The Law of Moses and Christians

Pentecost and Sinai

On May 15th,  Christians will celebrate Pentecost Sunday for the 1,986th time since the very first Pentecost in 30 AD.  But what exactly is “Pentecost”?

According to Acts 2:1-2, on the 50th day after Jesus rose from the dead, God’s Spirit appeared as flames of fire (2:3) and enabled Christians to speak in a way that people could hear the great things of God in their own languages (2:4-6).  This is a reversal of the curse at the Tower of Babel (see Gen. 11:7 compared with Acts 2:6).

But why 50 days,  and why are there tongues of fire settling on Christians?

Well,  for Jews, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) celebrates the giving of the law at Mount Sinai.  This is why:  45 days after Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 19:1),  Moses climbs up and down the 8,000 foot Mount Sinai.  That difficult climb perhaps took a day each way.  Then,  on the 47th day,  Moses warns Israel to ready themselves to receive the law three days later which would be the 50th day (19:10-11).  “The 50th day” is what Pentecost means.    Thus,  Pentecost celebrates the day God gave the Mosaic Law to Israel.

Notice that on that day,  God appears in flames of fire on Sinai (Exodus 19:18).  According to 19:6,  God promises Israel that they will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  God calls Israel to proclaim God’s greatness to all the nations of the world (Genesis 12:1-3;  22:8;  Deuteronomy 4:6;  Isaiah 49:6).

So how is that helpful to understand Pentecost Sunday today?

Well,  just as Moses ascended Mount Sinai and gave the Mosaic/Old Covenant,  Jesus,  as the new/better-than-Moses,  ascends Heaven and gives the Spirit who writes God’s law on our hearts in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:33;  Heb. 10:16;  2 Corinthians 3:6).  Thus, Jesus has begun the transformation of his people into a kingdom of priests and into a holy, evangelistic nation (see 1 Peter 2:5-9;  Revelation 1:6). 

Just as fire rested on Mount Sinai, now flames of fire rest on the first Christians who are enabled to fulfill a higher,  royal law (Romans 13:8-10;  Galatians 5:14-6:2;  James 2:8).

At Sinai,  Israel received a law on tablets of stone–a law no man could fulfill,  a ministry of grace (John 1:16-17) yet at the same time a ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3:7-8).  Now God reveals his will through redeemed people,  and the New Covenant empowers Christians to begin to walk in the ways of God.

God meant Israel to be a light to the world;  Pentecost means that Christians,  like little versions of Mount Sinai,  reveal to the world the gracious rule of the living God.   

Speaking in Tongues and Today?

Pentecost and Today?

On May 15th,  Christians will celebrate Pentecost Sunday for the 1,986th time since the first Pentecost in 30 AD.  But what exactly is Pentecost? The modern Christian debate over Pentecost has centered around speaking in tongues and whether that practice is normative for Christians today.  However,  in that debate two background features often go unnoticed:  Sinai and the Tower of Babel.

According to Acts 2:1-2, on the 50th day after Jesus rose from the dead, God’s Spirit appeared as flames of fire and enabled Christians to speak so that people could hear about God in their own languages. 

So why 50 days?  Why fire?  Why “hearing”?  Why the long list of nations (Acts 2:5-11)?

For Jews, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) celebrates the giving of the law at Mount Sinai.  45 days after Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 19:1),  Moses climbs up and down the 8,000 foot Sinai (perhaps a day each?) and then warns Israel to ready themselves to receive the law three days later (i.e.,  the 50th day). 

Then God appears in fire and gives the law.

So why is that helpful to understand Pentecost Sunday?

Well,  just as Moses ascended Mount Sinai and gave the Mosaic/Old Covenant,  Jesus ascends Heaven and gives the Spirit who writes God’s law on our hearts in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:33;  Heb. 10:16).  Just as fire rested on Mount Sinai, now flames of fire rest on the first Christians.

What about “hearing”?

At the Tower of Babel, pagans try to build a tower to Heaven,  yet God frustrates their efforts and confuses their languages.  As a result, each man could not hear his neighbor,  and God drove the nations apart. 

