Showing posts with label Hebrews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hebrews. Show all posts

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The stones will cry out (A meditation on Luke 19:29-40)


Palm Sunday
Liturgy of the Palms
Year C
Gospel Reading: Luke 19:29-40 



I love the film, Memento. What I love most about Memento are the little nuggets of plot-development hidden in plain sight, and how those becomes crucial for appreciating the entire story. 
    At the beginning we learn about the main character, Leonard Shelby, who suffers from extreme short term memory loss because of a severe brain injury incurred at his home, seconds before witnessing the murder of his wife. Just as Leonard witnesses his wife suffocating to death, an armed robber violently strikes Leonard on the head, and from that point forward in life, Leonard's long-term memories are haunted by that final, enduring image of his wife's suffocation. He then sets out on a life-long quest to find those who killed his wife, and to satisfy justice.
    Fast-forwarding to the end of the story, a detective named Teddy is murdered by Leonard Shelby. Leonard thinks Teddy was part of the conspiracy to murder his wife, but of course, because Leonard suffers from severe short-term memory loss many people throughout his life after that event—including Teddy—become suspects of that conspiracy accidentally, even though they aren't necessarily guilty. All Leonard wants in life is to find those who conspired in the murder of his wife, and he will do whatever it takes to bring vengeance upon them. But we come to find out in the end of the story that so much more had been going on all along, and best of all it was hidden in plain sight, right in front of our very eyes. 
    Spoiler Alert: Just before the death of Teddy, the detective, we learn some mind-blowing details about Leonard's life. First we learn that Leonard Shelby's wife didn't actually die the night her husband had his brain injury. She survived that night, but Leonard doesn't remember that because he suffers from extreme short-term memory loss after his brain injury. All he remembers is her suffocating. Every day, he still thinks she's dead. And eventually, over time, she does die; and she's even truly dead by the time the events within the film take place. However, as the plot progresses, we learn that Teddy, the detective, already brought Leonard to the real attacker, and Leonard already avenged his wife, but Leonard doesn't remember that either. Finally, as if those tidbits of information weren't shocking enough, we also learn the most shocking fact of all: Leonard actually murdered his own wife, by assisting her in committing suicide. It turns out that after his injury, his wife became so depressed with having to live with his short-term memory loss, that one day she tested him. She was diabetic, and in need of regular insulin shots, so she tested him over and over again by requesting him to give her shots, minutes apart from each other. She eventually died of overdose. That was her way of coping with what she perceived to be the loss of the real man she loved and married. But he doesn't remember ever assisting her suicide. Leonard even gets a tattoo on his hand to assist his memory about that, but the tattoo doesn't help. All throughout the film we are shown that tattoo, and the message is in plain sight, but Leonard interprets it differently. Even when you hear or see that phrase tattooed on his hand repeated over and over again ("Remember Sammy Jenkins"), if the viewer does not stop and think about it's significance, or its significance is misunderstood, it is possible to watch the entire film and walk away from it with a very different message than what the director intended. 
    This is true with the theological nuggets we find scattered throughout Luke's gospel. If we overlook or misunderstand some of them hidden in plain sight, we might walk away from the gospel story with a very different message than what Luke intended. And in today's reading, we have one of those theological nuggets. It is found in Luke 19:39b–40, which the ESV translates this way:
"Teacher, rebuke your disciples." He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."

Usually, when I'm preparing a meditation for any given day, I try to harmonize as many of the lectionary readings as possible and unite them into a common theme. But with this week's lectionary readings, something very different happened as I was studying. I became stuck on this one very brief statement.
    Do you want to know why I've been stuck on that passage all week long? It's because the Greek text underlying that English Standard Version does not say that. And I've been hung up all week on what it actually says, and why Jesus said that. What the Greek text actually says is this:
"Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" And answering, He [Jesus] said: "I say to you-all, that when these [disciples] become silent, the stones will cry out!"1

