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Devotional: Psalm 78

Devotional Psalm 78

This Psalm is a Maskil, which is a Psalm of instruction.  Some Psalms were prayers, others had liturgical applications.  Psalm 78 refers to the importance of instruction by instructing.

In our world, students are taught by rote memorization.  The better you memorize and can regurgitate facts, the better you will do in school.  This model begins in preschool and continues all the way through college.  By contrast, this method is not used past the 6th grade in Great Britain.

In ancient Israel, the Torah, or first five books of Moses, was the foundation for all of life in this world.

The Psalmist states that this is important stuff; that we should listen.  He tells us what he is going to teach starting in verse 2:

2I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will utter dark sayings from of old

Nothing is so intriguing as the unveiling of a mystery.  When I was a kid, we all watched while Geraldo Rivera opened a vault owned by Al Capone on live t.v.  There was nothing inside, but it was great television because of the anticipation from revealing a mystery.

Contrast the revelation of mystery to verse 3:

3things that we have heard and known,

that our fathers have told us.

Doesn’t it seem strange that the speaker in verse 2 is telling us he is going to reveal a mystery, and in verse 3 that we have heard and known it, and it is common knowledge?  Yet, this is the work of Philip as he speaks to the Ethiopian eunuch.  He reveals that Jesus is the Christ through Isaiah’s book.

We, too are called as future ministers of the Gospel to reveal the Christ hidden in the pages of the Old Testament.  We are called to teach as Christ did after his resurrection when he walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself”.

Luther once said that Christ can be found on every page of Scripture.  That may be stretching it a little, but it is the Holy Spirit’s work to reveal Christ in the Old Testament.  Additionally, we have the New Testament, much of which is a commentary on the Old.  It helps us to see Christ as the New Adam.  Christ as Melchizedek.  Christ as a new Moses, leading us out of captivity.

And this is how the Old Testament is used as parable: The account of Moses leading Israel out of Egypt is not merely historical record.  It is a parable of how we have been rescued from the slavery of sin into the promised land through the waters of Baptism by Jesus.

My brothers and sister, we have been called to do this for God’s people.  To find Jesus, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the Old Testament.

And, likewise, we can find the Torah in the New Testament.  Consider Hebrews.  The meaning of this book is greatly deepened by understanding the roles of a prophet, a priest and a king in the Old Testament.

There is an ongoing dialogue between these two testaments.  The thread that runs through both is Jesus Christ.

Begin with Moses.  Begin by reading the accounts of creation, promise to Abraham, exodus and David’s reign.  Read Hebrews simultaneously.  Draw comparisons.  See the contrasts.  Discover what Luther discovered, that there is more gospel in the Old Testament than in the New.  If and when you do, your sermons will fill the listeners with faith and rescue them from rote learning.

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rung out

Jacob's Ladder, sculpture by Eddy Gabriel for ...

Jacob’s Ladder, sculpture by Eddy Gabriel for Tempus Arti, LAnden, Belgium, 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone who believes in God has a ladder theology.  Christianity utilitzes various ladders that have been developed over the centuries.  These emerged (either consciously or unconsciously) from a narrative in Genesis 28:

10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He [e]came to [f]a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it [g]under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood [h]above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your [i]descendants. 14 Your [j]descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will [k]spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your [l]descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have [m]promised you.”   (emphasis mine)

The idea that we can climb up to heaven to see God in all His glory is very attractive.  It has so enveloped some people that they actually gave up their “normal lives” to live in communes of one sort or another.  This was so they could pursue direct, unencumbered communion with the Almighty.  Adherents to this purpose developed what was called the “monk’s ladder” (From Guigo II, Scala Claustralium in Latin).  It included four rungs: 1. reading Scripture, 2. Meditating on the Scripture to find the hidden meaning (seeing all scripture as analogy; an error), 3. Prayer as response, and 4. Quiet contemplative living.

Others have developed ladders based not in a personal encounter with the Almighty, but on the personal effort of satisfying God’s moral demands.  Their ladder is a morality that was derived from Scripture and other sources, including socio-cultural norms.  Scripture is useful for becoming more like God.

