An Apocalyptic Jesus
In a previous blog post (Numbering Numbers) I had laid out the book of Numbers of the Old Testament in a typical Christian interpretation of its history and theology. Today I wish to consider that interpretation and ask why our first reading from yesterday did or didn't surprise us as to the kind of reaction God had shown amongst His people Israel and towards their enemies.
Perhaps we should first start with John the Baptist, the cousin to Jesus who had baptised His Lord in the River Jordan to witness God's ordination of His Son in terms of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove (Matthew 3). Now John the Baptist was a fairly outspoken critic of the religious temple of his day. He was known for preaching a strong version of Jewish theology that at all times pled for repentance while looking to a coming Day of the Lord spewing wrath and judgment.
Not surprisingly, in both Jewish Apocalyptic literature before Jesus' birth, as well as in later Christian eschatalogical (end-time) writings after Jesus' resurrection, there was found a very firm belief in God's coming judgment upon the sins of mankind. A judgment issuing forth in woes, plagues, wars, harms, blood, disasters, and all manner of human suffering due to man's sin. A judgment-of-all-judgments that would be sent by God rightfully upon all humanity for its refusal to bow down before Him as the God of all creation. A God who seeks justice, righteousness, and holiness against the wickedness and evil man has created by the freedom of his corrupt heart, soul, and mind.
Into this era of Jewish and Christian agreement on "End Time Judgment and Wrath" comes God Himself incarnated in the form of Jesus endowed by the Spirit of God to preach love, kindness, forgiveness, and hope to all men everywhere beginning with His people Israel and unto the ends of the earth. Like John the Baptist, Jesus' message also bears within it an urgency for repentance and forestaying of God's wrath - a wrath in which He ultimately places Himself as the stop-gap to the satisfaction of God's holiness for this world's sin and evil. And thereby, personally demonstrating through His life choices that this God is not only a God of wrath and judgment but also a God of love, forbearance, mercy, and forgiveness.
However, lest we miss the point, it was Jesus in His very person that was this very God that the world looked to for righteousness and justice, equity and fairness. That it was this same God of wrath so feared and anticipated who became flesh and blood to walk amongst sinful mankind preaching peace and love. Which is surprising, really, in that through the entirety of the Old Testament Scriptures it seemed that God only loved those who obeyed His rules and regulations and set His wrath upon those who disobeyed Him (conditional love). Time and again we read in the book of Numbers of God's consuming wrath upon His people unwilling to follow His appointed leaders (Moses and Aaron), times, structures, ways, and wishes (the tabernacle, religious liturgy, calendar dates, instructions, etc).
One would think then that should this God of the OT come down to this earth in the form of humanity that He would throw a crusader's cape across His shoulders, gird up His loins, take sword and shield in hand, and begin swinging away cutting large bloody swaths across the nations of the Mid-East in all directions before preceding like an Alexander of old into the world at large against all opposing Him. And why not? This was exactly the picture His people Israel had come to expect of God when He came! However, we quickly discover that they grossly neglected in their theology that God is also a God of love and forebearance. A God who redeems out of love and not by mere human self-serving appeasement and artifact by temple and ordinance. In fact, the God they felt they needed was a God of vengeance and iron rule - but in the paradox of the rule of God this God came as a humble, weak servant to suffer in the place of His people as their Lamb and atoning sacrifice (Isaiah 52-53). Thus was there confusion in Israel as to Jesus' credentials. He simply didn't fit into the theology they had been taught and expected.
And yet, the irony of this is that even Jesus' close cousin John preached a powerful kingly-Redeemer and not a humble, servant-Redeemer. Even Jesus' family misunderstood His declaration of ministry expecting at any time for Jesus to take up the sword and lead a willing congregation of Jewish men into battle against enemies beset around-and-about their impoverished enclaves. So too did Jesus' disciples believe in their ministry of preaching repentance and preparation to the people of Israel that at the last Jesus would throw off his robes for the armored dress of war. That in all ways the Jewish theology of the people of Israel believed God to come as a seething Lion and not a humble Lamb. A wrathful King and not a crucified Christ. As a "Lord of Lords" and not as "payment for mankind's sins" beginning with their own misdirected theology and insidious dogmas with its inflexible man-made religious rules and pitifully poor social graces overlooking the destitute, sick, and hated amongst their society.
How like this form of Jewish theology has our own Christianity become? How like John the Baptist and the many Jewish people across the land of Israel has today's description of God bent backwards to the old forms of wrath and retribution, judgment and penalty upon our enemies as upon the despised of society? Might it be a timely reminded to say that "not unlike the first century Jews who rejected Jesus' lordship in their lives while remaining at all times sacrosanct and righteous in their own eyes" that we might look to ourselves first for repentance of heart and mind?
To re-consider Jesus' ministry and "servant theology" over more muscular preferences for a theology like John the Baptist's "Almighty-God" theology. To allow our "Christian" theology and "bible-convictions' to become more permeated with Jesus' servant-mindedness? That we, as the church of God, are to love our enemies, serve the oppress, reach out to the hated and discriminated amidst our society, and not be like the world in its self-serving religious oppressions and vaunted doctrines of engrossing self-righteousness?