As I perused through my biblical commentaries, I noticed that this passage is usually explained in one of two ways. It's either explained as a comparison between animate human beings (i.e. disciples) and inanimate objects (i.e. stones), illustrating somehow, some way, that Jesus deserves to be praised by His creation, e.g. "If people stop praising Jesus, surely these stones on the ground will instead!", or it's expressing a contrast of faith between the Pharisees and stones, illustrating that even stones understand their Creator better than Pharisees.2
    With either option, I'm left unconvinced. And I think it's important to convince others to remain unconvinced as well. But in order to reach any conviction about the meaning of this theological nugget (whether one agrees with me or not), it always helps to start by asking obvious questions. For instance, why does Jesus mention stones? Is it merely because they can be classified as inanimate objects? In that case, wouldn't the reference to stones be somewhat arbitrary, as though Jesus could have mentioned any other static material on this planet—such as trees, saddlebags, or belly-button lint—to illustrate the same point? He just mentioned "stones" for no essential reason, I guess. Perhaps it was the first thing that popped into His mind, someone might say. That sounds like a dubious proposal at best. 
    What if the whole point of mentioning stones is simply to point out how lifeless the faith of the Pharisees is? Although I don't doubt that the faith of many Pharisees was dead, I don't think that clarifies what Jesus actually said. Again, all one has to do to notice my contention is to simply look back at the text. Re-read it a few times. Such explanations about dead pharisaical faith hardly accounts for what Jesus actually said in context. (Besides, if you've read the previous 18 chapters of Luke's gospel, you should have already realized that their faith was dead.) So let's go back to asking obvious questions again. 
    Why must stones cry out if Jesus' disciples are silenced? That is what the text actually says.3 Is it because stones perceive God better than Pharisees? That doesn't answer the question. That begs the question. If the point, supposedly, is that Jesus is also worthy of praise by stones, then why aren't the stones also crying out at the same time as the disciples? Why wait until the voices of Jesus disciples are silenced?

I think that in order to make sense of Luke 19:39b-40, we need to review the story of Luke's gospel briefly to find other tidbits hidden in plain sight for us.
    In the close context of 19:39b-40, Jesus is on his way into Jerusalem for the first time in Luke's gospel. Toward the beginning of the Lukan travel narrative, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem (9:51), and he wouldn't cease ministering to people until he was silenced in Jerusalem. Throughout Luke's travel narrative, that message of reaching Jerusalem and being killed by Israel's rulers is repeated three times for emphasis (9:22, 44; 18:31-33). Alongside that tidbit, Luke's travel narrative is also filled with allusions to soon-coming judgment upon Jerusalem for rejecting their King. Even before  Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, the shepherds of Israel have no excuse for rejecting him as their King, and they also have no excuse for refusing to repent of that rejection.
    In the middle of Luke's travel narrative, we find one of those nuggets hidden in plain sight. But there, Jesus does more than make allusions to Jerusalem's judgment; he emphatically declares that its temple is forsaken, abandoned by God, because they were not willing to accept His terms of peace:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'" (Luke 13:34-35)

Now fast forward to the end of Luke's travel narrative, where Jesus is about to leave Jericho and enter into Jerusalem for the first time. There we find Jesus telling one last parable to his disciples en route to his triumphal entry (19:11-27). In that parable Luke goes out of his way to emphasize the allegorical relationship between Jesus' servants in Jerusalem and Himself entering that city as their King. By the end of the parable the "wicked servants" and "enemies" have proven themselves hostile and indignant toward their King. Not only had they perpetuated gross injustice while the King was away (similar to the claim above about "killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to it"), they also would not repent or accept His terms of peace and reconciliation. They refused to let Jesus rule mercifully over their merciless kingdom. For that reason, the King decrees that they be slain upon his arrival. With the merciful, he would show himself merciful. With the blameless, he would show himself blameless. And with the crooked, he would make himself seem torturous (Psa. 18:25-26; 2 Sam. 22:26-28). Jesus saves those who are humble, but his eyes are on the haughty to bring them down. 
    After that final parable, Jesus follows his prophetic cry with more sovereign lamentations explicitly directed at first century Jews in Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–44):
And when he [Jesus] drew near and saw the city [Jerusalem], he wept over it, saying, "Would that you, even you [Jerusalem], had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation."
Much like the prophet Habakkuk's reasons for thundering woes against Jerusalem, it is this incessant rejection of Israel's King by their rulers which leads to the toppled stones of the Temple's ruin crying out against those perpetrating violence and injustice within:
You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples! You have forsaken your life! The stone shall cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond: "Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity!" (Habakkuk 2:10-12)
I believe these nuggets of prophetic woes scattered throughout Luke's gospel are designed to clarify what Jesus said to Pharisees during his triumphal entry. The "Wisdom of God" repeatedly told Jerusalem that His prophets and apostles would be sent to them, but they would not listen. Instead, the harlot-city would silence the Lord and His servants (Luke 11:49–52). With that trajectory toward rejection and judgement, when we reach the point of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and we see the Pharisees still attempting to silence Jesus' disciples (19:39b), Jesus' response makes perfect sense if its understood as a prophetic, Habakkuk-like cry toward Jerusalem and its corrupt rulers. As Jesus' disciples cry out, "blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!", the Pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke the disciples. So when Jesus responds to the Pharisees, its trajectory is directed toward the harlot-city, toward Jerusalem's rejection and consequent judgment:
"I say to you-all, that when these [disciples] become silent, the stones will cry out!"

