by J. Christian Andrews
December 21, 2013
He Will Save His People from Their Sins
Shakespeare asked through Juliet's voice, "What's in a name? that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet." We take names somewhat lightly in our culture. Sometimes we apply names because they are in the family. Sometimes our names are chosen because we like the sound. My parents chose to give us five names from the Old Testament. Thus I am Joel.
I became especially interested in my name when a senior in high school. I knew that my name, Joel, meant "Yahweh is God," a contraction of God's Hebrew name and the generic "Elohim," the Hebrew word for "God." I used my first name until the end of my last high school year. It was during that year that I took an art class. I signed my first painting "Joel C. Andrews" and didn't like how it looked. In a search for a more aesthetically pleasing signature, I played with my name and came up with J. Christian Andrews, Christian being my middle name. I liked it and decided that I would from then on use my middle name as my called name. I don't know that it has been the best decision I've ever made, but it is how I've come to be called "Christian" instead of "Joel."
The Hebrew culture has always been much more tuned in to the power of names. God changed Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Jacob to Israel because of the meaning of the names. God told Isaiah to name his children particular names that were in themselves messages from God to His people. God gave His own name to His people, confirming that Name to Moses at the burning bush when he told Moses to say, "I AM sent me." So it was that God confirmed His name Yahweh, a derivative of the subject I and the verb am.
The man who led the Israelites into the Promised Land was named Joshua. He was a foreshadowing of another who would have the same name. It is how God tells stories. He created an historical event that would have deeper meaning as it foreshadowed a deeper reality. The crossing of the Jordan river to posses the Promised Land and the conquest of that land were real events, but they were also foreshadowing an event that would begin with a humble birth, a child born of a virgin, a child named by God both in the angel's words to His mother Mary and in a dream to Mary's betrothed Joseph. Were we to read His name in the Hebrew language, it would be the name we know as Joshua. As it has come to us in our tongue is it the name Jesus.
It is not an ordinary name. The angel told Joseph to call his name Jesus "for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21 NASB). It is a name chosen specifically and deliberately because of its meaning. "Jesus" is a contraction of God's Hebrew name and the Hebrew word for "saves." So God, Yahweh, came to save His people from their sins.
Some thirty years after His birth, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, the same one across which Joshua led God's people into the promised land. Three years after His Jordan River water baptism, Jesus went to the cross, an event He himself called a baptism. It is the cross that then became that place where God meets us and we meet God. It is in baptism, not merely the washing in water but the washing of regeneration and the purification of the conscience, that we cross from death to life, that our old sinful nature is put to death even as Jesus died and a new nature rises to life even as Jesus was raised to life. It is our crossing the Jordan River into the promised land.
This week we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Nativity of our Lord. May we remember that is it not an ordinary birth but that it is a celebration of God becoming human flesh, a Babe born to die that we might have life, Jesus given to save His people from their sins.
November 29, 2013
Six Degress of Separation
Someone has suggested that there are only six degrees of separation between any of us, that we are just six introductions away from meeting anybody on earth. We are often amazed at how small our world really is. I met my wife through match.com. Yes, I'm a .com er. As we got to know each other, however, the connections were uncanny. Her mom and my parents know the same missionaries who were in Bolivia the same time we were. They were not with the same mission organizations, but they new each other. Even more surprising to us was that my mom attended a young adults event at the church in Duluth where her dad had just become the pastor. That was many years ago and completely unrelated to any other part of our meeting and our lives.
We are often amazed at the connecting discoveries we find in Scripture, though we probably shouldn't be. The Bible is, after all, the Word of God; but when we find those amazing connections, for some reason we continue to be astounded. Such were the discoveries I recently made with a peek into the narrative of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem as told by Matthew. It is the text we use to begin our Church year and to start us on that journey that begins with a look back to Christ's first coming and forward to His second.
When Jesus sent his disciples to fetch the donkey colt on which He rode into Jerusalem, He told them that the prophecy spoken by Zechariah
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
was being fulfilled. These words were first spoken to reassure the Jewish people who had returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity that their mission was indeed righteous and pleasing to the Lord. The word to them was to remain faithful and true because God would indeed fulfill the promises He made. God would return a descendant of David's to the throne. There would be again a king in Israel. As Jesus spoke the words, they were indeed coming true. He, a king coming in peace on the back of a donkey, was the fulfillment of that Messianic promise.
