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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

All Shall See Salvation (Luke 3:3-6)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

          I needed help with this sermon, so I turned … well, I turned to everyone.  If you were around the church office this week, I hit you with a question.  If I haven’t asked you the question yet, I’ll give it now and you can think about what your answer would be.  If I have asked and you remember answering, you can now think whether you would change what your answer would be.
          We say Jesus is our savior.  The Bible says that.  Salvation is a major and repeated theme in scripture and in the history of Christian theology.  If Jesus is savior, here is the question.  From what are we saved?  Ponder that.  If Jesus is our Savior, from what are we saved?
          Because this concept comes up so often in the Bible, one thing is absolutely clear to me.  Human beings and the world, the entire creation, need salvation and only God can meet this need.  However, salvation is discussed in so many different places, there is not one definitive word on this topic.  Salvation is a complex Christian idea and it is important that we understand it. 
Throughout this summer, that’s what we’ll try to do.  We will look at the history of ideas about salvation in way that shows the connection of the idea with the daily living of our lives.  Surprising?  Did you think of salvation as something that happens to your soul after you die?  Certainly eternal life is part of what we mean when we say ‘salvation.’  The saved spend eternity in God’s loving embrace, feasting at God’s banquet table.  Those not saved, the damned, spend eternity separated from God.  We call this condition Hell and the New Testament offer several metaphors to depict it. 
However, the Bible does not restrict the understanding of salvation to the afterlife.  What does it mean today to say, ‘I am saved?’
Luke chapter 3 stands at the turning point of history.  Luke mentions the Roman emperor of the time, the Roman governor in Judea, Pontius Pilate, and Herod, the Jewish ruler in Galilee.  Luke sets his tale in history because he believes he’s writing not only history – but a seismic shift in the historical landscape.  To accomplish his task of showing that with the arrival of Jesus on the scene everything has changed, he sets the time period and then quotes the prophet Isaiah. 
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” Isaiah says, and 500 years later Luke write.  Luke 3:4-5 is remarkably similar to Isaiah 40:3-4.  That portion of Isaiah was for the exile community; God’s word of promise to a defeated people.  God would again do a new thing and would again deliver His people.  Luke takes those words the prophet spoke in Babylon and announces that the day has come.  In doing so, he significantly alters the final part of the quote.
Isaiah told the exiles, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  Luke saw that glory – God in the flesh, Jesus.  By the time Luke wrote this gospel, Jesus had died and resurrected.  Luke changed the final verse of the quote so that in his rendition it said, “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  The glory of God means salvation for humankind and for the world God created and sin corrupted.  The coming of Jesus is the sign that the turn-around has begun. 
By changing the final verse of the well-known Isaiah passage, Luke introduced a new idea.  “All” flesh shall see salvation.  This idea is not only for priests, not only for Pharisees, not only for Jews.  Luke’s two works – the gospel and the book of Acts – insist that this salvation that comes from the Jews spreads over the face of the earth.  His message is to be taken literally.
John the Baptist, Isaiah’s voice in the wilderness, is said by some Bible commentators to be the last of the Old Testament prophets in the tradition of Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah.  I see that.  I also see him and a pre-apostle.  Apostles were those who met Jesus in person and then carried the message of his salvation and coming kingdom throughout the world.  John met Jesus in person.  He baptized him.  And when he wasn’t baptizing he was preaching, proclaiming the gospel of repentance.  He was the forerunner to the age of the apostles.  Most importantly, he showed that the message of salvation is one to be shared.
He also demanded repentance and this gets us closer to that question which should stay on our minds throughout all of this.  From what does Jesus save us?  Repentance is acknowledging and confessing our sins, turning away from them, and in our guilt turning to God.  Oxford theologian Paul Fiddes calls sin a “failure of relationship between human beings and their creator due to rebellion from the human side.”  Sin is unbelief.  It is humans refusing to accept God’s purpose for His creation and substituting our own purposes instead.[i]
Sin wipes out the possibility of universal salvation.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Everyone is saved.  We could even such an interpretation out of Luke’s altered Isaiah quote.  Doesn’t it see, all shall see salvation?  Yes.  But do all receive salvation?  Jesus is the embodiment of God and of what God wants to do.  Did all who met Jesus turn to God in faith?  No.  Some heightened their own rebellion by pounding thorns into Jesus’ head before nailing him to a cross, displaying him in shame, and piercing him with a spear.  Some people reject God and take that rejection to their graves.  On judgment day, God honors the choices we have made.
At the same time, God glorifies the accomplishment of Jesus on the cross.  He died for the sins of the world.  He died to defeat death.  He overcame the temptations of Satan.  He forgave those who taunted, tried, and killed him.  He welcomed back the disciples who abandoned him and restored the one who denied him.  He redeemed humanity and renewed creation.  All in his death and resurrection.  His victory is the final word on Judgment Day.  How this squares with the eternal fate of those who rejected God invitations in life is God’s business.  I don’t know how it all fits together and I will assert that the most brilliant of theologians doesn’t know either, not completely.
What we can say, because the Bible shows this, is that salvation is much more the verdict for individuals on Judgment Day.  It is also about God reclaiming his creation.  Listen to the comments of N.T. Wright, also of Oxford.  He says that the belief that the whole of Christian truth is about me and my salvation is the “theological equivalent of supposing that the sun goes round the earth.”  He continues, “We are not the center of the universe.  God is not circling around us.  We are circling around him. … God made humans … so that through them, as his image-bearers, he could bring his wise, glad, fruitful order to the world.”[ii]  When we are saved, it is to be agents of God’s order.  That’s our vocation as disciples.  More on that in a moment.
N.T. Wright’s expanded sense of salvation brings me to the question I threw in peoples’ faces all week.  If Jesus is the Savior, from what are we saved?
People don’t like it when a pastor steps to them with a question like this.  It feels like a pop quiz one is destined to fail.  Thank you, all of you, who humored me by answering. 
In the salvation we have from God, from what are we saved?  Eleven people said we are saved from “Sin.”  Some had a variation on this like, saved from the penalty of sin, or saved from sin and death, or saved from consequences of sin.  That’s a correct answer.  Nine people said we are saved from death.  One of the nine actually the word ‘destruction.’  Also a correct answer.  Seven people said some form of separation; we are saved from separation from God.  The cross bridges the chasm. Six people said we are saved from ourselves and one said we are saved from each other.  Many passages in the Old Testament show why such a salvation is needed.  Four people included “Hell” as part of their answer; we are saved from Hell.  Tw said we are saved from the world and one said we are saved from falling short of God’s standard.  One creative person said, we are saved from an ordinary life.  These are all correct answers.
A year ago, I put this question to my son Igor.  This is what happens when your dad is a pastor.  He said we are saved from evil.  He’s the only one who said it that way.  This past week, I asked him the same question and forgetting what he previously said, this time said we are saved from sin.  I bet if I asked you the question in five years, your answer might be a little different than what you’d answer today.  These are all right answers.  They all tell part of the story.
I was having so much fun with this game, I took it to a group a pastors I meet with on Thursdays.  We spend a couple of hours each week debating theology and helping each other figure how to be better church leaders.  I asked these wise guys the question, and they had to turn it around on me.
They said, “No Rob, the question is not what are we saved from.  The question is what are we saved for.  Or, what are we saved to.”  I had to browbeat these guys into answering my question.  Then, I had to thank them for challenging me with a better question.  Remember N.T. Wright’s observation.  When we are saved by God through faith in Jesus Christ, we become agents of God’s order. 
We are sent by him to lost, hurting people, beaten people, mean, scarred people.  We are sent to tell them that their lives, which appear to be total messes, actually have purpose.  We are sent to show them that they are loved.  They feel horrible about themselves, which is why they are so awful to others.  We show them they are loved by God and have a future of walking hand-in-hand with God.  What are we saved to?
All summer we will dig into what ‘salvation’ means and how it colors, shapes, and animates our everyday lives.  For now, ponder this.
An old evangelistic technique is to try to shock people.  Put the urgency into the conversation.  Say to someone you think is not walking with Jesus, “If you were to die tonight and have to face God, what reason would you give Him for letting you into His Heaven?”  “If you were to die tonight … .”  That’ll get em!  That will convince people to turn to the Lord in repentance and faith.  Scare them into Heaven.  The truth is some people have become disciples through confrontational approaches like this one. 
It’s not a tact Jesus normally used.  More often than anything else, he told people they were forgiven and thus able to re-enter the worshiping community.  Or, he might say, “You are forgiven.  Go in peace.”  The words he spoke to how people would live faithful, God-honoring, God-filled lives the next day.
What if we undercut that “What are you saved from” question?  What if we inverted that “If you die tonight” approach to talking about salvation?
Not, “If you die tonight.”  No, instead this: “If you wake up tomorrow, how will you live the new day in relation to God?”
That’s this week’s assignment.  Each day, when you wake up, be aware.  You’re awake!  You don’t need to remember the entire sermon.  Just remember to look in a mirror and say this.  “OK, I am saved by the shed blood and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  What am I saved for today?  What I am saved to do in Jesus’ name today?”  This week, don’t fail.  Don’t miss a day between now and next Sunday.  Start each day in this way.  I am saved.  For what I am saved?  What will my relationship with God look like today?  And spend that day answering.  


