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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Messiah in the Old Testament - Genesis 9

The Messiah in the Old Testament – Noah

            Christians believe Jesus is the ‘anointed of the Lord.’  That is what ‘Christ’ means.  ‘Christ,’ ‘Messiah;’ these are titles, not names.  We who follow and worship Jesus believe he is the one who fulfilled the prophecies about God sending an anointed one who would herald his restoration of Shalom and Edenic ‘Good’ to the world, fallen in sin as it is.  We Christians believe Jesus is the bringer of salvation.  In The Messiah in the Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser points to texts from the Hebrew Bible that anticipate and point to the Messiah.
            Last week I began my reflections on Kaiser’s observations in chapter 2, “The Messiah in the Pentateuch.”[i]  He cited Genesis 3:15, the passage in which God judges between the deceptive serpent and the offspring of Adam and Eve, the people who succumbed to the serpent’s wiles.  This week, we briefly touch on the next Messianic text Kaiser identifies in the Pentateuch, the prediction of Noah (Genesis 9:25-27).
            After Noah and his family are back on dry ground and the flood waters receded, Noah’s first act on dry ground is to worship. 
20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth (Genesis 9:20-21).
God notes that even Noah’s family had evil in it.  Shortly after this Noah reissues the Eden commission to be fruitful and fill the earth (9:1).  Echoes of this commission fill Jesus’ great commission.  Here, a new humanity, one rescued from the flood is sent to reestablish God’s vision for creation.  In the Gospel (Matthew 28), Jesus sends his disciples to make a new humanity, one in his image.  One of God’s purposes for humanity is for us to go out, obeying his commands, acting as his agents to make the earth what he intends.
            Soon after Noah issues the commission, trouble comes.  He passed out naked in a drunken stupor and his middle son Ham “saw the nakedness of his father,” a shameful thing in that ancient culture (Genesis 9:21-22).  Reverently, the oldest, Shem and youngest Japheth, cover Noah without looking at him.  When Noah wakes up, he blessed them and curses Ham.
            The controversial verse is 27.  “May God dwell in the tents of Japheth, and let him live in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.”  In this sentence, who is referred to by the word “him,” and “his” in the second and third stanzas?  Do these pronouns refer to Japheth or do they refer to God?  Kaiser believes God is the referent for the pronouns “him” and “his”.  Thus he writes, “The meanings of Genesis 9:27 is God’s announcement that his advent will take place among the Shemites, later known through the Greek form of their name as the Semites” (p. 45).
            Furthermore, Kaiser poses a question that prior to the coming of Jesus would have been so preposterous as to not even be asked.  “How could the immortal God, so to speak, contaminate himself with the stuff of our humanity?”  This question is not as difficult for Christians because we believe Jesus was God in human flesh; a paradox, fully God and fully human at the same time.  It is a core belief summed up well in John 1:14.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.”  Kaiser believes the promise to Shem in Genesis 9:27 anticipates and is fulfilled by John 1:14.
            So far, following Walter Kaiser’s comments, God will appear before humanity through natural human birth (Genesis 3:15) and will be a Shemite (Semite) (Genesis 9:27).  Has God’s plan for the Messiah has been in God’s mind from the very beginning?
            Next, we will take a look at the Messiah in relation to Abraham. 

[i] Pentateuch refers to the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  These works are also called “Torah,” and “The Law of Moses.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

When the Dream Comes True (Matt. 3:1-17)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

           Two sinners, flawed people who make mistakes and fall short of God’s glory. 
Two extraordinary men – there have never been any like these men and their contributions to humanity are greater than can be measured.
Great men?  Sinners fallen short of God?  These men are both.  Consider their lives, their words, and the profound importance of each as I hold each up alongside the other. 
            First, Martin Luther King Jr.   In 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, he said,