Unlike a conquering king, though He did come to conquer sin and death, Jesus came humbly to bring righteousness and salvation. So Zechariah had foretold. And there is here another amazing connection, a connection in how the people received Him. Palm branches were cut down, and a chant went up: "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
The words on the lips of those who welcomed Jesus into the city of Jerusalem were taken from Psalm 118. With Psalms 113 to 117, Psalm 118 was used responsively in the worship during the Feast of Tabernacles. It a was feast during which there was a palm branch procession led by the High Priest. The psalms and the procession were both called "the hosanna."
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds called out "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" Whether they realized it or not, they made the connection between the fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy and one line from Psalm 118: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" As they waved palm branches and shouted their praise with "hosanna," they linked the coming of the king with the Hosanna Psalms and declared the salvation that comes from God.
This one line is part of three verses in Psalm 118 that announces a savior:
"The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief corner stone.
This is the Lord�s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
O Lord, do save, we beseech You;
O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord;
We have blessed you from the house of the Lord."
The day the Lord has made is so much more than a reminder of God's daily presence. It is indeed a prophetic declaration that the day in which the stone the builders rejected became the chief cornerstone is the day the Lord has made. This is the day of our salvation. This is the day we bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
As we begin a new Church year and the cycle of our lives continues, we once again see Christ Jesus who came to bring salvation and Christ Jesus who will come again to fulfill His promise of eternal life. "This is day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it."
November 23, 2013
Messianic or End of Days
My daily readings this last week took me to the opening events in the Book of Daniel. Daniel was an older boy or young man taken into the Babylonian Captivity around 586 B. C. He was a G-d fearing young man and asked King Nebuchadnezzar's stewards to be exempted from eating the king's food since he believed doing so would violate his faith. He proposed a ten day test of a vegetable and water diet at the end of which he and his three friends were found to be healthier that the rest of the captive boys. The four of them thus found favor in the eyes of the king and were rewarded for their faithfulness.
Toward the beginning of Daniel's account is found the narrative of a complex problem presented by Nebuchadnezzar. He had had a dream, and he required his wise men to not only interpret the dream but to tell him what the dream was first. His rationale was that only the wise who could tell the dream would truly know its interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar was not pleased that none of his sages could do as he asked, so he threatened to put them all to death. When the guards came to Daniel and his friend to take them to death, Daniel, seemingly having not heard of the problem, asked for another day in which he might consult with his own G-d to find an answer and prevent his own death and those of his friends and the rest of the magi.
Daniel was given that time during which G-d revealed to him both the dream and its interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his dream a frightening statue with a head of gold, a chest of silver, a middle and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet in an imperfect mixture of iron and clay. At the end of the dream a great stone carved not by human hands struck the image and broke it to pieces which were scattered to the wind so that none of it could be found. In place of the image, the stone became a mountain that filled the entire earth.
It was revealed to Nebuchadnezzar that the head of the image was his own great kingdom, the kingdom of Babylon. Daniel told him that after him would follow another kingdom represented by the silver chest, another by the bronze midsection, another by the iron legs until the feet, a kingdom divided since iron and clay do not mix, was left. The great crushing stone, Daniel told him, represented a kingdom that the G-d of heaven would set up, a kingdom that would crush all others and would be established forever.
The question that came to me as I read this passage, and as I have read it in the past, is "What does it mean? Who are these great kingdoms? Can we use this dream today to speak to us about God's activity in the world?" Admittedly, I have not done any outside research into the answers to these questions, but I wold propose two possibilities, both of which should cause us to take note. I'll pose these two as another question. Is the prophecy Messianic or of the End of Days?
A Messianic interpretation might be like this. The golden head is Babylon; the silver chest the Persians and Medes, the bronze midsection the Creeks, the iron legs the Roman Empire, and the iron and clay feet the partially restored but very divided nation of Israel. The stone not cut from human hand would parallel the stone the builders rejected, the one about Jesus speaking of Himself said, "And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust." The final kingdom established would be the kingdom of G-d to which Jesus referred in His conversation with Pontius Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."
