CHOOSING THE LIGHT

Be Bold Challenge With Lion Face

It is a common wish for life to be fair.  There is a common statue outside courthouses that show justice is blind.  Defining and finding justice can be difficult.  If it is someone who has wronged me, then I have my biases for what I want dished out to the other person but we do not always get things seen the way we prefer.  As a counselor I refer to the court system as a “stranger in a black robe”.  I say it that way with purpose in the sense of how imperfect a judge on judging guilt and meting out a sentence.

People can be initially repelled of God in heaven being a judge.  The first reflex in someone who is effected by shame and a legalistic form of Christianity is that God is out to punish for the sake of a macabre satisfaction of making us suffer.  With a right representation of what Christianity is about the nature of God being holy and Love in the flesh in Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. God being love and holy may seem to be contradicting but really they are paradoxes in perfect harmony with each other in the person of Jesus.  In explaining the dynamics of the important lines of demarcation one can see a building stage by Jesus on the Holy Spirit illuminating this truth. 

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (John 16:7-11).

Weeks later the Holy Spirit came down on the Church’s birthday.  When consistent with the deposit of faith, the Holy Spirit communicates through the Church the reality of Jesus as Lord and Savior, his role as High Priest in going to the Father and Satan being judged.  When the gospel is preached in the world, enlightened by the Holy Spirit,  Christians can engage in the marketplace of ideas and call out those things that are rays of light.  This was picked up on by Paul in respecting and engaging the culture. 

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (Acts 17:22-23). 

Here Paul uses something 200 years before in the history of Athens where they had prayed to every god they could to cure their sheep, and came up empty.  Among their means to “grope for him” they  came up with their spiritual door to an unknown God. 

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,“For we too are his offspring.” Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’  (Acts 17:24-33). 

Yet Paul does not water down the need to turn from sin.  He says, “While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). 

For the people at the end who converted we see beauty, truth and goodness on display.  Paul led them into conversion by embracing the light that was in their culture and put what validly attempted to meet the needs of humanity in the true light of the gospel.  But among the dark forces they were tied to there is to be a day when the parties that “scoffed” will get their wish of not being connected to God. 

The scoffers in all ages come up with other means that were more enclosed to their boxes.  Paul shines a light on how those fail in contrast to God’s long-term golden thread of sovereignty in humanity. 

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles (Romans 1:18-23). 

The Apostle John saw this to a logical conclusion at the end of this age. 

Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). 

Yes, it is possible for someone to choose to not be with God as well as to be with God. 

If actions speak louder than words, God is willing to honor the “no thanks” of the human person.  God is Love in his essence and no choice would mean no love.  Satan is the one who already stood judged and hell is not meant for us.  Augustine was one who went from scoundrel to saint.  He had riches, high intellect and lots of immorality before having a radical conversion to Christ.  He said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee” (Confessions, 5th Century). Restlessness for all eternity is not appealing to me nor to God and thus it is his preferred will that we choose him. 

“God allows man to learn His supernatural ends, but the decision to strive towards an end, the choice of course, is left to man’s free will. God does not redeem man against his will.”  “John Paul IILove and Responsibility).

And such is the hidden beauty on this divine fork in the road.  The principles of God are laid out and the end result of what we choose will have startling conclusions one way or another. 

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened” (C.S Lewis, The Great Divorce). 

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LIGHT ABOUT THOSE IN THE GREY

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 Martin Luther King had such a page turning effect when he spoke of a day where “a man would not be judged by the color of his skin but by the content of his character”.  This was accepted as true and right by all of good will but points to a broader reality: we are all going to be judged.  One subset of that experience that is pointed to in ancient scripture and tradition is a cleansing of that person when they area already heaven bound as summed up above. 

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030, 1994). 

A common objection is that this is a yoke of burden and oppression which undermines the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and is unscriptural.  However the term used above is “undergo” meaning Christ is doing the work.  Also, supposedly, any interpretation of scripture to support purgatory is woven out of whole cloth.  Here I will make a case that purgatory is consistent with the atonement in Christ, scriptural and founded in Christian tradition.  We know that God has set a time for one and all of eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:2), but there is his work to do in us along the way.

This Christ-centered context of this post-death purging for those heading to heaven is not an impersonal action of Christ but between his death and resurrection he preached to them.  Would it be in his nature to communicate with us while being purified?  We know he never changes (Hebrews 13:8). 

