Friday, July 22, 2011

C.S. Lewis and Aslan

In March 1956 Lewis wrote this letter, I think it stands alone without comment:

Dear Julie Halvorson,

Thank you for the most charming letter I have received in a long time. It made me very happy.

I am also glad that your class has been enjoying the Narnian stories. But especially am I happy that you know who Aslan is. Never forget Him.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Gospel of John and Moses: V

Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” John 6:14

“Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” John 6:31-33

“I am the bread of life…” John 6:35a

John Chapter Six begins with Jesus going away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus goes up on a mountain and sits down with His disciples. The Gospel writer tells us that the Passover…was near. A large crowd follows Him, over five thousand men; Jesus feeds them with five loaves and two fish. People observe what Jesus does and say, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world”, a reference to the prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy. Because we read in John 6:15, “So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone”, we infer that Jesus came down from the mountain in order to feed the people.

Jesus re-crosses the Sea of Galilee that evening; the next day Jesus explicitly teaches that He is the Bread of Life – to the dismay of many of His listeners, including many of those who had been followers of His up until that point in His ministry, for in response to the Bread of Life teaching we read, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore”, John 6:66.

The Mosaic – Exodus motif cries out to us in John Chapter Six. Consider the setting of the first movement of the chapter: Jesus crosses the sea; Jesus goes up a mountain; Jesus comes down a mountain, Jesus miraculously feeds the people; and by the way, the thought of Passover is introduced in verse 4. Then, of course, we have the explicit teaching of Jesus the following day that He is the Bread of Life in contrast to the bread that Moses gave.

In Exodus Moses leads the people across the Red Sea; Moses goes up a mountain; Moses comes down a mountain; the people are miraculously fed; and, of course, the Passover launches the entire endeavor. While not to read too much into the idea that the people wanted to make Jesus king, we also see in Israel in the Wilderness that the people had a continuing inclination to be like the surrounding nations.

In John Six the going up the mountain, coming down the mountain, and going up the mountain once more may not only echo Moses at Sinai, but it may also echo Yahweh, who is not only on Sinai but who also descends to fill the Tabernacle. Jesus is not only a picture of Moses, He is God incarnate. (Note also Jesus’ statement in John 6:62 about ascending to where He was before). He is God and He is the Son of Man. It is the motif that informs us, that sets the backdrop and context for the Gospel events and teachings, we need not press the details too closely insisting on mirror images.

In John Chapter Three the Wilderness is evoked by the serpent being lifted up in the wilderness; in John Chapter Six the Wilderness is evoked from the event of the feeding of the 5,000 to the explicit teaching of the Bread of Life in verses 26ff.

Jesus comes to the Jews of His day as Moses and Yahweh came to the Israelites of Egypt and the Wilderness; and just as Moses and Yahweh were rejected by the majority, so Jesus is rejected. Perhaps there is a penumbra of this in John 1:11, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him,”? But Jesus does not just come to the Jews of His day, He comes to all of us who live in all generations – and He is rejected by many of us; and so perhaps there is yet another penumbra in John 1:10, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.”

In the Wilderness of this world, in the Wilderness of life, Jesus comes to us and bids us partake of Him, bids us live by and through Him. He comes to us as the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the Life – He comes down from heaven to us as the Son of God and Son of Man. We, as the Israelites in the Exodus, may be tempted to be as the peoples around us, we may be tempted to succumb to the spirit of the present age, we may be tempted to return to Egypt or adopt the ways of Canaan; do we say with Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the holy One of God,”? John 6:68 – 69.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Gospel of John and Moses: IV

“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” John 3:12 – 15.

“I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world.” They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak thee things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” John 8:26 – 29

“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. The crowd then answered Him, “We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up”’? Who is this Son of Man?” John 12:31 – 34

Three times in the Gospel Jesus speaks of being lifted up. In John Chapter 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that He must be lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness, a reference to Numbers 21:6 – 9. In Numbers Chapter 21 we see the following sequence:

            Israel is attacked and defeated by Arad, a Canaanite king.
            Israel asks God to be with them in subsequent battle against Arad.
            Yahweh gives Israel victory against Arad.
            Israel continues its journey to the Promised Land.

            During this leg of the journey Israel becomes impatient and speaks against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread and no water, and our soul loathes this miserable food.” [A reference to the manna God was providing].

As a result of Israel’s rebellious complaining, judgment comes to them from Yahweh in the form of fiery serpents and many die. The people come to Moses and implore him to intercede with Yahweh for them for they have sinned. As a result of Moses’ intercession Yahweh says, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.”

While there are various facets of the fiery serpent pericope that we could explore, the central point is that Jesus is using the Numbers 21 account to refer to Himself in His conversation with Nicodemus and that the two elements of Numbers 21 that Jesus specifically mentions are being lifted up and believing. As the serpent was lifted up so Jesus will be lifted up; as the Israelites needed to believe the Word of Yahweh through Moses that deliverance lay in looking at the bronze/brass serpent on the pole, so we must believe the Word of God that in looking to Jesus we have salvation.