Little did the Pharisees know that the prophets, apostles, and disciples of Jesus were living stones of God's new temple-building project (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-6), so when those stones cry out for vindication, judgement is right around the corner because their voices are heard by Jesus himself in his heavenly temple. This was the Lord's mysterious and marvelous plan all along. It is through the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of God's incarnate Son that the blood of all the prophets and apostles, shed from the foundation of the world, would cry out and finally receive vindication for all their suffering. They witnessed to the truth of God and His reign over all, and their shed blood would be charged against Jesus' generation (11:49-52). That generation would be definitively judged.
    All of this brings us back around to the passage in Luke in which Jesus prophesies about disciples being silenced for their testimony of Jesus' lordship, and stones crying out as a result. I think its clear that Jesus' woe alludes to the Habakkuk woe spoken to the leadership of Jerusalem. In that prophecy, the stones of the temple walls cry out because of tremendous injustice perpetrated within its walls and upon God's people. Historically, it was during the Jewish wars (66—70 AD) that Jerusalem and its idolatrous temple were finally destroyed by the Lord's visitation. Because Jerusalem did not know the time of her visitation, and the testimonies of those who bore witness to Jesus were silenced, the stones would cry out from the wall: "Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity!" But "blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
   
At this time, someone might be asking, What is the bottom line of all this?

That's a good question. How does this affect our understanding of the gospel story, so that we don't miss out on what the director envisioned for us? 

A few responses immediately come to mind:
    First, because there is a pervasive tendency among Christians to "proof-text" scripture into emotional and spiritual nonsense, it's always important to remember that the gospels are about real life, flesh and blood, pus and guts, historically documented events. Even the prophecies of Jesus were not some kind of gnostic, esoteric, mystical future cataclysm. Certainly they were about future events. However, Jesus was addressing historical events which would come upon his own generation (Luke 7:31; 11:29,30,31,32,50,51; 16:8; 17:25; 21:32). This is often missed, and the gospels misinterpreted, because the fulfillment of those divinely imposed judgments within his generation are not taken into account by the average, run-of-the-mill Christian. It is absolutely vital to the understand and acknowledge that the destruction of Herod's idolatrous temple is the most significant historical event in Israel's history. And that was clearly on display in Jesus' mind throughout Luke's gospel. That event is the definitive end of the old covenant, and the decisive action which vindicates all the disciples of Jesus Christ in the first century. The entire course of history dramatically changed after that cataclysmic event.4 And it's not a mere coincidence that Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension strike the match and light the wick leading to that cosmic judgment. So it's important to familiarize yourself with those events, and to read scripture through the lens of those concrete historical promises.
    Second, remember that because every statement within the gospels is part of a much larger story, we need to search, discover, and meditate upon the nugget-like tidbits scattered throughout the story. Those tidbits are not tertiary details. Just like in Memento, if they are overlooked or underestimated, the director's vision behind the story can be misunderstood. If Jesus' explicit promises regarding Jerusalem's destruction in that generation are overlooked or underestimated, then the first century Jewish-Christian context of New Testament theology can be misunderstood.
    Finally, but just as important as the previous points, this brief tidbit of Luke's gospel teaches us something significant about the character of God. Throughout evangelical circles, Jesus is often mistakenly portrayed as the "light" version of the old testament God. Just like Budweiser has their light beer, Jesus is the old testament Father's light-bodied persona. He's low on calories, while still offering the full-bodied flavor of the original Divine recipe, which we all love. As such, the Church mistakenly thinks of Jesus' character differently than the Father's, and that is a mistake. Both Jesus and YHWH are love (Deut. 7:9; Psa 36:7-10; Joel 2:13; I John 4:8,16). Both Jesus and YHWH are a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). Jesus' gospel was about consuming fire and love. It is our God, Jesus, who considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict his children, and to grant his children relief through affliction by inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know Him and on those who do not obey the good news of our Lord Jesus (2 Thess. 1:6-8). 
   In fact, it is precisely because Jesus is love, that we must heed Jesus' warnings and not reshape the love of God into our own American idol. When we see Jesus loving all those around him, we also need to see that love as an expression of warning his own generation of consuming fireof tangible, down-to-earth judgment upon flesh and blood because of their exceedingly great wickedness. It's also important to see Jesus as the son of man coming to judge them (Matt. 10:23; 12:40-42; 13:37-43; 16:27-28; 24:30-34). As the son of man, part of the way he loves the world is by waging war upon its evil every day; and that is a good thing. It is good that Jesus must continue waging that war until he has put all his enemies underneath his feet (1 Cor. 15:25). Only then will true peace cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Jesus was indeed the most loving human in history, and yet his love did not violate the free will of those whom he loved, and so he warned them about how destructive their idolatry had become, and he waged war against those who refused to accept his rule. In an thoroughly corrupt and evil generation, there can be no peace without war. Thankfully, though, most people throughout the world are not destroyed. Instead, many are confronted by the heinousness of their own sins and destructive tendencies, and are brought to their knees before King Jesus. God graciously makes Himself available to them, and when they sincerely repent and surrender to him, they are shown mercy, and they receive new life in Him. 
    Another way to look at Jesus' prophetic warnings is like this: Jesus loved the world so much that he gave his life for it, but there comes a point in time when an entire generation needs to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings and he knows our needs better than we do. He knows how to establish and cultivate peace on earth better than we do. If parts of his creation become rotten to the core, he knows best, and he knows how to uproot and plant something new and healthy in its place if need be. In a world where the ground is cursed and humanity is exiled from the presence of God, the whole process of uprooting, tilling the soil, and planting new is an expression of love. The fact that the Gardener even draws near to his fields all over the world and tends to their needs worldwide is a good and beautiful thing. 
    Within the exhortation of our Lord about disciples being silenced and stones crying out, is his decree to tear down the diseased house of the old covenant in order to build an exceedingly glorious temple in us. And his temple-building project isn't over yet. His global gardening project is not over yet. There still is a lot of work yet to be done. Don't be bashful about that, and don't be afraid to walk in the way of Christ's suffering for that. Rather, walk humbly in the way of his suffering that you may also share in his resurrection. Believe that, witness to that, and proclaim that. That is true, just as God's love for the world is true, and his warfare against evil every day is true. 
   If you start thinking about how gloomy and corrupt our current generation is in comparison with the glorious future promised for God's kingdom, don't be worried about it. Continue witnessing to the good news of King Jesus and his terms of peace for the world. He is always far more willing to give mercy and extend favor than we are to receive it. He is called the King of Peace for good reasons. 
   And if you ever become anxious about these temporary, mortal bodies of ours returning to the soil, leaving the fruitful praise of our lips silenced, don't worry about that either. Other stones of God's temple will continue that proclamation. Blessed indeed is our King, Jesus. He is the reason why there is any peace on earth and in heaven. Glory to Him in the highest!