Look at 1 Peter 3:19–20. These verses show Jesus preaching to “to the spirits in prison.” The “prison” cannot be heaven, because the people there do not need to have the Gospel preached to them. It cannot be hell, because the souls in hell cannot repent. It must be something else…..there is nothing unbiblical about the claim that those who have died might not immediately go to heaven or to hell (Christine Pinheiro, Catholic Answers, www.catholic.com November 1, 2005). 

Jesus made a reference of specifying a context of a sin not be forgiven and implied some can be forgiven.  Jesus says that some sins “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32).

Where Christians can be at a loss on understanding salvation, soteriology, often one sees only a legal conversion with little room for further grace filled participation under Jesus as savior who forgives and cleanses (1John 1:9).  In fact,  God works his grace to perfect us as its says, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

This may be conceded by critics of purgatory but the objection is that God uses only earthly circumstances to discipline us.  However, only a breath of words later a heavenly context is used. 

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24). 

If “just men” means perfect, how are they “made perfect”?  Doesn’t this seem like a contradiction? God is judge and acting that way in heaven.  This is why there is intercession by the faith for the departed saints precisely to support them sharing in “his holiness.”   

This was embedded in Jewish belief a few centuries before Christ.  When Jewish rebels died with pagan lucky charms on them, there was a concern for their souls. 

He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection (2 Maccabees 12:43).

Paul took this to heart in discussing how the Christian will be judged and keeps a purgative effect centered on an encounter with Jesus Christ.  While MLK had the beginning of a point, here we see our works being judged and a purification after death for those who are already Christians. 

For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—  each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

This belief of interceding for the departed and their post-death purgation continued in the early development of Christian faith and practice.  Having a mass said for a loved ones was believed by someone who was pivotal on the word and doctrine of the Holy Trinity. 

A woman, after the death of her husband…prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice” (Tertullian, Monogamy 10:1-2 [post A.D. 213]). 

Augustine differentiated between mass said for those whom there was doubt or no doubt that they went straight to heaven.  This man is someone who Catholics call a Doctor of the Church and Protestants often see as proto-Protestant. 

“There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered.” (Sermons 159:1 [inter A.D. 391-430]). 

Augustine specified two points of reckoning other than heaven.

The man who has cultivated that remote land and who has gotten his bread by his very great labor is able to suffer this labor to the end of this life. After this life, however, it is not necessary that he suffer. But the man who perhaps has not cultivated the land and has allowed it to be overrun with brambles has in this life the curse of his land on all his works, and after this life he will have either purgatorial fire or eternal punishment (Genesis Defended Against the Manichaeans 2:20:30 [A.D. 389]).

Augustine described a continuity of the Lord’s discipline that transcended earth into beyond. 

Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment (The City of God 21:13 [inter A.D. 413-426]). 

Perhaps this was just a fluke in North Africa.  Not so according to Augustine who had lived in Italy before he was the bishop of Hippo and corresponded with bishop of Rome.

The universal Church observes this law, handed down from the Fathers, that prayers should be offered for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their proper place at the Sacrifice (Augustine, Serm. clxxii, 2, P.L., XXXVIII, 936).

This was not only a universal practice but a common practice of the priests in their parishes.  This was clergy and laity in unison and with great vigor according to an early church historian respected by Christians of many different backgrounds. 

“[A] vast crowd of people together with the priests of God offered their prayers to God for the Emperor’s soul with tears and great lamentation” (Eusebius, Life of Constantine IV.71).

As someone who used to not believe in purgatory this gives me pause to be both reverent and hopeful.  I am reverent because God is consistently holy and just.  I am hopeful because I know God neither allows or does anything regarding me without it being something tied back to the essence of who he is: Love.  For this covers a multitude of sins.  And he disciplines those he loves (Proverbs 3:12). 

Basics of Light:The Foundation

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In the whole world of spirituality it is popular to point out that it is hard to qualify with a quick slogan or a formula.  There is a saying in the Buddhist tradition “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him”.  Or as Bishop Robert Barron says in the Christian tradition, “If you say you have figured God out, that’s not him” (Catholicism Series).

