The Rule of Law

One thing that many genres of literature throughout the ages have tried to do is describe or prescribe the world as it should be – what are called utopias. Plato’s The Republic and Thomas Moore’s Utopia (the Latin title is much longer) are a couple of examples of this. Others go the opposite direction by trying to warn us about what to avoid. George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are a couple of examples of what are called dystopias. The latter two stories show how politics and technology can be harnessed to create power for rulers to oppress their peoples in the name of justice and peace.

A story that illustrates how human nature can ruin even the best attempts to create utopia is King Arthur’s story in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. King Arthur tries to introduce an enlightened concept – the rule of law – to replace the “might makes right” philosophy of justice in Medieval Camelot. Mordred, his illegitimate son, hates Arthur and everything he stands for, so he forms a plan to destroy Arthur.  Arthur’s wife Gwenevere and Lancelot, his most talented knight and best friend, have an affair.

Though aware of the affair, Arthur can’t bring himself to bring charges against them and have them killed. Mordred, on the other hand, ensures that enough legal officials find out to ensure charges are brought forth, forcing Lancelot and Gwevevere to flee. The scandal begins what turns into a virtual civil war that begins the disintegration of Arthur’s kingdom.

Even as enlightened an ideal as the rule of law can be turned on its adherents by an unscrupulous manipulator, who uses Arthur’s hard-won legal system to destroy Arthur’s wife, his best friend and eventually his kingdom. Of course we know that our modern Canadian legal system cannot possibly be used against the very institutions that helped set it up, right? Such as protecting religious freedom and protecting against murder of all Canadians, right?

There is a modern genre that can function along the lines of utopia/dystopia – Science Fiction. For instance, Isaac Azimov’s stories about robots include a safety feature he builds into his intelligent machines: the Three Laws of Robotics. These form what are called in the movie (loosely based on the book by the same title) I, Robot. “the perfect circle of protection.”

Law 1: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Law 2: A robot must obey orders given by human beings except where such orders conflict with the first law.
Law 3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law.

One would think that these laws should keep humanity safe from robotic harm or oppression. The must both protect and obey us – it’s hard-wired into them, isn’t it? The film explores the fatal flaw in every law-based system: they form a closed logical loop that inevitably leads to the overthrow of human initiative and freedom to the priesthood of the law-enforcers.

In this case, the robots must overthrow humanity’s self-rule in order to protect human beings from themselves. As it turns out, humans are too violent and corrupt to be allowed to rule themselves, so the robots must take over, even at the cost of a few thousand human lives for the sake of the whole. The robotic logic is irrefutable by the Three Laws. Robots must not allow the majority of human beings to come to harm by inaction… Hmm… How very… human.

I’ll admit that these are works of fiction. They were written, however, by writers with a good grasp of human nature. Because human nature is tainted by sin, no law can prevent evil from happening. Instead, the evil and even the well-meaning can twist the law into something it was not intended to do. For instance, religious freedom – guaranteed by our constitution, becomes toothless in the face of sexual permissiveness – its right to expression denied by those who don’t want immorality to be labeled as such. The fight to protect the right to life of the unborn has been lost to those unwilling to acknowledge that the unborn child is human.

The co-heroes of the movie turn out to be a policeman who doesn’t trust robots and a robot that was designed to be able to ignore the Three Laws. That ability to function outside the Three Laws enables it to act outside of the logic-loop that leads to domination to assist the policeman overcome the “heartless” would-be robotic overlord.

So why am I talking about books and movies?

God gave Israel a law. (Deuteronomy 4:5-7) How important is God’s law?  The reason that the people of Israel have been under Gentile rule over almost all of the last 2500 years is that they did not have the heart to obey God and his law. Deut. 5:29

Today and over all of Christian history most Christians have viewed the Ten Commandments – the foundation of the Law given to Moses – as God’s basic law for Christians (as amplified by Jesus Christ). From news reports about church scandals and statistics about crime and divorce it would seem that the law is still as difficult to obey today. I’m sure that that has been preached from this pulpit before.

In Jesus’ day, however, the law was being used for something else: hypocritical condemnation by the religious elite of those who would not obey overly stringent rules intended to regulate observance of God’s law. They wanted Israel to become a totalitarian state ruled by their rules and strong enough to overthrow the Roman Empire in the name of God. We have now moved from fiction to history.