* * * * * * *

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 










1. This is my translation of the Greek text: Διδάσκαλε, ἐπιτίμησον τοῖς μαθηταῖς σου. καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν· Λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅτι ἐὰν οὗτοι σιωπήσουσιν, οἱ λίθοι κράξουσιν
2. Darrell Bock, a reputable Lukan scholar, offers a variant of this, claiming that inanimate objects—like stones—"have a better perception of God than the people He came to save." Even though that is a clever and truthful way of spinning what Jesus actually said, I still think that greatly misses Jesus' point. See Darrell L. Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 1996), p. 1,547
3.  A few other technical details are worth noting. As I have argued here and elsewhere on my blog, I think mainstream english translations of the New Testament are based on an interpretation disconnected with the destruction of Jerusalem as foreshadowed in the consistent typological messaging of Israel's prophets. To me that disconnect seems clear for grammatical reasons as well. For example, in the ESV we find the insertion of "very" into the text (which isn't even implied in the Greek). In English, the insertion of "very" could be construed as connoting an idea of contrast between animate and inanimate objects, which is unnecessary if Jesus is actually prophesying future historical events related to Jerusalem and its temple. Another disconnect is seen in the confusing translation of "were silent" and "would cry out" like it's a conditional subjunctive, which it's not in Greek. Both verbs are future-active-indicative. The ἐάν with a subjunctive verb would express a probable or hypothetical future condition (which is why the conditional conjunction is translated "if" in the ESV), but the indicative verbs remove that probability and instead express certainty (which is why ἐὰν here is better translated as "when").
4.  See Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic; 2008, eighth ed.), pp. 23-46

Monday, February 29, 2016

God Tests Everyone (A Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, Year C)







Third Sunday in Lent
Year C
Epistle Reading: I Cor. 10:1-13

In a school setting there are different kinds of tests which teachers give their students. Some are written tests were you can answer one of multiple choices, while others are completed in the form of an essay or summary. Tests can also be in the form of activities, like in gym class where you're tested to perform the drills over and over again. In all of these examples, the purpose and goal is not (or shouldn't be, anyway) merely to evaluate who is getting the highest test scores, or even building up the most stamina. Rather, those tests are (or should be) for the maturity and development of the student body.

In the passage today from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, we are reminded that God tests us. Paul says that "We must not put Christ to the test (ἐκπειράζωμεν), as some of them did test (ἐπείρασαν)", and also, "These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us." In other words, the previous examples of God testing Israel are on our exams too, so we would be wise to keep them in mind when we are being tested. 

Paul continues: "So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing (πειρασθῆναι) has overtaken you that is not common to everyone."