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

            Has his dream been realized? 
            However accurate or inaccurate or partially accurate, the perception of many, maybe most black people is that they can’t get a fair shake in business, in education, in health care, in housing, and in numerous other ways in every day.  Statistics bear this out.  Black Americans are less likely to be admitted to the highest universities, less likely to be identified and put in academically gifted programs, and more likely to be suspended from school for offenses that if done by whites often go unpunished.  In nearly every formal institution in our country, blacks get less opportunity for advancement; and, they suffer more harshly and more frequently than whites who commit the same offenses and rules infractions.
            Has Dr. King’s dream been realized? 
            Many African Americans have achieved incredible success.  Condoleezza Rice is a brilliant academic, a political scientist, and former secretary of state.  Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of America’s leading astrophysicists.  Colin Powell is one the great generals in U.S. army’s history.  Ben Carson is a brain surgeon and a presidential candidate.  Clarence Thomas is a Supreme Court justice.  And of course our president, Barak Obama is an African American who has achieved the highest office in the land.  No matter what your personal opinion is of these named, they all merit respect.  This high level achievement and leadership among persons of color had not happened when Dr. King gave that speech.
            On a more personal level, in our day biracial families are accepted as the boundaries for what is considered normal expand.  I did not imagine when we adopted Henry and Merone that we would meet other families just like ours in preschool and then again in our neighborhood, but we have.  Chapel Hill is progressive town and there are places in North Carolina and in other parts of America that are less-welcoming of such diversity.  However, I think across America, there is now a social consensus that racism is evil.  Since Dr. King gave the “I have a Dream Speech” things have changed.
            They have not changed nearly quickly enough.  His poignant phrase “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism” needs to be taken to heart.  Right now, most of the perspectives I get from black people in my circles are different than the perspectives of white people in my circles.  I hate saying “black people think …” or “all white people …” do such and such.  I think the generalizing is unfair.  However, I do feel safe in saying that most black people expertience the world differently than most white people. 

            Dr. King’s context was America, embroiled in racial conflict.  The man I have thought about alongside Martin Luther King Jr. is John the Baptist whom we meet in Matthew’s Gospel.  John burst upon the scene calling the people of Judah to “Repent!  For the Kingdom of heaven has come near.”  He allowed no margin for the luxury of cooling off.  Repentance is a turning – to turn from looking and living in one direction to looking and living in an altogether different direction.  God is over here, but you are oriented over there. You have to radically turn your lives because the way you are currently headed is away from God
            Essentially, this was John’s message.  As America today needs to turn away from greed, materialism, racism, elitism, and xenophobia, John said the people in the first century needed to turn away from sin and turn to God. 
Otherwise, we will miss the presence of Jesus even though, he is here.  This season, epiphany, the time after Christmas – this is Jesus’ ‘coming out party.’  We won’t see it, not now, not if we aren’t watching.  To miss it is to live apart from God.  If we live apart from God now, we will be apart from him at the Judgment.  When Jesus returns in the Second Coming to call his own into the Kingdom, we will not be among those counted as his own.  We need to turn. 
We need to turn because currently our gaze is fixed by human wisdom in the direction of today’s definition of success.  Philosophies like individualism, naturalism, and patriotism do not appear inherently evil, but when one of these ways of thinking and seeing define our worldview instead of Jesus defining our worldview, it pull us away from the God who wants to saves us from self-destruction.
“Repent!”  Turn from where we are looking, from what we are thinking, from who we are admiring, from how we are living; turn from this to God. 
In the Gospels are stories of people who met Jesus in person and still could not turn to him because they could not turn away from the allure of wealth or the entrenched racism of their day.  In the New Testament world, the segregation was Jew-gentile.  Today it is white-black, or English speaking-non English speaking; or it is citizen-immigrant; or it is Christian-Muslim.  Whatever divides people by objectifying those not-like-me as “other” – whatever that division point is, it is evil and we must turn from it.  We must in humble confession turn to God.  John preached that.

            Dr. King claimed that God showed him a vision of life – the life to come if people could learn to live in peace and harmony and love for each other; people from all backgrounds.  He said,

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

            John also had a sense of what would it would be like when the words he preached became reality.  He said,

11 “I baptize you with[b] water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

            So, two prophets; one condemned racial inequality, the other sin run rampant among the chosen people of God.  King’s denouncing of racism is a damning of sin – a specific arena of sin and for us in 2016, one that arena, racism, continues to trouble our communities because it exists and people of color continue to suffer injustices.  Likewise John the Baptist issued a call that we must heed; we must turn from the ways of the world to the ways of God as we know God in Jesus.

            These two prophets who preached with force and drama had vision.  They imagined the fulfillment of their dreams.  John the Baptist spoke and it was electric; he baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  He will gather the grain, and the chaff. The chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.  People from all walks of life abandoned the comforts of Jerusalem and flooded out to the wilderness to be baptized by him and hear him talk about the one who was to come. 
Who was this Savior John forecast?
What would life be like upon his arrival?  John offered the stark call – repent!  And, he offered the promise of baptism by spirit and fire.
Dr. King named the evil of racism and imagined a world without it. 

