Last of the Old Testament Prophets

(2 of 8 in a series)

In the early chapters of the gospels, John the Baptist arrived on the scene and announced that the coming of the Messiah was imminent.  “As for me, I baptize you in water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not even fit to remove His sandals.  He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean His threshing floor, and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Mt 3:11-12).

Notice the imagery used by John the Baptist.  The great day of salvation and judgment is just around the corner.  John the Baptist is clearly a prophet in the Old Testament mold and as such expects the coming of the Lord to include His judgment; “cleaning His threshing floor and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  One of the proclamations John may have been familiar with referring to the coming Messiah is found in Isaiah 61:1-2.  “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.”  In keeping with many of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah, these verses contain both a rescue and judgment promise.

But a curious thing happened when Jesus of Nazareth, our proclaimed Messiah, showed up.  Jesus downplayed the political aspect, the king aspect, of His identity and the judgment thought to accompany His coming was left out altogether.  In fact, look at Jesus own reading of Isaiah 61 at the start of His earthly ministry.  “And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.  And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him.  And He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’  And He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him.  And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ “ (Lk 4:16-21).

Remember the last phrase in our Isaiah 61 passage quoted previously:  “and the day of vengeance of our God”?  It is missing in Jesus’ reading in Luke 4.  Is this significant?  Did Jesus just randomly decide He had read enough?  Is it a New Testament typo?  I don’t think so.  It is significant because it fits the nature of the rest of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Jesus did not come, in His first advent, to fulfill the judgment aspect of the Messiah promise.

Jesus said as much in John 3:17, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him.”  This concept, that Jesus first advent was not to involve the judgment, threw just about everyone off balance regarding His identity.  The Jews were looking for the Messiah King, judgment included.  Even John the Baptist was taken aback.  Remember his prophecy regarding the coming Savior; “cleaning house and burning up the chaff.”  Jesus’ failure to pick up that mantle even had John the Baptist raising questions.  Shortly before his death, John sent his disciples to Jesus to inquire, “Are you the Coming One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Mt 11:3).  This from the prophet who baptized Jesus and heard God’s voice from heaven, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased” (Mt 3:17).  Jesus paraphrased Isaiah 61 in His answer to John’s disciples, “Go and report to John the things which you hear and see:  the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Mt 11:4-5).  Jesus was saying, “You can assure John that I am the Anointed One, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.”

What happens next will be the topic of our next post.

The New Kingdom

(1 of 8 in a series)

One of the best ways to understand what changed between the Old and New Testaments, between the Old and New Covenants, is to explore, study, and evaluate what exactly Jesus did when He ushered in the kingdom of God.  We often comprehend the meaning of Jesus’ first advent totally around His substitutionary death on the cross.  But we cannot separate Jesus’ delivery of a new covenant, a new arrangement with God that was made true by His death and resurrection from His broad description of initiating the kingdom of God on earth.  The two are inseparable.  When we accept the new arrangement with God that Jesus wrought on the cross as our substitute, when we embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ, we become citizens of His kingdom immediately in the here and now.

Jesus began His earthly ministry with this proclamation, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15).  That Jesus announced the kingdom of God has arrived should be of no surprise to us looking back since we believe that Jesus is indeed the Messiah King promised as the one to come by various Old Testament prophets.  However, in real time 30 AD, it soon became apparent that Jesus was not fulfilling the Old Testament prophecy as His contemporaries expected.  Their familiarity with kings and kingdoms involved political and military might, subjection of populations, and ruling with power.  Since Jesus avoided these power structures altogether, what kind of kingdom could He be proclaiming?  And what is its nature?  One of the more perplexing aspects of Jesus’ kingdom is its secret nature.  This nature is brought into sharper focus as we investigate the Old and New Testament timeline in the announcement of the new kingdom; the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of His beloved Son as it is variously called.

In the Old Testament, proclamation was made loud and clear that a Messiah is coming.  And this Messiah carries with Him a strong political significance.  Quoting the “Messiah” entry in The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, we read, “[The Messiah] is to destroy the world powers in an act of judgment, deliver Israel from her enemies, and restore her as a nation.  The Messiah is the King of this future kingdom to whose political and religious domination the other nations will yield.  His mission is the redemption of Israel and His dominion is universal.  This is the clear picture of the Messiah in practically all of the Old Testament passages which refer to Him.”

In essence, The Messiah was to come with power and bring deliverance, judgment, and restoration.  His future coming was called “the Day of the Lord,” and this proclamation, taking various forms and spokesmen, is a prominent theme throughout the Old Testament.  Joel 1:15, 2:1,11,31, 3:14, Amos 5:18, Zeph. 1:14-16, and Mal. 4:1,5 use this phrase – the Day of the Lord – with various adjectives such as great, awesome, and terrible.  The summary of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah King is that He would appear at the great and awesome Day of the Lord.

With this background of Old Testament prophecy regarding the nature of the Messiah’s coming, we will continue our timeline next post with the arrival of the last of the “Old Testament” prophets; John the Baptist.

A Flood of Dissipation

Our last post included a quote from I Peter chapter 4.  I include it again here, extending it to verses 1 through 5.  “Therefore, since Christ has suffered death in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered death in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.  And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they malign you; but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (I Pet 4:1-5).

Beginning in verse 1, follow these powerful word pictures with me.

  •  Christ died “in the flesh,” i.e. as a man.
  • Because our flesh “died” with Christ, sin is no longer our normal practice (“he who has died has ceased from sin”).
  • In fact, with the time we have left on earth (“the rest of the time in the flesh”) we should be following “the will of God,” not our former lusts.
  • Following the “lusts of men” was our former course and many of these activities are described here in verse 3.
  • But these activities are clearly in our past (“the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried these out”).
  • For those who have not “died with Christ,” (i.e. have not become His children by embracing His message), they continue on their sinful path, our former path; a path described as a “flood of dissipation.”
  • They are “surprised” or “shocked” that you no longer join them, and they “malign” or “heap abuse” on you because of it.
  • But take courage under their persecution, God the righteous judge is on your side.

