Israel’s Hope/Our Hope

Israel’s Hope/Our Hope (Luke 2/Isaiah 9)

Israel’s hope, the hope that was to be our hope, was inserted into the world at a time when the entirety of it was under Roman rule. The whole world was in exile from a tyrant ruler ship, in need of a generous and merciful savior, a savior that was to take on the incredible burdens of this world and redeem the patrons from the death and suffering that lingered over the masses as they traversed about, answering to Caesar’s every beckoning creed.

This hope was announced to Israel as an answer to an upcoming captivity that was yet to play out, nearly 100 years prior to the Babylonian suppression and destruction of Israel. This prophecy was being laid out by Isaiah in Chapter 8 and towards the end of the chapter, Israel was told they would be enshrouded in spiritual darkness, sent into exile and “pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry…and they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.” (Isaiah 8:21,22) This is how Chapter 8 ends, seemingly hopeless, desolate and tragic. It is at this point, this disastrous moment in history that God chose to tell Israel about a future hope. This is where chapter 9 begins, it begins with a hope of a coming Savior, a “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (v.6b) a Savior that will carry our burdens, one that will carry the government and all its oppression and corruption on His shoulders. When this day finally comes (600 years later) He will chose to take the very form of our suffering human likeness and come to this world to endure the temptations that men face, yet to be without sin (Heb. 4:15) in order to provide salvation to all who accept. Through divine inspiration from the Almighty God, the prophet Isaiah was able to cast a vision 600 years prior about a birth of a Savior, a human being who though He “existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the very form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:6,7) in order that He would come to break all human oppression and establish his rule on this earth. It was at this exact moment in History, some 600 years after the vision, some 500 years after the initial entry into the land by Babylon and the captivity was enacted, after countless generations of dismal hope and suffering and floundering in exiled darkness, this is the promise of Isaiah 9 fleshed out in human form. This is the mercy of God, who in the midst of the pain and suffering gave His son to us, an everlasting gift in order to put the entire corrupt government upon his shoulder. (Isa. 9:6) This hope points to a time when Christ will reign over an earthy kingdom that encompasses all the kingdoms and governments of this world (Dan. 2:44) and at that time “every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Phil. 2:10,11) This is the hope that we have that was mentioned in Isaiah 9 and interjected in a manger in Bethlehem.

NT Wright says the following about Luke Chapter 2:

The then global superpower wanted to raise taxes, so told everyone to sign up and pay up. That’s how the Middle East worked then, and, with minor adjustments, that’s how it works today. This was Caesar’s world, and unless you were fool enough to try to buck the system you shrugged your shoulders and did what you were told.

Yes, says Luke; but watch what happens next. The child who is born is the true king from the house of David. And all the ancient prophecies spoke of the coming royal child from David’s line as the king, not of one small country far away, certainly not of a heavenly kingdom removed from this earth, but of the earth itself, the world claimed by Caesar and taxed by Caesar, the world where the rich get rich at the expense of the poor while telling them they are giving them freedom, justice and peace. The world of empires from that day to this.

Luke’s story digs underneath this typical story of everyday empire and undermines it with the explosive news of a different empire, a different emperor, a different kind of emperor. Jesus isn’t simply another politician on whom everyone can pin their hopes and who will then let them down. His way of establishing God’s justice and peace on the earth was different to Caesar’s, different to the usual power games and money games, different in source, different in method, different in effect. We are today hungry for exactly that difference, and Christmas night is the time to ponder it.

Think back to that wonderful passage in Isaiah and listen to the hunger for hope, the hope of the coming boy-king. ‘The yoke of their burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken’, declares the prophet: good news for a people, like so many today, hopelessly enslaved whether by debt or force of arms or a combination of both.

And so God has broken our burden, all human oppression, all government repression, all of our hopelessness has now become transfigured into a wondrous and renowned moment in time, one that we can celebrate for Christmases to come until that glorious day when He comes back for His bride and renews the sum of creation back to what was originally intended.

