Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Hebrews Chapter Eleven (13)

(It’s been a few months since I’ve reflected on Hebrews Chapter 11, I’m going to pick it back up.)

“Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants ‘as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.’ ” Hebrews 11:12

God brings life out of death; Abraham at 99 years old  was “as good as dead” in terms of having children and yet God confirmed  and fulfilled His promise that Abraham would have a son with Sarah (Genesis chapters 17 & 18). (Abraham would encounter the God who brings life out of death once again when he took the son of promise, Isaac, up Mount Moriah as a sacrifice.) Paul writes (Romans 4:19-21) concerning Abraham, “Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.”

The picture Paul paints in Romans 4 is not one of Abraham holding onto faith, grasping not to let go, with fingers straining to not lose their grip - not only did he “not become weak” but he “grew strong in faith.” In other words, in face of the naturally impossible Abraham’s faith grew. This however was not a nebulous faith, it was not “faith for the sake of faith” the way some might have “love for the sake of love” or “hope for the sake of hope”. Put another way, some of us may be in love with the idea of love, or of hope, or of faith - but faith, hope, and love for their own isolated undefined ideas without Biblical context...these are akin to physical intimacy outside of marriage; promiscuity is not limited to the physical - our hearts and souls and minds are to belong to God; this is one reason why the primary image of idolatry in the Bible is adultery.

Abraham’s faith was wedded to God, His character, and His Word. Abraham gave “glory to God” and he was “fully assured that what God had promised, He was able to perform.” When elements of the professing church bandy faith around as an ATM card, as a means to get what we want, as a way to consume things on ourselves - we take what is holy and profane it. Abraham’s faith was faith that was tried, not for a week, a month, or a year - but for many years. Those of us who make merchandise of faith, who use it as a plaything, as a self-help method, as a way to attract others to their “best life now” seek instant gratification - “have faith and you’ll get it now and if you don’t get it now your faith isn’t strong enough”.

What would we say to Abraham? What would we say to those of Hebrews 11:13, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

People of the earth, of the current age, insist on instant fulfillment, they want it “now!” - but those who have been drawn and called by Christ to a pilgrimage to Himself and into His Kingdom, they learn to see life as a tapestry, they see Christ as the Sun who enlightens this life and shines on the path that leads them from here to there. Since to know Him is the desire of the Christ-follower, He is the object of faith, the desire of faith, the ground of faith, the heartbeat of faith.

Abraham was “as good as dead.” Isaac would be as good as dead on Mount Moriah. The House of David was as good as dead when Jesus was born - in the “natural” there seemed no way the promises of God to King David could be fulfilled, the lineage of David was not even part of the leadership of Judah and Jerusalem. And yet there was a “root out of parched ground,’ a “tender shoot,” (Isaiah 53:2; 11:1), nothing to look at, nothing to take notice of, nothing to attract us, nothing to make us think that there could possibly be anything about the root and its shoot that we should pay attention to. “He had no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him.”

And if we had any doubt about the root out of parched ground, His Crucifixion should have convinced us that it was all for nought, for nothing, that we were fools to have followed Him, fools to have hoped in Him, fools to have loved Him, fools to have had faith in Him. We should have listened to the religious teachers and leaders, they knew better. The root that came out of the ground was crucified and put back in the ground. Dead.

But...but...we can’t leave Jerusalem, something is keeping us here. Yes, we are afraid of the religious leaders and Roman authorities, now that they’ve killed Jesus they may go after us - maybe we should flee the city, though the gates may be watched. But still, there is something else keeping us here, keeping us together. Ah, the women...they are going to His tomb to care for His body, leaving early, how will they move the stone to gain entrance to the tomb? We thought Jesus was the promised Davidic deliverer, the Messiah - but now He is dead and the seal of the Empire is on the tomb certifying His death and prohibiting anyone from moving the stone from the entrance - plus there are guards there. Maybe the women should rethink their plan.

Abraham’s body was as good as dead. Isaac was as good as dead. David's lineage was as good as dead. Jesus Christ was dead.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat fallis into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” (John 12:24).

We are called into the fellowship of the impossible. This isn’t so much that we believe the impossible can happen, though there is that element; it is more importantly that we believe that it is impossible for God to lie - that is truly the impossible thing, the only impossible thing - and since we know that is impossible we know that all in His Word is more than possible...we know it is true and is being fulfilled. When we believe in the impossible all things are possible - all of His promises are sure and certain.

