The Role of the King (Telling the Big Picture Story of the Bible # 7)

Living in America in the 21st century, we only barely remember what it was like to live under a king. A king basically had all of the power throughout the lands that he ruled. His words and decrees were the law of the land. If you had a good king, then perhaps life wouldn’t be so bad under him. If you had a bad king, though, life could get very rough. Biblically, living under a king was, at best, a mixed bag. When Israel asked God for a human king, God basically responded that they didn’t need a human king because He was their king. The people persisted, though, and finally God gave them a succession of kings, a few of which were good, but most of which were moderate at best. Even the best king in the Old Testament, David, slept with someone who was someone else’s wife and then put her husband on the front lines.

It is into this context that Jesus eventually comes to fulfill the role of the king. Now kingship was not something that Jesus pursued, Continue reading

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What is Easter Really All About? (Telling the “Big Picture” Story of the Bible #6)

What is Easter?  Maybe you think of Easter bunnies and eggs.  Maybe you think of candy.  There is nothing wrong with any of these things.

Maybe if you are a Christian, you think of individual salvation, not going to Hell, or going to Heaven.  And all of these things are true.

But what If I told you that Easter was about so much more than this?

Through the whole story of the Bible, God’s people are waiting for God to step into space and time once again, through the Messiah, to set things right once and for all.  Over and over God had promised many things to the people: that His kingdom would reign forever and ever, that God and the people would finally be together, that their relationship would be restored, and on and on. Continue reading

The Lord’s Prayer Through the Eyes of the Promise (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of our discussion of the Lord’s Prayer here.

 

Forgive Us Our Debts As We Forgive Our Debtors-What stands out about this request is the reciprocal nature of it.  “Forgive us…as we forgive others…”  It is reminiscent of scenes from the Old Testament where God gives the people a command, for instance, to be kind to strangers, because they once were strangers in Egypt.  “Have mercy on slaves, remembering that you were once slaves in Egypt”.  This happens numerous times in the Old Testament.  We ought to be kind to those in chains because we were once in chains.  We ought to be kind to strangers because we have been strangers.  And we ought to forgive others because we ourselves stand in need of forgiveness.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil-Once again, one cannot help but think of the people of Israel in the Wilderness.  “Have you led us out here to die???” the people asked Moses.  Being seemingly trapped by the Red Sea, mountains and Pharoah’s army, the people complain that God & Moses led them out in the wilderness to die.  We understand mentally that God doesn’t tempt us.  And yet, doesn’t it seem like he leads us into evil sometimes?  Of course, he never does, but it feels that way sometimes.  And so in this line of the prayer, we learn to pray our feelings.  We can be honest in prayer, and pray for God to not lead us into temptation, even if we know he never will, because sometimes it feels like he does.

For Yours is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory Forever, Amen-We are reminded of the only way any of this prayer can come to pass.  God is the Creator.  His kingdom, power and glory are eternal.  That is the context of our prayer, and that is the force behind it.  Our only hop eis the Kingdom, Power and Glory of God reigning in our world and lives.

The Lord’s Prayer Through the Eyes of the Promise (Part 1)

What would it look like to read the Lord’s Prayer in light of the whole Story of Scripture?  In this post and the next, we will look at the Lord’s Prayer phrase by phrase with this goal.

Our Father in Heaven–In this phrase we see that God is our Father.  God created us all.  What an amazing privilege that we can have an intimate relationship with God–that he calls himself our Father.  At the same time, though, he is “in Heaven.”  This is also emphasized in the fact that God is Creator.  God created us, so he is Father and we can have a relationship with him.  God’s being Creator also means he is over and above us, though.  Nearness and farness, immanence and transcendence, all there in the Creation story, reflected in this first phrase of the Lord’s Prayer.

Hallowed Be Your Name–What does “Hallowed” mean, anyway? It means “holy”, which itself means “to be set apart”.  In what way is God’s Name “set apart”?  When we think of God’s Name, our minds should immediately go back to the story of Moses at the burning bush.  It is in this story that God reveals his Name to be “I am that I am”.  God is the God who is. God lives and moves and exists.  We think of the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, where Baal never answers his prophets, and God does.  We think of course of Jesus’ resurrection.  God’s Name is hallowed because God is the only God who actually is, who actually lives and moves and acts in the world and in our lives.

Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done On Earth As In Heaven–God’s Kingdom was something that Jews of the Old Testament looked forward to.  It wasn’t here yet.  Living after the Messiah, though, we are to follow his example to expect the Kingdom of God to start effecting this world.  Why?  Because Jesus is already king, and his kingdom has already been inaugurated.  If we actually live in God’s kingdom, our world cannot help but be effected by that.

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread–When we think of God giving us our daily bread, again, our minds should be reminded of Israel wandering in the desert.  God sent manna to the people, but they could only take what they needed for that day–their daily bread.  This is a prayer for God to give us what we need to sustain us each day.  Parts of the early church linked this phrase with Communion with the understanding that what we actually need every day to sustain us is Jesus himself.

We will continue our study in the next post…

The Role of the Priest (Telling the “Big Picture” Story of the Bible #5)

In the previous post in this series, we talked about the role of the prophet.  This time, we will explore the Biblical role of the priest. 

When we think of a priest, what kinds of things do we picture him doing?  In our current time we may think of a Catholic priest, as that may be our most common understanding.  But the Jewish priest was somewhat different.  A Jewish priest had a few main roles.  First, the priest gave offerings and sacrifices to God for the people.  The people would bring their offerings and sacrifices to the priest and the priest would offer them to God himself, performing different rituals or ceremonies depending on the offering or sacrifice. 

A second role of the priest was to represent the people before God.  Many times the priest would pray for and even plead for the people who were the responsibility of that given priest.

The third role we want to highlight is the simple fact that the priest taught the people.  It was the priest’s job to teach and explain to the people all thing things God wanted of the people–in the way of sacrifices and rituals, in the way of commandments, and in the way of beliefs.

Just as we saw with the role of the prophet, Jesus comes in the New Testament and fulfills the role of the priest.  Let’s look at the roles of the priest again, this time in reverse order, and see how Jesus becomes the ultimate example of each.  Obviously, Jesus teaches and explains to us the things God wants us to know.  Jesus did not simply come to die on the cross.  He lived for 30 years first, and had a ministry for 1-3 years before he died and was resurrected.  Part of the reason for that was so Jesus could teach us by his words as well as his life and actions.  There are many examples of Jesus fulfilling this teaching role of the priest, but one example would be the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus also fulfilled the role of representing the people before God.  Jesus, being God himself, was the perfect mediator for the people.  Again, we see this role coming through in many of the things Jesus did–indeed, arguably everything Jesus did was to bridge the gap between God and man.  One obvious example is one we used for the last post as well.  Jesus’ pastoral prayer in John 17.  Here, Jesus is clearly speaking to the Father on our behalf.

That second role flows right into the third role, as well.  Jesus is our priest in that he offered the necessary sacrifice.  Not only does Jesus offer the sacrifice, though–he becomes the sacrifice himself.  The priest–the only perfect, clean, spotless priest–becomes the sacrifice.  (Interestingly, he doesn’t get rid of all the rituals–he implements a new one–the Last Supper/Communion).

Jesus the prophet is also Jesus the priest.  The Old Testament meets the New Testament, and rather than the Old dying to make way for the New, the Old is fulfilled in the New.  Jesus doesn’t get rid of the Old Testament–he lives in its roles and makes it come alive.

The Role of the Prophet (Telling the “Big Picture” Story of the Bible #4)

What do you think of when I say “prophet”?  Maybe you think of a fortune-teller–someone who can predict the future or a palm-reader or some lady dressed funny with a crystal ball.  Maybe you think of someone who can do miracles–or at least someone who makes it look that way.

What is a prophet in the Bible?  A prophet has many “jobs”, but the major job of a prophet is to be a spokesperson for God.  A prophet hears from God, then speaks to the people the words that God told him to speak.  There are numerous examples of this in the Bible.  Think of all the times someone writes “The word of the LORD came to…” (In most translations, if the word LORD is in all caps it refers specifically to the name God gave Moses at the burning bush).  All of those individual speakers are prophets–Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.  So one role of a prophet is to be God’s spokesperson.

Sometimes a prophet does tell the future, although that is not true in many cases.  Other times, a prophet tells what God might do if something doesn’t change.  We think of Jonah preaching to the Ninevites what will happen if they don’t repent.  Still other times, prophets are told specifically to act out certain things, almost as a dramatic parable, as a symbol to the people.  One example of this is Jeremiah 13, where God commands Jeremiah to bury a linen belt, so that it will get ruined.  This was to represent the way God would ruin Judah’s pride.