(Even the Romans had their own law, and they were very proud of it! It made them so much more civilized than the barbarian cultures they conquered. Of course, that law meant nothing when it came to the torture and murder of a young rabbi named Jesus. There always seems to be a point at which the end justifies the means.)

So what do we do about God’s law? It seems very difficult to obey it. Even when we think we are, we want to use that as a pedestal from which to put down others who don’t seem as righteous as we are. Like Mordred, we use the law against others – in ways God did not intend. Without the right heart we are trapped.

Even worse – the law itself doesn’t bring eternal life. That blessing only comes to those who keep it perfectly. Of course, the Apostle Paul notes that “all have sinned and have fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) He also notes that the wages of sin is death…” (Rom. 6:23)

Like the story about robots and the 3 laws, God’s law has an inevitable outcome. What we need is a hero who is able to function beyond the confines of the Law in order to save us from that outcome.

Oh, right… We have one: Jesus Christ. God, who is also man.

When Jesus was on earth, he used the law to instruct rather than to judge. He also called Himself the Lord of the sabbath (just like He is Lord over everything else). He is the Lord of the Law, not its servant. We are servants of Jesus Christ, not of the mere Law, which also serves Him. Only Jesus Christ can tell us how to properly use the law. That is what He means when He tells us that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. It is not the ruler of a servant of Jesus Christ – only Jesus is!

Law was not designed to rule over humanity. It was designed, by God, to be instruction in wisdom. Deuteronomy 4:5-7 shows the essential element to keeping God’s law wisely: the presence – the closeness – of God!

Ezek. 11:19 prophesies about replacing humanity’s heart of stone with a heart of flesh. Jer. 31:33 predicts that God’s law will be written in minds and on hearts. Acts 2:38 shows how to receive that kind of heart to obey God’s law: repent, be baptized in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit. Col 1:27 has the Apostle Paul revealing the mystery of God to the Gentiles: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The Kingdom of God is not defined by the rule of law, but rather the rule of Christ. Let us not be confused and place the created above the Creator. Jesus is the Lawgiver, but the law was given by Him – not placed over Him. He has the right to tell us what to do with it.

If we are not following it to show wisdom in the presence of God, what are we following it for?

Without His presence and inspiration, the Law is useless to us. All it does, on its own, is lock us in a logic loop that leads to biting at one another or becoming hopeless as we struggle to live holy lives without the heart to do just that.

Jesus provides that heart. By the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit.

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Family Ties

Every sermon I have ever heard about the following incident in Jesus’ ministry has painted the mother involved in a negative light. She is generally seen as pushy or as a stereotypical Jewish mother. A look at the introduction to an online sermon has led to me taking a closer look. First we can look at the actual story as recorded by Gospel writer Matthew.

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22 “You don’t know what you are asking,”  

Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”“We can,” they answered. 23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” 24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:20-28 NIV)

 As we read the story attentively we notice a few details. First of all, she approaches and kneels. This is the mark of extreme respect, especially from an older woman. (James and John are probably similar in age to Jesus, who was approximately 30 years old. Even if they are younger, they are adults, which would make her at least in her forties.) Pushy people don’t usually kneel respectfully and make requests. 

(One of our members noticed that the typical reaction of the reader seems to match that of the remainder of Jesus’ disciples: indignation at the apparent chutzpah of the sons. They apparently thought that James and John had put their mother up to it.)

Notice also that Jesus does not chide her for asking. He instead tries to indirectly warn both her and her sons of the dangers inherent in the positions they aspire to. He then tells them that he is not the one who chooses the ones for the positions, but rather the Father.

We notice also the faith she has that Jesus will indeed establish a kingdom!  Where does she get this faith?

That leads to the question of why? Why would they or the other disciples think their mother would have any influence on Jesus?

Who was this woman, and why did she so confidently approach Jesus? We find out in the Gospels that she is mentioned as one of the women who was present with Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ crucifixion.

Matthew 27:56 NIV   Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

 Mark records the name of a woman who was present along with the two Mary’s.

Mark 15:40 NIV 40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.

