounds. Christ will save you from the hopeless, endless cycle of condemnation and death.
You can join us, all us sinners here, all us imperfect, unkempt, undone, depressed, forgiven-by-God sinners here. We welcome you to join in the story that Christ is writing and has written. We welcome you to taste and see that His Grace is Good. We welcome you to be forgiven in the Name of Jesus.
“…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” The same Paul, to the same Romans, chapter 3, verse 24.
“…For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” the same John the Apostle, the same third chapter, the 17th verse.
Jesus Undoes Death
Genesis 5, Luke 6
Something that has always bothered me about the daily paper is the obituaries. I understand why the obituaries exist, but I have not so much a fascination with them. Some people make a habit of reading the obituaries—its like it’s part of their religion and if they don’t read the obituaries they might somehow be struck down by Thor or Zeus or whatever god they profess to worship and follow. I have found that older folks are especially fond of reading the obituaries. Some have jokingly said to me in the past, ‘I read them to make sure I’m not in them.’ It’s always a good laugh we have together.
Reading through Genesis 5 is difficult to say the least. It’s like reading through a 4,000 year old obituary and not knowing a single soul or caring that they died. Frankly, it’s a terribly depressing chapter of Scripture and one might wonder why such a chapter would be included.
Fact is, there are many chapters like this in Scripture. They are genealogies and they necessarily are obituaries. Each generation passes on to the next. People live, people die. The overwhelming message about man in the Bible is that man (people) die. Nothing can stop it. Nothing can halt it. Nothing can prevent it. Nothing can slow down man’s onward march towards the inevitable.
So, in a sense, when we read Genesis 5 we do know the people we are reading about and we do care that they died: They are us. We see in their lives and in their deaths our own march, our own date with inevitability. We see our own destiny in the flesh: Death. We see a refrain that reminds us, as a good refrain does, over and over again, that the problem is death and that everyone is subject to it. The world, chapter 5 reminds us, had become a place ruled by death. It’s grip inescapable. The breadth of its dominion, wide and deep. Death works hard to control, gather a congregation, and attain more and more power.
In Genesis 5 we see death’s power growing and gaining. Genesis 5 is our early and present history. Death reigns.
Then we come along to our other reading today from Luke 6 and we meet again this person named Jesus. In particular, verses 1-11 of chapter 6 relate specifically to Genesis 5. In my reading, Luke 6:1-11 is about far more than Jesus undoing the Sabbath and undoing the anally retentive sour-pusses who watched his every move and criticized his every step. Yes, the Sabbath teaching was important, but more important, I think, I Jesus’ undoing of the chaos of death; undoing the degeneration of the human life, flesh. Here is Jesus reversing the effects of death.
You see it there? There was a man with a shriveled hand. He could have been young, or old. I hardly think it matters. What matters is that there was a man in the synagogue who had a shriveled hand (I’m reading the English, so there might be a more specific connotation in Greek) and Jesus heals him. I think the best part of the entire eleven verses is this one: “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” Just picture that! Jesus wanted everyone who was in the synagogue to see what he was about to do. He wanted everyone to see the man with the shriveled hands. He wanted everyone to see the disfigured, shriveled, useless hand.
Jesus stuck it right in their faces.
Jesus wants those people to see that it is He who has the power to halt the effects of the curse. Jesus made the man’s hand new again, useful, alive. If Jesus can do this to a mere hand, how much a whole body? If Jesus would do this to a mere hand, how much more can he prevent the same effects in the whole being? That is, if he cares this much for a hand, how much more the whole person? But Jesus’ power is too much for them. They are unwilling to see that this is power come upon them. All they can see is a violation of sabbath. Jesus gave them an advance sign and they missed it. He stood that man up so they would not miss it, and they missed it. The essence of a pathetic life is missing the obvious; ignoring the God who makes himself known.
They were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus. The essence of a miserable life is being so angry at when and the way people do things that we miss what the person has actually done. They were so consumed with the sabbath, they missed the miracle; they missed the advance sign.
Death reigns and the apostle makes it clear that the last enemy to be defeated will be death. Until that time, we can continue to hope that someday, hope against hope, the obituary pages will finally be blank. In the meantime, we continue to hope against hope that because Jesus lives, so also shall we.
