Sunday, June 26, 2016

Jesus in the Old Testament: The Ark of the Covenant Part IX

     I want you to consider, as we are exploring this idea that not only is Jesus named in the Old Testament (His Hebrew name, Yeshua means “salvation” and is found in many verses throughout the Old Testament) but He is represented by many of the objects in regards to the Tabernacle.  We explored that in an earlier blog.  Now we are going to look at the Ark of the Covenant.  How does it connect to Jesus?  I see in it a remarkable symbol of the coming Messiah. 
     I am a fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  It is a powerful movie, and the ending was chilling.  I still remember how the angels rose up and became avenging angels, giving the arrogant Nazi—the utterly profane looking at the utterly holy-- his just deserts. 
    The Ark is described in Exodus 25:10-22:  

Have them make an ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it. Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. Then put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.  Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

     Notice first that this is a very small chest.  It is only 3 ¾ feet in length, 2 ¼ feet wide and 2 ¼ feet high. 
     Secondly, it is wooden box that is overlaid with gold, but the cover itself—the atonement cover—is pure gold.  The angels likewise are made of hammered gold and no other materials.  What is in the ark?  The tablets of the Law, Aaron’s rod with buds on it and a jar of manna.  But more on that in a bit.
     God expresses clearly what the cover is for:  Above it is the meeting place where God gathers with His people and speaks to them of His decrees.  I see it as the court of heaven in miniature:  as angels surround His golden throne, He comes to speak to His people in majesty and awe.  
     The Holy of Holies is the “throne room” and the cover itself is the “throne” and it is pure gold—no alloys or earthly materials are included that can decay, such as wood.  Gold is as close as you can get to an eternal material.  Just think of King Tut’s tomb and the beauty of that gold had not change in millennia. 
     But the lid has a name:  the “atonement cover.”  To meet with God requires atonement, or a covering of earthly sins by divine reckoning.  The divine reckoning was in the blood that was splattered on the cover by the high priest, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, as found in Leviticus 16:   

Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering… He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.  He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been…No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

We know from Hebrews 9:11-14 that:

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

     So, Christ is the very embodiment of the high priest, offering His own blood that is not only able to satisfy God’s reckoning for atonement, but is able to cleanse our very consciences!
     But the Ark itself represents Christ.  How so?  Look at ancient monuments:  the temples of the Sumerians and the Egyptians were huge.  Cut stones of epic proportions were assembled with one purpose in mind: to show everyone that the local god was huge!  Whether the god was the pharaoh (the pyramids) or divine entities of natural forces (the ziggurats) the monuments were as large as the people could make them.
     Now enter the Hebrews.  They have just left the enormous building projects of the Egyptians and now are wandering through the desert.  Wouldn’t they want to build some sort of gigantic temple to Yahweh, the God of their deliverance, to show the Egyptians their God was seriously important?  
     Instead, to demonstrate the almighty qualities of God, they could point to the Ten Plagues, the Red Sea and the daily helping of manna and quail.  The Tabernacle, while it had lovely qualities (the woven curtains and its gold objects) it was rather paltry when compared to what the people left behind in Egypt.
     It’s as if God didn’t want His people to duplicate the big = important equation of the Egyptians. He visited them, hovering over a rather small chest.  Yes, He later would order a temple to be built as His dwelling place, but it would be destroyed by an invading heathen army.  Then it would be rebuilt by a very questionable king—Herod—and again would be destroyed by another invading heathen army.
     God went, in essence, wherever the people went.  Stone structures stay behind.  God moved as His people moved, experiencing their daily lives with them. 
     Because Jesus is the center of everything God does, I would expect the Ark (as I wrote earlier of the Tabernacle) to represent His Son.  I see that it does.  Jesus did not come, the first time, as an almighty Conqueror or King.  He came “small”—He was born in a small village, a humble Son, raised by a carpenter and his wife.
     He came from the very courts of heaven and met with us in a “small space”—a human body. 
     No huge temples. No gigantic stones.  Just a man from a small town, but underneath that human flesh was the pure gold of divinity.  People could enter the “throne room”—wherever Jesus walked and talked, and they would come to see that Cover splattered with blood.  The High Priest offered Himself on  wooden cross.  
    The Ark was gold covering wood. Jesus was the gold covering the wood of the cross.    
    We meet God at Jesus, just as God met His people at the cover over the Ark.
    He moves with us and in us, experiencing our everyday lives with us.   
    We are small, but in Him, we become the huge monuments of God’s mercy, grace and work in this world.
     All along, from the very start, God wanted to show "small" so He could be mighty in us.
     Finally, what was in the Ark?
     The Law:  Jesus came to fulfill the Law in Himself.
     The manna:  He is our very Bread of Life, sent down from heaven itself. 
     The budded rod:  He fulfills the office of the High Priest and brings life where there is no life.
     Christ walks silently through the Old Testament, and if we look hard enough, we see His form moving slowly but surely towards Calvary and fulfilling all that went before Him in the Torah. 