God’s Divine Sorrow

Brother David 1963-2014
When horrible things happen in this life, how do we cope?  What do we do?  One of God’s provisions in the sufferings of this fallen world is that we experience personal, intervening comfort from God through the form of others and his Holy Spirit. And then, garnered through those experiences, we in turn be able to minister God’s comfort to others. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Cor. 1:3-4

“‘Strength’ is of course what our word ‘comfort’ is all about. Comforting someone doesn’t mean explaining that things aren’t as bad as they seem. They often are, or even worse. Comfort is what happens when someone comes alongside and gives you strength. How that happens is one of the mysteries of human life and love.” -NT Wright

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” -Matt 5:4

“When God turns the world the right way up, declares Jesus, then those who presently have nothing but grief in their hearts will find comfort, not simply because someone has come alongside them but because the world will be put to rights at last. And when that happens, death itself, the great bringer of mourning, will be overthrown. This ancient Jewish hope…is a hope for an eventual future in which, as John Donne insisted, ‘death shall be no more’ – this hope insisted that one day the creator God would make a new world, new heavens and new earth, and would raise people to a new and immortal bodily life to live in it, to look after it, to fill it with justice and joy. And Jesus’ promise of God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven means just that: that this tired, battered old world will be renewed from top to bottom, not thrown away, leaving us as mere disembodied spirits in a non-spatio-temporal heaven, but given a new, incorruptible bodily existence in comparison with which our present life is like a passing cloud. That is the promise of God’s kingdom; and that is the promise which undergirds, and comes to sharp expression in, the full set of Beatitudes.” -NT Wright

1 Thes. 4:13-18 has been running through my head all morning. Praise be to God that in his infinite wisdom he sought to prepare a plan through his Son for a future hope and a future resurrection.

In 1 Thes, Paul doesn’t say that Christians shouldn’t grieve; he says we shouldn’t grieve the same way the people who have no hope grieve. This is considered hope-less grieving; and Praise be to God, creator of the universe, divine planner of life, there is such a thing as hope-ful, or (better yet) hope-filled, grieving. This is a part of the Christian paradox, and hope-filled grieving could stand as a metaphor for what we as Christians think when we are confronted with this fallen world the way it is, filled with hopelessness and death and violence, with injustice, oppression and countless other examples of human misery. The Christian should cling to the Lamentations of Jeremiah, an appropriate Christian viewpoint on the world: unmitigated resonating powerful hope positioned in the midst of grief.

Please pray for a personal, unmistakably obvious interaction of comfort from God for the family. Please also pray that the people of God and our church family would lead in comforting each other as well. “Sympathy is love perfected by experience.” -Goudge

“And so the comfort which Jesus promises as part of the blessing of the Kingdom, the comfort which will be fully ours in the new world which God will make, comes forward from that world to meet us in the present. Thank God, there is both a future hope and an anticipation of that future hope in the present. And this means that we are called to be people of comfort, as well as people of grief, in the present: people through whom comfort comes to others. The Beatitudes are not only promises; they are agendas. We learn their meaning for ourselves so that we may make them real for others.Blessed are those who mourn; for they shall be comforted” -NT Wright

“As Christians we don’t grieve like the world grieves.” -Bro David Landrith 1963-2014

Brother David 1963-2014
Brother David 1963-2014

Is Genesis 3:15 the Best Verse in the Bible? (Guest Blog by Steven Edging)

Is Genesis 3:15 the Best Verse in the Bible?

A few weeks ago I was talking to another pastor and he said he was preaching on the best verse in the Bible. Having just finished teaching a class in Uganda on Genesis I asked if it was Genesis 3:15. That’s not what he had in mind but said that it was a good one. Ranking Bible verses would prove a tricky task. However, if one did rank them I would submit Genesis 3:15 for consideration for the best.

Why do I think so highly of this verse? On the first reading it is cryptic and to be glossed over. That’s how I treated it until I was taught better. Gen 3:15 is a great verse because 1) the context brings great hope, 2) it is programmatic of the rest of the Bible, & 3) God makes a promise that we know has been fulfilled.

The Context

In Genesis 1 & 2 God has created the world very good. He has made Adam and Eve, male and female in His image. He has given them food to eat and a garden to live in. He has given them the noble task of spreading the blessings of Eden to the rest of the world. He dwells among them. Life is good.

Yet Adam and Eve quickly throw it all away in order to be like God. It is in just chapter 3 where we read about their sin. They were aware of God’s command not to eat of that fruit. They were aware that on the day they ate of the fruit they would surely die. Yet they were deceived by the serpent and ate anyways.

When God visits them in the garden He confronts their rebellion against Him. He begins with the serpent and gives him a curse. Then God moves on and tells Adam and Eve what curses are to come because of their sin. It is important to note that God doesn’t curse them directly but rather labor and the ground are cursed.