Finally, the last group has developed a ladder that satisfies the mind and fills in the gaps of understanding that Scripture presents.  These people have developed a ladder based on speculation.  Disatisfied with the tensions of Scripture, they attempt to resolve these tensions through logical reasoning.  For the most part, they, like the other mentioned earlier are recipients of Platonic thought.  Their error is that they don’t take God at His word, but need to justify God’s words.  They climb the ladder of an intellectual form of Christianity that doesn’t need to wrestle with the self.  Instead of facing the crucifixion, they narrowly avoid it by rationalism.

All of these have inherited the disease of the tower builders in Genesis 11.  We all believe that we can reach God(hood) if we have the right method.  Only one problem: it’s idolatry of the self.

Into Babel, God brought the judgment of dividing people based on language.  Into our idolatry, he brings the curse of death.  And , in fact, these ladders are a proof that we are dead.  We need someone to descend into our burial hole to rescue us from the death we are in.

That person has already come.  His name is Jesus, and He has come to crucify our idolatry and utterly demolish our ladders.  In fact, He has come to replace these ladders with the original one promise from Genesis 28.  A very small reference in John chapter 1 will make this clear.  It is so brief that you have probably read over it:

51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, youwill see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”  Jesus, alone, is the Ladder who has come out of heaven and brought heaven down to earth.

Amen

Shaken, not stirred

I live in earthquake country.  I have been through so many earthquakes that I sometimes act a little too casually when they hit.  Instead of panicking, I walk to the “safe part” of a building to wait it out.

Strong earthquakes are another story, though.

When they hit, I move more quickly and hope that it won’t last much longer.  Then, I try to reach my family to make sure they’re o.k.

The author of Hebrews tells us that God will shake both the earth and the heavens (Hebrews 12, ESV):

26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

In the heart of this terrifying threat is a hopeful promise, there are things that cannot be shaken, but will remain.

Earlier in the chapter, the author writes about the discipline of God’s children.  He doesn’t allow us to be spoiled and arrogant.  He uses physical ailments, sickness, persecution, and other trials to drive us back to His word.

It is His means of purifying the faith of His children.  It is also the evidence of His presence in our lives (along with scripture and the sacraments).

The pain and suffering He sends are like a cross that we must bear.  And some will actually be killed for the very faith they have.

But this isn’t God’s wrath.

That comes later, when He will shake the heavens and the earth.

It is the promise of a “hellish” day which everyone will witness.  It is the fulfillment of the “Mount Sinai” experience of ancient Israel.  God will be seen as a “consuming fire”.

For those who have been put through the trials and suffering meant to drive them to faith, they will remain secure on “Mount Zion”.  That is, of course, if they remain believing in the one who secured their salvation in the first place, Jesus.

Who is Jesus?  “… the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Through Him, we are, ” … the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (12:23).  And, as the author writes at the end of the chapter, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken …” (12:28).

Jesus is our Mount Zion.  He is the temple that will not be shaken.  He is the foundation upon which our faith is both founded and perfected, now and forever.

Rabbit trail Bible reading

When I was in college, one of my friends was in a church that was reading the entire Bible over a summer.  It sounded really good, so I followed the plan along with the others.

The first week was really good.  We read Genesis and Matthew at the same time.  The “story” style of those books was an easy read.

After a couple of weeks, though, the reading became a drudgery.  Long list of laws, genealogies and directives put a damper on the joy of reading.  After a while, I quit.  Others quit, too.

Part of the problem was the type of writing we were reading.  The later books weren’t the narrative type we had encountered in the Gospels and Genesis/Exodus books.

The other part of the problem was a lack of a “big picture” to help guide the reading.

So, here I am to advocate a completely different form of reading.  I call it Rabbit Trail Reading.

Let’s say you’re going to read Hebrews.  Hebrews has four perspectives on Jesus as prophet, priest, King and sacrifice.  What books in the Old Testament speak to sacrifices and priests?  Think Leviticus and Deuteronomy.    My suggestion is that one reads a good portion (say 8-10 chapters) of the O.T. book before venturing into the New Testament book.  That way, you have some background knowledge before you are forced to use the reference notes in your study Bible.

Similarly, read Genesis before and during a read through John’s Gospel.  Compare structure, words, phrases and ideas.

It may not be a systematic reading plan.  Instead, it is a content-rich reading program which the individual can determine for himself/herself.  Your interest determines the material.  The material shapes your understanding and further interest in God’s Holy Word.

My first video instruction on Bible structure – 5 minutes

http://www.screencast.com/t/fzTDCjLWf

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