This is part 11 in the 14 part series that traces the meta-narrative of what God is doing from Genesis through Revelation. In this part, Jesus part 4, I am dealing with the Resurrection narrative in John’s Gospel. I began with SM Lockridge’s ‘it’s Friday but Sunday’s coming…’ sermon and ended with a video clip of Lockdridge’s ‘That’s My King’ (also available at this blog). The main theme is the resurrection of Jesus. Quotes from Lockridge, NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope. The resurrection was God’s declaration of victory. When the world had forgotten Jesus and ignored him by placing him in a tomb, God raised him up and set the world on a new course.
Download here: Jesus pt 4, John 20
Or listen online using the inline player below:
Part 1: Genesis 3, Where it All Went Wrong
Part 2: Genesis 12:1-9, A Blessing for All People
Part 3: Exodus 7-12 (a), Freedom For God’s People
Part 4: Exodus 7-12 (b), Freedom For God’s People, b
Part 5: 2 Samuel 5-7, The King
Part 6: Isaiah 60-66, The New Heavens and New Earth
Part 7: Jeremiah 31, The New Covenant
Part 8: Matthew 1, Jesus pt 1
Part 9: Luke 1-2, Jesus pt 2
Part 10: Mark 15, Jesus, pt 3
Part 11: John 20, Jesus, pt 4
Other download options are available through feedburner and archive.org.
Always for His glory!
This is part 10 of my current series of sermons 90 Days with Scripture. In this sermon from Mark 15, I begin by doing a short survey of the previous 9 sermons before offering a few thoughts on Mark 15. The sermon takes about 25 minutes and ends by wondering how it is that Jesus dying on the cross gives us any hope that God’s promise of New Covenant, New Heavens and New Earth, and Crushing the Serpent (among other things) can actually be brought about. And yet, that is the manifold witness of the New Testament: Jesus’ death does all that and much, much more. There is a lengthy quote from NT Write’s book Surprised By Hope in the conclusion. I have included a link to the manuscript at box.net below. jerry
You can download here: Jesus, pt 3: Mark 15
Or listen online using the inline player below:
Part 1: Genesis 3, Where it All Went Wrong
Part 2: Genesis 12:1-9, A Blessing for All People
Part 3: Exodus 7-12 (a), Freedom For God’s People
Part 4: Exodus 7-12 (b), Freedom For God’s People, b
Part 5: 2 Samuel 5-7, The King
Part 6: Isaiah 60-66, The New Heavens and New Earth
Part 7: Jeremiah 31, The New Covenant
Part 8: Matthew 1, Jesus pt 1
Part 9: Luke 1-2, Jesus pt 2
Part 10: Mark 15, Jesus, pt 3
Other download options are available through feedburner and archive.org.
Always for His glory!
This is the manuscript from part 6 of the series. We are reading through the Bible in 90 Days and at this point those who are participating are midway or so through the Psalms. This sermon, from Isaiah 60-66, is fairly simply and makes three major points–derived by scanning the entirety of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. One, that the new heavens and the new earth and their creation are something that God is about the business of doing. It’s not, no matter how much we are Advance Signs, something we can accomplish on our strength. Second, that there is necessarily a future element to this work. You will notice as you read through these chapters in the Prophet that he continually uses the word ‘will.’ Not everything is accomplished now, which is one of the paradoxes of Christian faith. Furthermore, I might add as a side note, just because we are doing things now as Advance Signs, just because our work now gives hints and clues of what God will do, this doesn’t necessarily translate into an exact representation of what God will do. For that matter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that God is even involved in what we are doing. We give hints, glimmers, sign-posts, but we are shadows. God is the Real and His plans for the New Heavens and the New Earth are likely vastly different than ours. Finally, I will conclude the sermon by noting that what God has done and will do have been inaugurated and completed in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus uttered those word ‘it is finished,’ and we sense in those words a finality and Luke tells us in chapter 4:18-19 that Jesus said these words of Isaiah were fulfilled in him! Yet Luke, when he begins the book of Acts, tells that he wrote the first book (Luke) to tell of all that ‘Jesus began to do and teach.’ This leaves us with the distinct impression that his second book (Acts) is about all that Jesus continued to do and teach by His Spirit through His disciples. So God has done it; God will do it. Admittedly, I have too much text. The idea, however, was not to exhaust Isaiah’s vision, but, much like we are to the world, to give just a hint, a glimmer, of what he was pointing us to and we see completed in Jesus. Then we ask: Is Jesus enough? jerry
90 Days with Scripture
Week 6: November 2, 2008
“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.