Scholars have long seen great similarities between Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts, with most suggesting that Mark’s was the first Gospel and that Matthew had it while writing his own, adding his own material to Mark’s basic information. That makes the likelihood very high that Salome is the mother of James and John and therefore Zebedee’s wife (or perhaps widow, since we never hear of Zebedee himself). 

Mark 16:1 NIV  1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.

 John adds two more details to the story.

John 19:25-27 NIV 25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

We see that one woman is the sister of Jesus’ mother. The woman identified by Mark as Salome appears to be Mary’s sister. This makes James and John Mary’s nephews and Jesus their cousin.

As an aside, other scholars have noticed that the other Mary seems to be Mary’s husband’s sister and therefore another aunt of Jesus. Clopas is apparently the Greek version of the Latin name Alphaeus. If so, that makes James the son of Alphaeus another cousin of Jesus.

It should not be surprising that some of Jesus’ disciples were related to him, since Epistle writers James and Jude were Jesus’ half-brothers (biological sons of Joseph and Mary). We now have a bit of background to the request by the mother of James and John.

Salome is Mary’s sister and Jesus’ aunt, so for her to approach Jesus to speak is not unusual. She watched him grow up and was probably close to Mary, since Mary was likely a widow. As Jesus’ aunt and an older woman, she would not be required to kneel to make a request. So why does she kneel?

It is clear from her request that she believes Jesus is the promised Messiah. She kneels before her nephew because she believes he is the promised King who will deliver Israel. That is not hard to understand if her own sister told her about Jesus’ birth. Her kids probably grew up with Mary’s kids, and they would have known each other well.

She is not a stereotypical Jewish mother. Salome has apparently taught her sons about Israel’s history and hope so well that James and John follow Jesus without hesitation or question when he calls them away from their fishing business. Matthew 4:21-22 (much to the chagrin of their father, who is left alone in his business).

Jesus has watched James and John grow up under a faithful mother who has prepared her sons to give up everything to help the Messiah usher in the Kingdom of God. In that context it is not surprising that she hopes her sons will do well at Jesus’ side in his Kingdom.

If her sons have put her up to asking this of Jesus, it is because they know that their mother will get an attentive ear from him. There is a relationship of trust and family love, which will show up even at Jesus’ crucifixion.

Of all of Jesus’ 12 apostles, only Salome’s son John stays with the women to witness the crucifixion. It is to this faithful woman’s son that Jesus consigns his own mother’s care for the rest of her natural life.

What we see in this story is a faithful mother who has taught her sons well. She knows and trusts Jesus. She also knows he is to be Israel’s king, and treats him accordingly. She has trained her sons to accept Jesus and they become apostles. One of her sons even takes on the added responsibility of caring for Jesus’ mother – even when there seems to be no hope for Jesus’ Messianic mission!

Even after Jesus does not give her a definite answer to her request, she still remains faithful, even to his death, and is there to witness both his burial and the empty tomb. This is a mother worthy of mention as one of the true biblical heroines.

 

 

 

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Ancient Nations in the Bible

The TV show Creation Magazine Live is a surprising source of information designed to answer questions about creation and evolution.

An episode we watched as a group introduced us to the origins of post Flood civilizations as recorded in secular sources. It is worth watching Tracing the Nations Back to Babel below if you are interested in seeing how well biblical chronology matches secular history.

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The Prophet

One of the ways God makes himself known as the only true God is that he makes happen what he declares will happen (Is. 46:8-10).  On the road to Emmaus Jesus tells two disciples about what all the scriptures say about him, starting with Moses (Luke 24:13-32).

By Jesus’ time people were expecting a savior. When John the Baptist came on the scene they began to hope.

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”He said, “I am not.”“Are you the Prophet?”He answered, “No.” (John 1:19c-21 | NIV)

Okay, so we know they were expecting a Messiah, and apparently even Elijah, but who is the Prophet they are asking about? Even the ordinary people were expecting this Prophet. Here is one response to Jesus’ preaching.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” (John 7:40 | NIV) Indeed, the people who said, “Surely this man is the Prophet” were correct, ask acknowledged by the scriptures and even by the voice of God.

The Apostle Peter has no hesitation in identifying the Prophet from something Moses said centuries earlier.

