Sunday, November 30, 2008
To help build the anticipation of Advent, my wife and I are going to be reading Scriptures (mostly Old Testament) that speak of Christ's coming until Christmas. If you want a reading schedule to do your own Advent readings you are free to use or adapt ours:
[Update: or use the Lectionary of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer that a friend posted here.]
BOOKS OF MOSES:
Nov 30 Genesis 3:14-24
Dec 1 Genesis 17:1-9
Dec 2 Genesis 49:1-2; 8-10
Dec 3 Deut 18:15-22; Deut 34:10
Dec 4 Psalm 89:1-30
Dec 5 Psalm 110
Dec 6 Psalm 2
Dec 7 Psalm 22
Dec 8 Psalm 72
Dec 9 Psalm 132
Dec 10 Isaiah 9:2-7
Dec 11 Isaiah 35
Dec 12 Isaiah 40:1-11
Dec 13 Isaiah 42
Dec 14 Isaiah 53
Dec 15 Isaiah 54
Dec 16 Isaiah 55 (gospel)
Dec 17 Isaiah 61
Dec 18 Isaiah 62
Dec 19 Jeremiah 23:5-8 / 33:7-16
Dec 20 Nahum 1:3-8
Dec 21 Malachi 3:1-6, 4:4-6
Dec 22 Micah 5:2-4
Dec 23 Luke 1
Dec 24 Luke 2:1-40
Dec 25 Matt 1:18-2:18
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
-Book of Common Prayer 1928
Saturday, November 29, 2008
In the four Sundays preceeding Christmas, the church observes the season of Advent (this year starting on November 30). Advent literally means "coming." The Church calendar helps us create a mood of expectation. From the promise to Abraham til the coming of Christ, 2000 years passed. We give a few weeks to recreate this anticipation. We look forward to the coming Christ in his Incarnation (God becoming man). In doing so, we also acknowledge the present anticipation of Christ's second Advent, his coming not in humility but in power.
In the coming weeks, I will have the collect (or common prayer) for that Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer was originally organized by Thomas Cranmer as a help to the many poorly trained priests and their congregants in England during the transition from Catholicism to Protestantism. The Book of Common Prayer was a reforming and evangelical book, allowing for the first time the common man to understand and follow what was occurring in the worship service, whereas before the service was in Latin. In the following years, some Puritans believed the Prayer Book should not be forced on all congregations, as the Word of God in Scripture should be the only regulator of worship. Even so, the Puritans collected their own prayers, and the protest should not be seen as a condemnation in the Reformed tradition of all common prayers, for common prayers can be a help to personal prayer, just as the Lord's Prayer is. So if you see a collect from the Book of Common Prayer, I am not imposing forced prayers on you. If you wish, read it and use it as a help to your own personal reflection and anticipation of Advent.
[Used here will be the Book of Common Prayer 1928. The 1979 book also has some very nice prayers, but I am more familiar with the 1928 book and it feels to me to have a sharper tone and theology to me personally.]
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The message seems clear: doctrine doesn't help in bad times. That sentiment is opposed to everything I believe about Christianity and ministry. I imagine the same scene as above, a parishoner calling the pastor, explaining he has cancer and a week to live, and asking "so what were those 4 steps to a victorious happy life?" It immediately reminded me of a post that Jay Bennett wrote a while back. Bennett wrote about an experience to explain about how to measure success in Christian Ministry:
I was out of the office one afternoon making hospital visits with pastor Ron Williams. We visited a long-time member of PCPC at a rehabilitation hospital. He was an elderly man, probably in his 80's, suffering from an intestinal blockage. He was weak, confined to his bed, and had been near death multiple times. As a former lawyer, he was a man of many words. Several times he expressed his appreciation to us for just being there to listen to him talk. As we listened, I was struck by the joy this man had. Even in the midst of great suffering and the imminent threat of death, he had a sweet spirit of thankfulness and gladness. He was content in Christ.
As we left his room that day and walked back to the car, I remember telling Ron what an encouragement it was to witness God's work in this man's life. I believe very few people reach the latter stages of life and endure that level of suffering with contentment. Most become bitter and depressed. This man's joy in the midst of great suffering was a clear testimony of God's unassailable love for him. This is ministerial success: contentment in the midst of suffering. It is reserved for those whom God has chosen to inseparably unite to his Son by faith.