Jesus called for faith and to repent due to a kingdom that was at hand.  This is a great challenge and a mystery.  It is to change and experience something not comparable to other experiences.  But in Christianity, there should be some essentials.  One is that to be a Christian is to identify yourself in faith and life choices as belonging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  He is known as the Son of God, true God and true man (Council of Nicea) who founded a visible church.  These are deep and mysterious truths not to be comprehended but truths nonetheless to at least get the general theme with some kind of faculties.  Reason is a good one but not sufficient in itself.  The fulness of the Christian faith takes a lifetime of learning possible even if you are raised Christian and live to 100 years old.  In such a journey there are many questions that come to mind not always answered and it can be hard to know where to start. 

But rest assured, there are at least some elementary things to it.  Again, not to box God in and make him “in the road,” but there are some basics in the New Testament.  God does not always repeat himself through the gospels and epistles but he does rhyme if you listen for it.   

Everyone who lives on milk lacks experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties are trained by practice to discern good and evil. Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And we shall do this, if only God permits (Hebrews 5:13-6:3).

Good foundation in a system of thought is a lot like a thumb. Like how it can touch all fingers so it will touch the succeeding parts.  The “basic teaching” above overlap in the development of Christian life and doctrine as reinforcing agents.  They are respective, supportive traits of Christianity.  In Greek they could be called logoi or little words, but are effective because they point to the person and work of Jesus Christ who is encountered with those truths.

But how should we interpret the proper application of these foundational teachings?  First, it is a matter of seeing the principles conveyed that point to the Christian life being a forward one.  It is successive towards an ultimate design in Christ.  As we see the design and how it unfolds in church history there is an opportunity of seeing more than a fleshed out ideology but a lived experience of Christ as the “chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).   Paul goes on to described more about that below in the same letter. 

to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:12-16). 

Also, we should interpret it is in the context of how the first Christian society interpreted it so we do not project our post-modern prejudices into what was written in the New Testament.  For example, I could compliment the makers of Salt Lake City streets as genius founders.  The wrong bias could say I must be affirming the Mormon faith.  But if you get to know loved ones who have known me long they can add to that statement on what I believe doctrinally and the statement was about the road system.  So too is any responsible reading of the Bible which includes “basic teaching” verses. 

So from 30,000 feet, I would like to propose what those points are. I suggest the first two are more applicable to the individual in execution and the latter four are overarching fundamentals that are implemented at the macro level. 

repentance from dead works – – Provoked By The Light   

faith in God- – Engaging in the Light (both believers and unbelievers). 

instruction about baptisms- – Entering The Light

laying on of hands- – Lifelong Engagement In The Light

resurrection of the dead- – The Light of Life

eternal judgment- – Judged In The Light

Though in the case of the author of Hebrews we do not know who wrote it, we can discern from the small talk at the end of the letter that he was a colleague of big names of the New Testament.  So if we were to be fair to the context of his foundational references we can look at the other apostolic writings of the New Testament (compare scripture with scripture) and look at the writings of the early church fathers.  They were people who were handed down authority and a tradition that was a living outgrowth of the living authority of a living Jesus.  If ones is to be detective, following wherever the evidence leads, one will hunger for living out those truths in the most true to form version of Christianity as possible.  To investigate thus is to truly investigate Christianity responsibly and on what it has actually taught.  I would add solving this part of the mystery can then be more vibrant and life giving and thus is worth a closer look for which I hope to show as Christianity ultimately a true walk in Christ.  And to walk with Christ is to be engaged with all of the Trinity. 

Meeting At The Water Cooler

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There can be many points of bias that one can have in spiritual seeking whether they are honest skeptics or even a cynic.  If one looks at doubt and inquiry in encounters with Christ there is something to be appreciated on the marginalized from society. Some think that by the group they belong to or what they have done that Jesus as Savior need not apply.  It would be almost like a given that a message like a goodness cannot be projected “down to” the marginalized.  Case in point to be seen below in one woman who felt unworthy of Jesus’ friendship and attention.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.”  The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:7-18).

Come

First is the invitation

A woman of Samaria came …”“How can you, a Jew…?”— We are full in this world with socially based assumptions.  A radical part of the good news of Jesus sees the marginalized especially to be proposed with grace that transcends barriers. 

you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water?— Here is a part of the dialogue where they are sort of speaking past each other.  The woman thinks only by a natural terms but Jesus speaks first in spiritual life. But he will speak to her natural life too.    

Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.

This is a baby step to conversion.  She is taking a step that Jesus can do something life changing and knows it is beyond physical circumstances.  The key term “living”  in the spiritual dimension  can be defined analogously by biology.  Defining life includes eating, growing and reproducing.  For this life to dwell and overflow means that she can be touched by the life of Jesus and that this life can extend through her to others.  Later that day this seems to play out in receiving, growing in and proclaiming who Jesus is.   