God tests everyone. Testing is common to everyone, according to Paul. But this isn't a unique idea of Paul's. It is an overwhelming theme of the Bible. In the wilderness God tested his people:
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test (πειράσω) them, whether they will walk in my law or not. (Exodus 20:20 LXX) 
Moses said to the people, "Do not fear, for God has come to test (πειράσαι) you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin." (Exodus 16:4 LXX) 
And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested (ἐπείρασεν) them (Exodus 15:24-25 LXX) 
Take care lest you forget the LORD your God ...when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them,and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, ...who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness... and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test (ἐκπειράσῃ) you, to do you good in the end. (Deuteronomy 8:11-18 LXX)

God even tests his people individually: In Eden God tested Adam. He tested Cain and Abel and others too. One of the most memorable tests of Scripture which God ever gave was to Abraham:
After these things God tested (ἐπείραζεν) Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." The Lord said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." (Genesis 22:1-2 LXX)

How would you like that to be your test?

Even toward the end of Israel’s history as a nation, in second Chronicles 32:30-31 (LXX), we see another test, and that test also alludes back to the principles we just learned in Deuteronomy 8:11-18 (above) about tests through times of prosperity:
And Hezekiah prospered in all his works. And so in the matter of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test (πειράσαι) him and to know all that was in his heart.

There are numerous other passages I could reference, but I think these few illustrate my point. God tests us, and yet, interestingly, in the background of all those passages, God isn't the only one testing us. God's adversary, the devil, and our earthly adversaries take advantage of God's tests, to test us also. Writing to the Bishop of the church in Smyrna, Jesus offers these promises:
I know your tribulation and your poverty and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested (πειρασθῆτε), and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:9-10)

Whenever we examine Scripture’s examples of testing, whether those examples are about God testing us or being tested by evil, we are always tested in one common aspect of our lives: our loyalty to God.

I find it interesting that in our lectionary reading from Corinthians, not only are we taught to expect tests, but in all of the examples Paul gives us about how not to respond to those tests, he mentions the people putting God to the test. In other words, when Paul teaches us about the tests of life, he wants to know what our response will be: Will our response be loyal love toward God, or will we side with evil against God? Will we put Him to the test?

One of the most striking examples of testing in the New Testament is with Jesus right after his baptism, where he goes into the wilderness and is confronted by Satan. There, at the very heart of Satan’s test, Jesus is challenged to question his loyalty to God. As we know, Jesus passed the devil's test. However, at the very beginning of that story we are told that it is the Spirit who lead Jesus into the wilderness for testing (Matt. 4:1). Not only did the adversary test Jesus, but God tested His own Son too, according to that story. God tests us and our adversaries test us. It is very possible for God’s adversaries and ours to take advantage of those circumstances—those tests from God--to test our loyalty to God.

And as we were reminded by Paul, there is no testing of man which is uncommonTesting is common to us all. If you think your situation of testing is unique, think again. Even Jesus “had been tested (πεπειρασμένον) in every respect as we are”, yet he endured it all without sin (Hebrews 4:15). It is for that very reason we ought to follow the example of Jesus and pray as He instructed us: "Heavenly Father, lead us not into testing (πειρασμόν) but deliver us from the evil one (τοῦ πονηροῦ)." (Matt. 6:13)

After studying the Lord’s Prayer in detail years ago, and offering some thoughts about it, I concluded that the best translation for Matt. 6:13 was “testing,” not “temptation.” The reasons being, first, that by implication, the phrase “Lead us not into temptation” carries the baggage of God tempting us—even tempting us with evil--which He never does, for He can never be tempted to do evil Himself (James 1:13). Secondarily, and as I have already noted, God does lead us into testing, and because the same word for “temptation” (πειρασμός) used in Matt. 6:13 more often means “testing” throughout Scripture, and also is not a contradiction with James 1:13, that seems to be the only reasonable translation. And with that translation of "testing" comes an important lesson about Christian maturity and development, as any loving teacher should want a student to receive. If translated as “testing,” it turns out that Matt. 6:13 is not about deliverance from God ever testing us to mature and develop in life. It's not a request for God to cancel our tests altogether. Rather, the petition, "Lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one" is a description of abandonment—to not be abandoned to go our own way or to fall by evil. Even the surrounding context of the Lord’s Prayer sheds light on that meaning. 

Immediately before the Lord’s Prayer on the Mount, where do we find Jesus being tested in his loyalty to God? In the wilderness (Matt. 4:1). The geographical description could not be more obvious for those familiar with the exodus typology utilized throughout Scripture. It is in the wilderness with God that the evil one tested Israel. He tested Jesus also; and it is there where the evil one tests us too. The Lord's prayer is for the new Israel, the Church, who desperately needs deliverance from the evil one if left to our own ways in the wilderness of life.

Therefore, when we pray as Jesus taught us to pray, that portion about God not leading us into testing is not a request to never be tested, but an acknowledgment of our vulnerability before Him in the wilderness of life. We are the ones who, when tested, are free to side with evil and even respond by testing Him back, by grumbling, complaining, and by not seeking deliverance from Him. So Paul says, don't do that! Instead, pray to your Heavenly Father who alone can give us courage through trials and also will deliver us when we turn to Him. The Lord's Prayer is for God's mercy to spare us from testing that we cannot handle. "For to Him belongs the kingdom and the power and the glory, now and forever."

To Him belongs the power and glory…so seek Him while He is near.

Paul tells us that God is faithful through every test we endure, and He will not let you be tested beyond your ability. With the testing he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. That’s God’s promise to you. God never puts you in a situation where you must sin. He always gives you the freedom to side with Him. So remain loyal to Him through all the tests of life.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

* * * * * * *

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.




Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tabernacle and Altar as Holy Mountain



In his ambitious and inspiring book, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World, James B. Jordan presents an intriguing case of the Tabernacle (and Temple) being structured according to Israel's encounter with Yahweh at Mount Sinai, where Yahweh came down and visited His people. And as a "cosmic house," it symbolized the place where the heavens met with earth as God's dwelling places. Concerning the former, Jordan writes:

Illustration from Through New Eyes, p. 208
  While the altar complex was a holy mountain, leading toward heaven, in a wider sense the entire Tabernacle complex was a holy mountain, or extended ladder to heaven. What makes this clear is the connection between the Tabernacle and Mount Sinai. ...Mount Sinai was a world model that transferred itself to the Tabernacle. When the people left Mount Sinai, they took the Mountain with them. 
  God's cloud covered the top of the mountain, thus establishing it as a Most Holy Place. Moses and Moses alone was allowed to enter this place, just as later on the only the High Priest would be allowed to enter the Most Holy of the Tabernacle (Exodus 19:19-24). At the top of the mountain God gave the Ten Commandments, which were later put in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle. 
  Midway down the mountain was the Holy Place. ...The courtyard of the mountain was marked off with a boundary, and anyone who trespassed was put to death (Exodus 19:12). Inside this boundary was placed an altar, and only certain select young men might approach it (Exodus 24:4, 5; cp. 19:22, 24). ...The boundary around the mountain correlates to the boundary inside the courtyard that kept the people from approaching the altar.
  In this way, then, the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) were models of the ladder to heaven, of the holy mountain. Israel did not need to go back to Mount Sinai, or regard it as anything special, after the Tabernacle was built. The Tabernacle was God's portable mountain.1 



Concerning the latter, Jordan writes: 

Illustration from Through New Eyes, p. 162
  The Bible tells us that the Tabernacle and its courtyard symbolized the heavens and the earth, God's dwelling places. Heaven was God's throne, and the earth His footstool (Isaiah 66:1; Matthew 5:35; Acts 7:49). This was set out in two ways in the Tabernacle. In the Most Holy Place, the heavenly throne was pictured by the winged cherubim. God sat enthroned on the outspread wings of the cherubim, with His feet on the mercy seat that covered the Ark of the Covenant.
  ...Second, the whole Tabernacle proper was a model of heaven (Hebrews 8:5; 9:23-25). The Most Holy Place itself was a model of the highest heavens, with the firmament or earthly heavens pictured in the Holy Place, and the earth pictured in the courtyard. The Courtyard altar was the holy mountain that reached toward the sky, pictured in the Holy Place behind the first veil, a veil of blue sky. ...As we pass through the firmament-heavens of the Holy Place, we come to a second altar, which is as it were a second ladder stretching from the firmament-heavens to the highest heavens. Beyond the cherubic second veil, behind this golden altar was the Most Holy Place, the Highest Heavens.
  The courtyard thus represented the earthly garden-sanctuary. Adam had been cast from this sanctuary; and it was only under very tight restrictions, codified in the laws of cleanness, that anyone might be admitted to it in the Mosaic system. Even so, the layman might only come into the forecourt. He was forbidden on pain of death the approach the holy mountain of the altar.2 








1.  James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing A Biblical View of the World [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999] pp. 212-3
2.  Ibid. pp. 207, 211


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cosmos, Garden, & Tabernacle: A Three Story House for Yahweh




In his book, A House For My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament, Peter Leithart discusses the connection between the Creation & Garden symbolism of Genesis 1-3 and the Tabernacle/Temple symbolism as outlined in God's Law. Dr. Leithart writes:

The Bible's story begins by telling us about the world where the story takes place. In the Bible, the world is the real world that we live in, the world that God created. But the Bible describes the world in a particular way. In some places, the Bible describes it as a house. Talking to Job from the whirlwind, Yahweh asks:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you know understanding,
Who set its measurements, since you know?
Or who stretched the line on it?
On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?  (Job 38:4-7)