[i] P. FIddes, Past Event and Present Salvation, p.6.
[ii] Wright, Justification (2009), p.23-24.

Because I am the Lord Your God (Leviticus 19:2)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

          God created the world.  This is basic belief of Christianity.  Yet, we live in a post-enlightenment world, which, among other things, means a lot of people have problems with this simple statement – God created the world.  While this might be assumed in Church, some simply don’t believe it. 
          Maybe you are one.  You hear it.  But you know that the statement comes from authority of the Bible.  The Bible, if read as an official record, only accounts for about 6000-10,000 years.  Physicists and biologists are quite certain the earth is 4.5 billion years old and the universe is 14 billion years old. 
          We know that science leads to technological breakthroughs.  We have seen the skyscrapers.  We hold in our phones all the knowledge of world.  Diseases are eradicated.  All these advances begin with science.  So we trust science, whatever we mean by ‘science.’  This path has so many turns, we’re not sure we can find our way out of this forest.  We trust science; science says the universe is billions of years old.  The Bible seems to say something else.  So we end up doubting the simple statement: God created the world
          Even in the church, where such a statement appears to be painfully obvious, our lives are lived in such a way that we don’t really believe it.  Oh, we say, yes of course, we believe God is creator.  But when you look at the choices we make – choices that indicate our values and our deepest held beliefs, do our choices reveal that in our hearts we believe God truly is God? 
          Or is something else God – the God to whom we give allegiance?  Is a certain lifestyle the god that we actually serve?  The successful, middle class lifestyle.  Is that god the one who dictates how we live?  Does a particular ideology hold more sway over us than the God described in the Bible?  The tolerance ideology, in which everyone must be affirmed, the self is the ultimate measure, and no one must ever be question, criticized, or asked to change.  Is that ideology calling the shots in how we think, choose, and live?  Examples abound.  Political movements, family dynamics, competing loyalties, personal appetites – all these forces vie to tell us who we are and how we are to live.
          We have spent five weeks counting today paying attention to another voice – the voice of the Holy Spirit.  God is telling us who we are and how we are to live.  God claims the authority to call us to a way of living.  I have over and over emphasized this.  It is not only pastors, prophets, professors, missionaries, theologians, and chaplains who get called.  Those religious specialists each have a unique calling, noted by titles like reverend, ‘father,’ and ‘doctor.’  These unique roles are important, but your role is important too.  We are, each one of us, called. 
          Why?  Because God is the Lord.
          Memorize the second half of Leviticus 19, verse 2.  Fix that portion of scripture on your mind.  Emblazon that half of a verse on your heart.  You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy
Imagine this being said to you, the individual human.  You are created in the image of God.  Perhaps you hear this and have no earthly idea what it means.  One thing it means is God had something in mind when you were made.  God calls you to be holy.
          You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.  Imagine this being said to the entire church family.  As a group, we are brought together for a purpose – God’s purpose.  Individuals and the church corporate are to be holy as God is holy.  We are called to this. 
Everything we have said over the past five weeks leads to this.  We have said we are called to fellowship at the Communion table in the Lord’s Supper and at the common table in meals.  We are called to be givers and receivers of hospitality. 
We are called to a story.  We understand our lives as stories that should be told.  We understand that the gospel comes to life when our stories intersect with and are woven into God’s story.  We are called by God to live the gospel story and to share it.
We are called to forgiveness.  The stinking pile that threatens the aromatic beauty of the Jesus way is sin. Sin clings, sin reeks, and sin sucks the life out of us.  But on the cross, Jesus has defeated sin completely and finally. So the threat is actually no threat.  We are fragranced with grace.  We are called to receive forgiveness and to give it.  We live as forgiven people, freed from sin.
Fourth, we are called to renewed humanity.  As we adjust to the idea of being forgiven and freed from sin, the wisdom of the Holy Spirit fills us.  At this point it is perfectly normal to assume that death is not part of our long-term future.  Yes, the world is still in sin.  No redemption is not complete.  But it is happening and complete restoration of God’s good creation is coming and we, in Christ, are part of it.  So even as our bodies die, we look forward to resurrection and life lived in healthy bodies that cannot be injured or killed, and this life is lived in good relationships, right relationship with God and with others.
My certainty that all of us are called to fellowship, story, forgiveness, and renewal comes from God – my understanding of who God is. 
I earlier urged us to commit the latter half of Leviticus 19:2 to memory. You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.  Now, we look to the setting.  Where and when did God say this and to whom did God say this?  At the beginning of verse 2, where God instructs Moses: “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel.”  He’s addressing the entire nation gathered at the foot of the mountain in the Sinai wilderness after they have fled Egypt.  There are words in the Bible that are only for priests.  This verse is not among them.  Who did God tell “be holy”?  Everyone.
Who was this ‘everyone?’  Israel had been a nation of slaves under the heel of a cruel taskmaster.  The Egyptian Pharaoh in the book of Genesis is kind to Joseph and his brothers, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
By the time we turn the page to Exodus, the second book of the Bible, the kind Pharaoh has died.  Joseph and his 11 brothers have sired numerous sons and daughters who in turn each became parents of large families.  The next generation did the same and so on, so that what began as a family is at the beginning of Exodus a growing nation.  The new Pharaoh has forgotten the relationship with Joseph.  This new despot feels threatened by this burgeoning population and enslaves them. 