“Flood of dissipation” is an interesting phrase.  It is translated from two Greek words; ANACHUSIS, meaning overflow, and ASOTIA, meaning wastefulness.  In physics, dissipation is defined as “a process in which energy is used or lost without accomplishing useful work.”  In other words, dissipated energy is wasted energy, energy that is not captured for any useful purpose during an energy exchange.  Peter is painting a picture of our culture’s fascination with sin – in its entertainment, debauchery, and idolatry – as an overflow of dissipation, a flood of waste.  And who, if we have been paying attention to our entertainment and news culture, wouldn’t agree with Peter’s assessment, and who among us hasn’t felt that sense of waste when we have been caught up in it.

We somehow have the mistaken idea that evangelism happens when we join the culture in their “flood of dissipation.”  That somehow our “good” will rub off in these sinful situations.  That somehow engaging the culture around its sewer enhances our “identification” with unbelievers.

This passage suggests just the opposite.  Our witness and our allegiance to Christ shines brightest when our friends and family are “surprised” by our lack of participation.  This does not mean we become isolationists.  We still engage our unbelieving friends across the family, neighbor, work, sports, etc. spectrum throughout our circle of influence.  We are brothers and sisters with our unbelieving friends under the tent of all of us being created in God’s image, an origin that all humanity shares.  But as far as where our steps go from there, we are to be radically different, not in an obnoxious way, but in a winsome way that invites our unbelieving friends to join us in something better.  Join me in thinking about and praying for all the winsome ways that we can shine the message of Christ in our relationships.

“Holiness Befits Thy House”

“Holiness befits Thy house, O Lord, forevermore” (Psalm 93:5).  God’s dwelling place is adorned or decorated with holiness.  It has the aura of holiness.  It has the look and feel of holiness.  It has the taste and smell of holiness.  It is literally filled up with holiness.  Holiness befits God’s house.  Does holiness adorn your house?

God has placed us here as a family to be salt and light.  If we “bubble wrap” ourselves and our kids, we are making a mistake.  Jesus was called “friend of sinners”.  He didn’t get that title by withdrawing in isolation.  At the same time, I think it is safe to say that Christ was not influenced by the sin He encountered.  While there is danger in being legalistic, of imposing our gray area views on others, or becoming boastful about what we do or don’t do, I think our greater danger is going the other direction.  We hear much advice about engaging the culture.  Unfortunately, I fear much of our cultural engagement is taking place around the culture’s sewer.  Is our effort to relate just an excuse to conform?

The New Testament has plenty to say about not conforming to this world.  We demonstrate and offer a radically different option to our unbelieving friends than the life they are now living.  We are radically different, not because we are better, but because we have been rescued to a new life.

How different is the rescued life?  I Peter 4:3-5 says, “For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.  And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they malign you; but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

The time for sin is “past”.  The time for the practice of sin is in the rear view mirror for the rescued believer.  Could there be any more accurate description of our entertainment culture than we see here in verse 3?  God says run away from these sins of our past, not continue to participate.  Our unbelieving friends should be “surprised” (vs 4) by our refusal to participate.  Why?  Because it is so rare.  Are people surprised by how we parent?  Are people surprised by how we spend our money?  Are people surprised by our refusal to join the gossip and complaining in our workplace?  Are people surprised by what we feed our minds?  This is where we often lose our impact.  Sadly, our Christian life is not surprising.  Let your life be a surprise by your radical identification with Christ.

Surprise the world around you by refusing to “run into the flood of dissipation” that is our current culture’s mentality and be prepared for rejection as “they malign you.”  Stand firm, even if it offends, if it is for the cause of Christ.  Do not offend by being obnoxious, by being angry, by being judgmental.  There is no blessing in that.  And rest in the judgment of Christ.  After all, “He who is ready to judge the living and the dead” is the one we seek to please above all others.

May holiness be the adornment of your house.

Facing Adversity

The blessing of adversity is not an oxymoron.  The goal of these posts on prosperity and adversity is not to depress us.  The promise of adversity is not for us to adopt an Eeyore-like attitude of “woe is me,” looking for the negative in every event and relationship.  It is also not about bringing on adversity needlessly by being obnoxious, offensive, etc.  Adversity will have no trouble finding us when we follow the path God has laid out for us.

The goal is to develop joy in the face of adversity.  It sounds difficult, and it is without the supernatural resources we have in Christ Jesus.  Being joined with Christ in His death is our power and following the example of His joy is our strength.  “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:2-3).  What I have been trying to say is this, “Don’t be surprised by adversity” and “don’t grow weary and lose heart” under its weight.  Instead, embrace adversity with the resources of the supernatural Christian life as being part and parcel with our current kingdom experience.  May you be strengthened by it.

I also would like to quickly add that these prosperity and adversity posts do not imply that God does not financially bless or miraculously heal new covenant believers.  Far from it.  I have seen in our own experience God’s provision ranging from us selling our car to pay the hospital when our first child was born (we were college students with no insurance) to blessings of unexpected financial windfall.  I’m just saying that as I understand the New Testament, there is no ironclad promise, no magic spiritual formula for acquiring wealth.

On the healing side, I believe God heals today.  In fact, I think we are generally too timid in our prayers for the sick.  I believe God heals.  Sometimes it is by His choice that we can’t explain.  Sometimes it is by our prayers of faith.  Sometimes it is not at all.  Healing miracles are happening today.  I just can’t be certain when and where.  But I am content knowing that God knows the when and where for His glory and our good.