Earth, and especially mountains, are set on "foundations" (Deuteronomy 32:22; 2 Samuel 22:8, 16; Psalm 104:5) just like the foundations that hold up a house. Blue sky is stretched out above like a "tent curtain" (Isaiah 40:22). Pillars support the earth (Job 9:6) and heaven (Job 26:11). When God first appears in the Bible, He is building a house. 
...It takes God six days to build His house, six days that are just like our days with the sun coming up in the morning and going down in the evening. After that, God rests on the seventh day, a day known as the Sabbath day. 
...And so, at the end of the six days of creation, God has finished a "three story" house. Above is the "tent curtain" of blue sky, then the dry land, and finally the waters "below" the earth. 
The Bible mentions this three-story house many times. In the second commandment, God forbids us to bow down to an image of anything in "heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth" (Exodus 20:4). That means we must not bow down to images of anything. "Heaven, earth, and sea" means "the whole universe."1
...Once God has made His three-story house, He puts Adam and Eve in it and gives them a job to do.2 ...When Adam is first created, he is put in the garden of Eden. The Garden is one of several different areas that God makes in the world. Remember that God initially makes a "three-story" world. In Genesis 2, we learn that the middle floor, earth, is divided into three "rooms." The Garden is only one of them. Genesis 2:8 tells us that the Lord God plants a garden "toward the east, in Eden," which means that the Garden is on the east side of the land of Eden. Eden is larger than the Garden, and outside Eden there were other lands, which are named in Genesis 2:11-13. If Adam had taken time on the first day to make a map, he would have drawn a map with several areas: the Garden, the land of Eden, and the larger world. 
It is interesting to notice how these three "rooms" of earth match up with the three "stories" of the universe. To see fully how this works, another portion of the creation has to be considered, namely, the "firmament." Made on the second day of creation (Genesis 1:6), the firmament is not just the flat surface of the sky but the whole region that we call "outer space." We know this because the sun, moon, and stars are "in" the firmament (Genesis 1:14-19). It is also called "heaven" (Genesis 1:8). This means that God created a world with two "heavens": The heavens where God dwells and the visible heavens of outer space. When we add this to our picture of the three-story house, we see that the "attic" is divided into two sections.3
The house that Israel builds at Mount Sinai is a tent called the tabernacle. ...Within the tent are two rooms. The first is the Holy Place, and the second is the Most Holy Place or "Holy of Holies." The courtyard makes a third area. The tabernacle has three zones, and each of these zones is governed by a different set of rules. Any Israelite layman may enter the courtyard, but only priests may enter the Holy Place. Only the High Priest may enter the Most Holy Place, and he may do it only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1).4

With these observations in mind, the arrangement of the tabernacle can be understood this way5

Cosmic boundaries        Earthly boundaries         Tabernacle boundaries
Highest Heaven               Garden of Eden               Most Holy Place (2nd tent, High Priest only)
Firmament "heaven"        Land of Eden                   Holy Place (1st tent, Priests only)
                                    

Land                             Land surrounding Eden      Courtyard (Covenant people)
                                                                             

World & Sea                  Nations across the sea       Outside the Courtyard (Gentiles)
                                                                         

Dr. Leithart also makes this following observation concerning the Tabernacle and the Garden of Eden:
A number of things in the tabernacle remind us of the garden of Eden. Like the Garden, it has a doorway on the east side (Genesis 3:24). The cherubim embroidered into the tabernacle curtains and built above the ark remind us of the Garden (Exodus 26:31-37). When a priest enters the Holy Place, he looks at the veil that has cherubim on it and is reminded over and over of the cherubim with the flaming sword in Genesis 3. Like the garden and land of Eden, the tabernacle is mostly off-limits. From the time of Adam to the time of Jesus, no one is allowed to go back into the Garden, past the cherubim, to enjoy God's presence. As Paul put it, the Old Covenant ministry is a ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3:7; see Hebrews 9:8-10). The tabernacle is a way of keeping the people of God at a distance.6 





1.  Peter J. Leithart, A House For My Name:  A Survey of the Old Testament [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000] pp. 43-45
2.  p. 50
3.  p. 51
4.  p. 82
5.  The formatting presented here is my own, and is not identical with the formatting of Leithart in his book (p. 85), but the the arrangement is similar.
6.  Ibid. p. 85.



Friday, May 31, 2013

Matthew 10: The End Was Near (Cosmic language & the old covenant age)




In this post, I would like to identify two important aspects of biblical literature which I have not yet touched upon in this series: 1) Scripture's non-literal cosmic language of judgment & deliverance, and 2) its related themes about the end of tabernacle/temple worship and the old creation/old covenant. These are important for understanding Jesus' prophecy to his twelve apostles in Matthew chapter ten: "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes."

In order to appreciate this statement a bit more, let's start with the first aspect mentioned above. 

