Wednesday, July 30, 2014

No Tomb For Jesus

“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.  But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
“‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
 Did not my hand make all these things?’
 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:44-53 (ESV)
The temple, its place and meaning has always posed a bit of tension in this world. Stephen’s accusers are returning to an old tactic, one they used on Christ himself. They accuse him of forsaking the temple. Christ, in reference to his own body, in which the fullness of deity dwelt, or as John says, the word tabernacled among us, says “tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” He also prophesied the destruction of the temple. Doubtless Stephen had spoken about Christ as the true temple, and also of the temple’s final destruction.
There was always a tension though, how could there be a house for God? God had ordered the tabernacle to be built as a place of worship. The only place. Later it was replaced with the temple that Solomon built, and this was rebuilt after the exile. Herod had even remodeled it. It was a point of pride for the Israelites. Yes they knew God could be found anywhere, and was everywhere. But they also knew the temple was the place for them to go and receive the grace and mercy of God. Solomon explains this in his dedication of the temple. And God had promised to be here for you. It isn’t that he could not be other places, he is certainly everywhere, but here he is for you with grace and mercy. It is the same today with church, where the gospel is proclaimed and his sacraments administered.

It’s funny, the disciples all still worshiped in the temple. The new Christians like wise. They would though break bread in the homes. That they did not do in public and among the uninitiated, the unbaptized. Still they revered the temple. They did not seek to destroy it, even if they knew it’s destruction would come. But Stephen reminds them that God is bigger than this temple. And they the fathers of Israel had never really comprehended the temple. They were always quick to stone the prophets, they would never listen to God’s word. They would never show the mercy that God showed them in the temple. They broke God’s law. They received it as from angels, and ignored it at the same time. They did as their fathers. But there sons would be building no tomb for Jesus. He lives. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jesus, The Prophet Raised Up.

37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:
“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
 43 You took up the tent of Moloch
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’
Acts 7:37-43 (ESV)
The congregation in the wilderness, Stephen now begins to draw some sharp parallels between Moses and Jesus and his relation to Israel. God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.” Stephen is quoting Moses in Deuteronomy. The people know Stephen is talking about Jesus, and saying that Jesus is that prophet of whom Moses spoke. Jesus is that prophet that God raised up. The phrasing is actually a little peculiar. Not so peculiar that you would notice it right off, but peculiar enough that when Jesus is raised from the dead to the glory of the Father, you realize it was packing more meaning than originally thought. Prophets aren’t normally spoken of as being raised up. God sends them is generally the idea. And God sent a lot of prophets over the years. One could draw parallels between all of them and Moses to one degree or another. But Jesus wasn’t merely sent, he was raised up, he was resurrected.
This isn’t something easily disputed. It is much easier to dismiss it without any thought. But the people whom Stephen was speaking to were not in a position to dismiss it without thought. No one could say what happened to the body of Jesus, or where it was. If the Romans or the Pharisees could have put it on display they would have. But here were perfectly sane people saying that they had seen him. Furthermore they were showing from scripture that this was prophesied all along. And they couldn’t get the twelve to budge. The record shows that many more saw the risen Christ than the twelve apostles (including Matthias at this point). The old saying is that three can keep a secret if two are dead. Here we have twelve and people say they concocted the story. Under pain of death, trial and torture and not one of the twelve crack. If they had we would have heard about it. No, the resurrection of Christ is not something easily disputed. If you don’t want to believe it, you have to dismiss it without thought.
God had raised this one up. But just as the congregation in the desert was not willing to follow Moses, or God for that matter, so now Israel would turn their way and go on to worship Moloch. Stephen quotes Amos as it is translated in the Septuagint. Most modern translations of the Old Testament follow Hebrew manuscripts. The Early Church though, they used the Septuagint almost exclusively and the New Testament especially so. It wasn’t until Jerome came along that the Old Testament was translated from the Hebrew, and those manuscripts started to get wider traction in the church, but not without controversy! When the new translation was used in Carthage and the priest read Jonah the people rioted because vine was changed to ivy. Today I doubt most would notice the change at all. Probably most didn’t notice it then either, but the one who did was good at inciting riots. It’s a funny story from church history though.
What is great is that in the translation the false gods are updated. No one really knew the gods of whom Amos spoke, so they just switched them out for modern false gods. Evidently this was acceptable enough for God, because the changes made their way into the New Testament that we also find to be the inspired inerrant word of God. The message is greater than the details, and the Holy Spirit can use God’s word in any language to work faith. So yeah, as one who has been trained to read Greek and Hebrew, I get frustrated with translations from time to time. I have a particular qualm with English translations because they so often seem to be intentionally misleading especially where there are references to the Sacraments, or if the reformed translators can read their ideas of sanctification into the text and skew the translation to support them. And yet, the Holy Spirit works through these translations despite the best attempts of the translators to obscure the nature of the gospel in them. But the Early Church’s treatment of the Septuagint is an interesting study in translation and a Christian treatment of not only translation but our ideas of inspiration, interpretation and inerrancy and what it all means. It has nothing to do with proper spelling or grammar for that matter. The entire New Testament was written in Koine Greek which is the equivalent of street language. But neither is it as concerned with historical details in the same way a modern historian might be. Yet it communicates truth, and works salvation.