So what of it?  What do we make of the preaching and the vision of either man?  Were their dreams realized?  Today we have Travon Martin and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice.  Today secularism is on the rise; Christianity it so politicized, it is stripped of anything in it that resembles faith. 
John was anointed by God.  Dr. King awakened America to God’s compassion for the downcast and God’s hatred of racism and injustice.  Both spoke with power as they cast compelling visions.  So, what do we do with the world as it is?

Imagine John there in the Jordan.  Everyone is spellbound.  In those flowing waters, he appears to be the most powerful man in the world and all who come defer to his passion and his fiery teaching.  The royal official, the temple soldier, the priest, the Roman centurion; before John, they all shrink.  Submissively, they go to the waters.
Then, Jesus comes.  His eyes meet John’s.  John finds himself tongue-tied.  Matthew writes, “Jesus came … to be baptized by him [but] John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’”
He who had cast the pre-vision of the Kingdom fell to pieces when the Kingdom stood before him in the person of Jesus.  John would have stopped Jesus at the start of his ministry.  Why?  I believe seeing Jesus is so overwhelming, we forget everything.  At the same time, we see everything.
We inherit John’s call to repentance and the 1960’s iteration of it in Dr. King’s call to end segregation and build harmony and love across racial lines.  We repent and we work for equality recognizing that when one group of people is wounded by prejudice, we all are.
We anticipate the dreams of these prophets.  God gives glimpses and so we can say with John, Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit.  With MLK, we get glimpses of the Promised Land where black boys and girls and white children and Jewish and Syrian and Chinese and Mexican children all laugh and run and play together, without fear.  We can imagine it.  We spend our lives working for it, reaching for it.
Still we know that we won’t finally reach it until Jesus meets our gaze as he did John’s.  In that moment, face to face, completely exposed before him, completely vulnerable, we feel ourselves wrapped in his arms of love.  Then, we are finally home.
We know that day will come.  Until it does, we honor the prophets who have gone before us by working for love and brotherhood and sisterhood as we understand things in light of the way of Jesus.  We can’t fully say what it will be like when the dream comes true.  So, we imagine, we work for it, we pray for it, and with hopeful expectation and full readiness, we wait for it. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Messiah in Genesis 3:15

Comments on The Messiah in the Old Testament – Genesis to Deuteronomy

            I look to the first five books of the Bible for creations stories – Adam and Eve; Cain and Abel; Noah and the Flood; the tower of Babel.  This is where we meet Abraham and Noah and read about the Law.  I never thought to look to these books, referred to variously as the Pentateuch, the Law of Moses, and the Torah, for words about the Messiah.  Yet, Kaiser lists two messianic prophecies in the primeval history (Genesis 1-11), two in the patriarchal era (Genesis 12-50), and two in the Mosaic epoch (Exodus-Deuteronomy) (Kaiser, p.36). 
            It begins with what some call the protoevangelium  (first gospel), Genesis 3:15.  After Eve and then Adam disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit, they move from the sparkle of innocence to the stain of sin.  God speaks first to the serpent who tempted Eve.  God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”  Kaiser comments, “The seed/offspring mentioned in this verse became the root from which the tree of the OT promise of a Messiah grew” (p.37-38).
The serpent, he feels, is a title, not a description of a reptilian animal.  He points out something that should be obvious, unmistakable.  And yet, I had not made this connection previously.  God has already created animals that “creep and crawl”.  And God “saw that it was good” (1:25).  If you hate snakes or spiders or sharks or cockroaches or rats, take up your argument with God.  In the opening chapter of the Bible, God declared these animals “good.”  So, by the third chapter, the snake is not by nature evil.  Nor is it endowed with the image of God as humans are (1:26).
Thus Kaiser feels that “serpent” is a title, and the demotion of the one called “serpent” in verse 15 is directly tied to the prophecy that the woman’s offspring will oppose him.  In Revelation 12:9, Satan is associated with the serpent who invaded Eden.  Kaiser also points out verse where Paul makes this connection (Romans 16:20; 2 Corinthians 11:13; see Kaiser’s footnote, p.39).  Kaiser concludes “the identity of the tempter can be none other than Satan” (p.39).
While I understand Kaiser’s reasoning here and his logic makes sense, I am hesitant to go as far as he did in affirming with certainty that the Eden serpent = Satan.  I am hesitant because I think the account of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent is legend, not history.  Now let me be clear.  This is does not mean I don’t think it is true.  I do think the world was created “good.”  I think that one of the major points of Genesis 1-3.  I also think Kaiser demonstrates a masterful hermeneutic in identifying the serpent with the invasion of evil into the good God made.  However, making a certain association with Satan goes too far. 
Maybe the simplest way to elucidate why I can’t just say the serpent is Satan is my acknowledgment that I am not 100% sold on a literal Adam and Eve.  I think evolution is a good explanatory framework offered by science for how God made the world.  At some point, God endowed prehistoric humans with His Spirit.  At that point the creature that had evolved to be what is today called Homo sapiens became God’s image-bearer.  What I am offering here is a theological conclusion driven by faith.  My thoughts here do not strip Genesis 1-3 of truth, but rather set those chapters as a theological statement. 
I think Satan was real and played a role in drawing humans away from God and into sin.  But even our understanding of Satan has undergone change over time.  The idea of a divine council that included a role entitled ‘Hasatan,’ the accuser, is one that developed. 
Originally, this Accuser was an important member of the council.  He is not in opposition to God until 1 Chronicles 21:1 and Zechariah 3:1-2.  In those passages, Satan is unquestioningly opposed to God and is thus evil.  But in Job, it not nearly as clear.  In Job, it appears that Satan is fulfilling the role indicated by his title.  It appears God is the provocateur.  A brief analysis of Job is coming, but I think it might anachronistic to suppose that ancient Israelite communities who lived with Genesis as their book of faith had any concept of Satan and if they did, it is not the understanding we have living in a post-New Testament world as we do. 
This excurses on Satan is necessary to interact with Kaiser.  I find his observation of the serpent as a cipher for the entrance of evil into the good God made as a brilliant explanation.  A lot of people have made the connection, but I am particularly enlightened by the way Kaiser does it and the way he demonstrates that the seed of the woman who crushes the serpent’s head is in fact the Messiah.  I feel like my understanding of God’s story has expanded due to this portion of Kaiser’s work. 

