Sunday, September 18, 2016

But we preach Christ crucified

Paul, the former anti-Christian oppressor, had an vision of Jesus Christ that completely changed him. He became a pro-Christ evangelist. He wrote half of the Christian scripture. He applied his deep studies in the Jewish scriptures before his conversion to the surprise ending of those scriptures after his conversion.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth he tells them, 1 Cor. 1
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

He was a highly educated Jew, and no argument from Christians changed him. He was not opposed to oratory, he engaged in it, but he knew, by itself, reason was powerless. For Paul, Jesus was the completely unexpected ending that only made sense post-conversion. The execution of Christ was not what was supposed to happen to the anticipated Jewish Messiah, even though several other pretenders had come and gone promising Davidic deliverance.

Metaphorically, Paul's previous glasses which he read the Jewish Scriptures broke and were replaced with the Jesus spectacles, allowing him to read everything as if for the first time. No longer was Abraham the epitome, nor Moses, nor Elijah, nor David; they all stood in contrast to Jesus (also none of them rose from the dead). In his second letter to Corinth he explains this transition from veiled to clarity. 2 Cor. 3
14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Verse 17 is a hint at his approach to those scriptures. God is found in the passages that bring liberation, not those that burden the readers. I think when Paul writes he preaches Christ crucified, he is talking about pulling back the veil. The veil makes contrast difficult. The bright light of the the life and teachings of Jesus enhance the contrast. Jesus overrules Moses, eye for an eye is out, adulteress executions are out. Jesus overrules Joshua, we are to love our enemies. Jesus negates Elisha, he doesn't feed his opponents to bears. Jesus is greater than David, winning by dying, not by killing.

Paul describes what he preaches, not prescribes it. However, in my life time in fundagelical churches, I've heard a lot of unveiled scripture teaching without revealing the concealed Jesus or not about Jesus at all but something spiritual, or political or ethical. Every part contributes to the story, whose main character is Jesus. It's like a great mystery novel. Some parts are misdirections. Some parts are important clues. The minor characters are complex, partly right and partly wrong. It's the bright light of Jesus that reveals all these things. I think everyone should hear how the story and how each part contributes to it. It's the greatest story ever told, according to some.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

You are a royal priesthood

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

In the Jewish scriptures the Levite tribe, which Moses belonged to, were designated a landless priesthood by blood to serve the rest of the Israelite tribes. In the same way, the church serves the same purpose today as the priesthood for the world.

One expectation on this priesthood is to praise God with our stories, what was done for us by Him, from darkness to light, from disunity to unity, from condemnation to mercy. It's more than talk though it's a walk: a walk in love, a walk in unity, a walk of mercy.

This has some important obligations for the Christian church. Peter continues,
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Part of this testimony of praise is a life of love physically manifested by good deeds.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
This royal priesthood of love is one of deference to the leaders who oversee the lands we live in, whether it be a malevolent godless dictator or a kind Christian african american. We do not pray for their destruction but for their conversion, to have a similar transit from darkness to light. We do not testify by our judgment but by our good deeds, our love, and the honor we give to others.

Jesus is the prototype of this priesthood.
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
This priesthood does not retaliate or threaten, but suffers, believing that even death cannot destroy the victory of God. In chapter 4 he writes, 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Love is the priority of our ministry, without it, we are just making noise.

The story no longer stops here for me, because I realized the priests were not the only ones chosen by God. They were a subset of a larger group of chosen ones.

Everyone is loved by God (For god so loved the world...) and will know his love for all eternity. A Jew did not have to be a Levite to be one of God's chosen people, nor does the non-Christian world. In Peter's 2nd letter he writes, 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. What is repentance? a change in thinking, a change from a self focus to a neighbor focus, from selfishness to generosity, from hate to love. In the meantime, those of us who have joined the priesthood pray daily for Christ's kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as in heaven, then live it out - where he is the object of our desire, where those who are in need are fed and clothed, where reconciliation happens - offenses are forgiven and offenders ask for forgiveness, where mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).

All God's children are called to his kingdom of love. His patience is eternal. Everyone recognizes love eventually, even if not in this life, Matthew 5:26, I Corinthians 3:11-15. The royal priesthood is the love advance team hollering about the good news that love is better than we can imagine that love has been embodied and died at our hands yet still forgives. Love always wins in the end.