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

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 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.

The Covenants (Telling the “Big Picture” Story of the Bible #2)

In the discussion of Brian McLaren’s first Question “What is the overarching storyline of the Bible?” the idea of the covenants was raised.  This post is a little bit of a primer on what I understand the covenants to be and why they are important.  Books have been written on the Covenants, so we can’t hope to get too far in one blog post, but be that as it may, here is an intro to the idea of the covenants.

A covenant generally is a promise or a formal agreement.  The Biblical Covenants could be understood in both these lights, depending on which specific Covenant we are talking about.  There are 5 major Covenants in the Bible–the Covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the New Covenant.  Here is a quick overview of each:

Noahic Covenant–Genesis 9:9-17.  In this covenant, God promised to never again destroy the whole earth with a flood.  God also set out the rainbow as a sign of the covenant.  It is also interesting that this is a creation made not just with Noah and his family, but with every living thing on the earth.

Abrahamic Covenant–Genesis 12-17.  In this covenant, God promises to give Abraham a child.  Not only this–he promises to make Abraham’s descendants too numerous to count.  God also promises to give Abraham’s descendants land, even though his descendants would first be strangers in a strange land.  God also promises that Abraham will be blessed in order that all nations would be blessed through him and his descendants.

Mosaic Covenant–Exodus 19-24, etc.  (It is a bit hard to list the Scripture for this Covenant, as technically, the whole law is part of the covenant)  In this Covenant, God establishes the relationship between himself and his people–the people that have grown through the generations since Abraham, partly fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant.  God promises to make Israel his chosen people if they would follow the Mosaic Law.  This Law is summarized in the Ten Commandments, which are then built upon in the rest of the Law.

Davidic Covenant–2nd Samuel 7:12-16.  In this Covenant God promises David that he will have a child who will make his name great and that will establish his kingdom.  The son will build the House of God (Temple) instead of David.  God will establish this kingdom forever.  The son will do sinful things but God’s love will not be removed from him and he shall not be removed from his kingdom.  David’s house, kingdom and throne shall be established forever.

New Covenant–Jeremiah 31:31-37, Luke 22:20.  In Jeremiah, God promises that a time is coming (in the future) when He will make a New Covenant.  This New Covenant has a number of qualities:  It will not be like the Mosaic Covenant–this New Covenant will be observed; God’s Law will be written on the people’s hearts and minds; the people will know God, for there will be a new provision for their forgiveness.

Now, understand that Jewish people at the time of the New Testament would be much better versed than I am in the Covenants.  So imagine being one of Jesus’ disciples, having followed him during his many teaching sessions and having seen his many miracles.  Imagine sitting down at that Last Passover Supper, when Jesus picks up the bread, blesses it and passes it around.  Then Jesus picks up the wine and says “This cup is the new covenant in my blood…”  Imagine all the bells and whistles that might be going off in your head.  As a Jewish person, you have been waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled.  And here this great teacher says that the New Covenant will be fulfilled in his blood!  Not the blood of the Passover Lamb, like the Mosaic Covenant, but in his own blood!  Then you watch Jesus die, and be raised again. 

Probably not right away, but after some time and reflection, those Jewish disciples realized that Jesus was the fulfillment of the New Covenant–indeed, of all the covenants!  Finally, through Jesus, we can live into these covenants and God is proven faithful once again!

The Passover Lamb (Telling the “Big Picture” Story of the Bible #1)

One quality that is unique to the Bible is that it tells one continuous story from beginning to end, even though it is written by many different authors over thousands of years.  In this series of posts we will examine some of the major storylines in the Bible, some of the symbolism used and how authors continue these storylines and use these metaphors to tell one continuous story even though they are living and writing thousands of years apart.

Perhaps it would be good to remind ourselves of the general story of the Bible.  God created all that is.  Adam and Eve live in Paradise, enjoying all of creation and God Himself.  Adam and Eve choose to eat of fruit God had previously forbidden.  There is Noah and the flood.  God makes a covenant with Abraham that his descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky and that all nations will be blessed through his people.  Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel are eventually enslaved by the Egyptians.  Moses leads the Exodus out of Egypt to the Promised Land.  The nation of Israel is divided into two kingdoms, experiencing different wars and occupations.  Various prophets predict judgment and reward for different nations. Prophets also predict salvation through a Messiah.  God becomes man in Jesus to be the predicted Messiah.  Messiah Jesus lives among humanity for around 30 years, is crucified, buried and resurrected.  The church is born.

This is the general outline of the story of the Bible.  Let’s look now at the specific image of the Passover Lamb that continues throughout the various books of the Bible. 

In the book of Exodus, we are told the story of how Moses lead the people out of captivity in Egypt.  Through Moses, God uses plagues on the Egyptians to try to convince Pharoah to let the Israelites go free.  The last of these plagues is the death of the firstborn.  In order to be spared from this plague, the each Israelite family sacrifices a lamb and puts blood on the frame of their doors.  This night came to be known as Passover–a feast was later implemented in order for the people to remember and celebrate how Death passed over their houses that night.  Part of the celebration and ritual implemented was that a lamb was to be sacrificed every year.  The lamb was to be male and without blemish.

This image of the Passover Lamb is picked up by many of the later authors in both the Old and New Testaments.  Isaiah says of the coming Messiah “…he was lead like a lamb to the slaughter…”  The New Testament authors pick up the image of the Passover Lamb and apply it to Jesus.  In 1st Corinthians, Paul says “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”  Peter says “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of (the) Messiah, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

The image of Jesus as the Passover lamb is magnified when one considers the death of Jesus.  We are told in the Gospels that Jesus is crucified on the night of the Passover.  Consider what this means.  Just as Jesus is being crucified and dying, the priest is in the Temple, sacrificing the Passover lamb.  As the priest moves to slit the throat of the lamb, Jesus utters “Into thy hands I commend my spirit” and as the passover lamb dies, the Passover Lamb dies too.  Just as this happens, the sun goes out and the veil in the Temple is torn from top to bottom.

The Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.  Let us now celebrate how we are no longer bound by Sin and Death.  Let us celebrate how Death has passed over us, thanks to our Messiah Jesus.