Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Peace on Earth

The angelic choir sang the first song of Christmas: "Glory to God / in the highest / and on earth peace /among those of [God's] favor" (2:14).

Its theme was peace. But what made this heralded peace different than the Roman peace (Pax Romana) that already filled the world at Jesus’ birth? Or as John Dominic Crossan asks, “If the Roman Augustus had already established peace on earth, what was left for the Jewish Jesus to accomplish?” He goes on to say, “The difference was not in the that of peace but in its how, not in the purpose and intention of peace but in the mode and method of its accomplishment . . . . For Rome the mode and method was: religion, war, victory, peace . . . . But the messianic vision of the Jewish Jesus proclaimed a different program: religion, non-violence, justice, peace. Its mantra was peace through justice.”

He adds, “Victory's violence establishes not peace but lull -- until the next and always more violent round of war. The Christian challenge of Christmas is this: justice is what happens when all receive a fair share of God's world and only such distributive justice can establish peace on earth.”

While Crossan is correct in his analysis, he erroneously believes justice can be achieved here and now when governments distribute wealth equally to all. In reality, it will be achieved only when God establishes his kingdom on earth under the rule of Messiah. Until then, the church in submission to Christ is called to practice egalitarian justice, and thus demonstrate in part what the future kingdom will be like. In doing so, the church serves as an attractive alternative to the kingdoms of this world.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Supernatural Conception

Matthew 1:16 declares, "Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus Christ." From this verse we see two things: 1) Joseph did not begat Jesus, 2) yet, Jesus was born of Mary. How did this event occur? What transpired? Rudolf Schnackenburg says the explanation is found in Matthew 1:18-25, which serves an extended footnote to verse 16. Verse 18 opens with these words: "Now the birth of Jesus was as follows." The remainder of the section fills in the details, telling how at first Joseph suspects Mary of adultery, only to change his mind after having a God-inspired dream in which an angel reveals that the pregnancy is of supernatural origin. One interesting tidbit in the account is that the angel says that Mary will have "a son." Here is a case where the gender of an unborn child is revealed two millennia before the invention of the sonogram!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

Got home to find discover the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization (Wiley Blackwell, Oxford, UK) had finally arrived. What a surprise! This is a monumental work, taking several years to publish. I contributed ten articles to the 4 volume set, including entries on Peter Marshall, Charles E. Fuller, Aimee Semple McPherson, among others.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Davidic Focus of Jesus' Genealogy

The genealogy of Jesus begins with King David, not Abraham, which seems unusual since Abraham preceded David by 800 years (v 1). Why the reversal? Most likely because David is the pivotal figure in the genealogy, which is divided into three sections. Section I covers the time from Abraham to David’s ascent to the throne (vv 2-6). Section 2 covers the time between David’s rule to the exile in Babylon (vv 7-11). Section 3 cover the years between the return from exile to the restoration of David’s dynasty through the Messiah Jesus (vv 8-16).

Matthew says each section consists of 14 generations (v 17). Yet, only sections 1 and 2 have 14 generations; section 3 has 13 generations. Why the discrepancy? Can’t Matthew add? Matthew must have something else in mind. Especially since section 1 covers 800 years, while sections 2 and 3 cover 400 and 575 years, respectively. Based on the time difference alone, the number of generations cannot be the same for each section. So what is Matthew’s point?

Most likely, Matthew is using a code system known as gematria (which assigns value to Hebrew letters) to say that each section is about David. Since the Hebrew alphabet is devoid of vowels, David’s name is D-V-D. Its value is D = 4, V = 6, D = 4, for a total of 14. Therefore, Matthew likely means each section is equivalent to 14 or is about D-V-D.

While the genealogy focuses on David, it ends with Jesus. It is his lineage (vv 1, 17). He is the Royal Messiah who ushers in the Kingdom of God. All the promises and hopes of Israel find their fulfillment in Jesus.

Monday, December 05, 2011

God's Gals

Jesus' genealogy includes several women, a rarity among Jewish genealogies. These women are Gentiles--Tamar and Rahab (both Canaanites), Ruth (Moabite), and Bathsheba (Hittite)-- all of whom had had illicit or questionable sexual relationships with Jewish men, which resulted in the birth of children. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced Judah, her father-in-law, producing twins. Rahab, a prostitute who plied her trade on the wall at Jericho, had a child (Boaz) with Salmon, whether through marriage or not we don't know. Ruth, a widower, crawled under the covers of Boaz, and Obed was born. These women are king David's ancestors.

Then David had an affair with Bathsheba, a married woman, and sent her husband Uriah to the frontlines of battle to be killed. David and Bathsheba wed and had Solomon who became Israel's new king.

Why does Matthew lists these women in Jesus' genealogy? First, to show that despite mistakes and moral indiscretions, God works providentially to bring about his will. Second, to show that God loves, forgives, and uses people on the margins to fulfill his plans. Third, to show his plan of redemption includes Gentiles. Fourth, to ease the scandal surrounding Mary's pregnancy, who stands in the line of these women.

From a human perspective Mary was a tainted woman because she became pregnant prior to marriage. Joseph, to whom she was espoused, knew Jesus was not his child. Although he learned through a vision the truth about Mary, her neighbors did not. They all looked on her as an immoral woman and Jesus as her illegitimate child (John 8:41).

Finally, for Matthew's audience living decades after Jesus, this genealogy offers them hope and encouragement because they, too, have been marginalized. Rejected by non-messianic Jewish family members and friends for following Jesus and rubbing shoulders with Gentile Christ followers, they have been kicked out of synagogues and declared dead. But God accepts them and will use them to do great things just as he used the women in Jesus' genealogy, despite public opposition.

