Sunday, March 31, 2013

Colonizing Earth with the Life of Heaven

  The resurrection stories in the gospels aren't about going to heaven when you die. In fact, there is almost nothing about "going to heaven when you die" in the whole New Testament. Being "citizens of heaven" (Philippians 3:20) doesn't mean you're supposed to end up there. Many of the Philippians were Roman citizens, but Rome didn't want them back when they retired. Their job was to bring Roman culture to Philippi. 
  That's the point that all the gospels actually make, in their own ways. Jesus is risen, therefore God's new world has begun. Jesus is risen, therefore Israel and the world have been redeemed. Jesus is risen, therefore his followers have a new job to do. 
  And what is that new job? To bring the life of heaven to birth in actual, physical, earthly reality. ...The bodily resurrection of Jesus is more than a proof that God performs miracles or that the Bible is true. It is more than the Christians knowing of Jesus in our own experience (that is the truth of Pentecost, not of Easter). It is much, much more than the assurance of heaven after death (Paul speaks of "going away and being with Christ," but his main emphasis is on coming back again in a risen body, to live in God's newborn creation). Jesus' resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord's Prayer is about.
  ...When Paul wrote his great resurrection chapter, I Corinthians 15, he didn't end by saying, "So let's celebrate the great future life that awaits us." He ended by saying, "So get on with your work because you know that in the Lord it won't go to waste." ...Every act of love, every deed done in Christ and by the Spirit, every work of true creativity -- doing justice, making peace, healing families, resisting temptation, seeking and winning true freedom, -- in an earthly event in a long history of things that implement Jesus' own resurrection and anticipate the final new creation and act as signposts of hope, [point] back to the first and on to the second.1

1. N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church [New York, NY: HarperCollins; 2008] pp. 293-295 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Your Comfort and Salvation

I recently came across a quote from John Bunyan (author of The Pilgrim's Progress) during my morning devotions, and it made me think about Jesus standing before the throne of his Father the day after he was crucified. And so I decided to post it the day after Good Friday:
  Christ stands as our advocate alone before God's bar and pleads before the Father. Whatever can rightly be charged upon us, he accepts the whole charge upon himself, acknowledging the crimes to be his own. And this, he must do. If he hides the sin, or lessens it, he is faulty; if he leaves it still upon us, we die. He must then take our iniquity to himself, make it his own, and so deliver us. Having thus taken the sin upon himself, as lawfully he may and lovingly he does -- "for we are members of his body" (it's his hand, his foot, his ear that has sinned) -- it follows that we live if he lives; and who can desire more? What comfort this is in a day of trouble and distress for sin! 
  As a sacrifice, our sins were laid upon him (Isa. 53). As a priest, he bears them (Ex. 28:38). As our advocate, he acknowledges them to be his own (Psa. 69:5). Having acknowledged them to be his own, the quarrel is no more between us and Satan, for the Lord Jesus has adopted our quarrel, and made it his. O blessed God! What a lover of mankind you are! And how gracious is our Lord in thus managing matters for us? The Lord Jesus after having thus taken our sins upon himself, and presented God with all the worthiness that is in his whole self for us; in the next place he calls for justice, or a just verdict upon the satisfaction he has made to God and to his law. Then the proclamation is made in open court, saying, "Remove the filthy garments"--from him that has offended--"and I will clothe you with pure vestments" (Zech 3). Look then to Jesus if you have sinned. Look to Jesus as an advocate pleading with the Father for you. Look to nothing else for he knows how, and that, by himself, to deliver you; yea, and he will do it in the way of justice, which is a wonder; and to the shame of Satan, which will be God's glory; and also to your complete deliverance, which will be your comfort and salvation.1

1.   John Bunyan, Works, 1:161-162

Friday, March 29, 2013

Psalm 22: You Lay Me in the Dust of Death

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are the words of my groaning to you so far from helping me? O my God, I cry out to you by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I have no rest.  
Yet you are holy,
 you who are enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted;
 they trusted, and you rescued them. To you they cried and were delivered; 
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.  
But I am a worm and not a man,
 a reproach of men and even despised by the people. All who see me laugh me to scorn; 
they hurled insults at me. They shake their heads, saying: “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; 
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”  
But you are the one who pushed me out of the womb, making me trust even from the time I was at my mother's breasts. Upon you I was cast from the womb,
 and from my mother's belly you have been my God. Do not be far off from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.  
Many bulls encompass me; 
strong bulls of Bashan surround me. They open wide their mouths at me, 
tearing and roaring like a lion. I am poured out like water,
 and all my bones are out of joint.
 My heart has become like wax,
 melting within me; my strength is dried up like broken pottery,
 and my tongue sticks to my jaws. 
You lay me in the dust of death.  
For dogs encompass me;
 a company of evildoers encircles me; 
like a lion they have pierced my hands and feet. They count all my bones, and 
they stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them,
 and for my clothing they cast lots.   
But you, O Lord, do not be far off from me!
 O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword,
 my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion, from the horns of the wild ox with which you have answered me.  
I will declare your name to my brethren. In the midst of the congregation I will praise you. You who fear Yahweh, praise him!
 All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; 
and stand in awe of him all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred 
the affliction of the afflicted,
 and he has not hidden his face from him,
 but has heard, when he cried to him.  
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
 my vows I will perform before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
 those who seek him shall praise Yahweh,
 and may their hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to Yahweh, 
and all the families of the nations
 shall worship before you.  
For dominion belongs to Yahweh,
 and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous ones of the earth shall feast and worship, and all who go down to the dust shall bow before him, even the one whose life cannot be kept alive. Posterity shall serve him, future generations shall be told about Yahweh, and they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn that he has done it!