As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:36-39).
Monday, November 24, 2008
Knowing the history of Jacob, who became Israel, this episode hit me when I read it again recently. Jacob, the younger son of Isaac, the less deserving one coming to the time of his blessing is the first to get it of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham played favorites with the firstborn, wanting Ishmael before Isaac. But the younger came before the older. Yet, when Isaac came to give blessing, the undeserving prefered to give to whom he saw as more deserving, so again the the older was favored in the more capable Esau over the younger Jacob. Now, Jacob comes to Joseph's sons, one younger and one older:
Gen 48:13-19 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near him. And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). And he blessed Joseph and said, "The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth."The unfairness of grace given to others makes me displeased too: “Not this way, father!” Jacob answers with such an amazing phrase: “I know, my son, I know.” Yes he did, finally. Wow. What a strange story the gospel is, to bless the undeserving because we have been blessed as undeserving people…most days I don’t believe it. Not this way.
When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father's hand to move it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. And Joseph said to his father, "Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head."
But his father refused and said, "I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations."
Saturday, November 22, 2008
As the dispensationalist perspective is being evaluated, it should not be forgotten that covenant theologians and dispensationalists stand side by side in affirming the essentials of the Christian faith. Very often these two groups within Christendom stand alone in opposition to the inroads of modernism, neo-evangelicalism, and emotionalism. Covenant theologians and dispensationalists should hold in the highest regard the scholarly and evangelical productivity of one another. It may be hoped that continuing interchange may be based on love and respect.”
-O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants pg 201-202.
Friday, November 21, 2008
If one accepts the conclusions of my last post on the Land of Israel, then one can sing this hymn with hope. Such a hymn is based on a Historical Redemptive means of reading the Bible. The promised Land of Abraham, and the blessing given to Abraham's descendants, which Scripture defines as those who believe (Romans 4:11, Gal 3:9) finds full form in the promise of the restoration of all things, a renewal and improvement of the original Garden. This hymn was written by Samuel Stennett, who among his quirks came from a Seven-Day Baptist family (I don't really get how that works either). But Stennett penned this hymn that became especially popular among Methodists and African-Americans who identified with the theme of exhile in a land, while looking forward to a better day of the Promised Land. [Modern versions are found on Jars of Clay's Redemption Songs and Indelible Grace 2]
On Jordan's Stormy Banks by Samuel Stennett
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.
I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land;
Oh who will come and go with me?
I am bound for the promised land.
O the transporting, rapturous scene,
That rises to my sight!
Sweet fields arrayed in living green,
And rivers of delight!
There generous fruits that never fail,
On trees immortal grow;
There rocks and hills, and brooks and vales,
With milk and honey flow.
O’er all those wide extended plains
Shines one eternal day;
There God the Son forever reigns,
And scatters night away.
No chilling winds or poisonous breath
Can reach that healthful shore;
Sickness and sorrow, pain and death,
Are felt and feared no more.
When I shall reach that happy place,
I’ll be forever blest,
For I shall see my Father’s face,
And in His bosom rest.
Filled with delight my raptured soul
Would here no longer stay;
Though Jordan’s waves around me roll,
Fearless I’d launch away.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
The theme of Land in the Bible doesn’t begin in Genesis 15, but in the first few chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1 is the account of all that God created. Of all of creation God puts man in a portion of it:
Gen 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.When man falls, God takes what had been his gift, and curses it.
Gen 3:17 And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;Though at first man was to eat of the tree of life, now his food comes by pain and is of a lower quality. But what does this have to do with Abraham? Understanding the promise of Abraham requires understanding the narrative flow of Scripture. Abraham is chapter 12, not 1, of Genesis. Abraham comes in after the story has commenced. Abraham is an element in the History of Redemption.
Gen 3:18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
God has already begun his program of redemption in the promise of the seed, sometimes called the proto-evangelium (first gospel) in Genesis 3:15:
Gen 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."The seed of the woman (Christ) will crush the head of the serpent (Satan). As a result of this promise, Adam names his wife “Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” (Gen 3:20) From Eve, Christ will come to bring life, and “life to the fullest.”