Jesus is the savior of those on the margins. They may be rejected by man, but they are accepted by God!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas: God with Us

Warren Carter says the Gospel of Matthew was written to people on the margins. These were Jewish and Gentiles believers who were members of house churches in Antioch, Syria around 80/90 AD. After the destruction of the Temple and burning of Jerusalem, these believers faced estrangement and even persecution. Matthew's Gospel is a pastoral letter intended to encourage them in the faith. It opens with Jesus being called Immanuel, i.e. "God is with us." It closes with Jesus saying, "I am with you always." What comfort to know that when forsaken by friends and family, Jesus is with us!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a holiday that predates the founding of the United States. The Pilgrims gave thanks to God for surviving their first year in the new world. Thereafter, the settlers gave thanks yearly for a good harvest. It became more politicized in 1863, when President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day in an effort to promote unity between the northern and southern states. It became a federal holiday in 1941 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. People celebrate Thanksgiving today for various reasons. More often than not, it is viewed as a day to eat heartily, watch the Macy’s Day parade and/or innumerable football games, recognize the start of Christmas shopping season, and thank God for our nation. So, its meaning has changed over the years.

During New Testament times thanksgiving (small “s”) was an anti-imperial practice that recognized God, not Rome, as the source of supply. In a very real sense, prayer is a subversive action and a threat to every totalitarian government that seeks to control the lives of their citizens.

Christians worldwide should adopt Jesus’ prayer as our model: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, they kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread . . . .”

When Nations go to War

The church of Jesus Christ is larger than any one nation. It's members live in every country of the world and are called upon to represent the kingdom of God to those nations. Like an embassy that supports only the agenda of its homeland, so the church supports God's agenda alone and not a nationalistic agenda of the country where it is located.

When nations wreck havoc and engage in mass destruction, such actions serve the purposes of Satan, the god of this world.

Therefore, when one nation declares war against another nation, the church cannot support that action. Nor should it encourage its members to fight in the war, since that would involve Christians from one nation killing Christians from the opposing nation. The church must not place loyalty to a nation above loyalty to the kingdom of God.

What should the church do? First, call upon its governmental leaders to seek non-violent solutions. Second, if war is declared, it must state publicly and unequivocally that it opposes the war. Third, it should weep for the victims of war and minister to them and their families. Fourth, it should preach the gospel of the kingdom and call the nation to repent and submit to Jesus as Lord.

The church must demonstrate what it is like to live under the reign of God. In presenting an alternative path to peace, the church reflects in part what the rule of God will look like when the kingdom arrives in it's fulness.

When the church embraces the ethics of a nation, it loses it's prophetic voice and it's identity as an embassy of the kingdom within that nation. It becomes just another organization that supports nationalistic causes, rather than a vehicle that calls people to align with the kingdom of God.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Kingdom has Arrived!

Some biblical scholars hold that the kingdom of God is a future reality only and does not have a present manifestation. Yet Jesus, like John the Baptist before him, called upon his hearers to repent and announced that “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Was he mistaken? Was it at hand as he claimed or was it to arrive in the distant future?

A clue may be found in the wording of the Lord’s Prayer. When his disciples ask for instructions on how to pray, Jesus answers, “When you pray, say: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come’” (Luke 11:1-2). Were they to pray expecting God to answer speedily? This seems to be the case. After all, the remainder of the instructions deals with immediate expectations: “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation” (vv 3-4).

It seems they were expecting the prayer to be answered without delay. Hence they were expecting the kingdom of God to arrive likewise.

Only 10 verses later, Luke tells how one of Jesus’ opponents accuses him of casting out demons by Beelzebub, which he denies (Luke 11-14-19). Then he answers, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (v 20).

The context of these two events in the same chapter should settle the issue once for all. Jesus tells the disciples to pray “Your kingdom come” (v 2) and then says a few verses later, “The kingdom has come” (v 20).

The evidence that the kingdom has arrived is found in Jesus’ victory over demons which he accomplishes by God’s power.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Kingdom of God and the Church

John the Baptist, Jesus, the Twelve, the Seventy, Peter, Stephen, Philip and Paul preached the Gospel of the kingdom.

The Gospel of the kingdom declares that in the person of Christ, the kingdom of God arrived, accompanied by signs and wonders. By virtue of Christ's obedience in death, God raised him from the dead and placed him on the throne of David to rule over God's creation. Christ is now enthroned as Lord of the universe. While he reigns over earth, he reigns in the church. While others may not recognize his rule, the church does. It is charged with declaring the reign of God in Christ and inviting all men and women to come under his reign. This is our mission.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

New book contract

I just got word that Harvest House will publish my book on the kingdom of God. A contract is in the mail. Looks like I will be very busy this summer.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Baptism and the Eternal Covenant

When Jesus was baptized by John in the waters of the Jordan, what was actually transpiring? According to Barth, Christ through his baptism publicly acknowledged and committed himself to carrying out his unique role as Messiah and Savior. As such he took up the task of living wholly for God and wholly for man. This was the first step in fulfilling “the covenant which God resolved upon from all eternity, which He set up with Israel (yet already with a view to all mankind) and which, in virtue of His great love, in spite of man’s unfaithfulness, He willed to bring to its goal in Him, the Son of God as true Son of Man. God for man and man for God is the fulfilled covenant, the accomplished reconciliation, the ministry of Jesus Christ.”

In baptism, Christ stood in “solidarity with men” and placed himself “unconditionally at God’s disposal.” Thus, baptism became the initial public act whereby Jesus accepted his role as mediator between humankind and God. It was an eschatological event that led to the cross, and would culminate in the kingdom of God on earth.