The opening words of Psalm 22 are probably the most familiar words of all the Psalms. After Jesus cried out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46), one can hardly view this Psalm as though it were merely David's expression of suffering. It must, in fact, represent the suffering of some one much greater than David, some Davidic King more ultimate than himself. These opening words also set the tone for the entire Psalm. This King feels a need to exclaim the horrors of separation and alienation from God. The picture painted for us is extremely real suffering and real trust through sufferingThis King "cries out" repeatedly, day after day, night after night, but finds no rest and no peace of mind.

This King knows who he's crying out to. He knows that Yahweh dwells in the midst of His covenant people, making him accessible to all who draw near. And yet, we are left wondering why, if Yahweh is indeed enthroned on the praises of Israel (praises from those Fathers who trusted in Him, were rescued by Him, and were not put to shame because of Him), God seems to be completely absent when the King of Israel cries out to Him. What is there for him to learn through such suffering? (Heb. 5:8)

This King knows he is in a lowly position among all the creatures of the earth. Far from being perfectly spotless and blameless, he is a filthy "worm" who bears the reproach of men. The people despise him; they laugh him to scorn and hurl insults at him, mocking him during his trial of extreme suffering (Matt. 27:39-44). The message of this King is known by his mockers too. They know he trusts and delights in Yahweh. They know he believes Yahweh is his deliverer too. And so they toy with his delights; they jest about his confidence in Yahweh. In their eyes, he is not the rightful King of Israel. Their heads shake in denial (Matt. 27:39).

Yet we see that this "worm" is not ashamed of his delight in Yahweh. He knows Yahweh was with him from conception and birth. The Spirit of Yahweh was at work within him even from his first memory outside the womb, even upon his mother's breast. "From my mother's belly You have been my God," this King declares. Therefore, when real trouble is near, and no one on earth is there to help deliver him, he is not ashamed to cry out toward heaven to this God whom he has always known: "Do not be far off from me! ...There is none to help!" He knows there is no one other to help him in this time of great trouble. In fact, as we approach the center of this Psalm, we learn that this great trouble -- whatever it is -- leads to death. For all practical purposes, this King already feels dead simply because God has forsaken him; simply because he cries and cries without any rest. Later on, this King will cry out these exact same words of help again, only he will cry out to God after being laid in the "dust of death." In other words, the next time he cries out to God for this same help, we get the feeling that God has never really been far off from him. Even though the Psalm begins with the feeling of God forsaking him, we learn that God was his "help" through all of that deadly suffering. And because God was his help through suffering, he can trust that God is his help after death as well.

Towards the center of this Psalm, we find a much more vivid picture of deadly suffering; we find a picture of one who is suffering as though he were in a den of beasts, trapped and tied down with no hope of escape except through death. This King feels like he is "encompassed" by "many bulls." And not just any bulls; these are notoriously strong ones from the land of Bashan. They surround him and taunt him, leaving no way of escape. They open their mouths wide, "tearing and roaring" like ferocious lions. Now we can imagine why this King has reason to feel troubled. This King is completely debilitated within this den of beasts. He is physically and emotionally drained with his bones dislocated like a man stretched upon a rack, while his heart and its resolve melts away like wax as he drifts closer to the reality of death. His strength is brittle like dried-up pottery that crumbles to pieces. He thirsts intensely, leaving his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth (John 19:28). The only one he has to cry out to is Yahweh himself. The only one who can deliver him is  Yahweh himself. 

Yet notice carefully that this King knows who has done all of this to him. This King knows that Yahweh has done this to him. He says "You lay me in the dust of death." Part of the reason why he knows Yahweh has done this to him is because he has cried out to Yahweh repeatedly, day after day, night after night, and Yahweh has responded by placing him in a den of beasts.

Dogs also encompass this King, and behind them is a surrounding "company of evildoers" who are going to make sure there is no escape for him. Like a lion, they have pierced his hands and feet (John 20:20-28; Zech. 12:10). Not only has be been bound, but he is being viscously attacked while the company of evildoers look upon him with malicious satisfaction at his sufferings. They even divide his garments and gamble over who gets the best pieces of his clothing (John 19:23-24). While this King lays in the dust of death like dry, crumbled potsherds, his enemies haggle over the value of his bloody garments.

Yet notice how great the faith of this King is! Even though there is no doubt of real trouble and no earthly deliverance from these evil beasts, he nevertheless cries out to the God of Heaven whom he knows can deliver from the dust. He cries out: "Do not be far off from me! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!" At this point, the King cries out for Yahweh to draw near because he knows Yahweh has never been too far off from him, even after entering the dust of death. He knows who his help truly is. He knows Yahweh is present to deliver his soul from the sword of his enemies, from the beasts which surround him -- the power of dogs, the mouth of lions, and horns of oxen "with which you have answered me." Why does this King believe that Yahweh can deliver him? Because he knows that Yahweh answered him; he knows that Yahweh wasn't totally silent concerning his cries. Yahweh was the one who placed him in a position from which to deliver him. Therefore, because Yahweh placed him in the dust, this King trusts that Yahweh can deliver him from the dust. 

This King knows that Yahweh "has not despised or abhorred 
the affliction of the afflicted,
 and he has not hidden his face from him." This King knows that Yahweh
 has heard his cries all along (Heb. 5:7). Therefore he will not cease to declare the praise which is due to Yahweh. In the midst of the congregation he will talk about Yahweh to his brethren and even sing Yahweh's praise (Heb. 2:12). And those who hear the word of this King, those who share this same faith, those who likewise trust and acknowledge the sovereignty of God in all affairs of life -- even His sovereignty through suffering -- they are exhorted to give Yahweh the praise which is due to his name. "All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; and stand in awe of him all you offspring of Israel!"