Yet the story of redemption tells, not just a story of soul-saving, but the redemption of all creation. Paul tells us in Romans that “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Rom 8:22) Man not only awaits redemption, so does creation.
Back to Abraham. God’s promise to Abraham includes a large tract of land, larger than he would even have use of at that point:
“from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites." (Gen 15:18b-21)Some people interpret the geography as similar to modern day Israel, while you can also find some maps of what some other people estimate that land to be. What is the meaning of this land promised to Israel? How do we interpret this? If we say it is something other than the literal land in the Middle East, are we not “spiritualizing” the text, and treating the Scriptures loosely?
Many of these questions go to the heart of how we read the Old Testament. Many want a very literal reading, so much so that Genesis 3:15, that the church has always interpreted as the proto-evangelium, is really just explaining why snakes and people don’t get along. So too, the land promise made by God finds full fulfillment in the political possession of the land mentioned in Genesis 15 by an entity with the name of Israel. If this is the way we are to read the Old Testament, this is a reasonable interpretation.
In reading the Bible, the only infallible guide to interpreting the Bible is the Bible itself. Many places in the Bible, it does exactly that: interprets itself. Sometimes in the same passage, such as the Gospel authors giving an interpretation to the parables of Jesus. Sometimes in different books, such as Malachi (1:3) or Romans (chapter 9) interpreting the story of Esau and Jacob. Indeed, to understand the Scriptures, the Scriptures themselves instruct us.
The New Testament tells us that many things in the Old Testament, such as festivals, “are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col 2:17). What is written in the Old Testament is to be understood in the context of Christ. The writer of Hebrews concurs, writing:
Heb 10:1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realitiesThe “true form” of the shadow in the Old is found in the New. The most “literal” and surest form of reality is what is revealed to us in Christ and the New Testament as God unfolds his plan in the narrative of the redemption of His creation. With this in mind, what was the land a shadow of? What part of redemption does this promise point to? The writer of Hebrews stops in the middle of his hall of fame of faith in Hebrews 11 to reflect on the land promise and explain it to us:
Heb 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.The author of Hebrews writes of the hope of the land as a desire for a better country, a heavenly one, a city that God has prepared. The true form of the land is found in the story arch from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. The promise to Abraham is the restoration of the garden, and its improvement. The story begins with the lost Paradise of the Garden continues in the plan of restoration of God from Genesis 3 onward to Abraham's promise which looks to the restoration of all things in Revelation. When we look at Revelation, we see John describe to us:
Heb 11:14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
Heb 11:15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.
Heb 11:16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Rev 21:10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and
showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,
I don’t know of any more obvious referent the author of Hebrews could mean by “a heavenly city” that God prepared than a holy city coming down straight from heaven! The old Jerusalem was indeed a fulfillment, but according to Hebrews, the fullest fulfillment is the New Jerusalem.
My friend Matt Bradley has a wonderful exercise in Scripture (listen to his lesson introducing Historical Redemptive reading here). Open the first few chapters of Genesis and compare them to Revelation. The parallels are striking:
We find the tree of life:
Gen 2:9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Rev 22:2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life
Gen 2:10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden,And the light of Day:
Rev 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life,
Gen 1:5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.But as you can see, the end is not only a restoration of the Garden, but there is improvement over the Garden. The Garden had two types of tree (good and bad), the city only has the tree of life. The Garden had night and day, but the city only has day. The Garden had a serpent, but the serpent is defeated and in the city: “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.” (Rev 21:27)
Rev 22:5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
God’s land promise, we see shadowed the promise of full restoration, a restoration and improvement over the lost Garden. Christ, in His covenant obedience, has been given all things (1 Cor 15:27), and in turn, Christ declares "Behold, I am making all things new." (Rev 21:5) The inheritance Christ receives is the whole earth, the land of promise and beyond, remade, so that:
Rev 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.The history of redemption begins in Genesis 3:15, and in Abraham we are given a shadow of a true form, that lets us look forward to the ultimate fulfillment of the promise in the new creation when:
Rev 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Is Modern Israel the Israel of Biblical Prophecy? (Part 4): Who is Israel today? God's People Israel.
