Archive for February, 2009

Israel was always cognizant of the special presence of God among them.  God dwelt among them when they travelled in the wilderness and God took up residence in the Tabernacle.  This was by God’s design and at least in my mind indicates the primary way in which God wants to dwell; i.e., he wants to go with His people wherever they go.  However, Israel chooses to localize God and put Him in a box by constructing a temple.  God plays their game and grants their wish.  He had gone from being the God who went with them everywhere, to the God who must be gone to.  But the point is the same, that God chooses to dwell with His people.  Isaiah is the prophet who most forcefully expresses this dwelling in terms of the Holy Spirit.

10 Yet they rebelled
       and grieved his Holy Spirit.
       So he turned and became their enemy
       and he himself fought against them.

 11 Then his people recalled [a] the days of old,
       the days of Moses and his people—
       where is he who brought them through the sea,
       with the shepherd of his flock?
       Where is he who set
       his Holy Spirit among them

 12 who sent his glorious arm of power
       to be at Moses’ right hand,
       who divided the waters before them,
       to gain for himself everlasting renown,

 13 who led them through the depths?
       Like a horse in open country,
       they did not stumble;

 14 like cattle that go down to the plain,
       they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD.
This is how you guided your people
       to make for yourself a glorious name
(Isaiah 63:10-14)

Though Israel was blessed with this presence (and consequently abused it), they were also made to experience it’s loss.  Ezekiel 10 vividly portrays the departure of God’s glory from the temple.  Subsequent passages within Ezekiel’s work will reassure Israel that God’s presence will return to the people.  Ezekiel intentionally links this return of God’s presence with the bestowal of His Spirit (see all the Ezekiel passages referenced thus far in this short series).  He says in 37:27, “I will dwell among them and they shall be my people.”

The longing.  The hope.  The painful awareness that things are not as they should be.  Israel was a people desperate for God’s gracious action; his glorious new age; his awaited Messiah.  Ah how they longed for God’s future.  Oh that God might end the drought, that he might bless all people (though this hope was not readily embraced), that he might renew his covenant and restore his presence.  What a beautiful foundation for the message of the cross.  And the most shocking thing to me–the foundational role of the Holy Spirit in all that was to transpire.  A Person whom I have heard so little about. 

Next we will quickly note the obvious ways in which the New Testament picks up on these themes.

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In addition to the pouring out of God’s Spirit on a dry and thirsty land and the radical inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God, Israel expected a renewal of the the covenant that God had made with them. 




Hear Jeremiah:

31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
       “when I will make a new covenant
       with the house of Israel
       and with the house of Judah.

 32 It will not be like the covenant
       I made with their forefathers
       when I took them by the hand
       to lead them out of Egypt,
       because they broke my covenant,
       though I was a husband to them, ”
       declares the LORD.

 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
       after that time,” declares the LORD.
       “I will put my law in their minds
       and write it on their hearts.
       I will be their God,
       and they will be my people.

 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
       or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
       because they will all know me,
       from the least of them to the greatest,”
       declares the LORD.
       “For I will forgive their wickedness
       and will remember their sins no more.”
(Jer. 31:31-34)

The prophet clearly indicates that the reason for the new covenant had nothing to do with some inherent deficiency with the first, but rather with the deficiency of the people.  Consequently, the new covenant will be one in which the people are moved by God to keep his laws–laws which are written on the heart.  Though Jeremiah does not mention the Spirit explicitly, Ezekiel emphasizes His role dramatically. 

26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.(Ezek. 36:26-27)

The drought of the Spirit.  The inclusion of Gentiles.  The renewed covenant.  Most of you are already thinking of New Testament passages.  But before we move forward, we must consider one more foundational hope–God’s restored presence among the people.

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       “And afterward, brotherhood1
       I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
       Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
       your old men will dream dreams,
       your young men will see visions.

       Even on my servants, both men and women,
       I will pour out my Spirit in those days
(Joel 2:28-29).

Jews who were well versed in the Old Testament were consciously aware that God had great things in store for the Gentiles.  Indeed, Abraham had been told that blessings would flow through him to all people (Jews and Gentiles).  So again, to follow the present line of thinking in Jewish eschatology, whenever the Spirit was poured out upon all people, a Jew would be able to affirm that God’s new age had indeed arrived.  This may be the world’s shortest post, but I simply highlight this brief point to show yet another aspect of Israel’s hope.  Next we will consider the third basic foundation for their eschatology; namely, the renewal of God’s covenant.

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Many Jews at the time of Jesus believed themselves to be living through a drought of God’s Spirit.  The common belief was that the prophetic Spirit had been removed from Israel.  A note from history will suffice to substantiate this claim.  After Judas Maccabeus reconsecrated the Temple after the Maccabean revolt, they did not know what to do with the stones from their desecrated altar (upon which unclean animals had been offered).  Their response was to put them “in a convenient place on the temple hill UNTIL A PROPHET SHOULD COME to tell them what to do with them” (1 Macc. 4:46).  Now, I do not claim to know whether or not and to what extent God was still exercising His influence through prophets.  It appears to me, in agreement with the basic Jewish claim, that God had refrained from doing so on the same scale as He had in the past.  Whether or not this is absolute, I cannot say.  Josephus, for example, speaks of prophetic activity among the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls also speak of the experience of the Spirit among the Qumran community.  What I do know is that there was eager expectation that God would bring an end to this drought by pouring out His Spirit upon His people.