Notice carefully the expression of confidence this King shares and the source of his confidence: "From You comes my praise in the great congregation." This King is sure that he will praise Yahweh publicly among his brethren because Yahweh is the source of his praise. But not only will he praise Yahweh publicly, he will also pay his vows publicly by bringing his thank-offering to Yahweh (Lev. 7:16). In the House of Yahweh his afflicted brethren "shall eat" this thank-offering meal "and be satisfied." Also, notice that this thanksgiving meal within God's house becomes an opportunity for others to "seek Him" and to learn of Yahweh's goodness. His confidence is that "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to Yahweh, 
and all the families of the nations
 shall worship before you." Why is he confident that this will happen? Because He has known God from his mother's womb. He has known Yahweh, the covenant keeping God, from his mother's womb. He has known the God who placed him in a den to be torn apart by wild beasts while his enemies haggled over his garments. He has known the God who answered his cries by laying him in the dust of death. He also knows the God who answered his cries by drawing near to him, delivering him from death. In Deuteronomy 4:7, the people of Israel proclaim: "What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as Yahweh our God is to us?" And in this Psalm, the King knows the answer to that question. He knows there is no other god like Yahweh, which is why he has confidence that when Yahweh draws near to any nation, all the families of those nations shall worship Him. Yahweh is worthy of such worship.

Why is Yahweh worthy of such worship? Because "dominion belongs to Yahweh,
 and he rules over the nations." Because dominion belongs to Yahweh, there is hope for all future generations that are told about Yahweh and seek after Yahweh. "They shall come and proclaim" his dominion. They shall come and proclaim the gospel of "his righteousness to a people yet unborn." They shall come and proclaim the gospel of God's Kingdom on earth. Because Yahweh has laid this King in the dust of death and delivered him from it, redemption is actually accomplished. It is finished once-for-all through Yahweh's resurrection from death. And because it is finished -- redemption is accomplished -- there is prosperity, feasting, and worship for all his saints. 

Psalm 22: Literary Structure & Translation

A)  Psalm 22:1-2
  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  • Why are the words of my groaning to you so far from helping me?
  • O my God, I cry out to you by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I have no rest. 
B)  Psalm 22:3-5
  • Yet you are holy,
 you who are enthroned on the praises of Israel. 
  • In you our fathers trusted;
 they trusted, and you rescued them. 
  • To you they cried and were delivered; 
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
C)  Psalm 22:6-8
  • But I am a worm and not a man,
 a reproach of men and even despised by the people.  
  • All who see me laugh me to scorn; 
they hurled insults at me.2
  • They shake their heads, saying: “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
 let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”3
D)  Psalm 22:9-11
  • But you are the one who pushed me out of the womb, making me trust even from the time I was at my mother's breasts. 
  • Upon you I was cast from the womb,
 and from my mother's belly you have been my God. 
  • Do not be far off from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
E)  Psalm 22:12-15a
  • Many bulls encompass me; 
strong bulls of Bashan surround me. They open wide their mouths at me, 
tearing and roaring like a lion. 
  • I am poured out like water,
 and all my bones are out of joint.

  • My heart has become like wax,
 melting within me; my strength is dried up like broken pottery,
 and my tongue sticks to my jaws.4   

F)  Psalm 22:15b
  • You lay me in the dust of death.

E')  Psalm 22:16-18
  • For dogs encompass me;
 a company of evildoers encircles me; 
like a lion5 they have pierced my hands and feet.
  • They6 count all my bones, and 
they stare and gloat over me.
  • They divide my garments among them,
 and for my clothing they cast lots.7
D')  Psalm 22:19-21
  • But you, O Lord, do not be far off from me!
 O you my help, come quickly to my aid!  
  • Deliver my soul from the sword,
 my precious life from the power of the dog! 
  • Save me from the mouth of the lion, from the horns of the wild ox with which you have answered me.8
C')  Psalm 22:22-24
  • I will declare your name to my brethren. In the midst of the congregation I will praise you.9
  • You who fear Yahweh, praise him!
 All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
 and stand in awe of him all you offspring of Israel!
  • For he has not despised or abhorred 
the affliction of the afflicted,
 and he has not hidden his face from him,
 but has heard, when he cried to him.
B')  Psalm 22:25-27
  • From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
 my vows I will perform before those who fear him. 
  • The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
 those who seek him shall praise Yahweh,
 and may their hearts live forever! 
  • All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to Yahweh, 
and all the families of the nations
 shall worship before you.
A')  Psalm 22:28-31
  • For dominion belongs to Yahweh,
 and he rules over the nations. 
  • All the prosperous ones of the earth shall feast and worship, and all who go down to the dust shall bow before him, even the one whose life cannot be kept alive. 
  • Posterity shall serve him, future generations shall be told about Yahweh, and they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn that he has done it!

