Tag Archives: Israel

selected v. elected

It’s a simple distinction.

When a panel of judges selects one competitor to be the champion, the others don’t benefit from the selection.  They go home losers.  (Cue Queen music…)

But when a nation elects a new leader, the entire nation benefits.  He or she passes legislation that they elected him to pass, etc.

The biblical doctrine of election is no different.  Israel in general, and Christ in particular, are God’s Beloved, not in the sense of being (randomly or otherwise) ‘selected’ out to win a prize that benefits nobody else, but so that the nations of the earth would be blessed through them (Genesis 12:1-3).  Never in the Bible is it said that Israel was chosen so that she could have exclusive rights to God and salvation.  On the contrary, she was chosen to pass on blessing and salvation – in all its forms – to all.

It is like a fire or police squad, or a hospital staff.  They are not self-serving teams, simply to make sexy firemen calendars, etc.  They have a mission and a calling to serve their community.  A doctor tells her smoking patient to change his ways not because “I’m a doctor and you can’t be”, not because “I am perfect in all ways”, but because she is a good and caring doctor.  That’s enough metaphor for one post. :)

the watering stone

It’s well known that the New Testament writers (re-)read their Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) with Jesus-tinted-glasses.  Their world had been turned upside down after the events of the Gospel – particularly the Resurrection of Jesus, which they didn’t see coming – and when they returned to their familiar Scriptures, they saw Christ all over the place, both in the whole general trajectory, and in particular passages.  For example, how could one not see him in Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 53?).  Christological readings of the Old Testament continued in the writings of the Early Church Fathers and on throughout Church History.

So, I was reading Genesis for a sermon on Jacob, and found verse 8 of chapter 29 to  jump out to me as being rich for New Testament reflection.  Jacob has arrived in the area of Laban, at the shepherd’s well, and upon asking them to water the sheep, they reply:

But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and they have rolled the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep.”

Anyone familiar with the New Testament will be able to see at least the three things I saw:

  1. The gathering of the flocks represents the gathering of the nations (or the elect) from the four winds (ends of the earth).
  2. I hope the NT meaning of rolling the stone away is self-explanatory!
  3. The watering of the sheep represents the ministry of Jesus through church leaders as those with the vocation of Peter feed Jesus’ lambs.

Now, eager to see if I was the first to spot this, I discovered this much fuller treatment of it by Gregory of Nyssa, in his “Sermon for the Day of Lights”:

Jacob also, hastening to seek a bride, met Rachel unexpectedly at the well. And a greatstone lay upon the well, which a multitude of shepherds were wont to roll away when they came together, and then gave water to themselves and to their flocks. But Jacob alone rolls away the stone, and waters the flocks of his spouse.

The thing is, I think, a dark saying, a shadow of what should come. For what is the stone that is laid but Christ Himself? for of Him Isaiah says, “And I will lay in the foundations of Sion a costly stone, precious, elect” and Daniel likewise, “A stone was cut out without hands” that is, Christ was born without a man. For as it is a new and marvellous thing that a stone should be cut out of the rock without a hewer or stone-cutting tools, so it is a thing beyond all wonder that an offspring should appear from an unwedded Virgin. There was lying, then, upon the well the spiritual stone, Christ, concealing in the deep and in mystery the layer of regeneration which needed much time—as it were a long rope—to bring it to light. And none rolled away the stone save Israel, who is mind seeing God. But he both draws up the water and gives drink to the sheep of Rachel; that is, he reveals the hidden mystery, and gives living water to the flock of the Church.

a different zion(ism)

Stephen Sizer is in NZ.  He preached this past Sunday at our church, and is doing a seminar called “7 Biblical Responses to Popular Zionist Assumptions” tomorrow night.  It’s been good revisiting the whole Zionism issue again, and refreshing my understanding of the issue.

The Zionists are concerned to demonstrate that God will not ‘forget his people Israel’, and that we should not either. For them, God’s faithfulness to Israel (including his modern day restoration of them back to their ancestral land) should be accompanied by our support of Israel – theologically, financially & politically.  My understanding, however, is that the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus exceeds and eclipses all (not some) aspects of the Old Covenant.  The types and shadows of Israelite religion (prophet, priest and king, law, land/’inheritance’ and temple) reach their climax and fulfillment in Jesus, who is the final Prophet, the High Priest, the King of kings; and in the Law of Christ (‘love’), the Inheritance of the entire Earth, and in Christ the new Temple.  In short: God keeps God’s promises in God’s way, and he has chosen to keep them in and through Christ.  God has been faithful to his own purposes for humanity (including Israel) and creation in and through his self-giving, self-donating, loving act in and through Christ.  Nothing more is needed for God to demonstrate his faithfulness.  Christ is enough.  As Paul says (2 Corinthians 1:20), “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes.”