As already stated, the recipients of the promise are those who share the faith of Abraham. Christ was the one ultimately faithful to God, and mediator of the covenant. The faith of Abraham included a faith in God and his promised seed, Christ the mediator. This would mean that true Israel are the people on earth today that have such a faith, and they are those in the true church. True Israel today is Christ's Church.
Calling the Church Israel can raise certain objections. Charles Ryrie, a Revised Dispensationalist, polemically declared “the church does not rob Israel of her blessings.” Is saying the church is Israel robbing Israel of her blessing? First, lets look at how Scripture talks about Israel and the church:
PAUL IN EPHESIANS 2
Saying the Church is Israel is not just a matter of inference. Paul writing to Gentiles in Ephesus wrote:
Ephesians 2:12 - Remember you were once without Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [author’s translation]Paul then makes a pivot,
The “near” and “far off” were a common Rabbinic way of referring to Jews and Gentiles. Peter uses the same terminology in speaking to a Jewish audience in Acts 2:38-39, saying the message of Christ is for “you” (Jews) and “those who are far off,” namely the Gentiles. Paul here uses the far off image to illustrate its elimination. Those who were far off, now are brought near - a term for Israel. Paul explains how this is accomplished:
Eph 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. [ESV]
Eph 2:14-15 For he [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, [ESV]The unique nature of the Mosaic Israelites has been taken away. As we saw, this unique quality was not ethnicity, but Paul explains it as the law of commandments, that most commentators see as the ceremonial law of Moses. This allows Paul to make a statement to the Gentiles that was implied in 2:13:
Ephesians 2:19 - You are no longer strangers and foreigners, but are fellow citizens with the other saints in God’s household. [Author’s translation]
Notice the language parallel to 2:12:
2:12 - Remember you were once without Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel,The phrase in 2:12 is “τῆς πολιτείας τοῦ ᾿Ισραη`λ ” translated “the citizenship of Israel.” The root of the word “πολιτείας” or “politeias” (transliterated in English) is “polis,” where we get the English word politics. Compare that to 2:19’s word: “συμπολῖται” or “sumpolitai” translated “fellow citizens.” In the common Koine Greek usage, the term denotes individuals who share citizenry or are fellow citizens of a given nation or city. Paul teaches in Ephesians 2, once the Gentiles were alienated and separated from the citizenship of Israel by the Law, which was an offense to outsiders. Now that Christ has fulfilled the law and broken down that wall, now Gentiles are free, with ethnic Jews, without submitting to the Mosaic Law, to be fellow citizens of Israel. One way of describing the entrance into Christ’s church, for Paul, is citizenship in Israel.
2:19 - You are no longer strangers and foreigners (aliens), but are fellow citizens with the other saints in God's household.
The church as Israel explains the consistent application of the standing and appellations of Israel to the church, such as Peter telling Christians they are “a holy nation, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) echoing the same description of OT Israel in Ex 19:6. Paul in Ephesians 5 calls the church the Bride of Christ, echoing the same description of Israel as Bride in Ezk 16:4-14 and Hosea. Rather than concluding that God is a polygomist, we see that the Bride is one and the same. Israel is the Bride, the Church is the Bride, because the Church is Israel.
ROBBING ISRAEL OF BLESSING?
Does this mean, as Ryrie declared, that the church is robbing Israel of the blessing promised to her? The truth is that every single Christian, dispensational, covenantal and those Christians that are totally clueless that this is even a debate, takes promises given to Israel and appropriates them as promises to them, Christians in the church.
A simple example exists in the practice of taking Old Testament promises as comfort to a Christian. If Israel is not the church, then a Christian has no business appropriating promises like:
Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. [ESV]All of these are comforts to Israel. Do you appropriate these words as words of comfort? You should, for if you are a Christian, then you are of Israel.