I do not have a husband—  This is a moral turning point in being encountered by Jesus. As a person or a group gets engaged with the gospel it should be known that the message of God’s kingdom, though of grace, puts our lifestyle on trial.  In a post-Christian culture the rhetoric gets only better and better at putting objective moral values on trial.  Yet, the Christian Church of the 1st century was known to be “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  Objective moral truth is often put on trial, albeit wrongfully.  However, truth is exclusive and counter-cultural to someone and stands the test of time.  Anyone facing a block to obedience in sin will stay in the “sweet spot” that we like to hide in. 

But her gradual increase in her faith emerging in the encounter that is good.  She did not yet know all of Jesus’ capabilities and could have lied.  She could have said that her “husband” was away on a trip.  What is implied is the beginnings of confessing how messed up her life has become.  She is starting to slowly rip the band-aid off.  But Jesus picks up the pace. Especially in our honesty, we are even more open for the same to happen to us which is ultimately for our own good.  If we come to faith in Jesus, can learn to trust him.  If we trust him on those things that make sense with a repentant heart, then we are open to his spiritual blessings in mystery. Jesus  loves to unfold some of those mysteries of the kingdom to the simple and repentant of heart. 

Right Road On The High Road

string-broken-hutong-wallsI think about “Rocky Mountain High” when I think of retreat.  People who have an intentional life of faith sometimes go on a retreat to the beach or mountains and set aside time for prayer which can be a good experience.  But eventually we have to come back to earth.  We are meant to walk this earth announcing in word and deed that God is relevant.  That is at the heart of Jesus’ nature.  “God so loved the world…” is not just a catch phrase at a sports game but a way of life. 

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus (Matthew 17:16). 

took with him – – It is not enough for the believer to white-knuckle themselves by willpower to their retreat or in any Christian growth experience.  The grace of God comes first always whether it is clear to us or not. 

There he was transfigured before them- Much fanfare is given in light of the spectacular descriptions here.  Pope Benedict VI makes a point that in a way this was the moment in Jesus’s earthly life where he ironically was not transfigured but was his normal self and thus meaning his glory was hidden otherwise. 

Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus- – In God’s involvement on the earth before, during and after the events of the gospels there are adornments in person or things that confirm what God has done or is doing.  In a parallel passage on the same event there is more detail here where it is pointed out how  they “appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). 

The wording in the original Greek is literally what the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses for the exodus of Moses.  The word meant “the way out” of Egypt but here it is a heavenly direction. “What he was going to accomplish” is about the work of redemption on the cross. 

Lord, it is good for us to be here- – God really does not need our good ideas.  And we do no favors to ourselves when we emphasize a geographical location due to what the think it is intrinsically to be.  Such are the thoughts that we can have when we are unsettled and absent God’s peace. 

I will put up three shelters- –  The following could be an imaginative translation of what he is getting at. 

What an awesome experience!  Let’s turn this into a new village! We’ll hang out, do a  Torah study with Jesus, Moses and Elijah and Jesus will bring the wine.  Sure, I’ve got a wife down the mountain and there are masses of people that want to get into this new kingdom thing (whatever that is) but let’s settle. Letting his excitement get ahead of him, Simon Peter puts Moses and Elijah on equal footing with Jesus.  The Father loves them, but not like He loves Jesus.

Peter is centering on this experience to be the end all. The kingdom of God does go beyond earthly things and is across the generations and in part he is right to recognize that.  But those are things and not a person.  Christianity is based on the person of Jesus and his central work of being crucified and being raised from the dead.  Days earlier the cross was a scandal in his mind.  When Jesus was first announced by John the Baptist it was as the Lamb of God (which in Jewish tradition is sacrificed).  If one does not get that and keep this truth engrained they will miss how sacrifice in the gospel and the Christian life is entwined. “Love without sacrifice is meaningless.  Sacrifice without love is unendurable” (Dr. Scott Hahn). 

a bright cloud covered them- – Through the Bible there is a theme of clouds as symbolic of covenant or community.  Here it is both in the sense of God being a community of holy persons and that the establishment of The New Covenant is drawing near. 