“Chapters 58-66 begin, as does the book as a whole, by exposing hypocritical and manipulative approaches to worship that insult the glorious God whom Isaiah has so powerfully portrayed. If the worship that is supposed to restore and sustain fellowship with God is itself sinful, how can the barrier of sin between God and his people be removed? The answer lies in God’s commitment to his purpose and in his creative power. The God who created the world will not cease to work until he has defeated sin, turned hearts to him, and established new heavens and a new earth. All that remains is for people to recognize the true nature and work of God and to respond to him in faith.” (109, Briley)
I suppose that we cannot really begin to describe what that time will be like. I can’t even begin to imagine what that place will be like. Sure we have ideas and notions, but they are only ideas and notions; premonitions perhaps. I don’t know really. All I have to go one is Scripture. All I can do is take Scripture at its word and trust that God will make good on his Word.
Some say that we currently are involved in the process of making things better in this world. We are, they say, Advanced Signs of what God is doing or will do. Those who live out their faith in practice are ‘making this a better place’ or at least showing the better place it will be when God finally finishes the work he has said he will finish. We are workers for justice, among other things, but we are we really? I know we are supposed to be working for justice and for freedom and shining our lights before men…but is man realistically speaking capable of such a thing?
Admittedly, I have too much text for today, but if I learned any one thing out of all that I learned this: What Isaiah was prophesying, what he was pointing to, what he was directing our attention to, what he was promising-is that what needs to be done on the earth, even if we are Advanced Signs, needs to be done by God. So consider what led into this chapter:
He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm worked salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
According to what they have done,
so will he repay
wrath to his enemies
and retribution to his foes;
he will repay the islands their due.
From the west, men will fear the name of the LORD,
and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.
For he will come like a pent-up flood
that the breath of the LORD drives along.
“The Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”
declares the LORD.
“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD. “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the LORD.
I think history demonstrates rather conclusively that human beings are not that good at fixing things. We really do want things to be better, but we have only a marginal notion of what ‘better’ even means and an even worse idea of how to accomplish that. It’s a terrible way to live, really, but we seem to take some comfort from the fact that every now and again slight progress is made. I have to be honest with you though, I’m not particularly interested in the sort of world that man makes better.
It’s not that I am a fatalist or anything. I’m a realist. I know who I am: I know what I think is a better world necessarily conflicts with what 90% of the population thinks is a better world. Faith then consists of the willingness to allow that God’s version of what is a better world is necessarily right and that my conception is necessarily right.
This takes us back to Genesis 3 where we started all this. It was there that man had the silly idea that having knowledge of good and evil was a good idea. It was there that man said, I want to be the creator of life, the creator of destiny, the creator of a standard of living. We have lived content in that place for a long, long time, scarcely acknowledging that God’s way is right, that his judgment is just, that his creation is good and ours is not.
God, however, does not just take us back to Genesis 3; he takes us back to Genesis 1. The opening verses of today’s sermon reflect that:
“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.
Here it is, then! Darkness covers the earth; thick darkness covers the people. And what sort of light to we want to cover the earth and raise our hopes? Artificial light? Fake light? Do we want light that man creates out of his conception of good and evil or do we want light of the glory of God? Well, truthfully speaking, we probably want the light of men. We are still likely convinced that man can solve all the problems that man has created.
I’m not so optimistic. I want better solutions. But the solution is not merely a solution. The solution is God. This is not about God setting the world right by our standards of good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice. This is about God setting the world right by His standards.
” ‘Hear the word of the Lord,
you who trembled at his word:
‘Your brothers who hate you, and
exclude you because of my name, have said,
“Let the Lord be glorified,
that we may see your joy!”‘
And God is not cautious in his description of what he means to do, in what he is already doing, in what he means to finish. But he does speak in futuristic terms. If it is something God does, it is something God will do, and something we will participate in.
- You will look and be radiant.
- Your heart will throb and swell with joy.
- I will adorn my glorious temple.
- Foreigners will rebuild your walls.
- I will show you compassion.
- You will be called priests of the Lord
- You will be named ministers of our God
- I will not keep silent till her vindication shines out like the dawn
- You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.