I’ll pick the next identification he makes of a messianic prediction the Pentateuch in my next post. 

Joy to Sorrow (Matthew 2:13-23)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

            Joseph’s calloused hands gingerly remove the apron.  He picks up his hammer and heads for the one-room hut he shares with Mary and the baby – Yeshua. 
Everything was so spectacular.  First, he was the nervous suitor, filled with joy when her father said, “Yes.”  He was found acceptable for Mary.  Then he was the enraged fiancĂ© whose betrothed fooled around and got herself pregnant.  Compassion was being crowded out by something new and unwelcome – anger.
Then it got weird.  How did she get pregnant?  God did it, she said.  Right.  How desperate could she be?  Then he had a dream.  God did do it!  Don’t even tell anyone.  They would only ask, how desperate could he be?
Then the census:  with a pregnant wife carrying not his baby, but God’s, he had to travel the miles to his birthplace, Bethlehem.  There, the child was born in a barn.  OK he tells himself, ‘Joseph, you can handle this.’  Then in the middle of the night, a bunch of crazy shepherds show up.  How did they know she was pregnant?  There are strange lights in the sky.  They hear angel-song. 
That pep talk turned into self-evaluation.  He asks himself, ‘Joseph, can you handle this?’  When they have the baby dedicated at the temple, people prophesy, like prophets of old, and it is all about this baby.  ‘Really, Joseph, can you handle this?’
Finally, things settle down.  He has work and living quarters in Bethlehem.  It is modest, but a suitable roof over their heads.  The baby is healthy.  Mary is a wonderful mother.  With this job, he will make enough to feed them for a month. 
Twilight falls and he heads for the hut.  He’s tired and glad to be headed home.  But around the bend, he sees that the weirdness has come back.  Strangers on camels – rich men, foreign men – are outside the house.  What is this??
These stargazers have followed a star that has led them to his house.  Time for another pep talk.  ‘Joseph,’ he asks, knees trembling, ‘How do you talk to royalty?’  No answer comes.
He looks at the exotic visitors.  “Um, Shalom.  Hello.  Come on in.  Don’t know if you’ll all fit.”  It turns out, all he has to do is smile, nod, and stay out of the way as they parade in and drop gifts at Mary’s feet.  They worship – the baby.  Who is this child God has entrusted to Joseph’s care?
He latches the windows so no one can see in.  The last thing this poor man needs is for his poor neighbors to find out he’s suddenly gotten rich. 
The next day they leave.  He tells Mary not to let anyone in.  He goes to work, but is constantly looking around, glancing back over his shoulder.  ‘Joseph, what’s gotten into you?  You’re not yourself today.’  It is a long day.
Finally, he comes home.  Mary and the baby are still there.  They are well.  All the gold and the spices are still there. 
“Mary did anyone come today?”
“Did you talk to anyone from the village?”
“I talked to Sarah and Hannah.”
“Joseph, I had to draw to water.  Would you relax!  We are protected.”
Joseph nods.  He barely eats.  Then, he lays awake, staring out the window at the stars, listening to the normal night sounds of the village.  Occasionally he jumps up, looks out, and then lays back down. 
Finally, he nods off.  It gets weirder and it gets worse.  Someone is in the house, but Joseph does not feel the adrenalin infused fear as if there were an intruder.  He doesn’t fear this person. 
He fears the message.  “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you: for Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.”
Suddenly he’s awake.  Joseph sits straight up, sweating despite the chill in the night air.  Mary and Jesus are sound asleep.  He dresses quickly and goes to the home of Benaiah, the guy who raises horses. 
He vigorously knocks Benaiah, frazzled, opens the door.  “Ok, ok. Joseph, for heaven’s sake.  You’ll wake my whole family.  What do you want?”
“You were going to sell that cart to Abner today.”
“The new cart?”  Benaiah is confused and suspicious.  “What of it?” 
“I’ll buy it.  Right now.”
“You can’t afford it, Joseph.  You’ve been drinking.  Go home and go to bed.”
“How much will he pay you?”
“More than you can afford.”
“More than this is worth?”  Joseph opens the box with the myrrh. 
Benaiah’s eyes grow wide.  “Where did you get that?”
“Never mind.  You give that cart right now, and this is yours.”
For a minute, Benaiah just stares.  “Why are you coming in the middle of the night?”
“That’s my business.” 
“Will the temple police or the Romans come looking for this box of stolen spices?”
“No.  Now, do we have deal?”  Again, Benaiah stares.  Finally he agrees.  “And,” Joseph continues, “I’ll need a strong pack mule, and a horse.”  Benaiah’s stares again.  Joseph shows a gold.   
By sunrise, Joseph, Mary, the baby, and everything they own are 10 miles down the road headed toward Egypt.  Bethlehem does not notice their absence until they are long gone.