1.  Matthew 27:46 provides the typological fulfillment: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  See further references listed by Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on The Psalms, Volume 1 [Grand Rapids: MI; Kregel Publications; 2011] p. 549
2.  Matthew 27:39 provides the typological fulfillment: "Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads, saying"  [Ibid.]
3.  Matthew 27:43 provides the typological fulfillment: "He trusts in God. Let God now rescue him if he wants him." [Ibid.]
4.  John 19:28 provides the typological fulfillment: He "thirsts" [Ibid. p. 550]
5.  The standard Hebrew Massoretic text contains the reading: "like a lion," but does not retain the verb "they have pierced." However, all of the variant readings and versions contain a verb in its place, with the exception of the Hebrew Targum which includes both readings. I have inserted the phrase "like a lion" according to C.D. Ginsberg's critical notes found in his Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible [New York: KTAV, 1966] p. 969. Ginsberg follows the Targum, which has both: "like a lion" and "they pierced." I also find the literary parallelism (between E and E') to favor its insertion. 
6.  The LXX contains the third-person plural form: "they count all my bones."
7.  John 19:23-24 provides the typological fulfillment: "They divided my garments among them..." See further references listed by Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on The Psalms, Volume 1 [Grand Rapids: MI; Kregel Publications; 2011] p. 550
8.  It is difficult to render the Hebrew ending of this verse literally while still retaining the same poetic style as the beginning of the verse structure. The Hebrew verb is in the perfect tense, and even though most bibles translate it as an imperative to retain the same poetic style (NIV "save me"), I have decided to stick with the more literal rendering of the perfect tense ("you have answered me") because I believe the Psalmist is expressing confidence that his suffering is part of God's providential answer to his prayers. If his sanctification through suffering is part of God's answer to his prayers, so is his sanctification through deliverance from suffering. Hebrews 5:7 provides the typological fulfillment: He was "heard"  [Ibid.]
9.  Hebrews 2:12 provides the typological fulfillment: "I will declare your name to my brethren." [Ibid.]

Thursday, March 28, 2013

God's Atonement Supper

In his classic work, Jesus the Son of God: The Gospel Narratives as Message, Jakob Van Bruggen writes:

  [Jesus] is the lamb of God, sent to bring about the amnesty that had been promised. Jesus himself presented his ministry in terms of his readiness to give his life as a ransom for many--the pardon would be achieved through his death. Now the disciples must learn to accept this rejected and dying Master as the price paid for their lives. This is what it came down to when Jesus instituted the supper of his body and blood on the night before his betrayal. 
  He had already let his disciples know, in strong statements, that he had come down from heaven so that "his flesh" might serve as food for the world (John 6:51). After the multiplication of the loaves and fishes he invites the disciples to "eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood." Only by doing so can they have life (John 6:53). These drastic formulations already pointed to the fact that it would be by dying that he would become food for humankind, and that people therefore would learn to accept and love him as the Rejected and Dying One. ...At the last Passover he celebrated with his disciples, Jesus distributed bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood. ...The disciples must accept this offering of Jesus' life as food for their own lives. ...The event becomes a supper of atonement with God. 
  It is precisely by this conferring of the forgiving power of his death to the believing disciples that Jesus unequivocally distinguishes himself from every other person in history who has ever offered him or herself up for faith or nation. No hero or martyr first instituted a supper in order to distribute his death as food. At a later point, others may have gratefully remembered the suffering and death of other martyrs and profited from the consequences. But Jesus does not ask his disciples to simply think of him sometime in the future--he turns his death beforehand into the food and joyous drink meant for his own disciples. He is not the hero or the martyr who is prepared to give up his life in the interest of others. He distributes his death as a positive fact. He is not taken, nor does he allow himself to be taken; rather he gives his body and blood. His death does not create new chances for others, but his sacrifice as such is the new chance and eternal life. The disciples do not offer a toast for a good conclusion after Good Friday; rather they celebrate the meal of Good Friday. As the Exodus from Egypt, celebrated in the Passover, was a redeeming act of God, so will this exodus to the cross be the definitive redeeming act of God's Son. The Lamb of God gives himself as a ransom to the believers. 
  It is possible to describe the bread and wine in the night of the betrayal as a sacrificial meal. Those present participate in the redemptive power of the sacrifice. Yet there is a difference. At sacrificial meals, people ate the animal that they themselves had brought and sacrificed. At the meal Jesus arranged during this last night, the focus is on a sacrifice that the participants did not bring themselves and that, at that moment, they did not want to be brought at all. 
  It is at this meal that the meaning of Jesus' dying is revealed as unique and unlike any other death on earth. Disciples who refuse to accept what will happen are served beforehand with symbols of that which they are not yet willing to embrace.1

1.  Jakob Van Bruggen, Jesus the Son of God: The Gospel as Message [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 1999] pp. 169-171

Maundy Thursday Night: The Night of the Lord's Supper

In his book, Christ on Earth: The Gospel Narratives as History, Dr. Jakob Van Bruggen has provided an excellent biblical and historical explanation of the night in which Jesus instituted his Supper.1 His conclusion is that on the night in which the Lord instituted his Supper, the Jews removed all leavened bread from their homes and served the first evening meal of the lamb, and that was the night of Maundy Thursday

