All things

Isaiah 4:2-6

 Christians identify Jesus as the branch of the Lord. 

We may think of a branch as a small arm of a larger tree. Even if we see a large branch, the idea is different in Hebrew. It has a broader sense. Think of it as the offshoot or sprout. That is, it comes from something else.

Around Christmas time, we get reminded of Jesus’ lineage. If you have ever read that long list of names in church, you’re helping God’s people remember. Jesus was a part of the family line important to Israel’s salvation history. Of course, there are circumstances behind those names. Some faithful and just. Some just unfaithful. But they all led to Christ.

In Isaiah 4, the prophet sees the branch of the Lord. It “shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel” (Isaiah 4:2). That means a lot when you recall what the land and people would endure before that. Judgement would bring destruction and despair upon them.

With God, there is always redemption. So, the branch of God would cover them again. To those who remain faithful, holy, God promises rejoicing. Part of God’s promise includes God’s presence. A cloud by day and smoke and flaming fire at night will cover the city. Does that sound familiar? That brings us back to the closeness of God to the people in Exodus.

Out of the despair comes hope and restoration. There is a sense God will fulfill a time-sensitive judgement (See Isaiah 4:4). But the hope is not just after it is complete. The hope is that redemption comes out of the experience, too. “Whoever is left in Zion” will be called holy. That promise inspired faithfulness and endurance. 

And what a reminder to us as well. As we endure our own despair, we may wonder what good can come from any of it. Our hope is God’s redemption. So, we trust all things can work together for our good. All things can still lead us to knowing and loving Jesus. All things.

Stay blessed…john

A constant attitude

Matthew 24:23-35

What did Jesus mean when he said “this generation will not pass away until these things have taken place”? Well, there is an abundant supply of words to help answer that. Or you may begin reading them and find they offer no help!

“The Bible was written for you, not to you.” That’s a teaching I keep at the forefront of my mind as I study the Bible. It’s from a Bible scholar whose work I appreciate. It means when we read the ancient words of scripture we must keep in mind to whom they were first written. The message meant something to them first. And it includes images, word plays and assumptions that may be lost to us. So, we do our best to learn the context of what we read.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Bible has nothing to say to us. It does. As we seek to learn how the Bible first spoke to its original audience, we, then, learn how it speaks to us today. It was written to them, but also written for us.

So, I assume the disciples had questions about “this generation.” I would love to know how they struggled with that title. What did they make of it? How confused were they? We’ll never know, but that’s part of learning to read the Bible.

And what might Jesus’ words speak for us today?

Jesus used generation before to describe an unbelieving attitude of people. He spoke of a particular people, religious leaders. We have different titles and ways of leading in the church today, but we still have that same kind of attitude. That generation wasn’t going anywhere until the end. We learn, then, how to faithfully live out our calling even though that attitude is still around.

People will try to lead us away from God’s kingdom priority. They may use loud shouts of disapproval or employ more subtle means of distraction. But the words of Jesus will not pass away. They are there to inspire and to encourage us. They will, hopefully, convict us at times and motivate us to greater faith and discipleship.

Stay blessed…john

Bent toward life

Genesis 9:1-17

Does God condone capital punishment or not? And should Christians?

One argument says the command God gave Noah stands for all humanity because it predates the covenant God made with Moses. So, while the Mosaic law was God’s communion with Israel, Noah’s represented something broader. Also, it’s a commandment related to the nature of God. As such, it doesn’t go away. And since God approved of capital punishment once, Christians can affirm it today.

But another argument suggests we can’t pick and choose what we want from the Old Testament. So, if we hold on to the capital punishment command, we must also adhere to all the other commandments. One way around that argument offers the reminder there are categories of commandments. These categories allow us to decide which restrictions and commands apply to our modern sensibilities. Old Testament regulations, then, including capital punishment, are up for debate.

Of course, there are many more details and considerations to include. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to learn more of them. My reflection on issues like this one falls back on the atonement of Jesus. We are saved by Jesus. That is a fundamental Christian affirmation. How Jesus saved us is an ongoing conversation.

I find I appreciate most the Christus Victor view of atonement. That is, when Christ saved us, Jesus defeated our enemy and the ways in which the enemy seemed to prevail over us. In the Bible, God brings life and is always looking to nurture and build upon life. In part, that’s what makes murder so serious.

On the other hand, according to Jesus, the enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). So, I can’t see Jesus affirming the death penalty because it’s more the way of the enemy. We may justify it, but it’s more death. Jesus used the death penalty to show he could conquer without it.

Does that mean God doesn’t care about right and wrong, justice and truth? Of course not. God does more than you think you do. Or, if we don’t condone capital punishment, does that mean we shouldn’t create other forms of appropriate punishment? Again, of course not.

Scripture also teaches us there are still rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world and spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). When we’re not careful, we can easily fall in line with them, even in our fight against them. But Jesus prevailed over the enemy and his way of death. And the Lord did it his life-giving way. So, whatever God affirms it’s bent is toward life.

And may God help us to follow.

Stay blessed…john