At Pentecost, God begins to reverse that curse.  God enables the church to proclaim God’s greatness and not their own achievements.   At Babel, man was trying to build a tower from earth to heaven; in Jesus, God had created a ladder from Heaven to earth (see John 1:51;  Genesis 28:12).  Just as each man could not hear his neighbor at Babel, at Pentecost,  each man could hear.  God’s design was to gather the nations together in Christ.

Why “nations”?

Genesis 10 records “the table of nations” listing the 70 nations which the curse at Babel divides.  When God blessed Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, it included the promise that all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  Acts 2 includes some of the same nations.  The early church affirms that Jesus, the true seed of Abraham through in whom all the nations will be blessed.

The debate about Acts 2 will continue, but perhaps we can agree that Pentecost brings Babel,  Sinai and the Table of Nations together through Christ.

Christ and Passover

Christ,  Our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7)

For 430 years,  Israel languished under Egyptian persecution (Exodus 12:40-41).  They had no future.  The Pharaoh wanted nothing more from them than to grind away their very lives.  Supposedly,  they were God’s people with promises from God,  but when God’s messenger showed up,  things just got worse (Exod. 5:17-19).

Then God issued some really strange commands:  take in a lamb on the 10th of Nisan (Exodus 12:3),  keep that lamb until the 14th day and then slaughter it “between the evenings”—3 o’clock according to the Jews (Exodus 12:6).  Use hyssop to paint blood on the sides and top of your doors (Exodus 12:7).  Don’t break any of its bones (Exod. 12:46).  Call it the Passover.  Make sure you never forget that day—the evening of the first full moon after the vernal equinox (Exodus 12:14).  Mark that day forever!  That day will change how you count time (Exodus 12:2).

Years later,  God added a provision.  On the “day after the Sabbath”  following Passover,  offer the first thing that springs up out of the ground as Firstfruits to God (Leviticus 23:11-12). 

All of that must have seemed very strange to a oppressed Jewish man as he used a hyssop branch to put lamb’s blood on his doorposts and lintel waiting for God to set him free. 

Then came Jesus.  Five days before Jesus died,  on the 10th of Nisan,  Israel took Jesus into Jerusalem (John 12:1,  12).  They kept him safe until the end of the day on the 14th,  when he died at 3 o’clock (Matt. 27:46;  Mark 15:33-34;  Luke 23:44).  An onlooker mocked Jesus before he died with a hyssop branch (John 19:29).  None of Jesus’ bones were broken (John 19:31-36).

Jesus kept the ultimate Sabbath in the grave,  and then “on the day after the Sabbath” Jesus rose from the dead as “the Firstfruits” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

In the Old Testament,  Passover began a journey for Israel back to the Eden-like land flowing with milk and honey.  Jesus’ Passover inaugurates a journey for his people which will culminate in their return to true Eden.  On the Mount of Transfiguration,  Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus of “his exodus” which he would fulfill in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31).

Some 3,500 years after God decreed Exodus 12,  we still celebrate the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox;  we call it Easter. 

Do we read the Old Testament wrongly when we fail to look for Christ?  His life,  death,  and resurrection make the details of the story come together.  God knew those details from the very beginning,  and he wove them into the story to point forward to Christ.

Noah, Moses and Jesus

Noah,  Moses and Jesus?

God commands Noah to build an “ark” (Genesis 6:14).  In Hebrew,  this word is tebah,  and it only appears in one other place in the Hebrew Bible,  the story of Jochebed and infant Moses (Exodus 2:3-5).  In that narrative,  Moses’s mother makes a tebah/basket.  She covers it with pitch (Exodus 2:3) just as Noah covered his tebah with pitch (Genesis 6:14).  She places Moses in the waters of death,  but the tebah saves him, just as the tebah saves Noah and his family.

When Moses leaves the tebah,  he frees God’s people from the Pharaoh’s oppressive tyranny.  He intercedes for Israel and saves them from God’s wrath.  He leads God’s people out of slavery back to the Eden-like promised land flowing with milk and honey.

So how might this relate to Jesus?