Who is this ‘everyone’ of Leviticus 19?  They are a people who were powerless to do anything other than Pharaoh’s bidding until Moses, under the power of God, freed them.  So, they went from slaves to wandering homeless people.  Now, if I said, “Word association,” and I hollered out “holy,” would you immediately think words like “slave,” “homeless,” “beaten,” “powerless,” and “downtrodden?”  These words describe the Israel gathered at the mountain in Leviticus 19.  God looked at these desperate wanders and said, You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.  Holiness is imparted by God on the most unlikely of people. 
In his book Desiring the Kingdom, a guide for me throughout this series, James K.A. Smith says, “Gathering [for worship] indicates that Christians are called from the world, from their homes, from their families, to be constituted into a community capable of praising God. … [Here, we are] a new people gathered from the nations to remind the world that we are in fact one people.  Gathering … is a foretaste of the unity of the communion of the saints.”[i]
When we realize that we are who we are because by coming here we have answered a call from God and it is only possible for us to be here because God called us then it makes perfect sense.  Of course the people God calls “holy” are those who transitioned from defeated slavery to wandering homelessness.  The mighty of that era were the Egyptians.  By the time the Israelites stood at the mountain hearing God tell them to be holy those mighty Egyptians were fish food at the bottom of the Red Sea. 
Why?  Because the Lord God is Holy.
Because might or weakness by human standards is all the same – nothing in the light of God.
Because today nothing has changed.  The mighty today, 21st century Pharaohs and power brokers, and the lowest of the low today, slaves and homeless, are all the same – nothing in the light of God.
However, this is not a sermon about how we are nothing.  This is not some sweaty preachers’ spit strewn soliloquy about the wretchedness of our condition.  This is an invitation to us to listen and hear.  God calls the wandering Israelites to be holy as God is holy.  God calls the Syrian refugee who is a Christian and is without home to be holy as God is holy. 
God calls the frustrated American who can’t shake his confusion.  He doesn’t know who he is supposed to be in a society where it appears that morality changes daily.  He doesn’t know what’s right and wrong because what was wrong yesterday is acceptable today.  And that American tries to take it all in and be faithful to God and he’s frustrated.  God calls the man of faith, drowning in confused frustration.  To him, God says, be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy.  You are holy because I am the Lord.
So we are called.  How then do we answer?  Hint: the answer is not found in whether we believe the earth is billions of years old or 10,000.  For the record, I believe Genesis and I believe the account scientists offer for the age of the earth and the development of life on the earth.  How can I say that?  Because I believe God when he says in Leviticus that He is the Lord. 
As Lord, God rules over all arenas of life.  God rules as we make personal choices.  God rules as physicists and biologists do their research, conduct their experiments, and draw conclusions from the results.  God rules when my family is at home at night and no one else is around.  No one knows your family when you go, the porch light is turned off and the shades drawn.  But God does and God is lord there too.  In light of HB2, I’ll say this: God is even Lord in the bathroom and in the chambers of the legislature where laws are drawn up. 
Gathered with Israel there at the mountain, we hear what they hear.  We are called as they were.  To us God says, “You shall be holy, as I, the Lord your God, am holy.” In practical terms, it means God comes first in all our thinking.  God influences every choice we make.  The rest of Leviticus 19 elaborates on life lived in holiness.  Some of the material was essential in 1200 BC and is irrelevant in 21st century America.  Some of it speaks as loudly then as now.  Verse 18 – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  That teaching was on the books from the beginning.  In his life, Jesus demonstrated how to live it out.  In all the teachings, we are completely submitted to God’s rule.
This means we are completely apart from the values of the world around us.  It’s tough because most of us want to be accepted by our peers and neighbors.  We want to fit in.  Holiness is not an intentional move to be odd, but it is a declaration that we don’t care about fitting in.  We follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings and if that means going against the grain of society, then we do so. 
Pushing against the social currents as a way of living out holiness can be quite radical.  We may protest unjust laws; we may take up the cause of the victim and in facing get hit ourselves; we may change our lives completely in order to live out God’s love and God’s justice.  However, we can also push against the grain in small ways in our daily lives.  If these small attempts to live as God’s called people became a way of life, gradually we come to realize that we can hear God’s voice when we need to and we understand the world differently than people who don’t know Him. 
I was a senior in our high school church youth group, which was large.  Thirty of us where on the trip to Disney World.  I remember as an underclassman how hard it was for me to crack into the social cliques.  I had experiences of feeling rejected.  So on that trip, I looked our group and looked for the 6th graders that seemed to have no friends.  My efforts were clumsy.  Some of those young ones didn’t know how to react when the youth group president grabbed and said, “You’re not going to be sad and lonely left out today.  You’re hanging out with us.”  I am sure I had a bit of hero-complex.  But residing in me deeper than that was a sense that in Christ all should welcomed and love.  Holiness is to be set apart, but everyone is invited and in fact called to this state of set-apartness. 
Over the years I have tried to become more delicate in my attempts to invite others into the holiness of God.  Those who know me well know that blunt, blowhard 18-year-old still lurks within.  And whatever warts were on you before you began to be transformed by Christ may still linger. Even so, find those small ways in which you can step to the God who invites and bring others along with you.  In the rhythms of your daily life, submit to God’s rule and extend God’s love and welcome.  The more God has authority in all areas of life, the more we live in the holiness to which we are called. 
And the more we live as called people, the less we are products of the fallen world around us and the more we are witnesses that show world a better, God’s way, the way of forgiveness, welcome, family, and eternal life.

