Twitter

Blog update:

Abraham: The Shaping of a Life and Culture.

Over the next few months, my posts will primarily focus on the life of Abraham as I attempt to "blog a book."

Entries in gospel (29)

Tuesday
Nov192013

The gospel to Abraham, part 2

The Lord created the world. The Lord judged, destroyed and eventually re-created the world in and through the flood. He judged and dispersed the world at Babel. Up to this point, the Bible records the history of mankind. Now, the stage is set for God to unfold further his covenant of redemption, with the calling of a man who will grow into the people of God—a people that will eventually be sent out into the world as priests to reconcile all peoples back to their maker. The promised seed of woman would one day see birth and then the serpent’s head beneath his foot (See Genesis 3:15).

But these events are future. At thepoint in history when Abraham is called, there is disorder after Babel. So God speaks again. The God who spoke and created the world from nothing speaks again, this time calling out into barrenness or a sort of empty chaos, rather than into the void. His goal is to reform or re-create what He necessarily destroyed at Babel and to bring order and fruitfulness to the earth through a people of His creation.

Abram, the father of this people, is a man from the blessed line of Shem. Though the line of his fathers is blessed, he is a man who has grown up and lives in Ur of the Chaldeans—a place full of the worship of false gods. Then God calls to him:

Go from your country
and your kindred
and your father’s house
to the land that I will show you.

And I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you and make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and him who dishonors you I will curse,
and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen 12:1-3)
[1]

As set up here, this call to Abram has two general parts, command and promise. The command contains three elements but is, essentially, a command to leave everything. With each successive element the command moves closer to the heart of what man holds dearest: homeland ==> family ==> head (father/parents). Not only must Abraham move away from his country but he must establish his own family (or have no family) and assume the role as head of that family. He must become his own man, guided solely by the command of God. And his destination is apparently just a type of “sight-seeing” tour; all he knows is that he is going to see a particular piece of land.

But the gospel has been spoken. Now, it begins to unfold.


[1] The ESV does not divide the text here into “poetic” lines.  Again, I have done so to help make the various aspects of the promise distinct in appearance. 

Thursday
Nov142013

The gospel to Abraham, part 1

After all these weeks of discussing the themes and the context of Abraham's life, we finally come to Abraham himself. However, I'll begin this mini-series called "The gospel to Abraham" with an explanation of his calling seen from a vantage point much later than Abraham's actual life.

“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’” (Galatians 3:8)

After the conquests and distribution of the Promised Land, Joshua calls the elders, the heads, the judges and the officers of Israel to gather together for a word from the Lord. Speaking as prophet, Joshua recounts a brief review of Israel’s history, beginning with the birth of the nation—the call of Abraham:

Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.  Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many.  I gave him Isaac… .’ (Joshua 24:2-3)

Clearly, God wants His people to know where they come from, geographically, morally, uniquely.  The few words used to describe their beginning show that there was no special reason why Abraham deserved God’s favor. God simply acted of His own initiative and results followed. And this is the pattern for all of Israel’s history. This fact is made thoroughly clear as Joshua proclaims God’s word to the people. The entirety of his speech is filled with telling words of the unmerited favor of God that led Him to work for Israel’s good:  “I took,” “I led,” “I gave,” “I brought,” “I delivered,” etc. 

All of Joshua’s short history, tinged with these powerful, active words of God, is a blatant reminder that Israel is where it is because God has brought them there, in spite of their failures and short-comings. The people are to always be humbly aware as they recall the word of the Lord:

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deut. 7:6-8)

The Lord made them a holy people—a people specifically chosen and plucked from all the peoples on the face of the earth. He made them holy and he treasures them. Why?  Because the loves them.  Over and over, out of darkness, out of slavery, the Lord acts and the Lord delivers. He acts and he accomplishes, unthwarted by the sin of man. Why?  Because he swore an oath to their fathers, he swore an oath to Abraham. He is true to his word and nothing can stop his hand or stand against the creative power of his ever active, creative Word, not even the sickness in man’s soul.        

Wednesday
Jul032013

Rethinking what the parables are and mean

The parables of Jesus have often been called "earthly stories with a heavenly meaning." NT Wright and others beg to differ. After reading through the gospels more carefully over the past year, I'm inclined to agree with them.