When Herod, the puppet King, the ruler who sat on a throne in Jerusalem but ruled at Rome’s pleasure, realized that the wise men would not be coming back, he was infuriated.  Throughout this story, everyone was seeing angels, following stars, and hearing from God in dreams.  Zechariah (the Father of John the Baptist), Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men – they all had direct encounters with the divine.  But not Herod.
He was hot with anger, boiling over.  He did not need God, he thought.  He had his power and wealth by his cunning and ruthlessness, he thought.  He would kill his own family members to protect his throne.  In fact he did just that.  He killed one of his own sons.  He had no problem killing God’s son.  And if he wasn’t sure which child in Bethlehem was the one, he’d kill them all.  Matthew writes that Herod had his soldiers kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger. 
In the anchor Bible commentary, W.F. Albright says such an act of cruelty and violence was typical of Herod.  It would not raise an eyebrow.  He called it a comparatively minor incident.  In two years, the kindergarten class at Bethlehem elementary would be all girls.  People in neighboring towns, where Herod killed twice as many, might count Bethlehem lucky that they weren’t hit even harder.  And no one would think to ask why.  This is the world into which Jesus was born.
This part of the story should be told in winter.  This is not for the warm, soft glow of Christmas candles.  God came as a baby who grew up in a world where it was not uncommon to have father come in and say, “Everyone, we’re leaving because someone wants to kill us.”  Herod’s troops.  Arab raiders.  Romans enforcing order.  Doesn’t matter.  Someone wants to kill us.  God stepped into this in order to deal with sin and the destruction it brings to his good earth. 
Surprised?  The death of the helpless is not part of our nativity sets.  But we put those last week.  Are we surprised that this death is a part of the story of salvation?
The only way this can make sense is when we read what Herod did as a part of the grand story of God’s plan to rescue the world from sin.  Why did God allow Joseph and Mary and Jesus to escape?  Why didn’t God rescue the other children from Herod?  These are fair questions.  I have no easy answers.
The first part of the answer I do offer is God is committed to human freedom.  God is sovereign – all powerful.  We see this in God’s absolute authority in creation.  Yet the highlight of God’s creative act is the formation of human beings in God’s image. To be in God’ image, we cannot be robots.  We cannot live by pre-programming or blind instinct.  We cannot merely exist by natural selection.
We have consciences.  We have self-awareness.  We ask, why are we hereWhere are we going?  Self-awareness is the sign that we are God’s image bearers.  But, inevitably, with free choice each and every one of us at some point chooses our own way instead of God’s.  Collective sin is the history of humanity choosing the way opposite of God’s – the way of suffering and death. 
Were God to erase all the painful effects of sin, the image of God would be wiped out in the process.  God’s salvation comes in the midst of human evil.  Maybe God could achieve salvation in other ways.  I don’t know.  This is how God did it. 
Children, murdered by Herod; first-graders, gunned down in Newtown, Connecticut; unarmed young men killed in altercations with the police; my answer about why God allows it all – human freedom – my answer does not feel satisfactory.  I bring up the Sandy Hook the plague of deaths across our country, especially of black young men, not to indict police or to lay blame or be overly political.  That’s not my point.  My point is evil lurks and heartbreak follows.  In the days of Jesus, it was seen in the capricious acts of a murderous tyrant.  In our day evil speaks through systemic racism and rampant violence. 
In the midst of Herod’s evil, God spoke.  Matthew quoted the passage of the wailing in Ramah in verse 18 because when children die, there should be widespread, demonstrative grief.  It is not enough to say Joseph, Mary, and Jesus got out OK.  God had to stop and weep.  We do too.
In the midst of today’s evil, God is bringing salvation.  God also stops to weep.  If we want to be where God is when evil hits, we call it evil.  We weep.  And we work for justice, comfort, reconciliation, and healing because those things are marks of God’s kingdom.