[i] Desiring the Kingdom, p.161.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Called to New Creation

One of my heroes of the Christian faith is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp for his small role in a plot to assassinate Hitler.  Bonhoeffer had been teaching theology in the United States.  He did not have to go back to Germany.  He was free and clear.  But his faithfulness to Christ compelled him to return home, face the dangers, and try to do his part to help his countrymen.  He was courageous and faithful and because of that, he died. 
          What was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “call” from God?  Was he called to be a theologian?  Was he called to be a martyr?  When I read a biography about Bonhoeffer, I was amazed to learn that one of his earliest jobs was as a youth minister in a German-speaking church in Spain.  I thought, “I can relate to that.  I’ve been a youth minister!  In a small way, I can feel connected to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”  What a thrill for me.
          What was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s call from God?  He was called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  It is the same call God has for you and for me.  For Bonhoeffer, the call dictated how he would approach dating, which he put off for a long time.  By the time he was engaged to marry Maria von Wedemeyer, it was too late.  He was arrested before they could marry.  It’s sad, but it was a part of the testament of his life, a life lived following Jesus.
          His call led him to serve as youth pastor at that church in Spain.  His call led him to study theology and teach in New York.  His call led him, while in New York, to worship at a black Baptist church in Harlem and teach youth Sunday school there.  His call led him to go back to Germany.  And while he was in prison, prior to his execution, his call led him to stay even when he could have escaped.  He stayed in prison as an act of solidarity with others who were not getting out. 
          We have spent three weeks examining what it is to live as a person called by God.  Each one of us is called.  I occupy the role of pastor, I am called to that role, but I am no more called than anyone else here.  My calling is different than yours, but yours is just as much a call from God. 
My primary call is the same as Bonhoeffer’s and yours.  His call, my call and yours all stem from the heart of God who beckons all people to come to Him in faith and repentance.  We turn from sin and run into the outstretched, waiting arms of our loving father.  Jesus the Son bore our sins on the cross.  We are saved from death and saved to life as followers of Jesus.  In the disciple life, we live the life God saved us to live. 
          As called people, we live in fellowship – at the communion table and at the common table. We share life together.  A second way we live as called people is in the living of the Gospel story.  The story of our lives and the story of God are brought together in Christ, and we spend our lives telling the story of the Gospel.  A third we way we answer God and live as called people is forgiveness.  We live as forgiven people which means we receive forgiveness and we give it.  Today we receive as a fourth aspect of our calling.  We are called to be a part of a renewed humanity.
          Passages from 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5 paint the picture. 
          In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says, “So it is with the resurrection of the dead,” and he describes the contrast from the body we have now – bodies that are dying, and the body we will have when we join Jesus in resurrection.  Resurrection is a part of new creation – God’s plan to reclaim His original creation, which was good. God will reclaim the world and the universe, through the cross cleanse us of sin and defeat death, and all will be as God intended in the beginning.
          Right now we still live under the shadow of the Fall, Adam and Eve’s original sin.  Right now we live with sin in the world and with the shadow of death cast over us.  We are all dying but God calls us to something else.  To answer and to live as called people, we live as those who will live eternally.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, the resurrected body is imperishable, raised in glory, and raised in power.  It is a spiritual body.  This does not mean it is immaterial.  In Heaven, we are not shades and we are not beams of light.  We have bodies, but as 1 Corinthians 15 says, we bear the image of the man of Heaven.
          The Spiritual Body cannot be harmed nor can it be killed.  Our resurrection into these spiritual bodies is made possible by the death of the Son on the cross and is the work of God the Spirit.  As we turn to faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit goes to work in us, transforming us.  The transformation is complete at the resurrection at the end time on Judgment Day.
          We see signs of this transformation in how we live here and now.  In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes, “From now on … we regard no one from a human point of view. … If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”  We are still in the world where pain is present and the effects of sin and death continue to plague mankind.  However, we see this world from God’s perspective and we begin to invite people we meet to move from the story of sin and death into the story of eternal life. 
          How do we live with this eternal perspective when we are surrounded by cancer and depression, drunk driving fatalities and the complete breakdown of marriages and families?  How do we, with a straight face, claim to see the world from God’s heavenly vantage point when stories of terrorism and refugee crises abound?  How can we talk about abundant life and eternal life in our world of death?  There’s an orphan crisis in numerous countries.  Abortion – the death of defenseless babies – is accepted as a normal practice.  Decency is mocked and political vitriol seems to lead to more success than truth telling. 
          I asked the discipleship groups of our church to discuss this question.  If you could eliminate any one thing from human experience – arthritis, heartache, taxes, diabetes – anything, what would you choose?  What would you remove from the human condition so with this thing gone, life would then be richer, more fulfilled, and happier?  What would you choose to get rid of?
          When God created the world, the human condition was “good” from God’s perspective.  This means to be human was to be healthy, to live forever, and to be in right relationship with God and with other humans.  The renewed creation, the resurrected existence in the eternal kingdom is the experience of living in healthy bodies that never die and it is the experience of being in right relationship with God and with people.  James K.A. Smith says the call to new creation is “a call to be human, to take up the vocation of being fully and authentically human, and to be a community of God’s people who image God to the world.”[i]