These simple stories are so much more than mere tales that teach some moral lesson or some principle or truth about living life on earth. Tucked within them is Jesus' kingdom message and they reveal what it looks like when God becomes king. Ah, but their message is only for those to whom the insight has been given, to those "given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God" (Matthew 13:11).

Here are some of NT Wright's explanations of the parables and how they function: 

o   NT Wright: Jesus’ intention with the parables was to “break open the world-view of his contemporaries and to invite them to share his vision of God’s kingdom instead. His stories portrayed this as something that was happening, not just a timeless truth, and enabled his hearers to step inside the story and make it their own” (Matthew 216)

o   NT Wright: “The stories were full of echoes. They resonated with anciet scriptural promises; they reminded their hearers of Israel’s future hopes and claimed by implication that these hopes were now being realized, even if not in the way they had imagined. These explanatory stories—the ‘parables’—were not, as children are sometimes taught in Sunday school, ‘earthly stories with heavenly meanings,’ though some of them may be that, as it were, by accident. Some, indeed, are heavenly stories, tales of otherworldly goings-on, with decidedly earthly meanings. That’s exactly what we should expect if Jesus’s kingdom announcement was as we are describing it, with God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven.” (Simply Jesus 87)

o   NT Wright: “The parables, in fact, are told as kingdom explanations for Jesus’s kingdom actions. They are saying: ‘Don’t be surprised, but this is what it looks like when God’s in charge.’ They are not ‘abstract teaching,’ and indeed if we approach them like that, we won’t understand them at all. Specialists who have studied the way in which Jesus’s language works describe a ‘speech-act’ effect, whereby telling a story creates a new situation, a new whole world. That was indeed what Jesus was aiming to do, and by all accounts he was succeeding. But what such specialist studies do not always point out is what this new world actually was. It was the new world in which God was in charge at last, on earth as in heaven. God was fixing things, mending things, mending people, making new life happen. This was the new world in which the promises were coming true, in which new creation was happening, in which a real ‘return from exile’ was taking place in the hearts and minds and lives both of notorious sinners and of people long crippled by disease.” (Simply Jesus 91)

 ~~~*~~~

There is certainly much to chew on here. And, perhaps Wright isn't 100% correct in his assessement. Even so, he's clearly onto something. Now, the challenge remains to see and "read" them with the Kingdom... with the intention of Christ in mind.

 

Monday
Apr012013

Christian-eese

Something that's been bothering me lately is the way we talk about Christian "things." I hear people talking about their "faith story" or their conversion or their interaction with people and it's as if one now-cliche sentiment after another just rolls right off their tongues.

I get that all sorts of fields of belief and work and hobby have their own particular jargon or "talk" the participants use. This is understandable and makes sense, for it helps simplify and condense communication. However, I also have no doubt that some of the jargon we employ in our various groups can get watered down or start to morph in meaning. It can become flat out cheese ball (hence the title of this post), or, worse still, sometimes the jargon can become the full extent of the meaning it was originally intended to condense or simplify. Or it can take on an entirely different meaning--one far removed from its valid origin.

Here's an example. Christians will often ask "Have you made Jesus Lord of your life?" when they are "witnessing" (yet another term that has morphed in meaning). I've heard people ask something like this or refer to "making Jesus Lord of their life" at our chapel services, while those of us in attendance listen on, undisturbed or unperplexed.

But this phraseology is misleading and theologically inaccurate. If Jesus is Lord (and I'm fairly certain he thought and acted and was revealed as if this were so), then how do we make him so? We can't make him what he already is. Period.

Oh, you may be thinking, "Kent. Kent. Kent. You're nitpicking. What the person means is have they accepted him as Lord." Fine. That may be what people mean when they say this, but what is being said and what is meant don't jive. Eventually--and I'm sure we're already in this situation--eventually the inaccurate question or explanation is going to be taken for accurate. In this case, a person's claim to have "made Jesus Lord" reveals something far deeper than poor word choice. It most likely also shows that we think we're independent and that Jesus is of no concern or significance to us until WE make him have concern and significance.

But this just isn't the reality. While we may live and operate within this world as if we are independent, it doesn't mean that we are. What really happens is that we have the metaphorical scales removed from our eyes and hearts--our understanding is broadened or opened up--and we "see" that there is a God and that his Son is Lord. We don't then choose to make him Lord. He is. Rather, we accept that this is so. Or, to put it another way, we receive this as so. Both "accept" and "receive" are terms we use to refer to our coming to faith in Christ; both of these terms can be misapplied as can this "making Jesus Lord" phrase. However, these terms--as they are commonly defined--can also carry the ideas of admission of belief or understanding. In the dictionary, one of the definitions of "receive" is "to accept as authoritative, valid, true, or approved."

This way of putting things is much better than our casually uttered way of asking or stating something about making Jesus Lord. 