This is my Son, whom I love- – But with that overwhelming presence of God the Father, Simon Peter gets his perspective readjusted.  But notice it is not, “Listen to my Son or I will smite thee.”  The Father brings it back to love and repeats what He said at the baptism of John the Baptist.  He is well pleased in Jesus.  Jesus is enough. Jesus and the message of sonship for those in him does not change

Listen to him- – Where John the Baptist says “Behold” the model of ongoing conversion is “Listen”.  That is a means by which faith comes (Romans 10:17). 

they fell facedown to the ground, terrified- – At best they interpret the love going on as only to Jesus and the Father is fresh out of mercy.  But the gospel shows us that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). 

But Jesus came and touched them.- – Coming to the end of ourselves and admitting we are powerless over our sin is a sobering experience. Wrong does not mean one is bad and deserving only punishment.  So Love Incarnate steps in and does what He does: He pushes out that fear. But Jesus embodies perfect love and “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:17).  Jesus will manifest his presence in some way for that if we let him.  Where shame immobilizes us in a sort of spiritual shock, Jesus changes the story.    

When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus- – The story comes to the full circle with Jesus being central.

When I was a Protestant, Peter was the comedy relief in a lot of sermons.  Now with a passage like this, I have to laugh at myself.  What goose bumps have I raised to the level of Jesus?  Have I mistaken a definition for myself that is like being too spiritually minded for any earthly good?  Where has Jesus called me down from my “Rocky Mountain High” and I have refused to come back to the simplicity of devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3)?   

Again, Jesus does not change.  But He does love us enough to call us to Himself in purity and practicality.  Let’s cast off pretentious ideas, listening, and surrender to him. 

A Most Kingly Goverment

Son of DavidTo understand the gospel in a macro perspective best there is an important launching point in the word  “Christ”.  The Greek word for it is christos.  This was a Greek word used in the pagan world for one anointed with favor shown in oil to rule or command.  This Greek word makes its way into the New Testament from early Christians who used that in the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  But when they called Jesus the Christ, they meant also like how Jews turned Christians had the Hebrew term meshiach (Messiah). This was also seen through the lens of kingdom; but not just any kingdom but the kingdom, but of David. 

This was shown in the Gospel of Mathew which says, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham (Mathew 1:1).  In fact, there is much scholarship that suggests that the Gospel of Mathew was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic or Syriac (the latter two being close derivatives of Hebrew) and then translated into Greek.

A good view of the kingdom of God in Christ is that the “Old is revealed in the New and the New is concealed in the Old” (St. Augustine).  The gospel of Jesus Christ is articulated in covenantal language not embedded by shadows of covenantal promises like the law of Moses.  Instead it is a matter of covenantal love with Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. With this accomplished Jesus has a magnified expression of David’s line of succession and true worship.  The following is a gospel proclamation of Jesus as the Anointed One. Notice that David is pointed to due to God’s covenantal faithfulness and an agenda that unfolds over the centuries. 

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:11-14). 

A king is not really a king without a kingdom.  But does the David reference extend to Christianity?  And if so, what would it look like? 

The writer of Hebrews touches on this with the reference of Mount Zion which is where King David was anointed king after all question of rivals was put aside.  Writing to Christians it is described as transcendent stating, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly (Hebrews 12:22). 

            The kingdom of God in Christ glorifies Christ, transcends earth, is universal for application and holistic to the person.  Paul, a fulfilled Jew in Jesus as the Messiah, connected the gospel of Jesus to David.

the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:2-4). 

          In a way, one could say exactly where the “Mt. Zion” is for Christianity: the tomb of the Resurrection.  The preaching of this is the whole gospel of the kingdom, for the whole person for the whole world.  As of the term “appointed” this makes sense in light of the Isaiah prophecy that the “government shall be upon his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6)). 

Jesus as the son of David rules a kingdom now with the logical consequences of being who he is in a Davidic pattern of kingdom.  On the fourth day of Jesus’ ministry Apostle Nathanael called him the King of Israel. Like King David, Jesus chose someone to have the keys over the household of faith as the chief steward. The chief steward also served the kings descended from David who were like a vice president or a chief of staff. The first for Christianity was born Simon son of John but was renamed Peter on the fifth day of his ministry.  Peter could bind and loose like a household manager and chief teacher and there has been someone in that same chair for 2,000 years.  The kingdom of Jesus has a Queen Mother named Mary instead of Bathseeba mother of Solomon.  People came to the Queen Mother in each generation of David’s descendants for their intercession.  Likewise, Mary interceded for his first miracle (John 2:1-11) on the seventh day of Jesus’s ministry. The Bible says that all generations will call her blessed.  All of this is also what comes with the fulness o the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yes, King David is one more part of the tapestry in salvation history that inspired me to become Catholic. 