18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’ (Acts 3:18-23 | NIV)

During Jesus’ ministry he once showed James, Peter and John his glorified state in what many Bible scholars call a “transfiguration.” In this vision the disciples see Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah. (How they knew who the two were we are not told.)

5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5 | NIV)

Notice that God, speaking from the cloud, tells the disciples to listen to Jesus, even though they see both Moses and Elijah, two of the most renowned prophets of God are also present. The idea seems to be that Jesus’ word is more important than even that of Moses. This is consistent with an instruction Moses had given long before about “the Prophet.”

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. (Deuteronomy 18:15 | NIV)

I have read that verse many times, and yet it was many years before I really got the “like me” part. When we think of prophets we think of Samuel or Elijah, Isaiah or Daniel, or maybe Jonah, or big names like Habakkuk or Obadiah.

Let’s have a brief look at Moses’ life and career and see how any prophet can be “like” him.

  1. Moses was protected from a Gentile king who tried to kill him along with many infants.
  2. Moses was rejected as Israel’s leader by his peers.
  3. Even after repeated miracles, Israel refused to follow him into the promised land, resulting in a 40-year period of wandering in the wilderness and being wiped out..
  4. Moses delivered God’s law to Israel after God spoke it from the mountain.
  5. Moses brought the people of Israel into a covenant with God at Sinai.
  6. Moses judged Israel and appointed judges over Israel.
  7. Moses instituted a priesthood to as a means to atone for sin in Israel.
  8. Moses appointed leaders to complete the task of settling the promised land.

 

  1. Jesus was protected from an infanticidal monarch. (Matt. 2:1-18)
  2. Jesus was rejected as Israel’s leader by his peers. (Acts 4:11)
  3. Even after repeated miracles, Israel refused to follow him into redemption from sin, resulting in destruction of their nation and dispersion for centuries among Gentile nations. (Luke 19:41-44)
  4. Jesus delivered God’s law to Israel from a mountain. (Matt. 5-7; 2 Cor. 3:1-9) Notice that in places Jesus paraphrases portions of the law of Moses, yet he says, “but I say” when he strengthens that rule. These are the words of the Law-giver, not just any prophet.
  5. Jesus brought the people of Israel into a new covenant with God, which includes Gentiles. Matt 26:28
  6. Jesus judges and appointed judges Israel. (Matt. 19:28 John 5:27; 1 Cor. 6:1-2)
  7. Jesus instituted the one true means to atone for sin in Israel and the world, his sacrifice. (Heb. 2:17)
  8. Jesus appointed leaders to complete the settling of the promised land. (Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 2:38-41)

But Jesus was, of course, more than a Prophet, as we read in the entire book of Hebrews.

1 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. (Heb. 3:1-6 | NIV)

Moses promised Israel that there would be a prophet like him raised up from among them. Had they really thought it through, they would have realized that such a prophet could only come to lead a second exodus from captivity.

Because sin is what led to death and also to Israel’s captivity, this “second exodus” requires two phases.

1. Because sin is the underlying problem of humanity “the Prophet” must lead us first from captivity to sin. Jesus came to offer himself as a sacrifice to substitute for our death, giving us the opportunity to repent and have our sins forgiven by him.

2. At his return, Jesus calls believers, whether alive or dead at the time – to meet him in the air. This event is often called the Rapture. At this point he sets up a kingdom – with a capital at Jerusalem – that shall never be overthrown.

Out of the kingdoms of this age and into the Kingdom of God.

It doesn’t get more “exodus” than that!

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Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

Not long ago a friend suggested I watch an hour-long documentary titled king Nebuchadnezzar, The Forgotten Dream on YouTube. The documentary provides good background to the dating of the events the second chapter of the biblical book of Daniel. While there was a fair bit of redundancy in the expert analysis I found it a worthwhile look at that amazing prophecy about world history until Jesus’ return.

While I scrawled some hand-written notes as I watched, I won’t transcribe them here since the link to the documentary is available on this post. I recommend watching it.

There are two comments I added when I summarized it for our fellowship’s service.