It’s been a few years since the move.  Joseph and family are in Egypt.  He is making horse carts in Alexandria.  After a long day and a find meal, he plays with the 4-year-old child he’s adopted.  Little Jesus is a joy. Joseph’s heart melts when the child calls him “Daddy.”  Mary thinks she’s pregnant.  If she has a boy, they will name him James.  A girl will be Elizabeth.
He lays down to sleep.  Someone is in the house.  Joseph knows him.  It is the same guy who told him Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.  It is the same guy who warned him and Mary to move to Egypt.  ‘O no,’ Joseph thinks. ‘What now?’
“Yes, Lord?”  He says.
“Get up Joseph.  Take the child and his mother, and go to land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”
‘Things are starting to look up for me here in Alexandria.’  That’s what he wants to say.  But he doesn’t.  He nods in humility.
The next morning, loads that cart he bought from Benaiah.  They head back. 
The first night back in Bethlehem, that guy shows up in his dream again!  “Joseph.”
“Yes Lord.” 
“Joseph, Herod’s son Archelaus is now king.  He is as bad as Herod.”
‘I am not going back to Egypt.  The money from the gifts the wise men gave is nearly out.  And I don’t want to travel across the desert again.  I am a carpenter, not a tradesman.’  That’s what he wants to say to this angel.  But he doesn’t.
            He exhales.  In humility, he says, “What do we do?”
            “Go to Galilee.  Raise the child there.  You won’t see me anymore.”
            Joseph mutters, ‘If I did, I’d never go to sleep again.’
            The angel squints at Joseph.  “I didn’t catch that.”
            Joseph catches himself and straightens himself up.  “Galilee. Yes Lord.  Galilee.  We’ll leave in the morning.”

            God shows up in the real places of life; sometimes in the darkest places.  Search your heart,. That’s where God wants to meet you.  Look for God into your own story. 
            I titled this talk “Joy to Sorrow.”  Sin leads everyone to sorrow.  That’s why salvation is needed.  In Jesus salvation has come and nothing – not Herod or the cross or the evils of today – can stop God’s salvation plan.  So, turn to him.  Turn to the Lord.  From the depths your real life turn to God and embrace his love for you.  When we do that, sorrow gives way to hope.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Reflection from Walter Kaiser's "The Messiah in the Old Testament" - intro