So the role of the prophet is to be God’s spokesperson.  Sometimes this involves speaking of the future, although this isn’t necessarily the case.  This speaking for God can be literally, in that the prophet speaks the words of the Lord, or this can be symbolically, in the “dramas” the prophet is called to act out.

This role of prophet is ultimately taken up in the New Testament by none other than Jesus Christ.  Jesus in the New Testament becomes what the prophets were in the Old Testament.

Jesus of course becomes a spokesperson for God (not to imply he isn’t God himself).  It is made pretty clear that the local Jews understood Jesus to be a prophet.  In the story of the men on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, the men understand Jesus to have been a prophet.

Jesus also speaks the words of the LORD.  There are many examples of this, but if we look to Jesus’ prayer for his people at the end of His life, it is made pretty clear.  In John 17:7 & 8 Jesus prays, “Now they (Jesus’ followers) know that everything you have given me comes from you.  For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.  They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.”  Jesus says that God gave him words, and that he spoke the words to the people.  What were the words?  All of the sermons Jesus preached.  All of the parables Jesus told.  There were times, too, when Jesus spoke of the future–see Matthew 24.  These were the words of God that Jesus gave to the people.

Not only this, though.  Jesus also performed prophetic signs.  There weren’t a lot of them, mind you, but they were there.  Maybe the most obvious example is when the woman is caught in adultery.  The leaders bring the woman to Jesus to ask if they should stone her, and what does Jesus do?  He bends over and draws in the sand.  Strange!  We don’t know what he drew.  But the leaders did.  And as a result they dropped their stones and walked away.

Another example of a prophetic sign could very well be the way he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  In some ways, of course, this would be reminiscent of a king riding in to the praises of his people.  In other ways, though, it was symbolic, because Jesus wasn’t a king (at least not a king like the people expected–more on that in a future post).

It could very well be that Jesus’ clearing the Temple could be a third prophetic sign.

So while the role of the prophet is most often associated with the Old Testament, it exists throughout the whole Biblical story.  And like many other things, the role of the prophet is ultimately filled in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Commandments (Telling the “Big Picture” Story of the Bible #3)

Quick-what are the Ten Commandments?  Can you name them?  If you are having trouble, you might want to glance over at Exodus 20 to refresh your memory.

When I say the word “commandment”, your mind probably automatically goes to the Ten Commandments.  But to understand the Ten Commandments we need to go back a little further into Israel’s history.  The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt.  Pharoah was abusing them and forcing them to construct buildings with very few building materials.  This had been going on for years when Moses comes on the scene.  God, through Moses, uses the plagues to set the Hebrews free. 

It is after the Hebrews are set free that they receive the Ten Commandments.  The Ten Commandments are the right response for the People of God after they have been made free.  It’s not that by doing these things they will be made free.  It’s not that the Hebrews have to do these things first, then they will be made free.  The idea is that the Hebrews have already been made free and the Ten Commandments (and by extension the rest of the Law) are the proper way to respond to the freedom they have already been given.

That is the story of the Ten Commandments in a nutshell.  So along comes this teacher named Jesus in New Testament times.  One of the things Jesus has been accused of is overthrowing the Scriptures, including the Law, the Ten Commandments, and overthrowing previous religious history while attempting to start a cult.  The religious leaders see their power being taken away from them right before their eyes. 

So the religious leaders decide to try to trap Jesus.  They set him up with a question they think he cannot answer safely.  They ask him “Which commandment is the greatest?”  After Jesus picks one commandment, they can ask why he didn’t pick this other one–doesn’t this other one matter too?  Or is he to trying to ignore some of what Moses taught?

So how does Jesus answer?  He gives two more commandments–two commandments which reflect some in the Old Testament.  The Greatest Commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  The Second Greatest Commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.  According to Jesus, all of the Law can be summed up in these two commandments.

These two commandments should serve for us Christians as the Ten Commandments did for Jews.  It is not by these two commandments that we are saved.  It is not because we follow these commandments that we make it into heaven.  It is not because we follow these commandments that we are saved or made free.  It is only by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we are made free.

But, after we have been saved, after we have been made free, our right response is to follow these commandments.  If we want to have a right relationship with our Savior, the only proper response is to follow these commandments.