The other truth that lies behind this is that it doesn’t really matter what you call your false god, they are really all the same god anyway. We could say the Israelites in the desert followed Buddha and it would be just as true. All false gods are the same, in that ultimately it is Satan who is being worshiped behind the mask. And this is what happens even today when the synagogue rejects Jesus who is the only true God, and the only prophet God has ever raised up from among us who are dead in our trespasses without him. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Treasure Buried in a Field

Treasure  Buried in a Field The recorded version.

Buried Treasure

44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 "Have you understood all these things?" They said to him, "Yes." 52 And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." (Matthew 13: 44-52)
“The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” The parable opens the imagination. Treasure hunting is a dream that doesn’t die easily. Treasure Island, Indiana Jones movies, stories of adventure like the Hobbit capture a young man’s soul. Every once in a while a person finds treasure that makes news, like that man who found the Saxon hoard in England a few years ago. Metal detectors fall off the shelves. Men buy old gold mines. A guy pours over old maps and starts Jeeping up old mule cart trails. Then there are the garage and yard sales, Saturday strolls through antique shops, pawn shops and thrift stores. And who doesn’t like those treasure hunting T.V. shows, Antiques Roadshow, Storage Wars, The Prospectors on the Weather Channel, American Pickers. And when we get lucky enough to find a treasure cheap we snatch up the deal, buy the field and jump for joy. We brag about it to friends, and like old scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven, we pull the treasures new and old out for our friends and family to see when they visit.
Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to such a treasure buried in a field, and when it is discovered a man is willing to sell all he has to possess it. A person might wonder how the treasure comes to get buried in the first place, like that old antique you forgot you had until your grandkids started playing in the attic and discover it once again. Sunday after Sunday you go to church. You were raised with the gospel and perhaps you took it for granted. The same old motions and it seems so irrelevant at times. For so many it seems it is sometime between confirmation and college, and they quit going to church altogether. Perhaps they give it some thought again when the kids come. We want to raise them to be good little boys and girls. And the law always seems to be more relevant. The end game in all of this is the church loses focus on the gospel. The forgiveness of sins, Christ’s death and resurrection, life everlasting gets switched out for Aesop’s Fables. The gospel gets buried in a field of life coaching and lessons for a happy marriage, parenting techniques, and business ethics. Yes, it is easy for the gospel to become that treasure that gets buried in your life, even in the life of the church.
But it truly is a treasure, the kingdom of heaven. We have experienced it in our own lives so often, directly and indirectly through friends. Perhaps for a time the gospel was that forgotten treasure in our lives, buried in the field. At first life was going well enough without Christ or his body the church. We drifted off, enjoyed weekends at the lake, and at summer cabins with family. Perhaps we just slept in after late nights with friends. Others, perhaps always went to church but missed the gospel for so many life lessons. But there was still an emptiness in the soul. You couldn’t put your finger on it. Then the gospel reaches into your heart in the midst of a failing marriage, mounting pressures at work, the inevitable frustrations of parenthood, when all the life lessons you thought so relevant fail. Just then when you think you don’t measure up at all, weak and sinful, you hear of Christ dying for sinners, justifying the ungodly, using the weak to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the wise, the love of Christ who shed his blood for you, and yes then it becomes a treasure for which a man is willing to do great and wonderful things. The joy of it all possesses you, you give up your Sunday mornings to share your treasure with others here in the midst of the sanctuary you built with your own effort, in the church you support with your money, the time you give to teach Sunday School and to serve on the council, LWML meetings and Vacation Bible School, because now the gospel is a treasure you want to share with your kids, your family, your community.