~~~*~~~
Again, some of you may thin I'm just slicing at words. Maybe I am. But this is only because I DON'T want meaning to get sliced. The gospel isn't that hard to understand or explain, but somehow we've come up with overly-simplistic terminology or jargon to discuss it... and we're losing the truth behind our words. This is a danger. This is bothersome. And, I'm starting to realize that it's making some of our once-sound beliefs seem cheesy. People are being turned off by it--believer and non-believers alike. 

Monday
Mar042013

Jesus is God

Have you ever heard someone say something like, "Jesus never actually claimed to be God"? This is true; Jesus never actually uttered the words, "I am God."

However, just because Jesus never said these exact words, doesn't mean he isn't divine or that he didn't think he is divine while on earth. He did. But, unlike twenty-first century critics, who prefer direct, specific claims, Jesus didn't find it necessary to speak in this manner. Rather, he demonstrated his divine authority and nature in his teachings and his actions.

A passage that shows this in multiple ways is Mark 2:1-12.

1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.


5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"-he said to the paralytic- 11 "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home." 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"

 

By my count, there are at least five interconnected proofs here that show that Jesus thought he was God and that he is, in fact, God.

1. Jesus offers or grants the paralytic forgiveness of sins. Only a person who has been wronged is in a position to offer forgiveness. Jesus speaks as one that is in the position of one who has been wronged.

2. Jesus can read the scribes' minds. The scribes grumble about point number one, but they do it in their hearts. Jesus knows exactly what they're thinking and feeling, so he asks a question--"Which is easier...?"--and then acts, proving his divinity in word, deed, and mind reading. (I missed this very obvious piece of evidence in my initial posting; thanks to my friend Steve for pointing it out to me.)

3. Jesus calls himself the "Son of Man." This term is an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14, which describes the Ancient of Days (God the Father) presenting dominion and glory and a kingdom to one like a son of man. Jesus is essentially claiming that he is this figure described and that he, indeed, has the authority granted him by God.  

4. The paralytic is actually healed. We could argue against proofs one and three and say that Jesus is merely presuming to be in the position to offer forgiveness. We could just say Jesus is mad or delusional. However, the fact that the paralytic actually rises and walks out of the house demonstrates that he's been healed and forgiven, as Jesus explains. Of course, people can't actually see forgiveness, but the audience still responds...

5. The crowd glorifies God. Even though people can't see forgiveness, they can see the paralized man rise and walk. Something great has happened and they respond in worship. No, it doesn't say the people actually glorified Jesus, but they are amazed at both the words and actions of Jesus. They know that in some way this event is beyond a mere faith healing.

6. The scribes' reasoning is that Jesus is God. Okay, this isn't entirely accurate, but bear with me. The scribes hear Jesus say,"your sins are forgiven," and they are outraged because God alone can forgive sins. They're right; this is the point exactly. The problem is, they refuse to believe or can't see that Jesus is not just claiming to act like God; he actually is God. Their premises lead to this very conclusion. Here's their logic laid out in standard (and stiff, I admit) syllogistic form:

All sin forgivers are God.

All Jesus is a sin forgiver.

The conclusion? Yes:

All Jesus is God.

 

~~~*~~~
No, these six so-called proofs aren't as clean or unassailable as many of us would like. For many of us, they won't prove conclusively that Jesus believed that he is God, much less that he is God. Even so, Mark is dropping hint after hint that this is the case. The scribes were on the right track, but they couldn't--wouldn't--follow their reasoning to its logical end.

Here's the question: Will you? Can you?