          When we read 2 Corinthians and talk about us becoming new creations, this is what is meant: healthy bodies that live forever in right relationships; relationships of love.  We live to thrive and to create, just as our God created us.  We live to make something of the world – something good, something useful, something beautiful, something delicious, something melodic, something joyful, something life-producing. 
          Of course, this call can only be answered as the Holy Spirit of God works through us.  Today is Pentecost, the birth of the church when the Holy Spirit filled the original Christ followers seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus.  When the Holy Spirit came, they were able miraculously speak each other’s languages.  They were able to understand as Peter preached in Aramaic.  And 3000 became Christians in one day.
          Today, the Holy Spirit continues filling the hearts of Jesus’ followers and speaking through the church, which is the body of Christ.  What is the Spirit saying and doing that leads us to answer and help other people answer the call to New Creation?
          We cannot cure all cancer, AIDS, heart disease, and other ailments that attack the body, not with a snap of the fingers or a simple prayer.  So what can the church do?  We pray fervently and unceasingly.  We support doctors and researchers and recognize that the work that they do is God’s ordained work and in answering God’s call, some Christ-followers go into medicine or research or nursing or pharmacy or public service as their life’s calling.  Those of us who do not go into these fields support and celebrate our brothers and sisters who do.  In this we way, we live into the New Creation.
Moreover, as the church, we come around our brothers and sisters who are troubled with sickness and disability.  As a community, we recognize that every member struggles with something, either emotional, physical, mental, financial, or some other struggle.  We wrap the arms of the body of Christ around every member in love so that while we won’t approximate the heavenly bodies described in 1 Corinthians 15, we will create space for all people to have joy, love, acceptance, and family.  We work for all to thrive.
How else do we answer the call to New Creation?  We won’t solve all the problems of evil and injustice, not with the snap of a finger or a simple prayer.  So, we pray fervently and unceasingly.  We see inequality and name it.  We insist that Black lives matter, we understand why, and we renounce systemic injustice as we create spaces for all people to thrive and have a voice.  We see tragedy, we open our doors and our hearts, and we creates spaces for immigrants, refugees, and homeless people to belong and be loved.  We see people Jesus loves before we declare nationality.  We recognize we are all children of God for whom Jesus died on the cross.  We, God’s evangelical church, proclaimers of the Gospel, are the loudest, most powerful voices that call for justice and brotherhood among people of different races.
How else do we answer the call to New Creation?  We won’t answer all the questions of identity and disagreement, not with the snap of a finger or a simple prayer.  So, we pray fervently and unceasingly and we go out of our way to pray for people whose perspective is different than our own.  This is how Paul’s vision in the two passages from Corinthians is lived out in our lives.  We welcome people – even people who disagree with us about what’s acceptable in terms of marriage and sexual orientation.  In the world’s fallen state, people of genuine good will have opposing opinions.  Opposing opinions does not mean we draw battle lines. As it is with disease and sickness and as it is with matters of justice and equality, we approach the question of identity and gender and orientation in love as we create a safe space where disagreements can be hashed out while maintaining the dignity of all in the conversation.  Creating safe space and living compassionately is how we answer the call to renewed humanity . 
When Dietrich Bonhoeffer played the different roles of his life – youth minister, theologian, German Sunday school teacher of black youth in Harlem, conspirator against Hitler – in every role, he was Spirit-driven.  However well I do in my roles – pastor, husband, dad, friend – I am Spirit-driven.  I mess up badly sometimes, but the Spirit has led me to these roles and when I perform in them, I am answer God’s call.  In the roles in your life, including getting out of bed to come to worship this morning, you have the opportunity to answer God’s call. 
When we all do that – answer the call, and cooperate with one another to create a space in our church community that empowers all present to explore God’s call on their lives and to answer that call, then we as a body are living into the resurrection reality.  Together, in worship, in faith, determined to maintain compassion, extend welcome, and share God’s grace-filled love, we lean in to God’s New Creation.

[i] Desiring the Kingdom, p.162-163.

Monday, May 9, 2016

If We Forgive (Matthew 6:14-15)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

          Two weeks ago, I suggested that we are all called to sit at God’s table.  One might hear that and imagine a heavenly banquet, and that would not be wrong, but, this is more than simply the hope that we will be with God after death.  This is a call from God now.  God beckons us to live as Kingdom people, and this means we make hospitality a normal way of life.  We invite other people into our lives.  A question I invited the church to ponder is how does participating in communion with other Christians link us to one another?
          Last week’s message was each one of us is called to live in God’s story.  We think of our own lives as stories to be told.  We immerse ourselves in God’s story so that the story of our lives cannot be told apart from the story of the salvation we have in Jesus.  Thus we are challenged to name specific things that assure us that we are part of God’s story.  As we look at the world around us and at our lives and relationships, what reminds us that we are part of God’s story?
          Both of these things – fellowship and hospitality, and life lived as integrated story; my story and God’s intertwined – both of these run into the same problem.  We are called to fellowship and we are called to story, but we are sinners.  We mess up, we disobey God, we ignore God, we say discouraging things to each other, we lie and cheat, we fail to give love when God puts people in need of love in our lives, we hoard resources instead of sharing, we curse instead blessing; in a millions ways we are, all of us, sinners.  This means we commit sins daily.
          How can serial rejecters of God’s word and God’s way answer the call to fellowship and the call to enter God’s story?  We destroy fellowship and dump filth on the story.  How, in our sin, do we ever do God any good?  ­­­­­