See we have already skipped over Gen 3:15. It is here, in the midst of the curses, while cursing the serpent that we read: “I (God) will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman (Eve), and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Here God promises that he will start a war between the offspring of the woman and the serpent.  God is promising to deal with the sin Adam and Eve has just brought into the world. It will be the battle, at the injury of the offspring, that will eliminate the serpent and his work. It is hope in the midst of great trouble. Here, in the middle of the curse, is the promise to make right what has gone wrong. This is what we call grace.

It was hope for Adam and Eve and it is hope for us. Though we sin and take for granted all God has given us, we know that there stands one who has dealt with our sin on the cross. It is a message of grace for us. Just like Adam and Eve, we need faith on the promised one, Jesus Christ.

The Program

If you have ever wondered what the Bible is all about, let Genesis 3:15 be the guide. Humanity has sinned and God will deal with that sin through a chosen offspring. The Old Testament (OT) looks forward to the work of the promised offspring. The New Testament (NT) looks backward to the work of the promised offspring.

The search for the promised offspring begins in Genesis 4:1 when Eve has Cain and says, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” The text is making it plain that she is looking for this promised one. It continues in Genesis 5:29 when Noah is born and his father, Lamech, says of him, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”

Neither one was the promised offspring. But the search has begun. Listen to Lamech’s words and how they point to the fact that the promised one will end the curse brought on by sin. Jesus is that promised offspring. But the whole OT looks forward to His coming. Jesus says as much in Luke 24:27.

The NT looking backward to this promise and talk of Jesus’ work in these terms. Romans 16:20 and Hebrews 2:14-15 provide talk of Jesus defeating the serpent. Revelation 20:1-3, 10 also discuss the final fate of the serpent – that is Satan. He is defeated by Jesus.

Thus the program of the whole Bible is that one will come to deal with sin and the curse. The OT looks forward to it and the NT looks back to it. Today we look back to Jesus’ work and trust it alone as the hope for our sin and to deal with the problems brought on by the first sin as well as our own.

The Promise

We see by God’s promise, and its subsequent fulfilment, that nothing can stop God from bringing this about. In the OT there are bad people, kings, and deeds. There are world powers who oppress Israel. There is unfaithful Israel who is exiled. There is the destruction of the temple. Even the good guys do some terrible things – like David and Bathsheba for example. In the NT the religious leaders work against Jesus. Even the disciples try to stop Jesus from accomplishing His mission. Nothing stops God from delivering on His promise. Nothing.

At the end of chapter 3 of Genesis we have a beautiful scene of God showing grace and mercy to Adam and Eve. These are first fruits of the work to come. They were naked and had no shame but because of their sin they realized their nakedness and were ashamed. We might expect God to say they should deal with the mess they have made. Yet he doesn’t do that. Instead he fashions a loin cloth of animal skin to cover the nakedness and shame brought on by their own sin.

God is beginning to point to the work of Christ from the very beginning. He is showing a tender love that meets people where they are. He is dealing with sin and its effects in a real way but not in a permanent way. God knows that loin cloths don’t save people. They do cover nakedness and shame and point to Jesus who will remove shame permanently.

In Matthew 1:21 we learn why Jesus’ name is Jesus. It is because He will save His people from their sins. He came to deal with sin and its effects. When Adam and Eve sin, the first promise God makes is to deal with that sin through an offspring. Sin is the fundamental problem in our world today. Thus Jesus is the fundamental solution to that problem. We won’t know the full and final effects of that until Jesus returns. Now we have a wonderful foretaste.

That is why we endure in this life. We know that the serpent is still around deceiving people. But we know his ultimate fate is defeat – Rev 20:1-3, 10. But even now Jesus provides the forgiveness for sin and the power to overcome sin. We look to him as the saints of old did and rest in Him for deliverance in this life and the next– Hebrews 12:1-3.

Conclusion

Genesis 3:15 is a theologically packed verse. Its context, sin, provides the backdrop to the redemption Christ brings. Its message helps read the Bible in the right light. Its promise is fulfilled and gives hope to endure. Is it the best verse in the Bible? I don’t know. But it sure is a great one.