Because the entire argument within his book is quite extensive, and the subject so controversial, I will only quote a brief portion of his thoughts, trusting that others are already aware of the alleged "chronology contradiction" or "problem" within all four gospels. Van Bruggen writes:
  After the Wednesday of the final discourses comes the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Matt. 26:17). This is when the Passover lamb is sacrificed (Mark 14:2; Luke 22:7). The days of Unleavened Bread are counted from 15 to 21 Nisan (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 3.10.5 Sec. 249), the seven days during which the Passover offerings are sacrificed in the Temple (Num. 28:16-25). Sometimes, however, 14 Nisan is also included. This is a day of preparation during which people remove all leavened bread from their homes and serve the lamb at the evening meal. In that case there are eight days of Unleavened Bread (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 2.15.1 Sec. 317). The first three evangelists (i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke) clearly follow the latter approach when they write about the dawn of the Thursday on which the Passover must be slaughtered (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7). In other words, they consider this Thursday the fourteenth day of Nisan.  
  The terminology used in connection with the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread is complicated. The fourteenth day of Nisan is the day of preparation: all leavened bread is removed from the houses, the lambs are slaughtered, and during the evening the Passover meal is eaten. Because of this evening meal, 14 Nisan is sometimes called the Passover Feast (Lev. 23:5; Josephus, Jewish War 6.9.3 Sec. 423; Antiquities 2.14.6 Sec. 313). 
  The fifteenth of Nisan is the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast lasts seven days, during which large sacrifices are brought into the temple (Lev. 23:6; Num. 28:17-25; cfJosephus, Antiquities 3.10.5 Sec. 249; 9.13.3 Sec. 271; 11.4.8 Sec. 110). The fifteenth day of Nisan is then counted as the first day (16 Nisan is the second day, see Josephus, Antiquities 3.10.5 Sec. 250). The fifteenth of Nisan is actually the day of Israel's liberation (Josephus, Antiquities 2.15.2 Sec. 318). The Jews also refer to the feast of Unleavened Bread (15-21 Nisan) as Passover (cf. Luke 22:1; Josephus, Jewish War 2.1.3 Sec. 10; Antiquities 10.4.5 Sec. 70; 14.2.1 Sec. 21; 17.9.3 Sec. 213; 18.2.2 Sec. 29; 20.5.3 Sec. 106). 
  Because the leavened bread is removed on 14 Nisan, the day is referred to as "the Day of Unleavened Bread" (Josephus, Jewish War 5.3.1 Sec. 99). If this day (14 Nisan) is counted with the feast (15-21 Nisan), one can also speak of a "period of unleavened bread" for eight days (Josephus, Antiquities 2.15.1 Sec. 317; cf. Mark 14:12; Luke 22:1).2

1.  Jakob Van Bruggen, Christ on Earth: The Gospel Narratives as History [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 1998] pp. 212-219
2.  Ibid. p. 212-213.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Acceptance of Enmity

In Jakob Van Bruggen's insightful book, Jesus the Son of God: The Gospel as Message, he paints a picture of Jesus as one who accepted the "path of rejection" which forced itself upon him, a choice which Van Bruggen calls "the acceptance of enmity." His insights are especially relevant in light of this week being the traditional Passion Week (or "Holy Week"). 

Van Bruggen writes:
    The actual acceptance of this enmity can be seen in the peculiar way in which Jesus travels through Palestine. His journeys can be viewed as evasive movements that lead in the direction of the leaders who are waiting to kill him.  
    On the one hand he often evades his enemies. When the Pharisees begin to keep a closer eye on him because of the many people who begin to follow him, he retreats to Galilee (John 4:1-2, 43-44). Later, on several occasions in Galilee, he escapes the growing hostility (Luke 4:28-30; Matt. 12:14-16), and once he even goes across the northern border to the neighboring country for a time (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-37); the result is that his opponents often have to travel to remote regions to search for him. When the plans to kill him assume an increasingly more definite shape, he goes to the Feast of Tabernacles, not with the crowds but more or less incognito (John 7:10-14). And during the final months he retreats once more from Judea to the mountains of Transjordan and later to mountains of Judea (John 10:40-42; 11:54).   
    On the other hand, despite all sorts of evasions he always comes back into the public eye and always moves again toward his enemies. He postpones the escalation of the confrontation, but he does not make himself inaccessible. On the contrary, in the end he enters Jerusalem amidst cheering crowds, can be found daily in the temple (which for him is as dangerous as a robbers' den), and finally surrenders himself to the servants of the Sanhedrin.
    Typical of Jesus' behavior is the way he once reacted to the threat that Herod Antipas wanted to kill him. He was in Perea, the tetrarch's territory. Jesus left a few days later, but not to escape death. His goal was Jerusalem--because that was the proper place for a prophet to be killed (Luke 13:31-35).
    This combination of withdrawal and head-on encounters with the enemy indicates that Jesus does not avoid the consequences of hostility but insists on following the path to arrest and death according to his own time frame. He also hints more than once at having his own schedule, and speaks of "his hour" or "his time" which is yet to come (John 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; 17:1).
    ...A comparison can certainly be made between the attitude people often assume toward prophets and righteous people, and their attitude toward Jesus.  Jesus' own position, however, is different from that of the defenseless prophets and the powerless righteous. We see this in the fact that he does not eagerly await God's punishment of his enemies or revenge for what has been done to him by those who reject him. On the contrary, he declares that he has come for their salvation, and on the cross he prays for forgiveness for those who execute him (Luke 9:52-56; 23:24). Thus he accepts his suffering, not as a powerless individual who trusts that God will do right by him or her, but as the Ruler who thinks it necessary to allow himself to be bound and killed.1

1.  Jakob Van Bruggen, Jesus the Son of God: The Gospel Narratives as Message [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 1999] pp. 157-158

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The True Ruler of Israel

As they were going away, behold! a demon-oppressed man who was deaf-mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the deaf-mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, "Never was anything like this seen in Israel."  But the Pharisees said, "He casts out demons by the prince of demons."  (Matt. 9:32-34)

Finally, we have arrived at miracle number ten, the final miracle in the long list which began in chapter eight. And from the looks of things, Matthew doesn't seem to dwell upon this final miracle too long, which means that at first glance, we might be tempted to think that there isn't much to be said about it. But in actuality, there is a lot which can be gleaned from this final miraculous narrative, especially when we compare it with the previous nine miracles.