Well,  Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses;  Herod tries to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:1-19) just as Pharaoh tried to kill infant Moses (Exodus 1:22).  Moses proclaims God’s law on a mountain (Exodus 20).  Jesus expounds the new law in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  Moses frees his people at Passover.  Jesus is God’s Passover lamb  (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Moses gives Israel the law on Pentecost (Exodus 19:1-11);  On Pentecost,  Jesus gives the Spirit on who will write God’s law on our hearts (Acts 2:1-42;  Ezekiel 36:26;  2 Corinthians 3:3).  Moses failed to get Israel into the Eden-like promised land.  Jesus brings all his people (both believing Jew and Gentile) to the true Eden of heavenly Jerusalem. 

Jesus comes to the waters of the Jordan,  and after he goes through those waters,  he enters the wilderness for 40 days.  Israel passes through the waters of the Red Sea and spends 40 years in the wilderness.  Israel faces and fails three major temptations:  a bread temptation,  a testing-God temptation and a worship temptation (Exodus 16:3;  17:2;  and 32:8).  The result of their disobedience means they are excluded from the promised land.  This is just like Adam and Eve’s sin excluding them from Eden.

How will God’s people re-enter Eden?  Who will free them from tyranny?  Who will intercede for them?

Jesus resists Satan during a bread temptation (Matthew 4:3),  a testing-God temptation (Matthew 4:7) and a worship temptation (Matthew 4:10).  Jesus is the new, obedient Israel.  Like Moses,  he becomes the means of grace to save all of God’s people.  After Jesus’ baptism,  a dove settles on Jesus (Matthew 3:16).  In the same way,  a dove signals the end of God’s judgment after the flood (Genesis 8:8-12). 

Jesus is the true tebah;  those in Jesus will safely go through the wrath of God against sin,  but in Jesus we are safe.

Who’s Right on Baptism?

Dividing Waters:  Creation, Baptism and Jesus

How should a Christian be baptized?  Immersion or sprinkling?  Infant or adult?  Christians often differ on particulars,  but perhaps we miss a bigger picture. 

During creation,  God divides chaotic waters and calls them the deep (tehom) or the abyss according to the Greek translation (Genesis 1:6-8).  Demons fear that abyss (Luke 3:31),  and ultimately God will throw Satan into it (Revelation 20:1-3).  Mankind is safe from those primeval waters because God creates “dry land” (yabbashah,  Genesis 1:9).

God destroys the wicked world in Noah’s day by means of waters from the great deep (tehom/abyss).  When God covers the earth with those deadly waters,  it looks as it did during initial creation.  In grace,  God provides salvific space through Noah’s ark.  

Where else does God divide waters?  Exodus 14:16 says that God divides the waters of the Red Sea and makes “dry land” (yabbashah).  During that miracle,  Pharaoh’s army perishes in the waters of the “tehom” (Exod. 15:5).   Dry land is the salvific space over which Israel passes and finds life.  The Egyptians presume on God’s grace and perish in those deadly waters.

Joshua repeats Moses’ miracle passing over dry land (yabbashah) into a promised, Eden-like land (Joshua 4:22).  Elijah and Elisha repeat this same miracle at the Jordan when each one divides the waters (2 Kings 2:8,  14). 

At Jesus’ baptism,  Jesus comes to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan (John 1:28) which is the exact site of the Joshua,  Elijah and Elisha miracles. 

So what does Jesus’ baptism mean?  You might expect that Jesus would part the waters and go into the promised land.  But he doesn’t.  He enters those waters.  If you support sprinkling,  you probably see it this way:  John the Baptist (a Levite) washes Jesus (30 years old,  Luke 3:23) inaugurating Jesus’ ministry just like Moses (a Levite) washed Aaron who then became high priest.  Normally,  priests entered service at 30 years old (Num. 4:2-3;  Exod. 29:4).  If you support immersion,  Jesus enters waters like the Egyptians at the Red Sea.  He is bearing the judgment of God for his people. 

On either view,  Jesus has become the salvific space. 