An Apocalyptic Revival
If so, than this is but the beginning to revising Christian doctrine so that it first weighs out the love of God over the wrath of God. To consider that God's holy person is holy because He is a loving God first and foremost. That holiness derives from being loving. A love that seeks justice and equity and fairness for His creation. A love that brings this God into mankind's very midst to become its divine sacrifice for sin that no other human or animal or created thing can be for His creation. A love that reaches out in service tenderly, moderately, gently, speaking soft words of blessing and honor to all who might listen and obey.
This is the surprising God of the Old and New Testament. That He is One God in Triune Person who at all times reaches out to His creation for their good and not ill. That this violent version of Himself as described in the Bible through Jewish and Church theology in both the Old and New Testaments is perhaps more a version of our own hearts longing for rightness and justice than it is of a gracious, loving, compassionate God moving to redeem His people so that we might come into sustaining covenant with Him. A covenant granting identity, relationship, blessing, and hope (promises).
The question we must ask today is this, "How can we move beyond a theology like John the Baptist's wishing for God's consuming fire so that a "Kingdom of Law, Order, and Justice" be enacted to a theology of Jesus who read the same Old Testament Scriptures as His cousin John did, His family did, and His disciples did, but came away with a dynamically polar opposite view? Yes, we might answer, it was because God's time had not yet come to begin His Kingdom. That Jewish theology incorrectly and pre-maturely hastened God's time to the neglect of remembering key portions of their Scriptures thereby settling in for a theology of self-righteous religious dogma to the neglect of sustaining, repentful, recreative, life-giving nurture.
But even so, aren't we as the church today doing the same in our church theologies however they are constructed? Are we not hastening the Kingdom of God in its final versions of itself without first giving due consideration to the ministry of Jesus forebearing in the yoke of His Lord as first set out by His God? If so, than to those whom we consider our enemies what are we doing to repent and reach out beyond our prides and prejudices? To those whom we callously neglect in their need and longing are we confessing our sin and seeking to right wrong acts? To those whom we despise because we feel its what the bible teaches in our hard-headed, hard-hearted Christian doctrines are we willing to put away such foolishness so that we might more clearly see the needs of those who suffer from our meanness, bullying, and unkindness?
Nay, this is not a different gospel. It is a rightfully nuanced version to all previous gospels too eager to preach divine wrath and judgment rather than laying down human pride, vitriol, and dictum to repentfully reach out in the more servant-minded gospel of Christ to share our Lord's grace and mercy. At the last, it is not God who needs our defense, but ourselves who need His Spirit-filled eyesight to see past ourselves, our wants and needs, and to re-consider that His Kingdom doesn't forcefully come as we had expected. But that the Kingdom of God comes on the backs of kindness, words of love, and in service to humanity. It is a Kingdom which grows from the inside-out in a paradoxical mystery we cannot begin to understand but must follow its example. This is the mystery of God: To be holy but also to love. This is the charge of the church's holy eucharist as it would commune with its Lord during its season of Lent. As such, "Do this this day" as taught by our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
February 28, 2014
continue to -
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Lord's Coming Salvation
52 Awake, awake,
put on your strength, O Zion;
put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for there shall no more come into you
the uncircumcised and the unclean.
2 Shake yourself from the dust and arise;
be seated, O Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion.
3 For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” 4 For thus says the Lord God: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing.[a] 5 Now therefore what have I here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the Lord, “andcontinually all the day my name is despised. 6 Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”
7 How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
8 The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
9 Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.
11 Depart, depart, go out from there;
touch no unclean thing;
go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves,
you who bear the vessels of the Lord.
12 For you shall not go out in haste,
and you shall not go in flight,
for the Lord will go before you,
and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
He Was Pierced for Our Transgressions.
13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;[b]
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle[c] many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
Isaiah 52:4 Or the Assyrian has oppressed them of late
Isaiah 52:13 Or shall prosper
Isaiah 52:15 Or startle
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Suffering Servant of the Lord
53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a]
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected[b] by men;
and as one from whom men hide their faces[f]
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;[g]
when his soul makes[h] an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see[i] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,[j]
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,[k]
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Isaiah 53:1 Or Who has believed what we have heard?
Isaiah 53:3 Or forsaken
Isaiah 53:3 Or and knowing
Isaiah 53:3 Or as one who hides his face from us
Isaiah 53:10 Or he has made him sick
Isaiah 53:10 Or when you make his soul
Isaiah 53:11 Masoretic Text; Dead Sea Scroll he shall see light
Isaiah 53:12 Or with the great
Isaiah 53:12 Or with the numerous
Live Long and Prosper: The Jewish Story Behind Spock,
Leonard Nimoy's Star Trek Character
(in rememberance, 2.27.2015)
(in rememberance, 2.27.2015)
Greeting each other by offering God's blessing
The Hebrew letter Shin is the first letter in the words:
El Shaddai - God Almighty
Shalom - peace, blessing, order, completeness
Shekhinah - the presence and glory of God which dwells among humans