In an End of Days interpretation the following might be true. The bronze head we know is Babylon. That part Daniel make clear to Nebuchadnezzar. If we look at all of history from then until now the following world kingdoms might be represented by the rest of the image in Nebuchadnezzar's dream: the silver chest is the Greek Empire under Alexander the Great, the Bronze midsection the Roman Empire which ruled from the British Isles to north Africa, the British Empire which held lands around the world, and finally the United States of America once a world power but today deeply divided in both politics and moral standards. In this possible interpretation, the divided United States of America stands as the final "kingdom" into which a great stone will roll shattering it and all the kingdoms of humanity and establishing in its the final Kingdom of God. It would seem fully possible that Nebuchadnezzar's dream may be fulfilled in our time; and if so, the end may soon be here.
One of the accepted tenets of the Faith is that prophecies, both of the Old Testament and of the New, have a double meaning. Many prophecies have a double fulfillment: one Messianic and the other End Times. For example, the Old Testament prophet Joel was given a vision of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which happened fifty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus. But a close reading of the words given to him by the Holy Spirit reveals that part of that prophecy is yet to come true. Luke recorded Peter's sermon which connected the Pentecost flames of fire with the words of outpouring that Joel wrote. But Joel's words also speak of "wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapors of smoke." Quoting Joel he also said, "The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come." This second part of the prophecy is clearly unfulfilled and speaks of a day yet to come.
Nebuchadnezzar's dream, then, might also be understood in like manner. The question originally asked would not be only "Messianic or End of Days?" The dream could very possibly have a Messianic interpretation in which case the dream has been fulfilled, and we are living in the age during which the stone is becoming the mountain that will end in the final establishment of the Kindom of G-d. It is also possible to find an interpretation in which the dream is not yet fully fulfilled. In either case, we may indeed be living in the end times, times that should cause us to re-awaken to G-d's work among us, to His call to repentance, to His invitation to faith, to His commission that we be about making disciples. The answer to our question could certainly be Messianic, End of Days, or both.
November 16, 2013
Under the Kerosene Lamp
From as early as I can remember, we had chores. In my junior high years, I learned how to sew Barbie doll clothes; and I would trade doll clothes for chores with my sisters. The chore event I remember the most, however, happened when I was in second grade (as close as I can remember). I had been assigned dinner dishes. Dinner dishes back then was not lining up the dishes in an electric washer that would do all the hard work for us. It wasn't event turning a faucet to get hot water into a kitchen sink. For us, out in the Andean foothills in the airplane only accessible town of Apolo, Bolivia, doing the dishes meant heating water over a kerosene burner and washing in a galvanized steel wash tub under the light of a kerosene lamp hung on the wall above the table on which the wash tub sat.
I dilly-dallied around way to much on that particular evening, and the water in the wash tub got cold. The grease from the dishes started floating in the top of the water. My mood went from bad to worse until in second grade selfish frustration I decided the solution to my predicament was to run away from home. I don't remember how I left the house or property, but I do recall running along the dirt street and round the block as the evening light fled with me. I found myself along the outside wall at the far end our property next to a stream, scared. The run-away solution having failed, I returned with my tail tucked between my legs, as it were, and was put to work finishing my assigned job.
I suppose there were a number of Biblical principles at work that night, but one of the most pointed is found in 2 Thessalonians 3: �If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat� (v. 10 ESV). It's a truth Mom and Dad instilled in us from our very beginnings, and I think it is a message that needs to be heard again today especially in a world where passing responsibility seems to be in vogue.
We who are the Church, we who are the redeemed body of Christ, we who are citizens in the Kingdom of God are not only so for eternity; we are also so to make a positive impact on our world. There is something different about a believer, something that makes him or her stand apart in the world and something that makes him or her especially attractive to the world. One of those attractions is our call to personal responsibility. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians encouraging them to stand fast in the face of mounting persecution, he also commanded them to personal responsibility. He told them they should not even associate with another believer is that believer did not also practice personal responsibility. The believer is not to be idle. The believer is to be productive.
Sometimes our work is pleasant. Other times our work is wearing. So it is that in the end, the Holy Spirit's word to us through Paul is to not grow weary in doing good. It is good to believe. It is good to trust in God's promises. It is good to work, even to do the dishes in cold, greasy water under the kerosene lamp.