It would not surprise me if Jesus were sprinkled and immersed.  God presents Jesus as the new ark (notice the dove in both stories).  He is the new Moses,  the new Elisha,  and the new Joshua who leads God’s people back to restored Eden.

In Revelation 15:2,  God’s people apparently pass through fiery waters of the abyss!  They sing the song of Moses like Israel after the Red Sea.  Someone has held back the waters of death and brought them safely through.  

Perhaps we all can find common “dry ground” in the person of Jesus.

God’s Literary, Historical Materpiece

God’s Literary,  Historical Masterpiece

One man comes naked to a tree in the Garden of “Pleasure” (Eden).  His wife,  “Life” (Eve),  incites him to rebel against God by giving him deadly fruit.  Through momentary disobedience,  “Dirt-man” (Adam) spiritually murders himself and all his natural offspring because his wife wants to be God.  Adam chooses his wife over God and thus fails to guard and keep the garden-temple of Eden.  In that suicidal,  genocidal treason,  Adam condemns his seed to spiritual stillbirth and exile.

Adam proclaims himself as king,  but his rebellion simply cedes power to Satan.  God’s adversary has frustrated God’s plan.  Divine justice could strip Adam of his fig leaf,   hang him on his tree of rebellion,  and crown him in the thorns which his rebellion would bring.   But God chooses another way.

God becomes man,  the virgin-born LORD of glory.  God-man submits to his own law,  never sinning in thought,  word or deed.  In a garden,  Jesus must choose:  Will he follow his own human will or his Father’s?  Jesus chooses God over all.  In a massive act of obedience,  culminating a lifetime of perfect obedience,  he comes to a dead tree.  Jesus is stripped naked;  soldiers rip up his outer clothes and gamble for his inner clothes.  They crown him with thorns,  and he dies in ultimate pain.  But,  by being murdered,  he un-murders all those who would ever come to him by faith.

Jesus has a bride,  the Church (Ephesians 5:31-32).  He is the new Adam which makes her new Eve.  Jesus suffers her death,  and his nakedness and death clothes her with righteousness.

Adam comes to a garden and makes it a tomb.  Jesus comes to a tomb and reopens Paradise (Matthew 27:51;  Exodus 26:31).  Eve gives Adam deadly fruit.  Last Adam gives the Church a table of rich remembrance where spiritually and by faith she may feast on Christ and find abundant life (Psalm 34:8).  Eve incites Adam’s rebellion against God;  Jesus enables his Eve to obey God. 

Satan promises Eve that she will become like God.  God’s grace allows Christians to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).  God grants new Eve the right to become like him in every way possible short of her becoming God.  Christ’s transforming perfection in her enables her return to restored Eden.

In other words,  God superintends the unforced rebellion of Satan to create a woman who will become untemptable by sin!  Satan dances to God’s tune like a puppet suspended by nothing but the steel cables of Satan’s own unforced free will.

Today,  God’s wisdom invites everyone to choose the kind of brushstroke they will be.  May we all choose the rule of God.

What’s the Big Deal about the “New” Covenant?

Greatest Gift Ever

The new covenant is the greatest gift ever,  and it’s offered to all freely,  having been earned by the perfect life and death of Jesus.  Jesus said,  “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20) thereby asserting that his death purchased those covenant blessings for all who would ever come to him by faith. 

Now,  that covenant was promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and then expanded later in Ezekiel 36:22-36.  Though promised originally to the Jewish people,  Paul interprets those new-covenant promises as equally applying to all those who are in Christ (2 Corinthians 3:1-6).

Let’s look carefully at that covenant.  Notice that it has no conditions,  no “if” clauses.  Once purchased,  that covenant has no remaining requirements for the beneficiaries.  It has only promises of what God will do:  “I will . . .,  I will . . .,  I will . . .” (15 times)!  Ezekiel emphasizes that it is not because of any goodness in the recipients (Ezekiel 36:22,  32);  God enacts it by grace alone to the undeserving. 