Perhaps the first noteworthy aspect of this miraculous story is how Matthew first grabs our attention with another alarming "behold!"  This definitely isn't the first time Matthew has said this, and it certainly won't be the last time he says it in his gospel. But it is intentionally inserted into the narrative to get our attention. After our attention is grabbed, we expect something noteworthy, perhaps even something alarming or surprising to occur. And what we find in this brief narrative is actually the opposite. What we find is something extremely ordinary. What we find is another person being brought to Jesus for healing.

If we've been paying attention to the larger narrative of chapters eight and nine as whole unit, it shouldn't surprise us to find one more person who needs healing. What then is so noteworthy about this tenth miracle?  

Well, as I suggested in the last post (or perhaps I should say, as Matthew suggested in the last miracle story), Jesus is finally being portrayed as one who is burdened for Israel. In the last miracle story Jesus has been followed a long way back to Matthew's own house by two blind men, and after they enter the house we find, for the first time, Jesus questioning someone's faith. He asked them, "Do you believe I am able to do this?" They affirmed their belief in his ability and Jesus healed them. Then Jesus "sternly warned" them not to let anyone know that he healed them (9:30). But in their excitement -- and it's very easy to empathize with their excitement -- they go and "spread his fame through all that district" (9:31). It was "as they were going away" -- the blind men leaving to spread Jesus' fame -- that "behold! a demon-oppressed man who was deaf-mute was brought to him" (9:32). In this context, it's not terribly difficult to empathize with Jesus either.  Jesus just "sternly warned" the two blind men to keep their mouths shut about him because the burden he has already been bearing for Israel is great and heavy, and if that burden is going to increase he's going to need some rest, and even some more help from his disciples. But the two blind men go and spread his fame anyway! They're too excited by their new eyesight that they don't care about Jesus' stern warning. All they can think about is the fact that Jesus healed them. And so, the picture which Matthew is painting at the beginning of this tenth miracle seems to be a never-ending and constantly increasing burden for Jesus to bear. One more "demon-oppressed man who was deaf-mute" was just the cherry on top. 

Because this final miracle story is like the "cherry on top," I find it peculiarly odd that so few details about this miracle are actually described by Matthew. In fact, so little of the miracle is actually mentioned that it can't possibly be the faith of the deaf-mute man or his friends that are being highlighted in this story. Instead, what Matthew seems to be doing is highlighting the faith of the crowds and comparing their increasing faith in Jesus with the decreasing faith of Israel's leaders.  In case there is any doubt about this, let's look closer at the details of Matthew's story.

The explicit mention of someone being "brought to" Jesus is our first clue. This should remind us of the last and only other time this has happened elsewhere within chapters eight and nine. The last and only time this happened was when the paralyzed man was brought to Jesus by his friends, and Jesus spoke words of great comfort to him which, consequently, sparked a controversy between Jesus and the Scribes who were listening in on the conversation (Matt. 9:1-3). 

As we reflect upon that story, we might expect something similar to happen here with the deaf-mute man as well. Right at the point where we might expect Jesus to say something comforting to the deaf-mute man (like he did with the paralyzed man), we don't find Jesus saying anything. Even if we were merely expecting to learn about the faith of the demon-oppressed man or his friends, we don't find that either. All Matthew tells us is that when the man was healed, he spoke. It is only after this that we learn the main purpose of mentioning the tenth miracle at all. After the deaf-mute man spoke, we learn that "the crowds marveled" while the Pharisees ridiculed Jesus. Clearly, the contrast of faith between the crowds and Pharisees is Matthew's primary concern in this final narrative. Just as the story about the paralyzed man was not really about the faith of the man himself or his friends, but rather a commentary upon the blasphemous faith of the Scribes, that too is a similar attribute of this last miracle. Here in this last miracle, where we might expect to learn about the faith of the one healed, we find a commentary upon the blasphemous faith of the Pharisees instead. 

But notice again that the crowds are said to have "marveled." In the original Greek text, the word for marveled is thaumazo. This isn't the first time someone in Matthew's gospel has marveled (thaumazo). When Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, his disciples "marveled (thaumazo), saying 'What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?'" (8:27). The individual disciples had marveled because they had never seen anything like that in all their lives. 

But there's another account of marveling which Matthew is more likely to be echoing when he mentions the crowds marveling. Back in the beginning of chapter eight where we find the first triad of miracles (8:1-17), we find a Gentile Centurion whose faith is so great it makes Jesus marvel (8:5-13). Notice carefully what Jesus says about the faith of that Gentile:

When Jesus heard [the faith of the Centurion], he marveled and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith!"  (Matt. 8:10)
Sound familiar? It should. It should because in this very last miracle of chapter nine -- immediately after the deaf-mute man is healed -- we find the crowds also marveling and saying: "Never was anything like this seen in Israel."  When Jesus marveled, it was because the faith of a Gentile ruler was greater than Israel's own rulers, the Scribes and Pharisees. Here at the end of all ten miraculous stories we find the crowds marveling, the implication of which is that they seem to be siding with Jesus and not with the established rulers of Israel, the Scribes and Pharisees. Matthew makes this contrast even more explicit by mentioning what the attitude of the Pharisees has been all this while. Notice the translation of the ESV in the following verse:
But the Pharisees said, "He casts out demons by the prince of demons."
In the ESV translation we find a simple past tense, whereas in the original Greek text Matthew seems to be expressing more than just a simple past tense. In Greek, Matthew uses the imperfect verb tense (which always refers to the past), but he does so in contrast with the timing of what the Pharisees said. In other words, the crowds marveled, "saying" (present tense), "Never was anything like this seen in Israel"; whereas the Pharisees "said" (imperfect tense), "He casts out demons by the prince of demons." Matthew's use of the imperfect tense is likely expressing what the Pharisees had been saying about Jesus all along. The Pharisees had been saying, "He casts out demons by the prince of demons." 