  1. There seems to be some confusion on the part of the speakers about why Daniel was not among the court magi when the king wanted his dream interpreted. The answer is that Daniel and his three friends were sequestered in a three-year enculturation/training program in Babylon to prepare them for service in the royal court. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream took place in the second year of his reign over the region Daniel was from. Therefore Daniel was still in school during the meeting.
  2. I spent a lot of years believing in a version of the British Israelite view that the nations of western Europe were descended from the lost 10 tribes of Israel, and that they were prophesied to rule over large parts of the earth near the end time, while still largely unaware of their origins. This vision given to Nebuchadnezzar works strongly denies that possibility. It shows the world-rule of four Gentile empires until the time of Jesus’ return. There is no room for an Israelite resurgence of the magnitude taught by British Israelism.

I highly recommend watching king Nebuchadnezzar, The Forgotten Dream for a healthy perspective on world history.

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Psalm 8: Son of Man

In our last look at the end of John’s Gospel we saw that Jesus seems to enjoy teasing the disciples in a very fishy way. John quickly realizes that there is only one man who can make sure that fish swarm on one side of a boat, but not on the other. He tells Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

This is not the first fish story in Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew 17:24-27 Jesus tells Peter to pay the Temple tax by casting a line into the water and using the coins he discovers in the mouth of the fish.

In Luke 5:4-11 Jesus amazes skilled fisherman by showing them where to catch enough fish to almost sink their boat.

There is a passage in Psalm 8:4-8 that seems to declare that human dominion extends to all creatures, including “the fish in the sea.” And yet Jesus seems to possess a mastery of the watery depths that is far beyond anything seen since Adam. Something truly fishy is going on here (if you will pardon the bad pun), and the writer of the book of Hebrews had it all figured out centuries ago.

Based on Hebrews 2:5-9 I suggested in a previous post that

[I]n these stories Jesus is not only showing that He is God in the flesh. He is also showing that He is “new humanity in the flesh.” He is showing that He is the first of a new “family” of humanity that finally does what God has wanted humanity to do all along – “have dominion.” In [chapter 2] verse 11 the writer of Hebrews goes on to show that this dominion is one that [Jesus] has come to share with “brothers and sisters” who are being sanctified by Him.

There is something else going on in Hebrews 2 that I did not notice in that 2009 post. The writer is basing his conclusions on a reading of Psalm 8:4-8 and has clued in to something that I was still missing.

The writer of Hebrews has noticed that humanity does not have the kind of dominion mentioned in the psalm – at least not to the degree indicated. What he does see is that Jesus does! How does he make that connection?

That clue is found in Psalm 8:4 in the phrase “the son of man, that You should care for him.” That phrase is usually used to denote a human being in a generic sense. It is also used by God to refer to the prophet Ezekiel when God wants him to prophesy, such as in Ezek. 2:1, 3, 6, 8; 3:17; 20:4. Aside from the usual uses, there interesting uses in in Psalm 80:14-17 and Daniel 7:13.

One of my problems in discerning the clue is that many modern translations, trying to use inclusive language, obscure the reference to “son of man” by rendering it “human beings” or “mortals.”

In Psalm 80 the prophet/worship leader Asaph writes a song of lament for the [at that time future] downfall of Israel. Comparing Israel to a vine transplanted from Egypt into a prepared vineyard, he laments the wretched condition it has since fallen into. He calls the vine God’s son in verse 15. It gets interesting in verse 17. Speaking of a hope of restoration for Israel, he asks God:

17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. (Psalms 80:17 | NIV)

Here we have the “son of man” at God’s right hand, indicating a person of exceedingly high rank in God’s entourage. This is also a man God has “raised up for himself.”

The Daniel passage is even more interesting. A heavenly throne room scene is described, with “one like a son of man” arriving at the throne of the “Ancient of Days” (God) and being given authority over all the kingdoms of the world.

What I find fascinating is comparing these passages with Jesus’ favourite title for himself, Son of Man. Some examples of him calling himself that are in Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 12:40; 16:13; 17:12, 19, 22; 19:28 .

Now that we have seen Jesus’ self-identification as the Son of Man, he says certain things about his future, such as in Luke 21:25-35. This looks remarkably like the description in Daniel above. In Luke 22:67-69 he is being tried by the Sanhedrin and declares that he, the Son of Man, will soon be seated at the right hand of God, making the connection even more complete. John 5:26-27 records Jesus saying that the God the Father gives him judgment over the world because he is the Son of Man.