          We’re in the midst of a 5-part series on call and this week’s may well present the biggest hurdle for many of us to overcome.  We are called to forgive.  We are each sinners, which means each one of us lives among sinners.  Ask my wife or children. They could give you a detailed list of the ways I fumble things.  They could catalogue hurtful words that have spilt out of my mouth.  They could offer extensive testimony to my temper, my forgetfulness, my laziness.  And they wouldn’t be exaggerating, nor would their accounts be intentionally mean-spirited. It would be honest. 
I could give a similar account of each of them.  The people in your life, who know you best, could do the same with you.  Sin wrecks life and one cruel truth is we sin most against those we love the most.  Indeed, how could we, demolishers of all that is good, answer the call to fellowship and the call to tell and walk in the story of God?  James K.A. Smith writes, “The church … is a witness to the renewal of creation.  … But given the brokenness of our relationships, the abuses and violence and competition that fragment our communion, the body [the church] must be reknit together through practices of reconciliation and forgiveness.  A kingdom-shaped community cannot be satisfied with private, isolated individuals only reconciled “vertically” to God, for the manifest witness of such reconciliation will be love of neighbor.”[i]
Jesus connects forgiveness between a person and God and forgiveness between people in Matthew 6.  In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer; in the middle of this prayer, we find forgiveness.  “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (6:12).  The first instance, God forgiving me, does not stand apart from the second, me forgiving the jerk who hurt me.  He can’t be “the jerk.”  There’s no doubt he hurt me.  He’s guilty. He bullied, or lied, or cursed, or stole from me.  His sin is reality and I am injured.  But, the call of God on me is forgiveness. 
In the verses that come immediately after the Lord ’s Prayer, Jesus paints a crystal clear picture.   “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespass” (6:14-15).
Many Bible commentators, especially evangelicals who want to read the Bible as scholars and as Jesus’ disciples, struggle mightily with these verses.  It sure does sound like God’s forgiveness is contingent.  We read Romans and other passages in Paul’s letters and build our faith a theology of God’s unconditional grace and love.  We are saved because of what God did, not because of what we do.  A major aspect of our salvation is that God, in His mercy, forgives our sins.  But, here in Matthew, straight from Jesus’ mouth, forgiveness sounds conditional.  We are forgiven if we forgive.  If not, well, that’s a sadder story.
Some of the experts I read try to find ways to get us off the hook.  We can be forgiven even if we fail to forgive.  I appreciate their efforts to be thorough in reading this passage as scholars and skilled interpreters.  But I think trying to give us “an out” from the hard work of forgiveness misses Jesus’ point entirely.  We are called to give and receive forgiveness.  Rather doing hermeneutical gymnastics for the sake of making the scripture say what we want it to say instead of what it actually says, as faithful Bible readers we do well to respond to what it actually says. 
If we forgive each other, our heavenly father will also forgive us.  If we refuse forgiveness, we are not living as forgiven people.  We are called to live as forgiven people.  In a moment, I will demonstrate from scripture the fact that God’s forgiveness is unconditional.  God’s grace pours out of God’s heart and floods our lives.  But when that happens, will we dive into the living water?  Will we receive the forgiveness we are given?  As much as I can describe how sinful we are there is more important to realize and hold tightly.  We are completely forgiven, and we are called to live as forgiven people.  When we see ourselves as God sees us and in Christ, we realize God does not see the stains of our sins.  God sees us and sees the purity of Jesus.  We’ve got to see ourselves in that way.  Yes, you are a sinner.  In in Christ, you are new creation, a child of God who bears His image and whose sins have been washed away.
One of Jesus’ most brilliant parables illustrates this forgiveness into which we are called to live.  This is from Matthew 18.
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church[g] sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven[h] times.
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents[i] was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;[j] and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister[k] from your heart.”

Why didn’t the slave forgive his fellow slave?  He had not received the grace given to him.  Ten thousand talents is more money than a slave would earn in a 100 life times.  How he came to fall into such a debt is another story, but his reaction was not to claim a mistake had been made.  He did not say, “O My King, how could I ever have fallen behind so much money?”  Imagine a minimum wage earner owing $25 million dollars.  How many centuries of work at minimum wage would be needed to pay it off?  And yet the slave says, “Have patience and I will pay every thing?”  Asking for more time.  More time?  For that debt?  Forgiveness never enter the slave’s mind, even when he receives it.
He grasps his fellow slave by the throat and that guy says the same he said.  “Have patience.”  The guy asks for time.  The difference is the size of the debt.  His fellow slave owed a few days’ worth of wages.  It could be paid off in a week.  But he won’t give even that week because he is locked in debt-payment thinking, not grace-forgiveness thinking.
When Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you,” I think he’s talk about the entire picture of living in forgiveness.  Live in a mindset where we accept ourselves as forgiven people and extend that grace others.
We know God gives forgiveness and grace as His pleasure and regardless of our actions.  Jesus died on the cross while we were still in our sin.  He died for us whether we ever confessed or not.  After the resurrection, Jesus received Peter on the beach.  This is in John 21.  Peter had denied knowing Jesus, and now Jesus was forgiving Peter and restoring him.  The forgiveness extended to Peter was not contingent on whether or not Peter had forgiven his neighbor.  The forgiveness of God is unconditional.  However, it is not complete if we don’t receive it.  God extends that forgiveness, but if continue, like the man in the parable to operate in a debt-payment view of the world, we’re not walking in grace.
Please not, I am not declaring that failure to receive forgiveness is a determining factor who is and is not saved.  God determines who is saved and I don’t try to make a lists of the saved and the damned.  God has not given me either of those lists nor has God told me I should try to speculate about either of them. 
What I am presenting this morning is what I believe to be a call of God on all disciples of Jesus.  Every one of us is called to live in forgiveness – both giving it and receiving it. 
Where this becomes especially hard is in relation to someone who has hurt you deeply.  The question our small groups will discuss around this is what changes occur in you when you forgive someone?  That is not a simple question (a) because it takes a lot of spiritual energy and Christ-like love to give forgiveness and (b) because giving forgiveness doesn’t instantly erase the pain of the sin committed against you.  So, don’t run out, say “I forgive the one who wounded me,” and then expect instant healing and blessing.  It’s not easy or instant.
However, do explore this.  Who hurt you?  How bad was it?  Can you, in turning to God with some trusted Christian friends alongside praying with you and for you, find in yourself to forgive?  I believe the Holy Spirit will help.  As hard as it is, forgive and then look inside to see the way the Spirit is at work in you.  Note how different life looks when you walk in grace and live in forgiveness instead in a debt-payment mindset.  And, ask that same group of friends to help you see yourself as forgiven and beloved because that is God sees you.
That’s what the cross means.  God loves, forgives us, and receives as His own. Believe it.  When you look in the mirror, see one who is loved by God.