Yes, because the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that was buried in a field, which a man found and covered up and then in his joy went and sold all he had, to go and buy the field.  Yes and this is precisely what Jesus did when he found you, when finding you buried in a field of sin and death, weak and ungodly, he set aside all that he had, he counted equality with God  not a thing to be grasped,  and took upon himself the form of a servant, became a man to share our flesh and blood, to ransom you from sin, death and the power of the devil not with gold or silver but with all that he had,  his holy precious blood, his innocent suffering and death that he could bury us again through baptism into his death, and raise us  to the glory of the Father to walk in the newness of life and serve him in his kingdom with everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, pulling out the treasures of the kingdom new and old for all to see. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

God Intervenes

30 "Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord:32 'I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob. ' And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. 33 Then the Lord said to him, 'Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt. '
35 "This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge? '—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. (Acts 7:30-36)

Stephen reminds his compatriots that Israel had rejected Moses. Yet God had intervened and sent Moses back to Egypt to save his brothers. He gave Moses signs and wonders to perform to convince both Pharaoh and the people of God’s intention to save them through Moses. Now they have rejected Jesus, even crucifying him on the cross. But again God has intervened raising him from the dead. 


So this morning my  computer wanted to update. I hate that. It takes time. Then when it updated, well, I wish that updates would actually mean improvements. I can't seem to get any of my apps to really work this morning. Which means that I won't be writing a study this morning. The ESV online Bible App is atrocious and the people who run it should be embarrassed. Of course, I am neither able to actually write a review for them or otherwise communicate with them this morning. So... I hope someone alerts them to this post.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sin and the Stockholm Syndrome

23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
(Acts 7:23-29 (ESV)
“He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand.” That is a lot to suppose, I guess. In any case his brothers did not understand this. Moses had killed a man for beating his people. He had it in his heart at this time to save them, to bring them up. It was then heart breaking for him to see his own people fighting amongst themselves. Perhaps the same way it is for young Christians new to the faith to see Christians fighting among themselves, or heaven forbid they should get involved in the theological debates that used to keep themselves contained to theological journals and pastor’s conferences but have spilled out all over the internet. But then no one can fight quite like two brothers. Being Christian doesn’t take the fight out of you anymore than being a Hebrew took the fight out from these two. Moses tried to intervene, to get to the bottom of it, but peace was not to be had. Instead there came a veiled threat to report him to those who might be interested in what happened to this Egyptian, and it was doubtful that Pharaoh would protect his adopted Hebrew grandson for trying to protect the Hebrews he wanted dead. Neither did these Hebrew’s want Moses meddling in their affairs as judge or ruler. In their minds Moses wasn’t offering salvation, wasn’t offering freedom, but he was offering to be a new ruler, a new slave master over them. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Salvation often looks this way from the outside. It looks like slavery. In fact one finds this language to be quit prominent throughout the New Testament. Paul quite often speaks of being a slave of Christ for instance. Jesus is spoken of as having purchased us, and ransoming us. And for that we do owe him our lives in servitude. Christians realize this intuitively, even as they fail to serve him with their whole lives. Jesus even instructs us this way, telling us to regard ourselves as unworthy  servants, even when we have done things we think quite incredible for God, we should realize that we have not yet even done what God has asked us, much less anything extraordinary and therefore making us worthy of salvation. And in our bondage to sin, we have become slaves to sin, even sins we enjoy. We are given to think of ourselves as serving our own purposes and yet we do the will of our master as sinners and find ourselves enjoying acts of degradation. It is not a free will that subjects itself to pornography, drunkenness, drug abuse, promiscuity, theft, and revelry. It is not a free will that covets, and spurns the tent of our Lord, and creator for the tents of wickedness. Sin reigns in this world and it turns us upon each other to abuse one another like Hebrew slaves in the shadow of the pyramids, in the shade of the Sphinx. We take advantage of one another, and in doing so humiliate ourselves. It’s the Stockholm Syndrome on steroids, our relationship to sin that terrorizes our very being. And then Jesus redeems us, he pays our ransom, purchases us with his blood, rescues us with his death. Then he asks, “Brothers, why are you fighting?” “Do you not see here this is your sister you abuse with your lust, who would give you love and yet you are unwilling to marry. This is your brother you oppress with unfair wages. This man you murder, he shares the same image of the creator as you, was purchased with the very same blood of God.” And we confuse it with freedom and love, so we spurn our savior who would spare us the humiliation, who would give us life and vanquish our enemies. We would even murder him, so we could go on sinning, with the  delusion that we are the rulers of our own life, that we have control over what we do, that we are free.

But the Christian who has been washed in the blood of the lamb, forgiven of his sins in Jesus Christ, well the Christian knows love, the love of God, and set free from sin gives his life to God, because he would rather be a door keeper in the Lord’s tent than feast in the tents of wickedness. And when he stumbles, and finds himself bickering and fighting, and degrading others he turns again to the Lord for forgiveness and strength, knowing that apart from Christ, love is impossible, and there is no freedom.