-Steven Edging MTW Missionary in Uganda

Love as the Fulfilment of the Law and Prophets

“In an age when the word “love” is greatly abused, it is important to remember that the primary component of biblical love is not affection but commitment. Warm feelings of gratitude may fill our consciousness as we consider all that God has done for us, but it is not warm feelings that Deut. 6:5 demands of us but rather stubborn, unwavering commitment. Similarly, to love our neighbor, including our enemies, does not mean that we must feel affection for them. To love the neighbor is to imitate God by taking their needs seriously.” –Douglas R. A. Hare

When the Sadducees (who had power in the temple at the time and lived by the priestly, Levitical handbook) and the Pharisees (who possessed significant religious authority and lived by the prophetic voices, including Deuteronomy) got together and tried to trap Jesus by testing him with a question that no doubt would give insight to Jesus’ mindset (Matt. 22:34-40), the answer they received showed love: undivided loyalty to God and un-wavered commitment to one’s neighbor.

34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 

Looking closely at Jesus’ response, he answers from both of their handbooks.

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment.

This answer is straight from Deuteronomy 6:5. This is the Shema, repeated twice daily by faithful Jews and even found written in a phylactery in one of the Dead Sea caves, suggesting 1st Century Jews took verses 7-9 literally. These verses were that important to the 1st Century Jews. No doubt the Pharisees took pride in this answer, as this is the answer that they would undoubtedly be expecting, and probably could not wait to put it in the Sadducees face. But Jesus keeps on going…

39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Now Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18, straight from the priestly handbook (Sadducees influence), the Sundry Laws of Moses which were in place to protect poor people and foreigners. This law that Jesus adds as a second one is (ὁμοία αὐτῇ “similar to it”). This one is in an equal category, it is so important that the whole law and prophets hang on these 2 commandments. (cf Matt. 7:12 where the Golden Rule is said to be/fulfill the law and the prophets and Romans 13:10 where Paul states that “love is the fulfilling of the law.”) Jesus has ultimately “set forth a twofold commandment that could be seen as a hermeneutical lesson for the understanding and application of the law and the prophets.” (Donald A. Hagner)

“Jesus’ words concerning love go far beyond a feeling of empathy. Love is ultimately fidelity. It is never abstract; it is always fidelity with hands and feet. If power is the capacity to act upon the life of another, then from the viewpoint of this alternative, holy, mind-set, love must be the ultimate expression of that capacity to act. Love is the ultimate expression of power used for the sake of the other in contrast to power used for the sake of one’s own survival. Love is the ultimate capacity to act upon the life of another for the sake of his or her good, for the sake of life, and for the sake of the divine agenda. Far beyond a sentimental feeling or a strongly held affection, love is the action of extending God’s creative life, blessing, and good into the life of another. Love is a synergistic partnership with the life-giving blessing God.” -Timothy M. Green

How can I read this commandment from Jesus and apply it in my own life? Am I truly “loving” others the way Jesus commands us to? Sometimes I have empathy for others, and on occassion I have affection for those who I come in contact with, but do I have a commitment to intimate God by taking their needs seriously? Do I extend God’s love to them with continued loyalty and faithfulness for their sake and not my own comfort and survival?

I know the answer to these questions, and I don’t like it.

Jesus’ sacrifice.

“Do you know how a fox gets rid of its fleas? The fox goes along the hedgerow, and collects little bits of sheep’s wool. Then he makes it all into a ball of wool, which he holds in his mouth. Then he goes to the stream, and slowly, slowly, walks down into the water. He lowers himself right down into the water, with the ball of wool in his mouth, until at last he is totally submerged; then he lets go, and ball of wool floats away downstream, carrying all the fleas with it. The fox merges, clean. In this image, Jesus is the ball of wool.  The spotless Lamb allows the evil of the whole world to be concentrated on himself.  He doesn’t keep it in circulation by reacting with violence; nor does he escape into the ineffective innocence of quietism.  He takes the weight of the world’s evil upon himself, so that the world may emerge, clean.” (N.T. Wright, Following Jesus, p.48)

Biblical Priesthood

“God chose the human race to be the priests of all creation, offering up creation’s worship to Him and bringing His wise order to it. When humans sinned, God chose the nation of Israel to be the priests of the human race, offering up human praise and putting into operation God’s solution to the problem of sin. Israel herself, however, was sinful; God chose a family of priests (the sons of Aaron) to be priests to the nation of priests. The priests themselves failed in their task; God sent His own Son to be both priest and sacrifice. The inverted pyramid of priesthood gets narrower and narrower until it reaches one point, and the point is Jesus on the cross. The sacrifice of Jesus is the moment when the human race, in the person of a single man, offers itself fully to the Creator.”

–N.T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), p. 10.