[i] James K. A. Smith (2009) Desiring the Kingdom p.201.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Dive In

I stand on the dock at my Aunt’s place at the lake.  The sun warms my skin.  When I think of August, I think of this place.  I run toward the end of the dock and dive off.  For a moment, I am superman, flying.  And then … splash.  The entire world changes.  I am an arrow, piercing the water.  The world sounds very odd, distorted under water.  I can’t really hear, not sounds I trust, just water shooting past my ears.  And I can’t see well, not even if my eyes are open.  The lake is dark, and everything is a blur.  I can’t see or hear clearly, but I feel.  I feel my body shooting down into the black, cold depths.  Down, down … but my body also feels the way back up to the surface. At some point, unconsciously, I reorient so I am now climbing in the water, not falling.  I head up, toward the light.  I break through the surface into the air, which I gratefully, breathe in deeply.
Is your life a story?  Are you conscious of the story?  Or, are you just going through life.  You had dreams, or maybe you didn’t.  There was a job that you wanted as a career and maybe you’re in it!  Or it did not work out, and so now, you’re thankful to be in a job, but it is just that; a job.  You don’t see a plot line as you imagine your own life.  You don’t even do that – imagine your own life.  You just live it.  If you want a story, you’ll go to the movies or watch TV or read The Hunger Games or Harry Potter.  Maybe you love life.  Maybe you are maddeningly frustrated by it.  Maybe you live from one adrenalin rush to another.  Maybe your life has slowed to a point that there is not much adrenalin anymore and you’re kind of thankful for the slower, predictable pace.  But however you might describe your life – and you’d only do that if someone asked – it’s not a story, not  the way a story or not in the sense of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or Downton Abbey.
I am not addressing everyone.  Many of you here are quite aware of the story of your lives and you have been kind enough to share bits of your story with me over cups of coffee.  When you do that, share your story, you have invited me onto your sacred ground.  I remember to take off my shoes.  I am grateful to hear of your life.  But, if you when asked, “What is the story of your life,” insist on shrugging your shoulders as you say, “there’s nothing remarkable about me,” well, I vehemently disagree.
I believe each one of us is living a story that is worth being shared.  I also believe you and me and all people are called to a larger story.  And when we answer this call and dive into that larger story, our own individual stories are enhanced and enlarged and we go places we never could have imagined.
Of course the story we are each called to inhabit is the story of God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  As the trinity shows, God is inherently relational, and relationships are never seen in propositions.  Some people think that scripture is nothing more than propositions and rules.  Some Bible readers look to the word for guidelines and that is not all bad.  The Bible does offer foundational teachings upon which we can base our thought and build our worldview.
Jesus is Lord.
God is love.
God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life and everyone who lives and believes in him shall never truly die.
In Christ we are new creations.
Whatever we do for the least and the poorest around, we do for Christ.

These and many other pithy statements from scripture do well to encapsulate our faith.  However, we miss much if we simply grab a hold of these or other favorite Bible promises or commands.  If all we get from the Bible are a few rules, a few memorable quotes, and aphorisms that fit on coffee mugs, we’re not getting into the Bible at all.  Worse, a lot of misunderstanding of scripture comes when Christians build their ideas upon snippets from the Bible that have been divorced from the story of the Bible.
Why is it important to say Jesus is Lord?  When 1st century Christians said this, it was in a context in which the Roman Empire ruled and by law one was required to say, ‘Caesar is Lord.’  For Christians to say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and to put this in their holy book was rebellion against the powers that be.  There can only be one Lord.  Christians and Romans both clearly understood this.  And Christians declared the one Lord was most certainly not Caesar.  Some Christ-followers died horrible deaths for insisting that Jesus is Lord.
I am not sure 21st century American Christians understand the cost of our faith.  In our culture, ‘Lord,’ is a meaningless title.  We don’t use the word in every day life, so it lacks power when we hear it in church.  It is a word that lives in church and stays at church to be revisited each Sunday, but completely lacking influence in the places where we spend most of our lives.  This does not mean there are not powers that ‘lord’ over us demanding our complete loyalty while giving us no blessings.  Possessions, work & career, toxic relationships, addictions – these become idles, ‘lords’ that rule our lives and takes us away from the best life, the life in which we die to self and live as disciples of the Lord Jesus.  This contrast of lords – forces in our world v. the force of the Lord Jesus - is completely missed if we think the Bible is a book full of rules and Christianity is a vehicle that ensures us of heaven when we die.
When Christianity is a Sunday-only, life-after-death-only classification, it shrinks.  When Christianity is the story of God saving the world from sin and saving human beings to be His image bearers and when we see ourselves in the center of that story it expands exponentially to the point that we are completely swallowed in it so that there is no possible sense of reality apart from reality with God; and, we would never consider life apart from God.
Thus, I believe we are called into a story – the story.  How each one of us walks in the story is unique to each individual.  But we are all called to plunge into God’s story.
The Bible helps us do this, so we are called to plunge into the scriptures, to live in the story both as we live our lives.  But that may seem odd.  Live in the Bible story? But, it is 2016, not 40 AD.  I am in America, not Jerusalem.  I speak English, not Koine Greek.  We have a president elected by voters, not an emperor another nation has declared supreme.  How in the world do I live by the Bible story?
My friend Kevin, a pastor, likens Christians as we embody the Bible story in our own lives to characters in a popular movie series, Harry Potter.  
At the beginning of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the great wizard Dumbledore wills a book of ancient runes to Harry’s friend Hermione, just before they and their companion Ron are to go on a difficult journey. At first the trio is unsure of why they’ve received this book, which turns out to be a collection of old fairy tales. How could this dusty book of children’s stories, written in a dead language, possibly help them on their treacherous journey? They come to find, however, that one of those fairy tales is actually true, and that their own journey is a part of that story. That ancient story does not give them instructions for everything they will face on their particular journey, but it does provide a picture of what they are looking for, and it turns out that is help enough.
            Scripture, too, is an ancient story that is in fact our story, and while it is not a blue print or a rule book for every situation in which Christians might find themselves, its pages record pictures that teach us what to look for on our pilgrimage and what to hope for along the way. These pictures are rarely clear at first, and if they seem to be so, it’s probably a sign that we need to look again and ask others what they see, too. But over time, when we sit together and the Spirit aides our reading, these ancient, true stories open up into what 20th century theologian Karl Barth called a “strange new world.” The Spirit gives those words texture and color and all of the sudden we find ourselves somehow inside of them instead of gazing at them. And when we look up from the page this strange new world is imprinted on our eyes, as though we had just looked into a bright light, but instead of being blinded we now see our own world through the overlay of the Bible’s strange new one. It is in those Spirit-filled moments that the history, literature, ethics, and religion recorded in the Bible are transfigured into Scripture, the Spirit’s testimony of the eternal Word of God who lays claim to our whole lives every time we hear it.