Comments on The Messiah in the Old Testament – Opening Remarks

            In the 1720’s Anthony Collins published two works in which he attempted to show that “the literal meaning of certain messianic proof-texts from the OT could not support the messianic interpretation placed on them by the NT.  … The so-called ‘complete’ or ‘spiritual’ fulfillment of these OT texts that many were applying to Jesus, Collins concluded, could be no more than an illustration” (Kaiser, p.14).  The eighteenth century scholar Collins felt that there was no proof that Jesus had been anticipated as ‘messiah.’
            Kaiser then lists 7 methods of interpretation of prophecy used to overcome the challenge posed by Collins. 
1.      Dual meaning.  There might be an original meaning of a text, say from Isaiah’s time, and that meaning stood in Isaiah’s day.  This prophecy had a later, fuller meaning, to which messianic interpretation and application could be attached.  This method came from Thomas Sherlock in 1732.  The problem with this is the loss of predictive value.  The prophecy said something in Isaiah’s day, but they did not ‘predict’ something else, a future ‘anointed one’ of the Lord.
2.     Single meaning.  This view from J.G. Herder and J.G. Eichhorn declared the only meaning of prophecy to be its original meaning.  There was no secondary application.  Eichhorn was convinced that the last three decades of the 1700’s completely erased the idea that the OT prophets predicted anything.  The Bible reader had to discern the individual prophet’s life in order to glean hope for the future.  I have to say, I have real trouble understanding this method based on the brief description.  To me it seems like a reiteration of Collins’ original thought.
3.     New Testament meaning.  From 1828-1858, E.W. von Hengstenberg published and re-published a 3-volume work on prophecy.  In it, he gave final arbitration to New Testament authors.  For him, they determined how to understand the OT texts considered ‘messianic.’  His critics said his reading was dogmatic and ignored the historical context of Jeremiah or Hosea or whatever prophet was in question.
4.     Developmental meaning.  Nineteenth century scholar Franz Delitzsch could see that there were pericopes[i] used to support the idea of messianic prediction, but these passage simply did not provide that support.  They clearly contained different meaning (Kaiser does not provide an example on p.21 where this method is described).  So, he took a tact different than Hengstenberg.  Delitzsch saw the meaning of such passages developing.  The prophecies did not contain an absolute prediction but there was more to their meaning than the original OT understanding yielded.  The full development of the meaning was seen in later doctrine and Christian experience.  As I write this, I am conscious of the fact that I do not clearly see the distinction Kaiser is drawing between Hengstenberg and Delitzsch.
5.     Goal Meaning.  A.F. Kirkpatrick, in 1897, proposed that Jesus was the ethical and moral goal of what the OT prophets had in mind.  He did not fulfill specific and detailed promises.  He united all the lines of prophecy by filling them with new meaning.  Of course this rendered each individual pericope of Isaiah or Zechariah vague and void of specific significance.
6.    Relecture Meaning.  This is a process of reading old prophecies in a new way so that they have new meaning (without removing their original meaning).  This process appears encouraging (for Christians who want Jesus to be the fulfillment of the OT), but it is too subjective.  It cannot be sustained and it cannot have any sort of precision in identifying the history of a passage.
7.     Theological Meaning.  Whether or not Jesus fulfilled the words of OT prophets historically, theologically, what the prophets aimed for was the Messiah who was Jesus (even if the prophets themselves were not fully away of this).  H.G.A. Ewald said the history of Israel would find consummation and its final stage of growth in the Christian church.  I have talked to many Jews and read works by many others; they would nearly all be thoroughly offended by Ewald’s suggestion.

These seven meanings applied to prophecies considered potentially messianic are not necessarily Kaiser’s thought.  Rather, he summarized them on pages 19-22 in order to trace the history of how readers have tried to tie the OT to the NT.  Where does he come down in this conversation?
He thinks all seven procedures are self-defeating (p. 27) essentially because they are not comprehensive enough.  Each approach zeroes in on specific OT passages and in one way or another tries to draw a line to a NT idea.  But Bible verses or even entire passages cannot be ripped out of the Bible.  They must be read within the story.  The story shows that God has a single, unified plan.
Prophecies made within the course of the story are based on a relationship with the God who makes the promise.  Those prophecies, some of which might be categorized as ‘messianic,’ are not predictions the way we understand the notion of prediction. 
It is not like saying “Detroit will beat Green Bay 18-16.”  Would that prediction be right if Detroit beat Green Bay 21-7?  Or would it be right if Green Bay beat Detroit 18-16?  This is not what is happening in the OT words we have in the Bible in Amos and Joel and the Psalms and Ezekiel and the rest.  The words in the Bible come in the flow of people who are in relationship with the God of promise.  The prophetic words are seeds full of God’s promise. 
We only see the fullness of the potential of the seed as it blooms.  It is alive and growing along the way.  Isaiah’s words in chapter 45-55 spoke to Israelites in exile in Babylon in the late 6th century BC.  But when that era passed, Isaiah’s words did not stop speaking.  Rather, his words that have become scripture were infused with the wisdom and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  As time went out, the message grew and “filled out” as a flower does.  The full bloom is seen in Christ.  He said as much (Matthew 5:17).
Here is what Kaiser has to say.  “We conclude, therefore, that the messianic doctrine is located in God’s single, unified plan, called in the NT his ‘promise,’ which is eternal in its fulfillment but climactic in its final accomplishments, while being built up by historical fulfillments that are part and parcel of that single ongoing plan as it moved toward its final plateau.  Thus what began simply as a ‘word’ about who God was and what he was going to do for a select group of people became a word that was intended from the start to be cosmopolitan in its effects, for it announced simultaneously who God was and what he was going to do for all the other nations on earth through this one group” (p.31).
After this introduction, Kaiser goes to a place that surprised me.  The title of chapter 2 is “The Messiah in the Pentateuch.”[ii]  I did not expect to find words pointing to Messiah in those first five books.  I think that is part of Kaiser’s point about the unity of the Biblical story.  I should have expected to find the Messiah there.  In my next post, I’ll share how Kaiser does that.