In the above passage from John Chapter 12, the Gospel writer tells us, “But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.” Some think that there is a link between the above three lifted up passages  in John and Isaiah 52:13, where in the Greek version of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, we have the following, “Behold, my servant shall understand and be lifted up, and glorified exceedingly.” The Greek word for lifted up in Isaiah is the same word used in John. The connection between John and Isaiah is based on more than a word or a verse, for Isaiah 52 commences an account of the Suffering Servant and leads to Isaiah 53, a passage recognized as a picture of the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, note that Isaiah 52:13 says that the servant will be glorified exceedingly. The Greek word for lifted up in Isaiah and John is not only used in reference to crucifixion in New Testament times, but is also used for exaltation, for being in a place of glory. The result of Jesus Christ being lifted up on the Cross is His being lifted up in exaltation to the right hand of the Father – and ultimately every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

One other point I want to make before concluding this post is that while “manna” is not specifically mentioned by Jesus to Nicodemus in John Chapter 3, that it is an integral part of the fiery serpent event (Nicodemus would have known this); the Israelites rejected the manna and in their rejection of the manna and in their complaining they brought judgment on themselves. In John Chapter 6 Jesus will teach that He is the true manna.

Again, there are other facets in the juxtaposition of the serpent on the pole in Numbers 21 and the “lifted up” passages of the Gospel, but this is a blog and not a commentary. Once again we see the backdrop of Moses in the Gospel of John.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Gospel of John and Moses: III

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:17

This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”…Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?...The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked and said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” See John 1:19 – 36.

Throughout the Gospel we see the juxtaposition of the Law and Grace; of Christ and Moses. Moses, as we have previously seen, testified of Christ, he pointed to Christ. The ministry of Moses was according to patterns of the heavenly things (Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:4-5). Among the patterns were the Passover Lamb and the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. When John cries, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” John is using Mosaic language, he is evoking the Torah. John is referencing two of the most sacred days of the Jewish year, Passover and the Day of Atonement, and yet who hears John? Do priests or Levites or Pharisees hear John and follow Jesus? Do the people deeply versed in the Law and the traditions which had come to hedge the Law hear and follow Jesus? Do they make the connection between Moses and Jesus? Between the Passover Lamb and Jesus?

Contrasted with the priests, Levites and Pharisees, consider what Andrew says to his brother Peter, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41), and what Philip says to Nathanael, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets wrote…” (John 1:45). A woman in Samaria will come to know Jesus the Messiah (John Chapter 4) along with her Samarian town, but those who claim to know the Law best, those who have suffocated the Law with their traditions, will not know Him. An ignorant man born blind (John Chapter 9) will come to know the Messiah, but those who claim to know the Law will cast the man out of the synagogue.

The Lamb is before those who claim to know the Law in Chapter 1; the Bread of Life will be before them in Chapter 6; the Good Shepherd will be before them in Chapter 10, the Resurrection will be before them in Chapter 11, and so forth through the Gospel – but those who claim to know the Law and to know Moses don’t see Jesus for they have taken the Law and twisted it to their own ends, loving the praise of man more than the praise of God; seeking to establish their own righteousness they have rejected the righteousness of God – a Righteousness living and breathing before their eyes, God of very God.

The Law, unadulterated by man, drives us to seek mercy and grace; the Law, twisted by man, is turned into a perverted fa├žade of self-righteousness – a self-righteousness so acute that it drives one to crucify God, to crucify grace and mercy – indeed, a self-righteousness so acute that it mistakes God for the devil.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Gospel of John and Moses: II

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overpower it.
John 1:1-5

The Gospel begins with an invocation of the first words of the Bible; In the beginning. It begins with the first theme of the Bible; God and God creating. The Gospel begins by alluding to the first spoken words of God in the Bible and the creative act that followed the words; Then God said, Let there be light; and there was light (Genesis 1:3) / In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness…(John 1:4-5a).

When we compare Genesis 1 with John 1 we have a motif of:

            The self-existent God

Furthermore, as in Genesis God creates man in His own image; in John God recreates man in His own image – John 1:12 – 13. This recreation, this new birth, culminates in being brought into the intimacy of the Trinity in John Chapter 17; which is, of course, accomplished through the Cross, Resurrection, Ascension, and the Trinity indwelling those who believe in Jesus Christ.

In Genesis we see the earth without form and void, the earth is in some form of chaos; in John the earth is spiritually without form and void, there is spiritual chaos, and so we read, The Light shines in the darkness. In Genesis there is a separation of light from darkness; in John we see the theme of light and darkness (see John 3:19; 8:12; 12:35 – 46).

In Genesis God is the source of all; in John Jesus is the light, the life, the bread, the water, He is the source of all we need, He is the One from whom new life is breathed into dead man (John 20:22; compare with Genesis 2:7). There is a sense in which John 1:1ff parallels Genesis 1:1ff and then we have John 20:22 as the reenactment of Genesis of 2:7. The difference being that in order for Jesus to breathe new life into us in John 20:22 He must be born (John 1:14), bear witness to the Father throughout His earthly life (John chapters 1 – 17) and then give His life up on the Cross as our Sin-bearer, while also bringing judgment on the enemy (John chapters 18 -19), and rise from the dead and ascend to the Father (John 20:1-18).

In Genesis man is separated from the Tree of Life; in John the Tree of Life comes to man.