Charged Forward

wheat barnConversion is often thought as a one time thing.  And thank God, people say, because conversion can cost a lot.  But what if conversion is an ongoing process?  James wrote in his epistle to people who were already Christians that the engrafted word can save their souls (James 1:21).  A theology term used to signify this is ongoing justification.  This is the continual and active surrender to God’s grace.   The heart must be soft for conversion to happen.  Such and approach is then ready for the proposition of change. In the preaching of John the Baptis, he spoke truth to all for change whether they were political  or religious elites or common soldiers in a corrupt system.

I am reminded of a sermon that Abraham Lincoln heard.  The congregation thought it was elegant with lots of flighty words.  When it was over he was asked what he though to which he said it was the worst sermon he had ever heard since it did not challenge him to action.  A call to action was needed for freedom for the slaves but all the more for the world in slavery to sin.  Like Jesus to come, John know that the compassionate thing to do would be to call for hard change or the softness of heart would not be there.   The hope is that among each of those groups were at least some of the soft hearted ready to be challenged.  And maybe, in some cases, the hard of heart become soft.

 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (Matthew 3:11-12).

I am baptizing you with water, for repentance-  This could be getting a blank slate but without the understanding of what one is getting next.  A hard part is that those who went to the Jordan River knew the sins and their pleasures yet they acknowledged need for the kingdom of God.  Such humility had to come with a radical trust in God to handle what comes next.  But they had a reference to go by in the baptism of Moses.  “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

What Paul communicates about the experience of covenant in the experience of the Israelites is in part that God grants defining moments in relationship to his people through the senses like in the Red Sea.  It can be inferred that Jesus was inspired in part from this as a Jewish man who taught about how one needs to be “born again to enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) but some translations say, “born from above”.  Therefore if one is baptized through Jesus into His community rather than the symbolism of John the material and the mystery come together as “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). To sum up, the baptism of John or any kind of honesty about ones sins is what you turn away from, which is honorable, but it is in the fulness of turning to Jesus that full salvation exists.   This baptism of John os to stop sin.  What comes in the gospel is that, the forgiveness of sin and having ones lifeline transformed by life that is eternally based.

but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I-  John minimizes his personal power but points to the power in the Messiah instead.  Repentance with Jesus is turning from acts of sin but the freedom in obedience to lift up Jesus.

He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.-  The baptized at the Jordan did not know the theology one can have on the context of those words, but what one could surmise from these words that the Messiah would be a uniter and a purifier. It is interesting the role of the Holy Spirit is described in agricultural terms.  It is because non-life objects like chaff have no seasons but just are.  They are “as is” and not respondent to the ups and downs of seasons. But Jesus indeed gathers his wheat into his barn.  In those days, barns were not seen through an LLC lens but were part of the homestead.  The repentance with John is the blank slate pointing to the need to go home in some manner with this Messiah to come. To convert is to come home.

Not only does the baptized of that day confess sins as a people but confess a hope of belonging in some way and someday with a community. One could imagine that John proclaims the hope of this wheat gathering like an employee of an orphanage helping the children to be ready to be adopted by a good Father.  Wheat grows, consumes and reproduces if gathered in the right place as the living things they are.  Chaff is dead.  The time for repentance from dead works is now so that the wheat, or living works, would be unveiled of God’s sustenance.

This leads me to point to Hebrews 6:2 again on the reference of “repentance from dead works and faith in God”.  The opposite that can hold one back is a false sense of piety and overemphasis on individuality. Furthermore, it would be dependence in ones dead works and faith in self. In other words, ones “chaff”.  The best that could look like would be a form of godliness but not living it and thus denying the fully intended power.

Going forward, much can be attained in living out the knowledge of the difference by leaning on the grace of God as one can also see in Hebrews 6:2 with then “instruction of baptisms and laying on of hands”. These normative steps are the fuller expression of conversion in baptism and being confirmed by the Church in the laying on of hands.   The early Church and the ongoing Church are the wheat barn.  Gathered together  in the Holy Spirit and purified by Christ, we can walk fully in the life of Jesus and know Him by the power of the Holy Spirit in history, mystery and majesty.