[i] Pericope – an extract from a text, especially the Bible
[ii] Pentateuch refers to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Messiah in the Old Testament

The Messiah in the Old Testament

            The Messiah in the Old Testament (Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) is the title of a book by Walter Kaiser, professor of Old Testament at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.  Monthly, in my newsletter articles and weekly in my blog, I will begin 2016 with thoughts Kaiser’s book has raised in me. 
            I don’t know that I could write an opening paragraph any dryer than this.  What possible interest could my reading of Kaiser have for you, friendly reader?  Only this: there is continuity between Christianity and Judaism.  If we Christians are ignorant of Judaism, we ignore our spiritual relatives to our peril.  Thus we must give our attention to our spiritual roots.
            The Apostle Paul calls all non-Jewish Christ followers “wild olive shoots.”  In order to be part of God’s people, we have to be “grafted in” (Romans 11:19).  To follow Jesus with a deep, mature faith, we have to embrace that by God’s grace, we gentile Christ-followers are adopted into Israel and not at the expense of Israel. 
            What is the eternal destiny of Jewish people who do not accept that Jesus is the Messiah?  That is for God to decide.  I will not in this space offer any opinion about the eternal destiny of Jews or anyone else.  I enter this exercise with fear and trembling.  I know the history of evils Christians have committed against Jews.  It is understandable that one of the most detestable things to Jews is the attempt Christians make to convert them.  I pray I can write in a way that is respectful.
As an evangelical Christian, I would try to help anyone of any background who does not follow and worship Jesus come to that point in their journey where they decide to worship and follow him.  But my role is to love, to encourage, to help, and to support and to do it all with compassion.  I do not convert anyone.  I do not “win souls.”  The Holy Spirit does this.  My efforts at reading about the Jewishness of Jesus are not part of a design to specifically witness to Jews.  I feel called to witness to all people.  But for reasons stated above, this witness is shared humbly.  Confidently and boldly, but just as important, humbly.
            My goal in this study is to more deeply understand Jesus.  And I invite you to join me in this.  As the Gospel makes clear, Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed one of Israel.  So, if we are to understand our Lord, we need to understand why he is called “Christ.”  It’s a title, not his last name.  It serves as a name, of course, because there is no other Christ.  But to know Jesus, we need to know all aspects of Him (or as many as we can).  John 21:25 implies what we obviously see when we realize Jesus is God.  No one can ever know all there is to know of Him.  So we strive to know as much as we can. 
            Kaiser writes, “The Bible is to be read with an appreciation of its wholeness, its unity, and its concept of a divine plan that is being enacted both in immediate historical fulfillments, and in a final, climactic fulfillment in the last days” (p.26).  This unity carries from Old Testament words about the Messiah through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and into the age of the church.  Kaiser’s proposal is that “the messianic doctrine is located in God’s single, unified plan, called in the NT his ‘promise,’ which is eternal in its fulfillment but climactic in its final accomplishments, while being built up by historical fulfillments that are part and parcel of that single ongoing plan as it moved toward its final plateau” (p.31). 

In other words, from the start, God planned to save the world through the Jewish Messiah.  I hope you’ll walk with me as I explore all the implications in the claim that Jesus is the Christ even and we are his, ‘Christians.’ Follow the blog (  Leave comments, or Facebook me or tweet at me.  Participate in the conversation.  Together, let’s begin growing in our knowledge of our Lord by growing in our understanding of what we mean when we say Jesus Christ.