God cannot lie, therefore all of His promises are true and certain.

“For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Paul wrote this when he was good as dead (see 2 Corinthians 1:9).

Perhaps we should rethink what we think is impossible and remind ourselves that the thing that is really impossible is that God cannot lie - let us join our faith to the faith of our father Abraham, growing ever stronger in our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Isaiah (5)

Where will you be stricken again,
As you continue in your rebellion?
The whole head is sick
And the whole heart is faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head
There is nothing sound in it,
Only bruises, welts and raw wounds,
Not pressed out or bandaged,
Nor softened with oil. Isaiah 1:5 - 6

Yahweh through His prophet asks a question of ancient Judah, “Where else would you like to be sick and diseased?” Or phrased another way, “Why will you continue to be stricken, sick, and diseased? Why will you continue in your rebellion?”

The comprehensiveness of Judah’s condition is emphasized: head - heart, foot - head - full circle; from the head to the heart to the foot and back to the head - there is nothing sound in it, there is no healthy part of the body - from top to bottom the body has bruises and welts and raw wounds, raw sores.

I have someone close to me who has battled a rare disorder that affected 100% of his skin, the soles of his feet were affected to the point that he could hardly walk because of the pain. When medical specialists wanted to take a tissue sample of his skin they couldn’t do so because there was not enough healthy skin for a sample. When I viewed photos of this condition they were hard to look at - I could only imagine what this dear person was enduring. This approaches the image that we see in Isaiah 1:5 - 6, except that Isaiah’s image is much worse - at least my dear friend was receiving medical attention, but Judah, as we see it in Isaiah, not only was not receiving medical attention, it was continuing in behavior that was bringing even more misery on itself - yet in its rebellion it denied that anything was wrong - it considered itself healthy when it was sick.

I recently watched a series of people being interviewed about the state of America, they came from varying regions and backgrounds and ethnic groups. All of them evaluated the condition of America based on economics, there was no one who expressed interest in morality, in care for the poor, in justice, in helping others - the only lens through which these men and women, young and old, viewed the condition of their nation was the lens of economics. About the same time I watched a few segments of televised “church” services, I was relieved to hear that God is focused on our checking accounts and on us being successful and happy - someone should have told Paul and Peter and the rest of the early church about this, apparently they didn’t get it right, they must have misunderstood Jesus.

Ancient Judah deceived itself in its rebellion, it denied that it was sick - if that happened in Judah it can happen anywhere. Judah foolishly thought that it could claim God’s blessings based on its history, based on its forbearers - it was not only wrong, it was self-deceived to the point that when the judgment of God was coming on it that it did not recognize it - it continued in denial.

No nation can be Biblically great that is not morally and righteously great - the prophets never judged Israel or Judah based on whether their economy was growing, but rather on justice and equity and righteousness and the worship of the true and living God. When the prophets spoke words of judgment to other nations in the ancient world, those nations were held to standards of mercy, justice, and righteousness - they were held to the standard of common grace and the innate sense of right and wrong planted in all peoples. We are all responsible for the light that has been given to us.

Would we eat a cake that has 99% pure and healthy ingredients and only has 1% poison? Would we fly in a plane with 99% functioning parts and 1% malfunctioning parts? Surely in both cases the good must outweigh the bad. If, as Paul writes, a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough, what must be the true condition of a society when it places narcissistic pleasure and power above all else? What must be the true condition of a nation when it explicitly repudiates the image of God? When it codifies the destruction of the helpless? When the value of a person is determined by that person’s usefulness to society?

We see in the prophets that rulers and nations mistook economic and military power with carte blanche to do as they pleased - God judged them for their unrighteousness - whether they were Israel and Judah or their neighbors. Prosperity can kill a people who are not servants of righteousness, they can deceive themselves into thinking they have the right to be the arbiters of morality and justice, that they can make their own rules and change them at will. The ends justify the means. When those who serve the Temple join in this insanity then idols are brought into the Temple; whether the ancient Temple in Jerusalem or the Temple of God’s People today. We must all feed the engine of success and prosperity and we’ll justify whatever it takes for sustained economic growth.

As Edward J. Young observes in his commentary on Isaiah, the people of Judah were “money crazy.”

Well, that was Judah back then, it could never be us today.