Trump/Clinton and the Kingdom of God

Our Election and the “Kingdom” of God

Division seems the order of the day in American politics.  Perhaps rightly so.  We are electing the leader of the free world.  Our future could hang in the balance.  Who will best provide people with the opportunity to go as far as their intellect and industry can take them?  Who will best protect the widow and the orphan?  Who will care for the helpless and innocent among us?

Our candidates offer ideas for great jobs,  effective education,  powerful defense,  and a host of other pressing needs.

But if this election is like others,  even the most ardent supporter today will likely regret their choice in a few years.  The fond hopes of election night will give way to the stark reality of flawed character,  incompetence even lies.

Is Clinton or Trump our answer?  Is our most basic need a better leader for the free world? 

Or is our real need a leader to make the world better—a leader to make the world free?

Jesus said that any man who commits sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34).  Christ offers his life and death to free people from the power and penalty of their sins.  Jesus offers himself as the emancipator from the tyranny of one’s own fallen nature.

Jesus preached the kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17).  He saw God’s rule as the ultimate good news (Luke 4:43).  He saw submission to God as the hope for all mankind.  We are to seek it (Matthew 6:33),  to pray constantly for it (Matthew 6:10),  to treat it like the greatest treasure in the world (Matthew 13:46).  In fact,  Jesus said that those who realize the ultimate worth of kingdom would be willing to part with everything just to get it (Matthew 13:44).

The kingdom of God is the reality of God as king,  God as the boss,  God as the only lawgiver in Zion.  When individuals,  societies and cultures reject God’s rule,  chaos results.  The book of Judges outlines 13 failed rulers and repeats this theme:  “Each man did what was right in his own eyes because there was no king” (Judges 17:6;  18:1;  19:1;  21:25). 

If Jesus were king,  what would the world look like?  What would it look like if we honored God as God completely with all our hearts,  souls and minds?  What would it look like if we loved every single person on the planet the exact same way we love ourselves? 

Jesus knew that for society to flourish,  God must be God.

Many of us will obsess over polls for the next 100 days,  but my hope is not in the next president.  My hope is the king.

From the Curse of Eden to the Crown of Thorns

From the Curse of Eden to the Crown of Thorns

“Thorns and thistles shall the land bring forth for you,” (Genesis 3:18).  With these words,  God exiles Adam from Eden and sentences him to hardscrabble life among thorns.  Those thorns would be a constant reminder of what he lost in Eden. 

But could those thorns point to God’s grace as well?

The burning bush (“seneh” in Hebrew) is a thorn bush (Exodus 3:2).  When Stephen quotes this passage,  he spells out that it is a thorn bush (see New American Standard Bible,  Acts 7:30).  That thorn bush was at Mount “Sinai” which is perhaps related to “seneh”/thorns.  Mount Horeb is Sinai’s other name,  and it means “destruction.”

So why would God get inside thorns and promise restoration to an Eden-like land flowing with milk and honey?  Why does he promise this at Mount Destruction/Thorns? 

The Tabernacle is mostly Acacia wood (“shittim” in Hebrew,  Exodus 25:5-38:6).  Thorny spikes cover Acacia branches.  If you prick your finger on Acacia thorns,  the resulting mycetoma can cause death without massive treatment or amputation.

So why would God command Moses to build the Tabernacle out of thorny,  deadly Acacia wood?  Why would he command that Acacia wood be covered over with pure gold?  Are not thorns a result of the fall?  How can God command a Tabernacle to be built from thorn wood?

Moses leads Israel to Abel-Shittim “the field of thorns” (Numbers 33:49),  but the law-giver cannot bring the people into the Promised Land because he has broken the law.  Disobedience keeps him in exile just like Adam.  Joshua (“Jesus” in Greek) crosses the Jordan and leads God’s people into the Promised Land.

So what does all this mean?

Well,  what should have happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden?  Their rebellion brought all sin and death into the world.  They rejected the rule of God and declared themselves King and Queen in Eden.  God could have stripped away their fig leaves.  He could have hung them naked to die on the tree.  He could have crowned them with their cursed thorns.

But God chose another way. 

God got in the midst of thorns and promised to take his people to an Eden-like land flowing with milk and honey.  To make that promise good,  God would get into thorns a second time.  He would bear the destructive,  thorny curse of Sinai’s law.  That generous mercy and love would eventually win the heart of his new Eve,  the Church.  His love will make her untemptable by evil.  His love will cover over her rebellion and make her the very Temple of God.  His death in thorns clothes her with righteousness.

Thorns and grace?  Absolutely.

How Does God Experience Time?

God and Time

Isaiah 57:15 says that God inhabits eternity. 

The Hebrew word for “inhabit”,  according to ancient scholars,  means “dwelling in a tent.”  The root is the same as that of the tabernacle/tent in Exodus 25:9.  God lives in eternity the same way you or I inhabit a tent.  He experiences all of it at the same time. 

Martin Luther (1483-1546) states,  With God there is nothing that is earlier or later, swifter or slower; but in His eyes all things are present things. For He is simply outside the scope of time.

The Bible says God experiences time differently than humans experience it.  A day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day (2 Peter 3:8;  Psalm 90:4).  Moments to God are incredibly long and incredibly short at the same time.

Augustine (354-430) says of God, “Your present day does not give way to tomorrow, nor indeed, does it take the place of yesterday. Your present day is eternity.”

Psalm 90:2 states,  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

In God’s experience of reality,  future events are described as past.  For example,  the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8,  see NIV and KJV).  Of this verse,  H. D. M. Spence writes,  “What was foreknown to and ordained by God is spoken of as having taken place.”

In Isaiah 46:9-10,  God declares that he alone knows all of history,  and that his purpose in it will stand and accomplish exactly what he wills.

Anselm (1033-1109) says of God,  “You are outside all time.”

When people stand in God’s presence,  time does strange things:  Moses can pass 40 days without food,  water or sleep,  yet he suffers no ill effects.  Aaron’s dead staff blooms and bears almonds in just one night.   

Jesus as God chose to tabernacle with us by the incarnation,  entering into space and time.

This is the God who holds your life in his hands;  this is the God who would rather die than see you excluded from the Garden of Pleasure.  This is the God clothed with colossal power who bids you to pray to him today.

God commands all things to work for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28).  Joseph can say of the evil planned by his brothers,  “You meant it for evil,  God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:30).

Ephesians 2:10 teaches,  “We are his workmanship,  created in Christ Jesus for good works,  which God prepared beforehand,  that we should walk in them.” 

May we seek to do those works by his power.

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?