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.

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God’s Divine Sorrow

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

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.