Gen 15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. [KJV]
Jos 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." [ESV]
Beyond merely taking devotional comfort from God’s promises, there is a very serious and grave reason for seeing the church as Israel. If we are not the house of Israel, we are lost and without hope. (I am not saying dispensationalists say this, but that their reading has the following conclusion if applied consistently) During the Last Supper Christ took the wine and offered it to the disciples saying: "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20). When we partake of communion, we declare that we are recipients of God's forgiveness through Christ's blood and partakers of the new covenant. Where did this language of new covenant come from? Every Jew familiar with Scripture would have Jeremiah 31 ringing in their eyes when the words “new covenant” were spoken, the long awaited fulfillment of prophecy. But if we are not Israel, forgiveness offered in the cup is not for us, for Jeremiah 31 says, "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” (Jer 31:31) The covenant is made with Israel, and if we are not Israel, then we are not partakers of Christ’s new covenant. The church then does not rob Israel of her blessings, for the church is Israel, and so cannot rob itself.
This is not to say dispensationalists deny the gospel or something, but that the implications of dispensationalism’s divorce of Israel and the church cannot be consistently maintained and applied without confusing their own distinction of Israel and the Church and clouding the clarity of Scripture’s presentation of the gospel. The ingrafting of Gentiles into Israel makes us all the more thankful that Christ has made provision by fulfilling the law and bringing us who were far off near, bringing us who were separated from the promise of the new covenant into the citizenship of Israel, heirs to the promise.
To clarify, this also does not mean that the church replaced Israel. Replacement theology is entirely different than covenant theology. Replacement theology does not see the church as Israel, instead it agrees with classic dispensationalism that Israel and the church are separate peoples, but sees one as discarded and one as replacement. The church is the story of a great number joining Israel, not replacing her. As Abraham’s covenant is an everlasting covenant, it cannot be discarded without invalidating the Word of God. As we have explored that Scripture does not present heredity as the essential element, but faith, then Israel is the people who share the faith of Abraham, not his genes. Indeed before Hebrews 11 lists the great saints of the Old Testament, it declares:
Heb 11:1-2 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. [ESV]
As was in the Old, so is in the New. By faith do people of the New receive their commendation, too. By faith, the People of God receive the promise of the covenant.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Have you ever looked into how a New Testament author used an Old Testament passage with sear confusion? Such was my reaction when going through Matthew with someone reputed to know Scripture well. We came to Matt 2:15 speaking of Jesus coming out of Egypt after some time in his childhood, which reads:
“This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’"The passage was confusing, since in the Old Testament, this was not a passage of prophecy about the Messiah in Scripture, but you can read it here in Hosea in context:
Hosea 11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.How does Matthew maintain that a statement about Israel was fulfilled by Christ? When I asked, the instructor punted by pointing out that Matthew was divinely inspired and can do what he wants with the text. Of course, that does not answer the question, especially if the Gospels were written to an audience that would identify that indeed this was a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1-2.
Hosea 11:2 The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.
When reading on my own, I came to find out that most people do not punt on the use by Matthew 2:15 of Hosea 11:1-2. Instead, in reading two camps of scholars that disagreed sharply on the issue of the New Testament use of the Old, (Beale and Carson versus Enns), I was shocked to see they both agreed on why Matthew said Hosea was fulfilled here: Christ is Israel.
Hosea is talking about Israel, whom God loved and gave commandments. Israel, however, was constantly disobedient and breaking God’s Law. Matthew’s thesis throughout his gospel is that Christ is the perfect fulfillment of the Law. Christ obeys where Israel disobeyed. Christ fulfills what Israel could not. Christ is the perfect Israel.
The New Testament appropriates other descriptions of Israel as Christ, such as "my servant" in Matt 12:15-18, which in Isaiah 42 and the context is talking about Israel. Such also is the practice of many of the Messianic Psalms. For instance, Christ quotes Psalm 22 on the cross: “My God, why have you forsaken me!” But this is contrasted to verse 3 that identifies God as the object of praise of Israel in the midst of abandonment. Israel was forsaken and yet glorifying God in the Psalm, and Christ did the same on the cross.
As the perfect Israel, Christ is heir to the promises of Abraham first and foremost. This is Paul’s case in Galatians 3:16:
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ.”Israel is the heir of the promises of God, and Christ is the ultimate mediator of the promise of Abraham for He is the ultimate heir. Christ has been given all things promised to Abraham. He therefore is the ultimate heir of the promises of Abraham. In the Galatians argument, we can also see the importance of Paul’s favorite language for salvation: being “in Christ.” The mystical union (as Calvin called it) is required for Paul to end Galatians 3 with this assurace for those united with Christ:
Gal 3:26,29 - for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith...And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.A people of God find their identity in Christ, for the Father rewards the Son, and in the Son are the promises given. To be in Christ is to share in His status as heir.