The ESV seems to have made another translational oversight in this verse which doesn't help the reader pick up on Matthew's literary design as easily. Notice carefully what the Pharisees had been saying about Jesus all along. They had been accusing him of casting out demons by the prince (archon) of demons.  The last time this word archon (i.e. "prince") was mentioned was at the beginning of this last triad of miracles, within Matthew's house. As you may recall, Jesus was feasting within Matthew's house when he was suddenly interrupted by a Jewish "ruler." In Greek, the word translated as "ruler" is this same Greek word, archon. It was the house of the Jewish ruler (archon) that Jesus traveled to after leaving the feast in Matthew's house. It was at the house of the ruler (archon) that Jesus raised a dead daughter of Israel to life again. It was at the house of the ruler (archon) where Jesus found a faith among the "flute players" which ridiculed him. It was the house of the ruler (archon) which Jesus left as the two blind men followed him back to Matthew's house. And now, back within the confines of Matthew's house where Jesus heals a deaf-mute man, we learn that the leaders of Israel have been conjuring up accusations against Jesus all along, accusations of conspiring with the "prince" (archon) of demons. 

There is great irony concerning these false accusations of the Pharisees too. The kind of faith which the one Jewish ruler understands as he kneels before Jesus, the Pharisees don't understand at all. What the two blind men see as they follow Jesus, the Pharisees can't see. What the deaf-mute hear and proclaim and the crowds marvel about, the Pharisees reject as a matter of faith. The Pharisees won't bow the knee to Jesus or marvel at his words or works because they're spiritually dumb. Their lack of faith is something to truly marvel about. 

Matthew is showing us that in the days of Jesus' ministry, Israel is really given two choices. They could worship God by following Jesus or they could continue to trust in the established leadership of Israel. Israel is in a state of wilderness wandering, and the people are becoming increasingly aware that the established leadership of Israel is the problem, not the solution. Jesus has "compassion for them" because the people of Israel "were being harassed1 and helpless like sheep without a shepherd" (Matt. 9:36).  Therefore we shouldn't be surprised to find a choice between two types of disciples. Keep in mind that between each triad of miracles within chapters eight and nine, Matthew inserts a narrative interlude describing two types of disciples. Here in the end of the chapter nine, Matthew concludes by giving his readers the impression that these two types of disciples are even more obvious now than they were before. In Israel, there are those who marvel at the authority of Jesus and those who ridicule his authority. The crowds who once questioned his authority now marvel, whereas the Scribes & Pharisees have their own disciples who continue to ridicule Jesus. Clearly the leadership of Israel is losing respect in the eyes of the people of Israel. While the Scribes and Pharisees ridicule Jesus, the crowds are becoming increasingly persuaded that Jesus is exactly who he claims to be: the true archon of Israel. 

1.  In Greek, the verb for "harassed" is in the perfect tense, signifying not only that they were harassed once-upon-a-time, but also that they were being harassed regularly.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

He came. He saw. He conquered.

Veni. Vedi. Vici.  

These were the comments of Julius Caesar about a short battle he had just won -- part of what historians describe as his great military advance on earth. He came. He saw. He conquered. And in doing so, he brought military power and prestige to Rome along with it. This became his claim to fame, and little did the rest of the world at that time know that such a military victory would spark an even greater controversy in the near future -- a controversy about his divinity. Even though many of his close associates didn't consider him divine, his reputation and fame as such spread like a wildfire nonetheless, and it eventually got him assassinated, thereby throwing Rome into a civil war. Out from among this civil war there emerged a victor not only of military power, but a victor of god-like authority on earth. This victor, or winner, was none other than Julius' adopted son, Octavian. Octavian took the title "Augustus," meaning "honorable One," and declared emphatically that his father had indeed become divine, and in becoming divine, Augustus Octavian Caesar was to be officially deemed the "Son of God" throughout his empire. After taking this title upon himself, it didn't take long for people to realize that the politically correct answer to any question about who the "Son of God" was, would have been Caesar Augustus

Caesar Augustus ruled his massive empire from 31 B.C. to 14 A.D., and as the Scriptures record for us, that included the time of Jesus' birth (Luke 2:1) all the way through his life as a teenager. After he died, Tiberius reigned in his place (Luke 3:1) and took upon himself the honorable title of divinity as well. Since then, archeologists have discovered various artifacts corroborating these proclamations of divinity, one of which is a denarius (a coin) with an abbreviated inscription that says, "Augustus Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus." On the other side of that same coin is an image of Tiberius enthroned as a mediator, and above that image is the inscription, "Pontif Maxim," a reference to himself being the High Priest among the college of Pontiffs in Rome. It was, in fact, a coin like this one that was shown to Jesus shortly after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where he cleansed Herod's temple of it's idolatrous worship (Matt. 21:1-17; 22:15-22). 

