Showing posts with label Typology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Typology. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Matt 23-25: The Olivet Discourse (part 4 of 5)



This might be the last part of a series I started earlier this year. I don't know for sure if it's the last post, but it might be. If it's not the last post, there will only be one more, final post in this series. 

This series is all about the Olivet Discourse, which can be found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 23-25. In many places of this blog I have already discussed the larger literary structure of Matthew's Gospel, as well as many micro-literary structures within their larger literary sections of discourses and narratives.

In the previous post I also typed up a lot of quotations from Church Fathers, covering the span of about a thousand years, most of whom also lived within the first six centuries, and all of whom interpreted Jesus' initial response (i.e. the first set of answers found in 24:4-22) to his disciples' three consecutive questions in 24:1-3, "when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming, and [what will be the sign] of the end of the age?", as prophesying the persecution of the early Christian Church, the Jewish wars, and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. Likewise, many Church Fathers interpreted the last response of Jesus (i.e. the third set of answers found in 24:36-25:30) as prophesying the "end" of the physical world we live in today, and not the Jewish wars or destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.

As noted in the last two posts (here and here), many Church Fathers have assumed that Jesus was answering the first of his disciple's questions first. And as I also pointed out, Jesus was actually answering the third question first. When the disciples asked their third question, "and [what will be the sign] of the end of the age?", Jesus answered that question first, not third.

I realize that's a significant claim, and significant claims require significant evidence. That's why in this post I'm going to walk you through each literary section pertaining to Jesus' answers. All I'm going to point out are the literary parallels. If you pay attention, you will see what I mean. I can assure you of that. It's obvious once the literary parallels of each section are mapped out for you (which is what I'm going to present next). 

Matthew 24 begins like this:

The disciples then ask,
 “Tell us… 
1st --> …when will these things be
2nd --> and what will be the sign of your coming 
3rd --> and [what will be the sign] of the end of the age?”




Answer to Question #3, part one:  the signs preceding "the end" of the age (24:4—14) 
Answer to Question #3, part two:  the sign of "the end" of the age (24:15—22)

Answer to Question #2, part one:  the signs preceding Christ’s coming (24:23—29)
Answer to Question #2, part two:  the sign of Christ’s coming (24:30—35) 

Answer to Question #1, part one:  when these things will be--> "Watch therefore" / "No one knows the Day or Hour" (24:36—44) 
   Answer to Question #1, part two:  when these things will be--> "Master" & "Servant" / "Wailing & Gnashing of Teeth" (24:45–51)

Answer to Question #1, part one (prime):  when these things will be--> "Watch therefore" / "No one knows the Day or Hour" (25:1—13)


   Answer to Question #1, part two (prime):  when these things will be--> "Master" & "Servant" / "Wailing & Gnashing of Teeth" (25:14—30)






Let's now look at Jesus' response, beginning with the first section (which answers the third question), that most early Church Fathers thought was clear prophecy about the persecution of early Jewish Christians and the Jewish wars leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. The basic structure, again, looks like this:

Question #3: "...and [what will be the sign] of the end of the age?”
Answer to Question #3, part one:  the signs preceding "the end" of the age (24:4—14) 
Answer to Question #3, part two:  the sign of "the end" of the age (24:15—22)


Below is the actual text of this basic structure.

Matt 24:4-14, Part one (answering Q#3)
And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will stumble and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matt 24:15-22, Part two (answering Q#3):
So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 

Notice all of the explicit literary parallels. It is only in this section of the Olivet Discourse where "the end" is mentioned by Jesus. "What end?", you might be asking. The "end" of the old covenant in AD70 is the most obvious answer, which is also what the early Church Fathers interpreted these verses as meaning, because the historical parallels and time indicators within the text are crystal clear if someone is familiar with the history of the Jewish wars leading up to Jerusalem's destruction. (There are many excellent books about that subject, but some very concise ones can be found here and here.) But there are more parallels to be found. 

Famines and earthquakes will be found in various "places", but the abomination of desolation as spoken of by Daniel the Prophet will be found in "the holy place." Interestingly, Luke 21:20-22 associate this timing of the "abomination of desolation" with Jerusalem being surrounded by armies. There are also signs preceding the "end" of the age, signs of tribulation that are merely the "beginning" of birth pangs. The actual sign of the "end" of the age coming to a close is described as "great tribulation" after a period of time when the people of Israel are told to flee from Judea to find salvation.