Who then are these people that are in Christ and share his inheritance? That is what we will look at in Part 4.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
"[the return of modern Israel to their land] constitutes a preparation for the end of the age, the setting for the coming of the Lord for His church, and the fulfillment of Israel's prophetic destiny.”
-Classical Dispensationalist John Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy p. 26.
“Judged on biblical grounds, the nation today does not pass divine muster as a nation living in covenant obedience to God."
-Classical Dispensationalist Charles Dyer, Dean of Moody Bible Institute
Two dispensationalists, as we see here, can even disagree about whether the nation of Israel today is the recipient of covenant promise by its existence. How can this be? The problem comes down to how any particular reader of the Bible, be they classical, revised, progressive dispensationalist or covenantal, understands the nature of divine promise. Each needs to answer the question: What is the basis of the fulfillment of promise to Israel? And this question really has two elements:
1) What places one in the party of the promise?
2) What stipulation must be met while in the party to receive the promise?
To Question 1, (What places one in the party of the promise?) there are two main answers proposed. The first position for what places one in the party of Israel is hereditary. This answer sees the promise given to Israel on the basis of the ethnic pedigree. Such a view looks at the interactions between Abraham and God in Genesis 12-17 as an unconditional promise (thus, having no stipulation as an answer to the second question). For instance, an advocate for hereditary party would see Genesis 17:7 as a straight forward confirmation of their view:
Gen 17:7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.God’s promise is thereby a decree that He will fulfill his promises to the ethnic descendents of Abraham. John Walvoord, asserting that the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional states “the final restoration of Israel does not rest on their obedience but on the grace of God. A nation does not deserve God’s blessings will receive them much as Christian, who do not deserve God’s blessings…are showered with His blessings.” (Major Bible Prophecies, 64). God then sets aside a people with an unconditional covenant.
The problems of hereditary fulfillment
A view of God’s promises to Abraham based solely on heredity have major problems in the unfolding of the Scriptures. The Scriptures explicitly state that the sole criteria for inheriting the promise is NOT hereditary. If the criteria for receiving the promise is dependent on heredity, one much ask: Did Ishmael inherit the promises of Abraham?
Gen 17:20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.
Gen 17:21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year."
One might rightly point out that God was narrowing the promise within the covenant at this point and the descendants of both Abraham and Sarah are in view and so really what we are concerned with is the descendants of Isaac, since Ishmael was born of Hagar and Abraham. However, the same problem occurs: Did Esau (and the Edomites) inherit the promises of the Abrahamic covenant? Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau, but both did not receive the promises based merely on their heredity.
God does explicitly state that he is setting up a “nation” to himself. But it is clear the ONLY criteria for blessing this nation is clearly not hereditary pedigree. If one can be a descendant of Abraham, but not heir to the promises of Abraham, there must be other criteria or conditions. Indeed, God could not be more explicit in stating indeed there are more requirements to be included in God’s covenant people:
Gen 17:14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his
foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
There is an element of responsibility to “keep the covenant” so as not to be cut off from the people of promise, and being cut off from the people of promise means being cut off from the promise. Paul helps us in Romans 9:6 when he says literally: “Not all Israel is of Israel” or in the ESV: “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” Heredity does not guarantee the blessing of the promise.
But is heredity a necessary factor? It seems evident that those born to covenant-keeping Israelites were included in this covenant, provided they did not break it themselves. So is heredity a necessary factor?
Non-Jews as Israel
One might say it may be proved heredity may be proved to not be sufficient, but is it not a part of the requirement? The question then, really is, can a non-ethnic Jew become a member of the covenant nation?
First we may take the famous examples of the non-Jews in the line of Jesus such as Rahab the Canaanite prostitute, or Ruth the Moabite. Part of the promise to Abraham by Yahweh was “I will be your God” and “you will be My people.” Ruth appropriates this in Ruth 1:16, stating: “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Does Ruth have the right as a Moabite to come into the covenant nation, or is this presumption? Ruth indeed does have this right. In fact, foreigners not marrying a Jew even have this right as we see in Exodus, when it speaks of the covenant people’s exclusive meal the Passover:
Exo 12:48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.