There is one response I want to address, and it is the complaint of ‘over-spiritualising’ God’s promises.  These people are unhappy with an understanding in which all of the tangible, here-and-now promises of God are ‘spiritualised away’.  Here, I’d want to point out that it is Christ and his people, the Church which fulfill the promises.  It’s just that the aspects (prophet, priest, etc.) are lower-case, post-Christ versions of their ultimate fulfillment in and through Him.  There are prophets in the Church, and we still have a priestly calling to the world, to bring his kingdom.  We are the ‘living stones’ of the new Temple.  And the law of Love is quite literally the most down-to-earth thing you could imagine, to be lived out in the entire earth.  Only in a radical dualistic framework would ‘spiritualising’ something make it less relevant for physical, ‘earthy’ things.

good news for all the people

If only people in general –and Christians in particular– could grasp just a few key things that makes Jesus who He is… then I’m convinced not only that Christianity would have a better reputation, but –even further– those who aren’t Christians might be far less against the growth of Christianity…

People are scared about the growth of Christianity because they (often) think (and not without reason to) that this could eventually lead to a Christian state. All those voting Christians, voting in all those ‘religious’ laws, taking away our freedom, taking away our shopping on Sunday, etc. Many Christians are not at all hesitant to affirm that this is, in fact, precisely what they are working toward…

Now, this post is not directly about how Christians should relate to politics, but it does relate. I am convinced that the Christian faith is to be lived out in the public world, and not simply in private. However, the question is: “What does this look like?”

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covenental confusion

A friend and I was checking out the various ministry booths at a Christian music festival this past weekend. We encountered two ministries that were very similar. Both of them were what you could call ‘pro-Israel’ ministries. Now, I don’t think we should be ‘anti’ Israel, but I do think their understanding of the covenant(s) is reflective of the ‘covenental confusion’ right through Christianity.

If you are not familiar with the topic, the ‘pro-Israel’ position emphasises all things Jewish. They do so with good intent and with the appearance of good reasons. After all, Jesus (and most of the early church) was indeed Jewish.

The ‘pro-Israel’ people will usually teach (or encourage) the observance of various Jewish festivals and rituals (Passover, Sabbath, Days of Unleavened Bread, and much more). They will often point to the various examples of the Jewish-ness of the early church (Synagogue attendance, etc.) and various verses of the New Testament to demonstrate that the early Jewish simply carried on in their Jewish-ness, and to support their suggestions that Christians today need to do these Jewish things as well.

This discussion is vast, (and I’m generalising to keep it short) but I’ll try to explain my understanding of it as simply as I can.

Part of the difficulty is that the Bible wasn’t written in the same style as, for example, a theological encyclopedia. Since the New Testament is not a Covenant Theology handbook, we often see the details of Covenant as we read in-between-the-lines of what the writers are communicating (having said that, you don’t have to read between the lines much in the epistle to the Hebrews!). Another thing to remember: we can see from Acts 15 and Galatians 2 that the Apostles didn’t always see eye to eye about everything. Paul disagrees with Barnabas and Peter at various times.

Having said that (and trying to keep this short), let’s look at the issue further.

Everyone agrees that Jesus ushered in the New Covenant, but the question is this: How is the New different from the Old? What changes to the lifestyle/belief of believers did it make?

OK. Here’s how I see it.

God is a covenental and promise-making God. He doesn’t break His covenants or His promises. As for any and all of the promises of God, Paul is emphatically clear (and I make a point not to be this dogmatic very often) that they are ‘Yes’ in Jesus. In other words, God keeps all His promises, and He keeps them in His way – namely, the Jesus kind of way.

As for the covenant(s), the way I like to say it is this: the ‘Old’ covenant was ‘baptised’ and became the ‘New’ Covenant. Baptism is, of course, a symbol of death and resurrection – of dying and rising. There are too many points of detail, but basically, all of the various aspects of the Old Covenant (the Land, the Temple, the Sacrifice, the Passover, the Sabbath, the Law, etc.) were ‘baptised’ and raised anew. All of their meaning and significance was now found in not a place, time or event, but a Person – namely, Jesus.

The implications of this were huge. Gentiles could ‘come to Jerusalem’ by simply ‘coming to faith in Christ.’ Their circumcision was not of the flesh, but of the heart, and so on…

The Old system was tired, worn and fruitless. God was bringing judgement on Israel. This judgement, however, was going to be like no other. But thankfully, with God, judgement always is one side of the 2-edged sword… the other being blessing. Judgement for fruitless and nationalistic Israel, and Blessing for believing/spiritual Israel.