Let's now look at the second section, in which Jesus responds to the second question asked. The basic structure looks like this:

Question #2: "...and what will be the sign of your coming"
Answer to Question #2, part one:  the signs preceding Christ’s coming (24:23—29)
Answer to Question #2, part two:  the sign of Christ’s coming (24:30—35)



Below is the actual text of this basic structure.

Matt 24:23-29, Part one (answering Q#2):
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Matt 24:30-35, Part two (answering Q#2):
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.


Again, the literary parallels with this section are obvious. Some of the signs preceding Christ's "coming" include fellow Israelites saying "Look! Here is the Messiah!", misleading and directing people away from Jesus' disciples and toward the truth of his "coming." They were told that such misleading examples would all be false Messiahs because a sign of the real "coming" of the Son of man would appear in the heavens above, which they could see. An army of angels would be sent out, leading with a loud trumpet call, to gather his elect from across the sky as far as one could see, covering the whole land of Israel. (Such a visible anomaly was, by the way, recorded by Josephus and Tacitus, who were both independent historians of the first century Jewish wars.)

Tacitus (Histories 5:13) recorded these events in his history of the Jewish wars:
In the heavens appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armor. A sudden lightening flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of their departure.


Jesus also said that when they saw all those things they would know that the Son is near. Indeed, it is even said that that generation would not pass away until all those things took place. This, of course, echoes themes which have already been explicitly stated elsewhere Matthew's Gospel:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You* brood of vipers! Who warned you*
to flee from the wrath to come? (Matthew 3:7) 
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. (Matthew 10:23) 
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of this age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:47) 
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Matt 16:27)

But someone might still ask, "What was meant by him 'coming on the clouds of heaven', or 'the sun being darkened and the moon not giving it's light', or 'the stars falling from heaven', or 'the powers of the heavens being shaken'?"  

I'm glad you asked. 

People today usually assume that such a description must be prophesying events yet to take place after today (e.g. after 2018 AD). But that is mistaken. It's actually a series of cosmic themes woven throughout Israel's Scriptures. The Sun, Moon, and stars were understood to be symbols of both earthly and heavenly rulers (e.g. Judges 5:19; Genesis 37:9), whereas mountains and "land" (often, and unfortunately, mistakenly translated as planet "earth" in English Bibles) were associated with temples and empires.

Below is a very short list of what is found in Israel's Scriptures:

In Isaiah 13:9-11 we find the prophet of the Lord prophesying the fall of the Babylonian empire to the Medes in 539 B.C.:
Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.

Isaiah 34:2–4 describes the Lord’s anger against Edom and Bozrah, who allied together with Northern Israel against Southern Israel (i.e. Judah, where Jerusalem resided):
For the Lord is enraged against all these nations, and furious against all their heavenly host; he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter. Their slain shall be cast out, and the stench of their corpses shall rise; the mountains shall flow with their blood. 

All the hosts of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.


Ezekiel 32:7-8 promises the fall of the Egyptian army by the Babylonians in 587 B.C., at a time when Babylon came to destroy Jerusalem while the princes of Egypt allied with Israel against Babylon:
Thus says the Lord God: I will throw my net over you with a host of many peoples, and they will haul you up in my dragnet. 

And I will cast you on the ground; on the open field I will fling you, and will cause all the birds of the heavens to settle on you, and I will gorge the beasts of the whole earth with you.
…When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over you, and put darkness on your land, declares the Lord God.

Jeremiah 4:23-24 describes a looming judgment against Judah in the days of the first temple, before it was destroyed:
I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.


In Psalm 18 we read about God judging King Saul and delivering David:
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.


Micah 1:3—4 is a vision of coming judgment against Samaria, the capital of Northern Israel:
Behold, the Lord is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place.


Amos 8:9 describes the fall of Samaria in 722 BC:
And it will come about in that day, declares the Lord God, that I shall make the sun go down at noon and make the earth dark in broad daylight.


Habakkuk 3:3–11 is a prayer for protection during terrible affliction and judgment:
God came down from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. ...He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations; then the aged mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low. …The mountains saw you and writhed; the raging waters swept on; the deep gave forth its voice; it lifted its hands on high. The sun and moon stood still in their place.