WHO IS ISRAEL THEN?
So here we see one can be a member of the covenant nation of Israel without Abrahamic heredity. What then makes one a member of the covenant nation? Mere circumcision? Let’s consider Jeremiah 9:25-26:
Jer 9:25 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh--Circumcision is a requirement to keep the covenant, and true circumcision is not merely outward but a matter of the heart. What does this “circumcision of the heart” mean? Keeping the covenant can also be called righteousness. We remember the famous verse of how Abraham received his righteousness: “he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6) To be in the covenant community, one must be righteous, which means faith. One must share the faith of Abraham to share his blessings. Membership in the covenant community is not merely outward: heredity and circumcision, but a matter of faith. Paul restates this in Romans:
Jer 9:26 Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart."
Rom 2:28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.So why does God mention those of physical birth when those not of physical birth can be Israel and physical birth does not guarantee receiving the promise? Because God is making a nation for Himself and this is not a mere ethnic nation, but a faithful nation. Those in this nation are those who share the faith of Abraham, and their children. God’s covenant people, therefore are believers and their children, children who are required to adopt the faith of their parents in order not to be cut off from the covenant nation. Those who share the faith of Abraham are given the grave responsibility of passing on the faith to their physical descendents, lest they be cut off from the promise.
Rom 2:29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
It is not that Israel always understood that being heirs to the promise was a matter of faith and not heredity. Such is the reality Jesus confronts in John 8:
Joh 8:39 They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If youCovenant-keeping faith determines who is the seed of Abraham. Faith in God and his promise, not merely of land, but of redemption in the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15, Genesis 17, and John 8, who stands in flesh before the mere hereditary descendants.
were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did,
Joh 8:40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.
Joh 8:41 You are doing the works your father did." They said to him, "We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father--even God."
Joh 8:42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.
Joh 8:43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.
Joh 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires.
Indeed “ in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Gal 3:14)
To inherit the promise required faith. And inheriting the promise is still a matter of faith, namely in the Messiah:
Gal 3:16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ.Faith in God and His promise, Who is Christ, is the stipulation for inheritance of the promise of Abraham. A covenant must be kept for a promise to be given. So we see that the Scriptures present the covenant promises to Abraham based on faith and covenant keeping, not on mere heredity.
Gal 3:29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
The question of modern Israel then becomes, not can they trace their ancestory back to Abraham, but does the nation of Israel have the faith of Abraham? Modern Judaism claims to be the faith of Abraham, but viewing Israel as faithful to Judaism has two problems. First, only 15% of modern Israel is religiously Jewish. Second, and more important, the faith of Abraham was in the promise of “the seed.” So we must also ask: What is the response of modern Israel to the Messiah? The answer to that question is the answer to our question. Modern Israel has broken the covenant of faith by rejecting the seed of promise and by refusing to be obedient to baptism to keep the covenant (Col 2:12, Acts 2:38-39). We are left with no other answer than that modern Israel is not the Israel of Abraham’s promise.
Next, we will look at who is Israel.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
“We have not known Thee as we ought”
By Thomas Pollock, 1889 [Modern Version here]
We have not known Thee as we ought,
Nor learned Thy wisdom, grace and power;
The things of earth have filled our thought,
And trifles of the passing hour.
Lord, give us light Thy truth to see,
And make us wise in knowing Thee.
We have not feared Thee as we ought,
Nor bowed beneath Thine awful eye,
Nor guarded deed and word and thought,
Remembering that God was nigh.
Lord, give us faith to know Thee near,
And grant the grace of holy fear.
We have not loved Thee as we ought,
Nor cared that we are loved by Thee;
Thy presence we have coldly sought,
And feebly longed Thy face to see.
Lord, give a pure and loving heart
To feel and know the love Thou art.
We have not served Thee as we ought,
Alas, the duties left undone,
The work with little fervor wrought,
The battles lost or scarcely won!
Lord, give the zeal, and give the might,
For Thee to toil, for Thee to fight.
When shall we know Thee as we ought,
And fear and love and serve aright?
When shall we, out of trial brought,
Be perfect in the land of light?