- I will measure into their laps the full payment for their former deeds
- But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
- They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain
- See I will create new heavens and a new earth, the former things will not be remembered.
And there is more. All I am saying is that we may see Advance Signs now, we may be Advance Signs, but there is still an aspect of it that even we are looking forward to. In the meantime I believe we will find it terribly difficult at times to wait. We have to be ready, we have to be patient, we have to be busy. But we have to wait. It’s not all here now, even if it has been inaugurated.
Well, it will be a grad and glorious thing when it happens. He uses imagery that we can understand and relate to, images like weddings, wealth and prosperity, new clothes, great beauty, war, abundance, birth of a child, and more. He points us back to the beginning when God saw all that he had made and it was good. He tells us these days will be like those days of the Exodus when Moses led the people out of captivity. It will be a time marked by peace and joy and abundance and good food and justice and righteousness and peace (‘no longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates praise.’) He goes on:
“Then will all your people be righteous
and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
the work of my hands,
for the display of my splendor.
“The least of you will become a thousand,
the smallest a mighty nation.
I am the LORD;
in its time I will do this swiftly.”
Finally, this work, this mighty, mighty work, was announced in Genesis 3: You will strike his heal, he will crush your head. It was set in motion in Genesis 12: You will be a blessing to all nations. It was inaugurated in Jesus of Nazareth when he quoted Isaiah 61:1-3 as recorded in Luke’s Gospel:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion–
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.
Jesus said, after reading this Scripture: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Today? Fulfilled? Already? In Jesus? You mean we are already living in the time when God has begun his work of renewing, restoring, and re-creating? Jesus announced the beginning and ending of Scripture’s fulfillment. Jesus did. No one else makes that claim, only Jesus of Nazareth. And should we be so disappointed then when he is found at Calvary?
What I love about these verses here in Isaiah is that by and large, far and away, they are mirrored in the book of the Revelation. And Luke, combined with John’s portrait in the Revelation, demonstrate to us that God’s plan has not changed. In Jesus we see an inauguration and an acceleration of the plan, but not a change in his plan. This is what Jesus came for, this is what God is working towards, this is the fulfillment of all things: A New Heavens and New Earth. A new life that is free from the tyranny of the urgent, free from the tyranny of tyrants, free from the tyranny of obligations to anyone but God Almighty Himself. As Cottrell notes, “What this means is that heaven is not the elimination of time itself, but the elimination of time limitations. No more deadlines! No more expiration dates! No more having to quit before the job is done! No more, ‘I just ran out of time’!”
Should we then be so surprised and shocked that this work of God involved the cross?
Jesus makes a bold statement. He says: I am the fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah. He says, “I am the one whom the Lord has sent to start and finish this work.”
But as I noted at the beginning:
“All that remains is for people to recognize the true nature and work of God and to respond to him in faith.”
So I am asking: Where is your faith? In whom have you placed your trust? I suspect that many of us live with some sort of apprehension or anxiety about today or tomorrow or Tuesday. Where is your faith? Do you have confidence that this God who began a good work in you can and will finish it?
I don’t need to be complicated this morning, and I don’t need to go deep. I just need to ask you: Where is your faith? Is your faith in the One who certainly cannot fail because He spared nothing, even giving his own Son to die? Is your faith in the world which is bound over to destruction? Is your faith in the One who has guaranteed His promise in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth? Or is your faith here in the place and in the ones whose worm will not die, whose fire is not quenched?
18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Friends, Here is the continuation of my series from Isaiah’s Gospel. I think this is part 5 or 6. Anyhow, what governs these verses is the short almost formulaic phrase ‘in that day.’ This was first mentioned back in chapter 2 and ‘that day’ has not always had overtones of happiness for those who do not belong to God. Here, in this fourth chapter (a chapter that is closely related to the short chapter 2:1-5) is like an interjection of hope in the midst of great calamity. The prophet here continues speaking to the people of God and not the population in general. I have reserved my comments in this sermon for the congregation–as an encouragement to them of what we have to hope for. Surprisingly, however, our hope is not ‘that day’ or ‘that place’ or anything like ‘that.’ Our hope, ‘that day,’ is Jesus Christ. It is Jesus we hope for. He is our reward. He is our Pride, our Glory, our Beauty, and our Gloriousness. (Also, you will note that I happen to think that this chapter is very closely related to Revelation 21-22. And, I’ll be posting the audio sometime next week if I get my laptop back from the shop.)–jerry
Beholding God: When God is All in All
2In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel. 3It will come about that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy–everyone who is recorded for life in Jerusalem. 4When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, 5then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. 6There will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain.
In his sermon, The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis writes:
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
The key to understanding these verses, I believe, is found in the beginning of verse 2: “In that day…”
You will no doubt recall that ‘in that day’ has been a phrase that has marked Isaiah’s gospel since chapter 2.2: “In the last days…” Then we learned that God had something planned…planned for his people, planned for the world. God has a day in mind…and now Isaiah continues that thought here in chapter 4.1: “In that day…” In that day, something is going to happen. But what we have read a lot about in these verses is judgment, destruction, the humbling of the arrogant, the stripping away of pride, the lowering of the haughty. In that day…in that Day…The Branch of YHWH will be beautiful and glorious. In that day things that we have yet to imagine will be happening. In that day, says the prophet, those things we have settled for, those mud-pies, those things we settle for because of weak desires, will all be overthrown, replaced, re-imagined, re-created, purified and inhabited by the presence of God.
So let’s look at the passage from Isaiah-a passage I am certain inspires hope and vision and stokes the imagination of what that day will mean for those righteous to whom God announced ‘it will go well with them.’ If the last chapter spoke little about what will be in store for the righteous, this chapter speaks to no one but the righteous. I’d like to encourage you with 5 images of what will take place on that day.
You know there is a lot that we consider glorious and beautiful. The evidence of this was seen at the end of chapter three: “The women of Zion are haughty…with ornaments jingling on their ankles.” Man has a conception of what is good and beautiful; God has his. Ours is woeful and inadequate, it is incomplete because all it seeks to do is adorn the flesh and magnify the creature. Our conceptions of beauty and gloriousness do not inspire hope, but encourage vanity. But Isaiah says God’s conception of beauty and glory are entirely different: “In that day the Lord Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath, for the remnant of his people.” (28:5)
God’s conception of beauty is the presence of himself. The women of Israel adorned themselves, as do we. The people of Israel took pride in their sin, so do we. The people of Israel rebelled against the Lord’s glorious presence, so do we. But what does he say: “In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the Fruit of the Land will be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.” These are parallel, if the Branch of the Lord is talking about the Messiah, then so is the Fruit of the Land talking about the Messiah. I think Isaiah here is talking about the two-natured Messiah-Son of God, Son of Man; fully God, fully man; Branch of God, Fruit of the Land. He himself will be our pride and glory, True beauty and gloriousness.
EJ Young wrote, “The actual Israel looked for her glory and ornament among foreigners and strangers; she neglected her true inheritance. The Israel of the future, however, will not judge with the eyes of flesh but will understand that her true glory and ornament are found in her real inheritance, the long promised seed of Abraham through whom the blessing was to come.” (178)
In that day, there will be true beauty. Also in that day there will be a holy people. Those who are left, those who remain, will be called holy; all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. This means that there will be no place for unrighteousness or unrighteous people in this Holy place.
Thus we can safely assume that some distinction has been made between those who are and those are not holy; there has been some change made to some people and they have become holy. Whatever it is, there will be no unholy people in this place. This place, that day, will be marked by the sort of people whom God has destined to live there: The Holy ones, the Righteous ones, those who belong to God by virtue of his grace and their faith.
He said, “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Rev 20.6) There is, unfortunately, no room for unholy people in that day. It will be entirely up to YHWH to make that distinction, but it is a distinction that he will make
Day 5, Colossians 1:5: Faith, Hope, and Love in the Truth
“…the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel [that has come to you]…”
“ ‘The Gospel’ for Paul, is an announcement, a proclamation, whose importance lies in the truth of its content. It is not, primarily, either an invitation or a technique for changing people’s lives. It is a command to be obeyed and a power let loosed in the world (Rom 1:16-17), which cannot be reduced to terms of the persuasiveness or even the conviction of the messenger. It works of itself to overthrow falsehood.”—(NT Wright, Colossians, 52)
What I see here is that faith, hope and love are all, in one way connected with the truth which is the Gospel. Their faith, hope, and love are all based upon whether or not the message that came to them was truth. If it was truth, then there is some substance and validity to the hope they have. If what came to them was not truth, then their faith, hope and love are based on a lie and are rather meaningless. Hope that is not based on truth is no hope at all. Faith in something that is a lie is not faith but stupidity. Love that is not based on truth self-serving and empty and a vague sentimentalism. How can anyone have a faith that is not based on the truth? How can I trust the love of anyone if that love is not based on truth? How do I know that love is sincere, actual, authentic? And what is hope if not based on truth? Will I really be any more hopeful if I have no guarantees of the veracity of that which I hope for?