Friday, June 17, 2016

The True Tragedy of the Terrorist Attacks

When something tragic happens, two things inevitably ensue: the "how?" and the "why?" The "how" shows us how desperate we are to prevent a future event, and understandably so. The "why?" is less constructive and quickly moves into blame. It seems lately that the conclusion many are touting is that American society is ultimately causing the attacks, with its liberal gun laws, its homophobia, its islamophobia, and its failure to identify those troubled with mental or emotional issues.

But I sense a deeper tragedy here, one with eternal consequences. Most of us picture death as a medical condition. We will fight it as long as we can, denying its intimate relationship with life itself.

If we picture dying at all, it's in our bed, old and infirm, with family gathered all around, saying good-bye and then closing our eyes, and off we go. Or we go to bed one night and not wake up the next day.

But Orlando, Boston, Ft. Hood, San Bernadino, Aurora, and September 11th all force us to face a very uncomfortable question: Are we ready to face death?

That question alone may cause you to leave my blog.

We don't like to discuss death, let alone face our own.

But this is critical.

Irrespective of foreign and domestic policy, gun laws, mental health laws and society's treatment of various identity groups, we will have to face this question.  At some point. At some time.

The greatest tragedy is not death itself, it is not being prepared for it. How so? I cannot change death's inevitability, but I can choose how I will respond to its inevitability.
A quick and less disconcerting example would be I cannot stop the hurricane brewing off the coast, but I can secure my house and my family, and if need be, leave the area and go to safer ground.

So, let's go deeper and look at this world through spiritual lenses. 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."

Jesus said, "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10)
OK.  Let's review:  We have an enemy.  He is on the lookout, stalking and waiting to strike.  He wants to steal what we have, destroy who we are and lead us down the road to destruction.  He pushes our destruction on all fronts, with the final stroke being our lives.  Yes, we can choose how we proceed, but he lies in wait and when we are not sober and alert, he strikes.

He destroys us "by any means necessary":  addiction, murder, abuse, illness, insanity, and yes, terrorist attacks.  He destroys the one who perpetrates the attacks as well as those who are the targets.
Ezekiel 18:23 says, "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?"  Clearly, God wants all to come to repentance, but Jesus comments on those who are being used by the enemy to bring the destruction:  "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!" (Matthew 18:7)

So, we have now peered behind the cosmic curtain, and see the ultimate source of evil in this world. Jesus, before His final act of love to this world, His willingness to die for our sins, said, 

"'Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.'  This he said, signifying what death he should die.

The people answered him, 'We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?'

Then Jesus said unto them, 'Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.  While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.'  These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them."  (John 12:31-36)

There it is.  We walk in the dark without Jesus, and it is His death and resurrection that we must choose to embrace to be prepared, at any time, to meet death.  His death will save us, and His life will change us from citizens of a world ruled by Satan to children of God, whose kingdom, like our Lord, is forever.

But, you say, that is too simple.  Accept Jesus, receive eternal life and live victoriously and die victoriously only to live with Him?  But what about now?

We can change laws, but we cannot change human hearts.  What is the state of the human heart? Jesus says, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts--murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander."  (Matthew 15:19)

We can change our attitudes, but we cannot change our deepest nature, which is sinful. "I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:21-25)

So, in the end, we grieve for those who were lost in these attacks.  We pray for their families.  

One last point. Jesus commented on two tragedies that occurred in His lifetime and it is instructive: 

"Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.'” (Luke 13:1-5)

The true tragedy of unexpected and sudden death is not being ready for eternity.  


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Part VIII: The Beginning and The New Beginning: Genesis 1 & 2 and John 1

Consider as we are looking at Jesus in the Old Testament, how the apostle John sees Jesus.  The only Scriptures John had were in the Old Testament, and as he sat down to pen the very beginning of his gospel, the drumbeat of Genesis provides the bass notes for the lovely melody of his words.  As you read first from Genesis and then alternate with John, a cosmic picture of Jesus emerges.  

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water...” 
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear...”
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds...”
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth...”
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth...” 
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds…”
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may      rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Amen.  We cannot have the Old without the New, for what the Old concealed, the New revealed.

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