When we plunge into the deep waters of the Spirit and answer the call to live in the story by living fully submitted to God’s way as we know God through Jesus, worship and prayer become normative, defining practices for us.  Evangelism becomes natural because Christ colors our every thought, so no matter what words we speak, no matter the topic, what we say will be related to faith in Jesus.  Mission and works of compassion whether a donation to the Helping Hands offering, participation in church life, going on trips, or doing works locally become core parts of our lives.
We see the life immersed in Christ and in God’s story described in Colossians 3.
“12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[f] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[g] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.[h] 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I found out what it is like to dive into God’s story at my aunt’s dock at the lake.  Our family was on our annual trip there, and I dropped my wedding ring into the lake.  My wife me and a look and I put on the diving mask and swam down into the depth under the dock.
Have I mentioned that it is dark under there?  My goal was to swim around a bit so I later on I could say, “Well, I tried.”  But, I discovered something.  Being fully submerged and wearing that mask changes your perspective.  It is dark and murky and quiet – so quiet.  But after a minute, under dock, which is about 7 to 8 feet deep, your eyes adjust.  You can’t move around the way you can on land.  You’re in water, not air.   You have to swim, not walk.  You have to hold your breath – again, no air.  Diving in requires a complete adjustment to the world according to the new environment.
In that quiet world which was new to me even though it lay underneath a dock I stood upon for years, I realized how much full immersion changes everything.  And I found my ring!
The difference when we answer God’s call and dive into the story of God through worship prayer, through Bible reading and absorbing the Bible story into our minds and hearts, through works of compassion and evangelism – the difference is the light of God.  Deep under the water, light is dimmed, sound muffled, and senses dulled.  Immersed in God’s light we truly see.  We see the world by the light of God and so we see it as it really is.  Everything changes.  When we dive into God’s story, everything is new.  We see ourselves as we really are – new creations in Christ.
Our lives are stories and God writes new chapters each day.  Don’t view Christian faith as a set rules that gets us to Heaven when we die.  See it as the story of us and God.  And dive in.

The Messiah in the Old Testament - Balaam, Moses

The Messiah in the Old Testament –Balaam, Moses (in Deuteronomy)

            I began this year by examining a book called The Messiah in the Old Testament by Walter Kaiser, of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  He went through OT texts to show how the Messiah, Jesus, had been a part of God’s plan from the beginning.  In reviewing Kaiser’s book, so far I have looked at his ideas about early Messianic anticipation in Genesis 3:15 (Adam, Eve and the Serpent), in Genesis 9 (Noah),  in the promise God made to Abraham that through him God would bless all the peoples of the earth (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18); and, in Genesis 48:10, which Kaiser believes it meant to mean that the one from Judah will govern until the Messiah comes at which point the Messiah (Jesus) will rule the world.
            You can check my blog from January and February to read my posts reviewing Kaiser’s assessment of these passages (   I did not get to blog about the book in March or April, but am back to it now.
            Kaiser cites Balaam’s’ prophecy “the man whose eye is clear … who hears the words of God … who sees the vision of the Almighty” (Numbers 24:15-19).  Kaiser takes those vanquished kingdoms mentioned in the latter stanzas of v.17 to be representative of kingdoms throughout history who have opposed God’s plans.  He says, “The picture painted by Balaam of … the man who would rise out of Israel” is a picture of the coming Messiah.  He will literally clean house of all opposition to his rule and reign.”[i]
            In Deuteronomy, Kaiser cites 18:15, 18, which forecasts the prophetic role of the prophet.  Jesus was seen to supremely fill the roles of prophet, priest, and king.  It is common to call him king of kings.  We would be equally right in calling Him prophets of prophets.  And the book of Hebrews refers to him as the supreme High Priest. 
            By the time Jesus burst upon the scene, many in Israel were watching for a prophet who would surpass all previous prophets in greatness and knowledge of God.  So when he calmed storms at sea and fed multitudes and drove out demons, those around him were sure he was the expected one.  Kaiser points to John 6:14 where the crowds said, “Surely this is the prophet who is to come into the world.”  Also Kaiser observes that Peter surely saw Jesus this way as he quoted Deuteronomy 18 in his second temple message (Acts 3:11-26).  Stephen made the same connection in his preaching (Acts 7:37).[ii] 
            The Messiah, Jesus, was and is the ruler who surpasses all and is the prophet supreme.  In the next installment, we’ll see how Kaiser assesses passages from the book of Job in relation to the Messiah and to Jesus.

[i] Kaiser, p.57.
[ii] Kaiser, p.60.