He also said this: our hope is stored up for us in heaven. This is very similar to what Peter wrote to his congregations:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)
We have not yet fully taken hold of that which we have set our hope upon. It is not ours yet, but we persevere in love and faith because we know that we are looking to something that has been promised to us by God. And if this were not true, then we would be hopeless. Our hope is stored up in heaven for us: It is in the place where God is. It is protected by the God who is. It is surrounded by the grace of God and no one can take hope from us. People can come along in our lives and take everything away from us. Tragedy can come along in any of a million different forms but tragedy can never take away our hope. How can hope be stolen? How can hope be crushed? How can hope, protected as it is by Almighty God and guaranteed by the work of Christ, ever, ever, be snuffed out of our hearts? I thank God that he is the one guarding our hope and not me. It is a strong hope that He guards but in my hands it is fragile, susceptible to fracture. I will trust in Him.
So what is the content of that which we hope for? Is it mere eternal life? Is it the mere expectation of something better? Is it the wishful thinking and joyful rejoicing about the day when we shall be free from the shackles of this present darkness? Is it the mere glimmer of a life without pain, suffering, and death? Is it the glad thinking that someday all of our questions will have answers? Well, I suppose it is to an extent all of these things. But I also suppose that it is far more than we can possibly imagine. Paul later says in Colossians, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). You see the fullness of our hope is not any of those things I mentioned above, but rather Christ himself. He is our hope: He is what we expect, He is why we persevere, He is why we have faith, He is why we love; He is our hope and nothing short of Christ can even compare or satisfy. We expect someday at the last trumpet to meet Christ. I have to be honest here, nothing short of Christ would be at all satisfying to me. I couldn’t care less if my questions are answered, if my suffering ends, or if I have eternal life if I have not Christ.
Finally, we see that our faith, our hope, our love all spring what we have learned in the Gospel—the Good News of Jesus Christ—which has come to you. The Gospel came to us; truth came to us. I don’t suppose that we went out of our way to pursue it even if we did accept it when we heard it and turned to the Lord in repentance calling on His Name. Nor do I suppose that we went out of our way to create truth. But here we see the Gospel as the pursuer, the hunter, the hound tracking us down. Truth comes to us and the truth is contained in the content of the Gospel, but I would also add this: The Gospel is Jesus Christ and not merely the sum total of the stories or traditions gathered around him. The Gospel cannot be separated from the person of Jesus Christ. I scoff at those who say stupid things like, “Well, it doesn’t matter if Jesus was real or not. What matters is that I hope he was. But either way…” Blah. Blah. Blah. Mindless drivel is what that is. If you take Jesus out of the picture there is no Gospel, and it certainly isn’t truth. Further,
“Neither Christians nor churches are created by accident. They do not emerge of themselves from the social milieu of any generation, nor fall unheralded from the skies. The creative agency can always be identified: “the word of the truth of the gospel. The power that convicts of truth and kindles life is the power of the Holy Spirit; the means He uses is the good news of Christ, the record of divine redeeming events, interpreted in light of prophecy and confirmed in the testimony of transformed men.”— (In Him the Fullness: A Study in Colossians, R.E.O. White, Fleming H Revell Co, 1973, 16)
I’ll close by nothing this: The truth, the Gospel came to the Colossians. I think this is a direct reference to missionary activity. Given the opportunity, most will be content in the bliss of their ignorance. Most are not going to go on a spiritual quest in the hopes of finding truth that saves, gives hope, motivates faith, and drives love. The Gospel must go and the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “My Word will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent.” (Isaiah 55:9-11). The Lord is active in sending out his Word to the places where it needs to be preached, to the places where it needs to be heard, the places of darkness where people are living hopeless, faithless, truthless, loveless lives. The Gospel goes and the Gospel does its work.
“And I put my hope. And I put my Trust. And I put myself in you, Lord.”—‘My Hope,’ David Crowder.
Soli Deo Gloria!