Throughout the Old Testament we find multiple references to Yahweh coming in judgment and/or deliverance for His people: Isaiah 19:1-4; 31:1-7; 64:1-4; Psalm 18:1-19; 144:1-8. Perhaps the most important example among these is Psalm 18, which speaks in very clear cosmic and apocalyptic language:

A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

Let's stop and think about this imagery for a few moments. David describes the Lord "coming" down to deliver him according to his prayer. He also describes the earth rocking and the mountains shaking at the anger of the Lord. Glowing coals shoot out of the Lord, and smoke rises out of his nostrils. The Lord even rides on a cherub (an angel) that flies, and he "comes" swiftly on the wings of the wind. Thunder, hailstones, and coals of fire shoot down through the thick, dark clouds which surround Him. The Lord shoots out arrows of lighting, and by the breath of His nostrils the sea parts so that the ocean floor is laid bare before everyone. And all of this, as David says at the beginning of this Psalm, is a description of the Lord rescuing him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of King Saul. Obviously, this apocalyptic language is not literal, nor was it ever intended to be interpreted as literal occurrences at the time of the Lord's deliverance. Such language is describing a mighty deliverance --a deliverance so mighty that extraordinary cosmic language suits it best-- but it is not a description of literal cosmic events. 

This is but one Old Testament example cosmic and apocalyptic language which describes the Lord's judgment upon His enemies and the deliverance of His children. This, I contend, is virtually identical to the cosmic and apocalyptic language mentioned in Matthew 24, Luke 21, Acts 2, I Peter 3, and Jude 17. 

Second, we find themes surrounding the end of tabernacle/temple worship and its relationship with the old creation/old covenant. These themes become very apparent through a comparison of multiple new covenant references about the “last days,” “last time,” and end of the Old Covenant "age": I Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1-2; 9:1-10, 23-26; 10:19-25; Acts 2:14-21 (referencing Joel 2:27-32); II Tim. 3:1-5; I Peter 1:3-9, 20; 4:7-11; 5:4 (w/ reference to I Jn. 2:28-29); I John 2:18; Jude 17-23. Perhaps the most important examples among these are found throughout the book of Hebrews:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he framed the ages. (1:1-2)
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section,1 performing their ritual duties, but into the second2 only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is a parable for that time into the present).3 According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. (9:1-10)
...Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. ...He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (9:23-26)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain... let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith... Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who is promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (10:19-25)

In these passages, the author of Hebrews sees a certain "Day" drawing near, and the people of God are encouraged to stir up one another to love and good works, and to meet together regularly, and to hold fast the confession of their hope without wavering because that Day is drawing near. Before that the author speaks of Christ appearing at the "end of the ages." What ages? The ages which led up to the New Covenant and the inauguration of the Kingdom of heaven on earth. This "end of the ages" is also described as a "time of reformation" in which Jesus would pass through the first "tent" and into the real "Holy of Holies"; and these laws pertaining to the Old Covenant priesthood (with the high priest passing through the first "tent" into the "second" tent) are said to be "a parable of that time into the present.

In I Cor. 10:11, the apostle Paul uses similar language when he references God's judgments upon the disobedient people of Israel in the wilderness. And Paul says that "these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come." Clearly then, according to the apostle Paul, his own generation was living in the time when "the ages" would "end." But what "ages"? Well, in the mind of the author of Hebrews (and many people have argued that Paul was it's author), the answer was simple. The Mosaic tabernacle and it's laws taught the people of Israel that its own system of worship had to end and a better system had to be inaugurated at the end of that age. Ages would pass operating under the old covenant and it's tabernacle/temple system of worship, but a "time of reformation" was promised, according to the Mosaic Law's own "parable."

All of these references, I contend, are describing the end of the Old Covenant along with it's essential tabernacle/temple, sacrificial, and priestly structure. Furthermore, I contend, that the cosmic and apocalyptic language of Matthew 24, Luke 21, Acts 2, I Peter 3, and Jude 17 describe the end of the old creation as it is symbolized and foreshadowed in the destruction of the temple/tabernacle system and it's laws which are structured with cosmic symbolism.4








1.  i.e. the Holy Place was the first section, or "tent," of the Tabernacle
2. i.e. the Most Holy Place (or "Holy of Holies") was the second section, or "tent," of the Tabernacle. According to the Law of Moses, the High priest was the only priest allowed into the second "tent," and he had to walk through the first tent to get to the second "tent." The author of Hebrews argues that this symbolism engraved in ceremonial law was "symbolic of the time now present."
3.  The Greek text says ἥτις παραβολὴ εἰς τὸν καιρὸν τὸν ἐνεστηκότα, which, if woodenly translated  would say: "which is a parable into the time then-to-now-present." That is why I translated the passage as saying: "which is a parable for that time into the present." The ESV translates this parenthetical remark as "(which is symbolic for the present age)." The NASB translates it this way: "which is a symbol for the present time." The NIV translates it this way: "This is an illustration for the present time." And finally, the NLT translates it this way: "This is an illustration pointing to the present time." 
4.  See L. Michael Morales, The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus [Leuven-Paris-Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2012]; G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2004]; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God [Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996]; Peter J. Leithart, A House For My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000]; James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing A Biblical View of the World [Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999]