By contrast,  the Mosaic covenant was conditional.  If you perfectly obeyed the law,  God would bless you in every way imaginable (Deuteronomy 28:1-14),  but if you disobeyed,  the absolute opposite ensued (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

In Ezekiel 36,  God promises his people new hearts (36:26).  He causes them to obey his laws (36:27).  He cleanses them from “all (not some) of their uncleannesses and from all their idols” (36:25).  The new covenant restores the fellowship of Eden where God walked with his people in perfect peace and pleasure (“pleasure” is what the Hebrew word “Eden” means, 36:35).

The cost of that covenant is massive.  The Father had to allow his Son to suffer and die.  The bitterness of God was so much greater than Abraham’s bitterness over almost sacrificing Isaac.  Recall that Abraham was at Moriah (“Moriah” means “Bitterness of the LORD”),  and Moriah according to 2 Chronicles 3:1 was where the temple would later be built.  It was also very near the place where Jesus would die on the cross.  Like Isaac,  Jesus had carried the wood on which he was to die up that same hill (Genesis 22:6; John 19:17).

For Jesus,  the covenant meant being born into a poor family,  suffering all the miseries of this life.  He submitted himself fully to his own law.  And then in a massive act of obedience to the Father,  as the perfect new Adam,  in a garden,  he yielded his will to the Father. 

Jesus would rather die than live without you in the restored Garden of Eden.  He has earned the blessings of the new covenant.

So what will you do with his gift?

Do I have to Forgive Everyone?

Owing God 10,000 Talents and Forgiving A Sinning Brother

In Matthew 18:23,  Jesus tells Peter the parable of the unforgiving servant.  This debtor owed his king 10,000 talents.  The king forgives the slave’s debt,  but the debtor then finds a man who owes him 100 day’s wages.  He chokes the man and then throws him in prison until he fully pays the debt.  When the king finds out,  he reinstates the 10,000-talent debt and requires full payment of it from the man.  Jesus then says to Peter and all the disciples,  “Thus also will my heavenly father do to you all unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart” (Matthew 18:35).

So how much money is 10,000 talents? 

Well,  a denarius is a day’s wage for a common working man.  In today’s world,  at $7.25 minimum wage,  it would be $58.  In antiquity,  a denarius could buy 15 pounds of wheat.  A talent is 6,000 denarii,  or 20 years of daily wages for a 6 day workweek.  Today,  1 talent would be $348,000.

Jesus likens Peter and the disciples to unforgiving servants.  They each owe God 10,000 talents.  God has forgiven that debt to each one.  However,  Jesus points out that if one forgiven such a debt then goes out and demands the debts owed them,  it would greatly offend God. 

Now 100 denarii is a significant sum.  It’s four months wages.  In modern money,  it is $5,800.  This is a real debt.  And the debtor rightfully should repay it.  Thus, Jesus acknowledges that people really will sin against Peter;  he would have the right to claim repayment.  But the magnitude of God’s forgiveness means that Peter must forgive even significant debt owed him by others.   

Now realize that 10,000 talents is 200,000 years of labor!  It is 60,000,000 working days.  In modern money,  it is 3.48 billion dollars. 

If you tried to service 4% interest on that amount,  it would basically take $5 a second,  every second until you paid off 200,000 years of work!  At 4%,  if you did not pay $5 a second interest,  then the debt would begin to double at the rate of once every 18 years.

Here’s a visual of 10,000 talents.  Picture a Chevrolet 1 ton pickup truck.  Now fill it with 1 ton of pure gold.  If you parked trucks bumper to bumper,  the line would stretch 1.3 miles before you reached 10,000 talents.  It is 375 tons of gold.

Could it be that our love for God is small because we don’t understand just how much God has forgiven?  Could it be that we judge others because we think our sin small and theirs great?

What do you think?

What about Genocide and the Bible?

Jesus, the Canaanite Curse, and Grace?

Deuteronomy 20:16-18 commands the Israelites to completely exterminate Canaanites living in the Promised Land.  Israel is to leave nothing alive so that the Canaanites will not teach Israel to sin. All of this is very confusing to an average reader of Deuteronomy. It sounds like God is commanding genocide. So how can this text tell us anything about God’s grace?