Matthew 22:15-22 is where we find an account of this coin being handed to Jesus. In that narrative we learn that the Pharisees allied themselves with their enemies, the Herodians, in order to plot against Jesus and entrap him, thereby building a case against him for unlawful (and punishable) deeds. It is peculiarly interesting that the Herodians are found to be conspiring with the Pharisees. The Herodians were a political party that supported the tetrarch, Herod Antipas, and the Roman empire's rule over the Jews, even though, according to extra-biblical records, we know the Pharisees considered the Herodians to compromise Jewish political independence. But why wait until Jesus enters Jerusalem to conspire against him? Why not attempt to entrap him before his triumphal entry? We aren't told by Matthew. But because Matthew's narrative is structured this way, the confrontation by the Pharisees and Herodians upon Jesus in Matthew 22 is really best viewed as a commentary upon Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem and his claim to be The Divine King of kings  (which began in the previous chapter).

In Matthew's narrative, we learn that both religious parties conspire against Jesus and attempt to flatter him with pious expressions of student-like curiosity, saying:
Teacher! We know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully. And we know you don't care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Therefore, please tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? (Matt. 22:16-17)

Because the subject of "lawful" taxation is like a hot potato in Christian circles -- everyone wants to pass it on to the next person and no one wants to be caught with it in their lap -- the main point of Matthew's narrative often gets completely overlooked. It seems to me that the point of Matthew's narrative is not to teach the Law, or even the way in which taxes could be lawfully paid, and so any attempt to use this passage as a prooftext for how to pay taxes lawfully is really missing the point. As I mentioned a few moments ago, it seems that this portion of Matthew's narrative functions as more of a commentary upon Jesus' triumphal entry. Let me explain further what I mean by this. 

In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked by both the Pharisees and the Herodian party whether it is was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. And obviously, no matter which answer Jesus gave, whether yes or no, his words could have been twisted to imply a claim to greater authority than either God or Tiberius Caesar, thereby causing Jesus to fall into their political and religious trap.  So Jesus responded wisely by asking them for a coin with which taxes to Caesar were paid. They brought a denarius to him, which, as was shown a few moments ago, contained an image of Tiberius Caesar on it. Jesus then took the coin and asked whose image was on it, to which they promptly replied, "Caesar's." He then suggested to pay both God and Caesar, but to Caesar, only those things which bear his image, yet to God those things which bear His image. As you can imagine, this created a dilemma for the Pharisees and Herodians, because it exposed the false dichotomy with which they were attempting to entrap him. But Jesus remained faithful to the truth and to the way of God, neither caring about their opinion, nor being swayed by their pious appearance. Jesus was Lord whether they wanted him to be their Lord or not. But Jesus also knew that the leadership of Israel didn't really want him to be their Lord, which is what makes the history surrounding his triumphal entry so profound. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a direct challenge to the tremendously corrupt and evil powers that existed in the first century.

This example of faithfulness on Jesus' part is a lesson which Christians need to learn and apply in every age, but it's especially important to keep in mind during this season of Lent as we await Palm Sunday (the day in which Christians commemorate Jesus' triumphal entry as the King of kings),  Good Friday (the day of Jesus' passion), and Pascha (the resurrection of Jesus).  As we just saw in Matthew 22, Jesus was not a careless man, easy to be entangled by the entrapments of powerful enemies of God; and neither should Christians be. When the world confronts the Christian with claims about Jesus's Lordship, and how he really is not presently reigning as The King of kings, we should not care about their opinions or be swayed by their pious appearance. We should recognize that every worldly authority -- whether it claims divinity for itself or not -- is still subservient to the real King of Kings, the Son of God, Jesus Christ the one and only Pontif Maxim

Jesus is King whether men accept him as the ruler of their lives or not. The world may want to claim a king of their own, and they might even get the military power and prestige that comes along with it, but Christians aren't flattered by worldly crowns and great military escapades which expand earthly empires. Christians cherish the humble glory of a life subservient to a King who rides into Jerusalem on a donkey and cleanses earthly temples of their man-made glory. Christians cherish the faithfulness of King Jesus because he is the way of God; he is the Truth even though many people prefer to believe in lies. Jesus is the Son of God whether Caesar claimed that title for himself or not. Men can claim anything they want for themselves, and they can even pay tribute to whatever man-made image they want. But if Jesus is true and he really did teach the way of God truthfully, then people had better pay tribute to the God who made man as His image. In other words, they ought to pay tribute to King Jesus. Sure, they ought to pay Caesar his tribute too, especially in those places where it is legitimately his due, but even Caesar would some day have to face the real Son of God. And if Caesar had to give an account before the real King of kings, how much more accountable are the worshipers of Caesar and other idolaters going to be on the day of judgment?

For our own well being, let us keep in mind as often as possible, but particularly in this season of Lent, that the one thing all men have in common is death. All men are appointed to die, and after that to face judgment for their own sins. And that judgment is going to come from God, the one and only, living and true judge of their sins (Heb. 9:27). But the great news of God's revelation is that He Himself has provided salvation from sin. It was that same Lord who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey long ago that also was crucified, died, and was buried as the only righteous man in history, and on the third day he rose again according to the promise of the Scriptures. Therefore men can face Him with their sins atoned in full if they die to self and live for Him. God's promise to us is that, 
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:9-13)

Those who live and die with their own precious idols will not be saved from sin. Those who idolized Herod's Temple, like the Pharisees and Herodians, are dead, and they died in their sins. All those who worshiped Caesar and confessed his divine lordship over all are dead, and both Caesar and his worshipers died in their sins. But Christians who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of all know that he is not dead. They know Jesus conquered through death, and the proof of his victory over death and it's enemies is his resurrection. The proof of his Lordship over your life is the pentecostal outpouring of His Spirit upon all nations (through which you believe today). Therefore, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Let us render unto God everything that is His, keeping in mind that everything is His.