Lord, may we day by day prepare
To see Thy face and serve Thee there.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
“Judged on biblical grounds, the nation today does not pass divine muster as a nation living in covenant obedience to God. The promise to possess the land is directly tied to the nation’s response to Messiah. Though its international right to the land can be well defended, Israel’s divine right by covenant to possess it today has only sentiment in its favor.”1948 was a seemingly providential year. Against all odds and many enemies, the modern state of Israel was founded, and then defended against invasion. The founding of Israel struck a hopeful note, after the events earlier in that decade, finding a home for those persecuted and unwanted Hebrew people of Eastern Europe. The founding resulted from the unfortunate simultaneous rise of nationalism and racism in Europe that precluded a tolerance of the Hebrew race while at the same time in the Middle East offering a place of a promise of rest from such things. These factors, however, where not the reasons American Christians looked with intense interest to modern Israel. Many American Christians marveled at the founding of a nation with some hereditary link to the Israel of their Old Testament. The event was taken as an omen, a fulfillment of God’s promise of the land to Abraham of Genesis 15. The amazing feat was confirmed by the defense of Israel in 1967 (see Oren’s Six Days of War) and 1973 (See Yom Kippur War) from invasion against great numbers. Both of these events were testaments to Western ways of war and the determination of a people refusing to be consigned to history by European or Arab racism.
-Classical Dispensationalist Charles Dyer, Dean of Moody Bible Institute
It is my contention however that it cannot be established from Scripture that the birth of the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of prophecy. We have grown up in a time where global events, from WWII to the birth of the state of Israel to the Cold War has led us into a practice of reading our Bible in one hand with a newspaper in the other. Entire ministries like Jack Van Impe, John Hagee, and various publications have been launched on this practice. It is, however, an improper, unhelpful and hermeneutically dangerous practice. The practice preceded the founding of modern Israel, but certainly was sped up by the event. I want to look at the reasons the modern state of Israel is not the fulfillment of prophecy, look at how we are to read Scripture passages about Israel and perhaps take a short look at the practice of newspaper exogesis. I will have more time to do so after Friday, so this is merely a preview and statement of intent. I hope to be back with the substance of the argument shortly.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Friday, November 07, 2008
The Roman Church is considered by Reformed and Lutheran Confessionalists to be a "false church." Exactly what it means to be a false church remains a little cloudy. Indeed, such a designation exists for Paul as a church that does not preach the gospel. But what else does that entail? Most Protestant Churches have still recognized the sacraments of the Roman church as valid sacraments. Why is this if Rome does not preach the gospel? Martin Luther offers an explanation:
"Although the city Rome is worse than Sodom and Gomorra, nevertheless there remains Baptism, Sacraments, the Words of the Gospel, the Holy Scriptures, the Ministry of the Church, the name of Christ and the name of God . . . Therefore, the Roman Church is holy, because she has the holy name of God, the Gospel, the Baptism, etc. If these things exist among a people, the people is called holy. Thus also our city Wittenberg is a holy city, and we are truly holy because we are baptized, have received the Holy Communion and have been taught and called by God. We have the work of God among us, the Word and the Sacraments, and these make us holy."
- Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians 1535, Luther's Works, trans. by Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963), vol. 26, pp.24-25.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Derek Webb is getting a lot of play in my ipod lately. I think he offers a welcome relief from the Christian Right and Christian Left that both confuse the state, kingdom and church. To those who believe the kingdom advances only by electing pro-life candidates, and those that believe the kingdom job of helping the poor and the widow is voting Democratic once every four years, know you do nothing to advance the kingdom. Your allegiances are divided:
A King & A Kingdom by Derek Webb (MP3 remix here)
Who's your brother, who's your sister?
You just walked passed him
i think you missed her.
As we're all migrating to the place where our father lives
'cause we married in to a family of immigrants.
My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
It's to a King & a Kingdom
There are two great lies that i’ve heard:
“The day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class Republican
and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him
My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
It's to a King & a Kingdom
But nothing unifies like a common enemy
and we’ve got one, sure as hell
but he may be living in your house
he may be raising up your kids
he may be sleeping with your wife
oh no, he may not look like you think
Sunday, November 02, 2008
"O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life."
-from the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi