Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In My Place

     For this blog, I am deviating from my normal theme of ethnic diversity in the church (mostly), but because it is Holy Week, and because these thoughts have been on my mind, I feel compelled to write about them.
     Two years ago, the Presbyterian Church (USA) wanted to change the words to a verse of Keith Getty's and Stuart Townend's modern hymn classic, "In Christ Alone," before they included it in their new hymnal. The line the church was tripping over was in verse two: "Til on that cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied..." That concept was abhorrent to these church leaders, and they wanted to change it to "Til on that cross where Jesus died, the love of God was magnified." The hymn authors would not allow the change, so the church dropped the song from their hymnal. In light of recent events with this denomination, their reaction is perfectly consistent.
     What's the problem? There are many today who cannot embrace the idea of penal substitution - that on the cross, Christ offered propitiation for our sins. This is a New Testament word and concept that even some modern translations, including the vaunted NIV, felt it necessary to change to "atoning sacrifice." But the idea of propitiation is found in more than one place in Scripture. It speaks of the idea of "turning away wrath," just as the Getty-Townend hymn suggests.
     While it is true that there is more than one aspect of Christ's death on the cross during those six hours on Golgotha, (John R.W. Stott's The Cross of Christ handles this masterfully) it is also true that penal substitution is a key and central focus. And yet, many Christians want to shrink from it today. Because they cannot contemplate a God whose wrath would need to be satisfied, they find it easier to ignore or deny this element of Calvary.
     I fear that we have taken our sin too lightly. Because we are beginning to lessen the radical depravity of our nature (radical in the classical sense of being to the root of our being), we also feel it necessary to belittle the idea of such a radical solution to our problem. Sin is nothing less than cosmic treason against our Creator, and it must be dealt with by extreme measures. We are not all as bad as we can be, but we are all as bad off as we can be. "Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness." (Hebrews 9:22) God hates sin, and the only solution is blood which represents the life of the sacrifice. (Leviticus 17:11) All the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament era could cover for sin, but they could not take it away. "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." (Hebrews 10:4) Only the sacrifice of a perfect Lamb could do that, and this is what all of these sacrifices were pointing to, until one day, by the Jordan River, John the Baptist pointed to his cousin in the flesh and said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29). "But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God." (Hebrews 10:12)
     So where do we find penal substitution in the Bible? The clearest passage, I think, is in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 53:5. "He was pierced ... crushed ... punished ... wounded." That is penal. "For our transgressions ... for our iniquities ... for our peace ... for our healing." That is substitution.
     "But I thought Jesus died mainly as an example of love." Partly, He did. Yet in the New Testament, when this or any other aspect of the cross is mentioned, it is generally connected to penal substitution. Two examples: First, 1 Peter 2:21-23 speaks about being called to His example of non-retaliation in the face of suffering. But this is immediately followed with these words: "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by His wounds you have been healed.'" (1 Peter 2:24). Second, Colossians 2:15 refers to the Christus Victor aspect of the atonement. "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." But just prior to this, in verses 13-14, Paul writes, "He forgave all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross." You simply cannot take penal substitution out of the equation. It is why Jesus was abandoned by His Father for three hours on the cross, when the world turned the darkest it has ever been. The wrath of God came upon Jesus as He died in our place. God's wrath is found in His turning away from us because of our sin. This is the cup Jesus recoiled from drinking in Gethsemane, not all the physical suffering He would endure. He knew that all of that was coming. But in the final moment, when he contemplated separation from His Father (on ouir behalf), He struggled intensely. But then, those magnificent words, "Not my will, but Yours be done." From that moment of sublime surrender, Jesus remained calm and serene while His enemies were going crazy with hatred, rage, and fear.
     Dr. R. C. Sproul suggests that if the great blessing of God is that He "bless you and keep you ... and make His face shine on you ... and turn His face toward you and give you peace," (Numbers 6:24-26), then the curse of God would be the opposite - which is why Jesus prayed the one prayer of His life where he did not address God as 'Father." "My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34). This is why Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.'"
     So if God's wrath had to be satisfied to save us from our sins, then that must mean that God is a vengeful and angry Father who had to be appeased by the intervention of His loving Son. No! That would be a blasphemy to believe. Who initiated our salvation? Scripture is clear. The capitalization of "God" is my emphasis.
     "GOD so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
     "This man was handed over to you by GOD'S deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross." (Acts 2:23)
     "Yet it was (YAHWEH'S) will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer..." (Isaiah 53:10)
     "He (GOD) who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all - how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)
     "...that GOD was in Christ, reconciling the world to Hinmself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them..." (2 Corinthians 5:19)
     God loved you so much that He conceived the only way that there was to bring us back. A sinless substitute was needed - and Jesus stepped forward to take His role, to die and bear God's wrath against sin in our place. That is how bad our sin is. Until we get that, this will not make sense to us.
     Today, Brian McClaren and other emergent and liberal theolgians have promoted the idea that the concept of penal substituion is nothing more than "cosmic child abuse." I thought about that. They would be correct IF there were any other way to God. If you could also come by being moral and ethical or by works of compassion, or by transcendental meditation, or by fasting for Ramadan, then yes, this would be child abuse, because it would be pointless. Imagine God the Father saying to God the Son, "Listen. I need you to go down and become a man and suffer unimaginable torture and abuse at the hands of wicked men and then be abandoned by Me for a time as you bear their sins, so that those who choose to trust in this can come to heaven. But of course, they can also come a myriad of other ways, because I just love them all, and so they all get in." Ridiculous! and blasphemous!
     Jesus said there is only one way through Him (John 14:6) and so did the apostles who gave their lives for this gospel (Acts 4:12). So this is not child abuse. This is the greatest gift God could offer, because He is under no obligation at all to forgive us, unless He so chooses - but oh, there is a great cost to forgiveness. And this Holy Week, we'd better remember this. Eternal life really does depend on it.
     We don't sing hymns about the cross like there used to be. Instead. we get upset about one line from a new hymn that offends us. Shame on us! In 1804, Thomas Kelly, an Anglican priest who later became a "dissenter" wrote one of over 750 hymns he composed in his lifetime. This one, entitled "Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted," has been recorded by Fernando Ortega. They don't write them like this anymore, because we don't like to be reminded of our great need. But let these words sink in, especially on this coming Good Friday.
     Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, see Him dying on the tree!
     'Tis the Christ by man rejected, yes, my soul, 'tis He, 'tis He!
     'Tis the long expected Prophet, David's Son, yet David's Lord,
     By His Son God now has spoken, 'tis the true and faithful Word.

     Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning, was there ever grief like His?
     Friends thru fear His cause disowning, foes insulting His distress;
     Many hands were raised to wound Him, none would interpose to save;
     But the deepest stroke that pierced Him was the stroke that Justice gave.

     Ye who think of sin by lightly, nor suppose the evil great
     Here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate;
     Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load,
     'Tis the Word, the Lord's Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.

     Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost,
     Christ's the Rock of our Salvation, His the name of which we boast;
     Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt,
     None shall ever be confounded who on Him their hope have built.

     In closing, may I reminde you that this message is for everyone on planet earth - because the vision of Revelation 7:9-10 is this: "After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb; they were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."
     Praise the Lamb of God who died in my place. He is my only hope, my only merit, my only righteousness. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling. Sola Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Mission Mandate of Worship

    What is the driving force of mission? It's commanded? True. Jesus means so much to us? Of course. People are lost without Him. Yes. But is there an even greater motivation?  The most basic belief we have about God is that there is one God, and only one. The Jewish shema says this clearly in Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel. The LORD our God, the LORD is one." Jesus prefaces His Great Commandment with these words.
     Australian Anglican John Dickson points out in his great book on evangelism in the church, The Best Kept Secret of Chrisrian Mission, that monotheism has everything to do with mission because if this is so, then everyone has an obligation to worship the one God.
     Psalm 96, written to the Jews, calls for the whole earth to praise the one true God, and it starts right out of the gate in verse 1:
     "Sing to the LORD a new song. sing to the LORD, all the earth."
     But how will this happen? Only when God's people spread the Word about Him. So the Psalmist goes on in verse 3 to say:
     "Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples." And one primary way we do this is in our corporate worship.
     "Ascribe to the LORD, all you families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascrive to the LORD the glory due His name; bring an offering and come into His courts. Worship the LORD in the splendor of His holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth. Say among the nations, 'The LORD reigns!'" (verses 7-10)
     Notice the elements of worship included in these verses: praise and adoration, the presenting of offerings, and proclamation/testimony. The Psalm ends by stating that ultimately, the goal is for the entire creation to worship God, but it begins with the peoples of the earth.
     So again, we have evidence that God's plan was always to have His people comprised of all nations, not just the Jews. He called out this small nation for this very purpose. The tragedy is that, for the most part, the Jewish people neglected or ignored this mandate. They either practiced syncretism and attempted to blend the one God in with all the other "gods" of the earth who were not really gods at all. Or they went to the opposite extreme (after the return from exile) and shut the nations out of their "chosen people" status.
     But it can be documented that, at times in their history, the Jews sought to obey this mandate. If only they had stayed with it and taken it more seriously. But it is not for us to point out their flaws but rather, to examine our own practices.
     The atmosphere of this Psalm is public worship within earshot of the nations. Today the churches here in the United States, almost without exception, meet within earshot of the nations, because the nations have come here.
     We who have discovered that the one true God is actually one God in three Persons need to be aware of the presence of the nations around us and take seriously the command to declare His glory among them. This means we watch for them, we invite them, we seek to be culturally sensitive to them, we celebrate each advance of ethnic diversity within our churches, we disciple them into full membership and, when possible, leadership.
     If nothing else, it means we pray for life to come into our worship services. A.W. Tozer wrote:
     One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football teram. The first requisite is life, always.    
     I'm not talking about style, but atmosphere and attitude. Life can happen in liturgical churches with robes and candles, and in casual worship with bands and screens. Or not. The choice is ours. But if it's real, and there is true joy, contrition, adoration and awe, and the message is biblical understandable, guess what?
     "...they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, 'God is really among you!'" (1 Corinthians 14:25) This is what it means to ascribe glory to the one true God in earshot of the nations. Worship planning groups, pastors, worship leaders, instrumentalists and singers, and all members - this is part of your mission mandate. It can still happen on Sunday morning - if you'll let it. Don't let your worship be about you, and how you do things, and how you've always done things, and what will please Brother Sam or Sister Edna. Let it be about the one true God and what will reach the nations for that one true God, displayed in Jesus Christ, His Son, and revealed by the Holy Spirit. Why?
     "For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and glory are in His sanctuary." (Psalm 96:4-6)
     When it's truly about Him, it will truly be for everyone.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Image Bearers

     One of the basic tenets of this ministry is that there really are no such thing as races, only ethnicities, nationalities, cultures. But there is one race, the human race. I was pleased to see that noted pastor and author David Platt agrees with me. In his newest book, which I am reading now, entitled, A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture, he addresses many current issues from a Christian perspective. One of those issues is ethnic diversity. (I confess, I jumped ahead some chapters to see what he had to say.)
     Platt suggests that in this day of so much conversation about race, so much of it divisive, the church needs to change the conversation itself by pointing out that the Bible does not make distinctions based on race. If it did, we would have to ask the question, "What race were Adam and Eve?" Platt responds, "The answer is both obvious and simple: the human race."
     Then we might ask, "No, we meant, what color were they?" Now we have two problems according to the author. First, we don't know because the Bible doesn't tell us. While we have pictured them traditionally as being white, we have no basis for that at all. For all we know, they were any one of a multitude of colors - or they may have been different colors. That first marriage in Eden may have been an intercultural one. The greater possibility is that they were dark. But the point is, we think and talk about them in terms the Bible does not use. Second, the Bible doesn't tell us what color they were because God does not equate membership in the human race with skin tone.
     We all have the same roots, we are all part of the same race.
     When we talk about "races," says Platt, we undercut our unity in the human race. This he calls a gospel-less starting point. It's far more helpful to see that the Bible grounds our understanding of human diversity in human ethnicity. As Platt puts it, "To use the language of Genesis 10, we comprise 'clans' in separate 'nations' that speak different 'languages' in diverse 'lands.' And with the globalization of the world and the migration of men and women across continents and into cities, these clans from separate nations and with different languages now often live in the same land."
     At least in the church, especially in the church, we need to change our categories to show a better way. One of our theme verses is Acts 17:26: "From one man He made all the nations..." Every one of us can trace his or her ancestry back to one family, the family of Noah, in Genesis 10-11, and beyond that, to one man and woman in the Garden.
     Several lessons can be gleaned from this. One is that if Adam and Eve were made in the image and likeness of God, as they were, then every one of their descendants has that same image and likeness in them. At the very least, it means that we are to treat every other person with dignity  We are not all brothers and sisters in Christ (that requires faith in Him and repentance), but we are all brothers and sisters in the human race. So it is natural that Jesus would teach us to "do to others what you would have them do to you." (Matthew 7:12). We would all like to be treated with dignity and respect, even by those who may disagree with us. We have the best reason of all to do this, the theological one: every person we know, every person we pass on the street, every person we have contact with, is an image bearer.
     Second, the gospel announces the Good News that among the things the Cross accomplished is the breaking down of barriers between human beings (Ephesians 2:11-22). It is important to think about the vertical cross beam that points to heaven. Reconcilation to God is fundamental. We are ambassadors for Christ, pleading with others to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) But we cannot forget that horizontal cross beam. We work to bring persons into a new family made up of all peoples, tribes, nations, and languages. This is part of that new creation Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians 5:17. It's not just each of us as individuals who are made new, but we are made new as a people. Paul would look at the church today and be shocked at how segregated we allow ourselves to be. And I am not only speaking to white churches. He would say, "If I could bring Jews and Gentiles together into one body, what are you waiting for?"
     Finally, though not exhaustively, if we are all image bearers, then we also share the sin of Adam in us, so we all have the same great need. Our biggest problem is not social injustice or poverty, bad as they are. These are symptoms. Sin is the disease we share in common, and there is only one cure. The cross of Jesus Christ, where He bore our sins and from where He offers us His righteousness so that we can have the hope of standing before a holy God and gaining entrance to eternal life. Whatever your nationality, your ethnicity, your skin color, your religion, your socio-economic status, you need Jesus. More than anything else, I pray that this ministry will lead more of you to Him. But if it doesn't, I will still treat you with the dignity you deserve - because you are an image bearer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

One of Those "Aha" Moments

     You've been there, like me, if you have been reading and studying the Bible for any length of time. You read a passage that you've read dozens, if not hundreds, of times before. You heard the story in Sunday School, you could recite it from memory. But this time, a verse, a phrase, a word jumps out at you like you are really seeing it for the first time - because you are.
     That happened to me recently with one of the most familiar accounts in the Old Testament, if not the entire Bible - the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
      After all of the plagues, and the stubborn willfulness of Pharaoh, he finally relents when the Lord begins to take the lives of the firstborn sons of Egypt, including Pharaoh's own - just like the previous Pharaoh had taken the lives of the firstborn of the Hebrews - a holocaust from which Moses was spared. So now Pharaoh says, "Go, take the people, take what you will, but leave!" And so the Israelites celebrate their first Passover, because the angel of death had passed over any door with blood from a spotless lamb on its lintels. After eating the meal, the people took more unleavened bread for the journey, plus gold, silver, and jewels from the Egyptians, gathered together and prepared to head to Sinai. And here is where I saw it.
      Beginning at Exodus 12:37: "The Israelites journeyed from Rameses ro Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. (And here it comes, sports fans!) Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and hers." (emphasis mine)
      Did you see it? Many other people. The group that left Egypt that day was a mixed group - not just Hebrews. In his fine biblical theology volume from Intervarsity Press entitled From Every People and Nation, African-American theologian J. Daniel Hays, writes:
      "Many non-Israelites were integrated into the community of faith." He then quotes Walter Bruggeman, saying, "The phrase suggests that this is no kinship group, no ethnic community, but a great conglomeration of lower class folk." Hays goes on: "Who were these foreigners? Were they Egyptians? Other nationalities? Where did they come from and what were they doing in Egypt?" He then explains how ancient Egyptian records show how Egypt was replete with foreigners during this period, many having been brought back as conquered prisonsers to be slave labor. He concludes, "The group would include both Semitic and non-Semitic peoples." Hays then continues from here to show how Cushites (Black Africans) would have certanly been included in the crowd.
       The Jewish nation was never intended to be defined strictly by race. They chose that designation later, but it was not the will of God. Think about it. Where did Abraham, the founder, come from? Ur of the Chaldees (later Babylon, and today, Iran/Iraq). The first Jew was a Gentile!
       Besides, this group of ragtag persons was not yet a nation when they left Egypt. That did not happen until Sinai. God's people are never identified ultimately by race or ethnicity. They are identified by covenant! And so it is today. Our identity as the people of God is in the New Covenant ratified by Jesus Christ and sealed with His own blood. This is that covenant prophesied by Jeremiah, which speaks of willingness to follow God's Law because it is on our minds and hearts, of forgiveness of sin, and, most of all, of relationship ("I will be their God, and they will be my people.")
      So the next time you teach the Exodus story in your Sunday School class or preach on it from the pulpit, remember not to say that Israel left Egypt, but that a mixed group left Egypt - a group that foreshadows Revelation 7:9, where there will be "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb ... and who "cried out in a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'" (Revelation 7:9-10) This group will have experienced the great Exodus from sin that the first Exodus typifies. Will you be part of that glorious gathering?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Knots in the Family Tree, Part 4

     The final female name in the family line of the Messiah found in Matthew Chapter 1 is that of "Uriah's wife." She is not named, but we know from 1 Samuel 11 and 12 and 1 Kings 1 that this is Bathsheba. Perhaps the very stigma of adultery keeps the text from naming her since Matthew's gospel was being written primarily to a Jewish audience.
     Bathsheba is presented to us as an adulteress, and later, as a plotter and a schemer, working to make sure that her son by David is placed on the throne (even though it had already been declared to David to be God's plan).
     So in the Jewish mind, she already has two strikes against her to be listed in this or any other genealogy - she is a woman and a sinner. But wait, there's more! It would seem likely that, being married to a Hittite, she was also a Hittite, which would make her, yes - a Gentile (strike 3, yer out!) How about that? Four women in this genealogy - two Canaanites, a Moabite, and a Hittite, not one Jewess.
     But God, through Matthew, is saying right from the get-go in Chapter One of the Newer Testament, that some things are going to be different with this Messiah, this God-in-the-flesh, this "Savior, who is Christ, the Lord." Perhaps the biggest new thing that the Jewish people will need to get used to is that God is and always has been interested in more than just Israel. At one time, they knew this (and we'll explore how in future blog posts). But during the years between the return from Exile and now, when God was largely silent, the Jews had gone from being a people who wanted to imitate the nations (the reason they were in Exile in the first place), to a people who wanted to isolate themselves from the nations. In their misguided attempts at reform that started out well under Ezra and Nehemiah, they had quickly gone to drawing a circle around themselves and were determined to keep everyone else out.
     But Jesus would have none of this.
     Women? Pay attention especially to Luke who includes women a lot in his gospel as supporters of Jesus' ministry and shows Elizabeth and Mary to be heroic in his birth narratives.
     Sinners? Again, Luke, but not only Luke, shows Jesus going after the ones Israel had shut out. He is called a glutton and a drunkard and is regularly criticized for eating with sinners ("sinners" meaning anyone who did not try to meticulously keep the law and traditions).But even an adulteress?
Yes, according to John 8, where he tells the woman who was caught, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more."
     Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
     Thy own presence to cheer and to guide;
     Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
     Blessings all mine with 10,000 beside.
     No condemnation for the past. Strength to go forward into new life in the future. The promise of God to all who trust in Him.
     Gentiles? Read Luke 4 again carefully, and see what the people of Nazareth were really so fired up about that they tried to throw Jesus over the nearest cliff. (Hint: it wasn't that He claimed to be the Promised One. That's what I used to think, too.)
     So Bathsheba, who had an affair with King David and who stood silent while the king plotted to have her husband conveniently killed on the front lines of battle after David had gotten her pregnant, became the mother of a child who died. Yes, there are consequences to our sins. But the repentant David had the faith to say, "(the child) will not return to me, but I will go to him." He was able to commit the child into the loving arms of God.
     Consequences - but also grace. Because God gives this couple a second son, Solomon, who would become the most influential and expansive leader in Israel's history. And because of this, Uriah's wife shows up in the line of Jesus Christ. Amazing grace!
     Whatever reason you have to feel like an outsider today, Christmas brings good news. Jesus came for you. Jesus loves you. Jesus will include you, if you come to Him by faith in His finished work on the cross and let Him remake you into a Christlike follower.
      As I said last time, I grew up trusting in my own church life and moral goodness and had to have a radical transformation at the age of 19. Since then, I have done more than my share of wrong and faithless things. But I have always trusted in His grace and have never found Him lacking. To God be all the glory. Amen!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Knots in the Family Tree, Part 3

     In this post, we will look briefly at the third "knot" in Jesus' family tree, namely Ruth, the Moabitess, and thus, yet another Gentile. Ruth is distinguished by being the most moral of the four women Matthew chose, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to include in his geneaolgy in Chapter 1 of his Gospel.
     As we saw last time, Ruth ended up marrying a good man, Boaz, who, it turns out was the son of Rahab, the converted Canaanite prostitute. So even Boaz had non-Jewish blood in him. Evidently, interracial marriages were not necessarily uncommon in those days.
     Ruth is heroic for several reasons: (1) her loyalty to Naomi after the deaths of their spouses (we forget that those words used so often at weddings were not originjally spoken to a husband but to a mother-in-law); (2) her humility in following Naomi's counsel and in her respectful attitude toward Boaz; (3) her industry, as she worked hard to gather the gleanings of barley in Boaz' fields. (God would fit in with both major political parties today in that respect - personal responsibility combined with social compassion toward the poor); and (4) her purity, as she did nothing untoward in her approach to Boaz, but followed the custom of the day.
     In turn, Boaz sought to win her and to be her kinsman redeemer, which he was able to do successfully. Warren Wiersbe points out how Boaz is, for us, a picture of Jesus Christ, OUR Kinsman Redeemer. Like Boaz, Jesus was't concerned about jeopardizing His own inheritance; instead, He made us a part of HIS inheritance. Also like Boaz, Jesus made His plans privately, but He paid the price publicly; and like Boaz, Jesus did what He did because of His love for His bride - in our case, His multi-colored bride.
     Becaue of their determination to become a couple and a family, Ruth from Moab and Boaz, the son of an Israelite and a Canaanite, joined the line of ancestors of our Lord.
     But remember, Ruth began as a pagan worshiper and journeyed toward a relationship with the God of Israel. In Chapter 1, Ruth is not even aware that there is a Boaz; in Chapter 2, she is a poor laborer, gleaning in Boaz' fields and receiving his gifts. To her, Boaz is only a wealthy man who is kind to her - kind of like many see God today. The turning point comes in Chapter 3 when Ruth yields herself at Boaz' feet and believes his promises. The result is Chapter 4, where Ruth is no longer a poor laborer. Now she has Boaz and everything he owns belongs to her.
     This is the journey of every human being, no matter their culture and ethnicity - from not knowing God to thinking we must work for God and be blessed by Him, to believing Him and what he promises, to being a child and heir of the King.
     Whether one is "bad" like Rahab or "good" like Ruth, we all need a Savior. I was one of the "good" ones, growing up in church, and avoiding the common vices of my classmates. But I had to learn that this would not cut it for me. I still needed grace and salvation from my own goodness. I can only trust in the righteousness of Christ.
     Pagan families and Abraham's family - both needed redemption. I close with some good words from writer Ann Voskamp.
     " when we sat around the Christnmas tree tonight, and got to that part tonight in the story of Jesus' family tree and read it: "What someone else meant for bad, God means to make it good." No matter what tries to tear you apart, (sexual sin, war, famine, my words) God holds you heart. No matter what bad was meant to harm you, God's good arms have you. You can stand around your Christmas tree with a family tree as messy as Joseph's, with cheaters and beaters and deceivers, with a family tree like Jacob's, who ran away and ran around and ran folks down - but out of a family that felt like a mess, God brings Jesus, the Messiah. God always brings good out of bad. God always makes hard things into good gifts ... and right then, one kid reached over and squeezed my hand? Sometimes just a moment can feel like all the hard things being turned into a gentle draping of a many-colored grace."
     That's my story, too - and I'm sticking to it.