Consider a few examples from the Old Testament:

  • God says to His people in exile, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezek. 36:25-27).
  • The famous “Valley of Dry Bones” in Ezekiel portrays the end of the drought dramatically.  “The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”  4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath [a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.  9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. 11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ “
  • 14 The fortress will be abandoned,  the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever,  the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks, 15 till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field,  and the fertile field seems like a forest. 16 Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. 17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. 18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. 19 Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, 20 how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, 
    and letting your cattle and donkeys range free
    ” (Is. 32:14-20).
  • See also especially Ezek. 39:29; Is. 44:3-4; Joel 2:28

The major interpretive dilemma here is that many of these promises seem to look forward to Israel’s reconstitution as a people in their homeland–a feat which God was to accomplish very soon (a total of 70 years to be exact).  I must confess my own inadequacies on some of these questions, but at the same time believe I can point to some clues that will go a long way toward solving some of them (again, only some of them).  But I’m running ahead of myself.  For now I simply want to trace the expectation and hope at the time of Christ as rooted in Israel’s scriptures, especially in relation to the role of God’s Spirit.  Next we will consider the radical notion of Gentile acceptability as part of the new age expectation.

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raptureBefore diving in to some specifics, I think it necessary to say some things first about eschatology in general.  Eschatology is a big fancy word to indicate the study, discussion or beliefs about things pertaining to the end, or the next age (whatever it may be), etc.  So words like rapture, second-coming, armageddon and others naturally come to your mind when you think of this topic.  I think it important that we know what this word means because it makes discussing these things much easier (it’s easier to say “eschatology” rather than constantly repeating “things pertaining to the end, or the coming age, etc.”).  Without providing substantiation at this time, let me just say that I believe most modern eschatological beliefs are just that–modern.  The Old and New Testament’s vision of the coming age differs radically from that, for example, of the Left Behind series of books.  But more on that anon.

You might be wondering what in the world the Holy Spirit has to do with eschatology.  Well, in fact, quite a lot.  But before we say more, it behooves us to think briefly about the basic Jewish worldview and expectation at the time of Christ.  Most Jews (though there is no monolithic understanding or univocal voice) divided history into two phases–the old age and the coming age.  Within this scheme many held that there would be just one decisive event historically that would mark/bring about the transition into the Messianic age.  The coming of the Messiah (though not all held so firmly to this), the judgment, the resurrection, the new covenant, the restored/reconstituted people of God, the triumph over paganism, etc. all would come about through God’s decisive action in history.  This, again, is a basic (shall I say the basic) way of understanding eschatology from a Second-Temple Judaistic standpoint. 

What I now want to explore before measuring this estimation against the New Testament is the role that the Spirit would play in this coming age.  What will be most fascinating when looking at the New Testament is the way in which Paul (and others) AFFIRM this understanding and yet REDEFINE it at the same time.  More to come shortly.

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Along with some material on the book of Romans, I think I will post some regarding the Holy Spirit.  This will also fit with my current preaching agenda at East Peoria.  My experience of either hearing about or talking about the Holy Spirit has been, upon further reflection, rather shallow and simplistic.  Most discussions of God’s Spirit either pretend He is some spiritual commodity to be obtained and then used for a spiritual high of some sort, or, some distant, antiquated, inactive figure largely responsible for the Bible, confirming Jesus deity and not much more.  I was schooled in the latter and growing up heard very little about the Holy Spirit.  Before I begin saying some things that are constructive, I am just curious if anyone else has had the same experience of hearing so little about a person so prominent?

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So I’m studying (and teaching) Romans and this is about how I feel.  Talk about being the underdog.  I’ve listened to good friends who are preachers talk about how they have taught Romans and about how fun it was and I must confess I’ve always been a bit envious.  I’ve been preaching for about a decade and have yet to tackle this book.  But my envy was trumped by my fear and trepidation.  This book downright scares me.  What is more, the fear that was either real or imagined has been thoroughly validated since beginning the study.  Any certainty I had about the book has only become more ambiguous since diving in.  Yet all is not lost.  I’m beginning to suspect that that is the beauty of the book.  The complexity of Romans is what has guaranteed it’s enduring value to the church.  It has had a word to speak to each generation.

N.T. Wright begins his commentary on Romans by saying,

Romans is neither a systematic theology nor a summary of Paul’s lifework, but it is by common consent his masterpiece. It dwarfs most of his other writings, an Alpine peak towering over hills and villages. Not all onlookers have viewed it in the same light or from the same angle, and their snapshots and paintings of it are sometimes remarkably unalike. Not all climbers have taken the same route up its sheer sides, and there is frequent disagreement on the best approach. What nobody doubts is that we are here dealing with a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge while offering a breathtaking theological and spiritual vision. Perhaps, not surprisingly, it remains the case that anyone who claims to understand Romans fully is, almost by definition, mistaken…

I would agree. Yet again, the effort is well worth it. The payoff is incalculable. The wisdom is impenetrable. And the richness immeasurable. Nearly every imaginable topic and controversial subject surfaces during a study and discussion of this book.  So, if you are just following along, I hope you enjoy and benefit from the material that follows.  If you are a member of the East Peoria church I hope you will spend some extra time in reflection as it pertains to our Sunday evening class.  Also, for your benefit I will post this material in the EPCOC page for easier access.

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