In Joshua 10:26,  Joshua implements this extermination, and after the defeat of the Canaanite kings, Joshua hangs them on trees until evening and then buries them in a cave sealed by stones. Joshua does this because of Deuteronomy 21:22.  This passage says that if anyone commits a sin worthy of death, that person should hang dead on a tree cursed by God until evening when his body is taken down and buried.

Now, the word Jesus and the word Joshua are exactly the same in Greek.  Jesus (Iesous in Greek) occurs 278 times in the Old Testament, and every single time it translates the word Joshua.  Thus, in Jesus’ day when people spoke the name Jesus,  they were saying the word “Iesous”, Joshua.  In fact,  3 times in modern translations “Iesous” even is translated Joshua (see Luke 3:29;  Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8).

So when God instructs Joseph, “You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21),  God means for everyone to understand that Jesus is the new and merciful Joshua.  The enemies are not Canaanites but each person’s own fallen sin nature.

Notice the contrast between Jesus and Joshua. The first Joshua rigorously carries out the command,  but Jesus as the new Joshua so identifies with his people that he takes the guilt of their sin to himself. In Galatians 3:13,  Paul even says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” Jesus hangs cursed on the cross for his people. He is placed into a cave, and a huge stone covers its mouth.  Unlike the Canaanite kings, Jesus is not in that tomb today.

In the crucifixion, Jesus receives all of God’s wrath against sin. He takes to himself the “old man” (Ephesians 4:22; Galatians 2:19). He does this so that the curse of Canaan would fall on himself instead of his people. He is killing the Canaanite of the sin nature. In this way, Jesus purchases the new covenant so that the guilty would be transformed into the holy, merciful and righteous people of God. God means the brutality of the Canaanite purge to foreshadow what Jesus would endure for his people. In Matthew 15:22-28,  Jesus offers grace even to a Canaanite woman. That grace saves all his people including each of us.

When Trying Harder isn’t Enough

The Lesson of the Oars—God Commanding the Impossible

Having seen the disciples racked in pain as they tried to row . . . during the early morning hours,  Jesus came to them walking on the water,  and he intended to pass them by! (Mark 6:48).

Has God ever commanded the impossible?  Would God ever frustrate his people’s attempt to obey one of his commands? 

Col. 2:8-9 says,  “Don’t ever let someone rob you by some slick argument,  . . .  everything that makes God who and what he is existed in Christ in bodily form.”

Jesus did not cease being God when he became a human being.  The view consistent with all Bible says this:  While helpless in his mother’s arms,  Jesus was,  at that same moment holding the molecules of the universe together.  He was then and is now fully God and fully man forevermore.  This has been the agreed doctrine of God’s people throughout the ages;  Jesus was limited in his human nature,  fully God in his divine nature,  yet one person.  Some have tried to offer a “better” view,  but their views do not agree with the whole Scripture.

Now take that view of Jesus as fully God and fully man to the story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33;  Mark 6:45-52;  John 6:16-21).  The following facts are clear.

Jesus is the one who compelled the disciples to sail across the sea.  He commanded them in the late afternoon,  and for over 12 hours they struggled to obey his command.  In that time,  they had made it about halfway across (Mark 6:47).  Jesus saw their struggle (in Greek,  lit., “them being tortured”),  and yet he waited.  When he did come,  Jesus wanted to pass them by!  Then,  the very moment Jesus stepped in the boat,  the storm stopped,  and they immediately crossed the remaining distance to land (John 6:21). 

Jesus knew that the disciples were confident that they could sail across the Sea of Galilee.  As fishermen,  they had probably sailed that lake since they were 6 years old.  I’ll bet they could have done it blindfolded.

So where did the storm come from?  Nature?  Satan?  Well,  ultimately wherever it came from,  Jesus as God was the one controlling it.  Jesus commanded them to go across,  and ultimately Jesus was the one preventing their success!

Jesus did this because he knew their future.  They would often face things beyond their power.  He frustrated their effort for the very purpose to drive them out of themselves to the place where they would look to him first.  With Jesus in the boat,  they immediately got where they were going.

So,  what is your Sea of Galilee today?