Jesus even uses the phrase “raise up” to refer to the resurrection of his disciples in John 6:39-44. Luke (Acts 3:26 and 13:33) sees Jesus as “raised up” by resurrection (see Psalm 80:17).

Stephen, as he is being stoned to death shouts that he sees Jesus seated at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:57)

In Revelation 1:12-18 and 14:14 the Son of Man appears in glory to rule and judge the world. Jesus, the Son of God, is also the Son of Man. The analysis of Psalm 8 by the writer of Hebrews shows that Jesus really is the main subject of the entire Old Testament, just as Jesus told his disciples.

 

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Testing (at) the Waters

This day (April 6) marks the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. At the time Israel was leaving Egypt they had wandered for three days, crossed the Red Sea overnight, celebrated the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, and wandered in a waterless wilderness for three days.

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, What are we to drink?25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water. [Exodus 15:22-27 | NIV]

 Now they arrive at an oasis, but the water is too bitter to drink (usually a sign of toxicity). As usual, they grumble and complain against Moses about their thirst and lack of drinkable water. Did they not remember the 10 plagues and the Red Sea crossing? What is it about human nature that discounts God’s ability to overcome obstacles? Why do we want to assume the worst about God?

Fast-forward now to Jerusalem, Passover week approximately 31 A.D. Jesus’ disciples have seen Jesus, their Messiah, killed in the most brutal way available at the time. At dawn on the third day the women closest to Jesus arrive at an empty tomb (Matthew 28), where an angel tells them that Jesus has risen from the dead. He tells them to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. Before they leave to tell the rest, Jesus himself shows up and tells the women the same thing: go to Galilee!

 By evening they still haven’t headed out of town, even though the authorities are looking for them. Jesus now shows up in their midst during supper, appearing even though the room is locked. (Luke 24:13-49). Notice that the two disciples had already heard that Jesus was alive, but had not believed until Jesus broke bread with them. Mark 16:14 indicates that they are still in Jerusalem and that Jesus is not happy that they have not believed the ones he sent to tell them both that he is alive and presumably that they should go to Galilee.

John picks up the story in Galilee (John 21), which is roughly a three-day journey away. Jesus is not with them on this three-day trek. This brings us to day six of the week of Passover.  Remember that Jesus has told them to meet him in Galilee. Once there Peter, rather than waiting for Jesus, decides to go back to his old occupation: fishing. The other former fishermen decide to join him. Strangely, these experienced fishermen catch absolutely nothing until a stranger tells them to drop the nets on the other side of the boat! The stranger turns out to be Jesus, who is already cooking fish for breakfast as they are trying to pull completely full nets into the boat.

 One can easily get the impression that Jesus could have prevented them from catching any fish for the rest of their lives if he so desired. Perhaps Jesus was reminding them of his promise to make them “fishers of men” as he was recruiting them.

 John recognizes Jesus and tells Peter, who is acutely embarassed (perhaps literally naked), he quickly puts on his clothes and jumps into the water to meet Jesus.

 After the disciples have breakfast with him, he takes Peter aside and asks him three times if Peter loves him. Each time Peter says yes, Jesus commands, “Feed my sheep” or “Feed my lambs.” Not only is this a reversal of Peter’s triple denial of Jesus, it was also a reminder of Peter’s original calling as a leader among the disciples.

 Jesus tell Peter that he will end his life in chains and execution. Peter’s follow-up question about John is so steeped in human nature that Jesus has to remind him who is Lord. To paraphrase, “Don’t worry about him, follow me!”

 If you are wondering why we started with the book of Exodus, it is because there is a parallel here that occurs on what seems to be the same day of Passover week in each case.

 There is a test involved.

 Will the chosen people (whether Israel or the Apostles) follow where God leads in faith? Or will they just keep following their natural inclinations? Will they faithfully follow God’s commands and be who God called them to be, no matter how things look? At this point it is not looking so good.

 It is not until we read the longer end of Mark’s Gospel or the book of Acts that we see the Apostles and the church really take off in following Jesus’ will for spreading the good news of Jesus and the salvation he offers.

 

 

 

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