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Knots in the Family Tree, Part 2

     In this post we'll look at another "knot" in Jesus' family tree found in Matthew 1 - Rahab. Her main story is found in Joshua Chapter 2. She is described as a "prostitute." While it is true that in the Hebrew, the term could also mean "innkeeper," the New Testament Greek uses a term for her which can only mean "prostitute." Sort of like with the term "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14. Yes, in Hebrew, it can also be translated "young maiden" (which liberal scholars have had a field day with over the years). The problem is that when the verse is quoted in the New Testament, and when the term is used of Mary, the Greek word, parthenos, can only have one meaning - one who has not had sexual relations with anyone. The Holy Spirit knows whereof He speaks through His Word.
     For our purposes, Rahab also represents another Gentile in the family tree, specifically another Canaanite. As we said in the last post, the Canaanites were a very wicked and violent people. In Tamar's case, she had something very bad done to her, and in turn, she retaliated by doing something very bad to Judah. There is no record that she ever converted. She may have, we just don't know.
     But with Rahab, we do know. She had heard the stories about the mighty acts of Yahweh long before the spies, "by coincidence," found their way to her. (Joshua 2:8-11) She eviently had chosen to believe in this God. This explains why both Hebrews 11 and James 2 describe her act of hiding the spies and helping them to get back to Joshua as an act of faith. For her work of faith, she and her family were spared when the Israelite army destroyed Jericho after God brought the walls a tumbling down. From that day on, Rahab lived among Israel as a member of the people of God (Joshua 6:25).
     So this Canaanite woman in the family line of Jesus can teach us several lessons. First, we believe by hearing. She believed first by hearing the stories of the acts of Yahweh. We believe by hearing the word of God, specifically the message about Christ (Romans 10:17).
     Second, Rahab shows how true faith demonstrates itself in works. Her faith led her to do the right thing in protecting the two spies from the Canaanites, who would have tortured and brutally murdered them if they had found them. So why was she not killed with all the other Canaanites? According to Hebrews 11:31, it is because she acted "by faith." Then James weighs in by saying that Rahab was considered righteous for what she did. While it is true that with God we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, it is also true that in the eyes of the watching world, we are justified by our works. I believe this is the point James is making, which is why he is not at odds with Paul, who would also say that we act out of what we believe in order to "adorn the gospel" or in the NIV, "make the gospel attractive." (Titus 2:10).
     Finally, Rahab teaches us that when we come to God, we also come to His people. You can't really have one without the other, although many today seem to be attempting that. If you love Christ, you'll love His bride, too, imperfect as it often is. Augustine of Hippo said it rather crudely. "The church is a whore, but she is my mother." And so, as her descendant and fellow Gentile in Jesus' line, would soon say, "Your people will be my people, and your God my God." (Ruth 1:16).
     Lo and behold, this one who was immersed in pagan idolatry and was radically converted to the one true God, and who demonstrated it by her works of faith and who aligned herself for the rest of her days, not only with God, but with His people, married an Israelite by the name of Salmon, and became the mother of Boaz, and thus, the mother-in-law of Ruth, not to mention the great great grandmother of King David.  Salmon, hmm? I guess Rahab might be the patrion saint of all those Christians who swim upstream against the current and who march to a different drum.