Haggai 2:1-9 is self explanatory, and obviously describing a distant and great judgment after the second temple period in which he lived:
In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet: 

“Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’”

Not surprisingly, the author of Hebrews 12 quotes this passage from Haggai as though it was awaiting near-fulfillment in the first century, with the destruction of Israel's temple in AD70:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.”
The phrase “once more” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, things that have been made—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Hopefully now you're beginning to see how clearly the Olivet Discourse utilized well known cosmic imagery to describe the persecution of the early Christian church, the Jewish wars of 66-70AD, and the destruction of their temple.







Finally, let's now look at Jesus' third response, answering the first question from his disciples, which most early Church Fathers (mistakenly) thought was clear prophecy about the end of the physical world. The basic structure looks like this:

Question #1: "…when will these things be?"
Answer to Question #1, part one:  when these things will be--> "Watch therefore" / "No one knows the Day or Hour" (24:36—44) 
   Answer to Question #1, part two:  when these things will be--> "Master" & "Servant" / "Wailing & Gnashing of Teeth" (24:45–51)
Answer to Question #1, part one (prime):  when these things will be--> "Watch therefore" / "No one knows the Day or Hour" (25:1—13)
   Answer to Question #1, part two (prime):  when these things will be--> "Master" & "Servant" / "Wailing & Gnashing of Teeth" (25:14—30)



Below is the actual text of this basic structure.

Matt 24:36-44, part one (answering Q#1):
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you* also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Matt 24:45-51, part two (answering Q#1):
Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him off and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Matt 25:1-13, part one-prime (answering Q#1):
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. 

Matt 25:14-30, part two-prime (answering Q#1):
For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 



As you probably noticed, this third section is much longer than the previous two sections. I don't know why that is. It just is. But all four sections are clearly parallel and structured by a symmetrical A-B-A'-B' pattern. 

In this third section, part one (24:36-44) mirrors the content of part one-prime (25:1-13), and part two (24:45-51) mirrors the content of part two-prime (25:14-30). The literary parallels are absolutely unmistakeable. 

The disciples ask, "when shall these things be?", and Jesus responds with time statements. 

Part one says, "concerning that day and hour, no one knows... watch therefore...". Part one-prime ends with "watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." Parts one and one-prime both mention marriage imagery, which is unique to those sections alone, showing that they clearly parallel each other. 

In part two Jesus interjects with a description of a "servant" and some other "servants" who are anticipating the "coming" of their "master." In part two-prime Jesus interjects again, only this time he offers a parable about "servants" and when their "master" comes in judgment to collect debt. Unique to parts two and two-prime is the emphasis upon such wicked "servants" encountering a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth." 

Like I said earlier, the parallels are glaringly obvious.  

I also hope this series has been helpful so far. It has taken me a while to type it all up. 

All discussion that is left of the Olivet discourse is with the closing section, 25:31-46. As I mentioned in the first post of this series, the closing section mirrors chapter 23:1-12. I think I have typed enough for one evening. I guess that means I will have to save that post for last. 


Stay tuned for one more...







* The "you" of the Greek text is second person plural.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Church as Lone Prophet (A Meditation for Ordinary Time)

The Church as Lone Prophet
A Meditation for Ordinary Time (Proper 7, Year C, II)
I Kings 19:1-15
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39


In 1st Kings chapter 18, we learn that the wicked king of Israel, Abab, has hunted down all the prophets of YHWH in an attempt to remove their influence throughout the land. And just before our reading today, he summoned all of Israel and all of their prophets to defeat the Lord's last prophet, along with his "God" on Mount Carmel. At this point in the story, it's all the prophets of Baal versus one prophet, Elijah, the lone prophet of YHWH. Elijah, again, is outnumbered. The odds seem to be completely against him. But as we soon learn, just one lone prophet with the Lord on his side, is greater than the world that opposes him. 


You all know the story. In the end, the prophets of Baal cannot summon their gods to rain down fire from heaven. The Baal worshipers make fools out of themselves all day long, and at the end of the day Elijah prays to the Lord one time, and the Lord answers him. The Lord answers by raining fire down from heaven, and Elijah's God—the living and true God—wins. And when all the people saw the Lord answer Elijah's prayer, they fell on their faces confessing that YHWH is God (1 Kings 18:38-39).

Because of Elijah's loyal and loving faithfulness to the Lord, by the end of chapter 18, it looks as though the dawn of Israel's redemption seems very near. We finally see a glimmer of hope in the story, where the Lord seems to be turning the idolatrous house of Ahab, and the corrupt hearts of Israel, back to Himself. But as soon as we turn the page and enter chapter 19—which is our reading for today—we hit a major road block. Apparently Elijah's loyalty to YHWH didn't stop all of the leaders of Israel. Jezebel, the queen, was particularly upset with his victory. And instead of turning to the Lord, the leaders of Israel follow Jezebel's reaction against Elijah's faithfulness by threatening and conspiring to kill this last, lone prophet of YHWH. For those familiar with the history of the powerful nations surrounding Israel, reactions of these sorts are expected from enemies. (Similar reactions occurred with later prophets as well, like John the Baptist and even Jesus himself.) In Elijah's day, Israel had become another powerful empire of its own, just as corrupt as the surround ungodly empires.

Even Paul, when writing to the Galatians, was prepared for the hostile reactions of Judaizers who were breathing threats against him and against his gospel. The Judaizers painted Paul's gospel as a threat to the Faith, yet Paul faithfully and lovingly urged the Galatian Christians to follow his example, obeying the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and not another gospel.

Like Elijah and Paul, the Church is called to be a prophetic witness sent out ("apostled") to the nations. As such, the calling of the Church is to love and serve the Lord through all threats against Him and against His anointed ones. In doing so, the Lord's victory over the idols of every generation becomes obvious to all. But that isn't to say that such faithful witnessing is always easy or even comfortable. It can be incredibly intimidating and demanding at times as well.

Like Elijah fleeing into the wilderness and lying down in despair under a tree to die (1 Kings 19:5), at times we—the Church—will exhaust ourselves through various trials, and will even want to lie down and accept defeat at times, too. But the witness of Holy Scripture reminds us that the Lord is faithful to those who remain jealous for Him. He is faithful to those who trust and obey Him through the high mountain-top victories and low valleys of wilderness wandering—quite literally through life and death. As we see vividly in the Elijah narrative, just when the feelings of defeat and death set in, the Lord resurrects hope within, visiting them with food and drink to endure their long journey (1Kings 19:5-8).

The gospel of our Scripture readings today could not be more clear: In the midst of despair, when most people follow the "Baals" of the land or simply reject the lordship of Jesus outright (as many of Israel did in Paul's day), the Lord does not forget His people. Instead, the Lord nourishes and raises up a remnant in the midst of a dry and thirsty land, to remind us that even when despair or depression or exhaustion has distorted our vision of God's love for this world, God has the situation under control. He has not stopped loving this world of His, even through its trials and judgments; nor has He forgotten His people through such judgments. Just as the lone prophets and apostles were God's means for preserving the Faith of Israel through judgment, so the ministry of the Church in Christ Jesus—the prophet and apostle of our confession (Heb 1:1-4; 3:1)—is God's means of saving the world.

As we learned in our gospel reading today, it is in Christ that each earthly house—whether it's the house of the Gerasenes, or Israel, or Baal—can flee from judgment, and can have its Legion of demons cast out. As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are sent out into the world to bear witness to that One who delivers his enemies from bondage to sin and calls them to proclaim how much God has done for them (Luke 8:39). Our calling might be difficult. It might be exhausting too. But when we get weary and weak because of our faithfulness, at least we know where rest and refreshment are found for our journey. It is here, in Christ's Church, that the weary are given rest, and the weak receive food and drink for every journey ahead.

It is in Christ Jesus that we, the Church, are all sons of God. For Paul says, as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. In Christ we are now a new creation, so we ought to live like the new creation we are, living with gratitude, living with praise and adoration of Jesus Christ, living unashamedly as a prophetic witness of His lordship over all. It is in this Church united to Jesus Christ—this new Jerusalem which has already come down from heaven—that death is swallowed up in victory, and all things are being made new.

Believe that, and don't be ashamed to proclaim how much God has done and will continue doing for the world. And if you're ever feeling ready to throw in the towel, don't lean upon your own understanding. Rather, in all your ways acknowledge Jesus and He will direct your paths. He won't forsake you or anyone else who puts their trust in Him. So put your trust in Him. Lean on him. He wants you to, especially when you feel like a lone prophet in this world. He walks alongside you, directing the way you should go, so that you can put your trust in Him. Even if it's through death's darkest valley, don't fear any evil, for the Lord is with you. Let his rod and staff comfort you, for he walks with you, ready and willing to show the world that He is your Shepherd, and in Him you lack nothing. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.



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O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.







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.

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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.