Zechariah 2:10-11 and The International Scope of the Church

Bible Series ZechariahI love when I see clear references to the Church in the Old Testament. There are so many different prophecies that may or may not be interpreted to be the Church, and then there are some that are obvious upon first reading. Take this section from Zechariah:

10 Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Zion,
        because I am about to come and dwell among you, says the Lord.
11 Many nations will be joined to the Lord on that day.
        They will become my people,
            and I will dwell among you
            so you will know that the Lord of heavenly forces sent me to you.”

Jesus, God the Son, dwelt among us. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, continues to dwell among us. The Church opened up the Covenant People of God to all nations, not just the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is a view of the restoration of Jerusalem and the Covenant People beyond the scope of what most Jewish people would have thought, and it is given around 500 years before Jesus was born.

I love how God prepares and foreshadows what he is going to do well in advance!

Genesis 23:4 and Death

The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

Abraham was a sojourner and stranger in Canaan most of his life.  It is only at the end of Sarah’s life that he actually purchases a piece of property, the beginning of receiving the Promised Land.  When Sarah was 127 years old she died, and Abraham goes to the city gates of Hebron and says,

“I am an immigrant and a temporary resident with you. Give me some property for a burial plot among you so that I can bury my deceased wife near me.”

This is the beginning of the fulfillment to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of receiving the land promised to them by God.  And it is a graveyard.  The first fruits of the Promised Land is a tomb.  This is because the Old Covenant is subject to death and decay.

Throughout Genesis prosperity and material wealth are seen as God’s blessing on people.  This is because death overshadows everything.  Even the Promised Land is a place of death, as evidenced by the first portion of it being a tomb.  And the Old Covenant can never get past this fact, or overcome death.

The New Covenant, however, has conquered death and is no longer overshadowed by it.  It gives, not material blessing and land (which still has death in the background), but eternal life and an existence free from fear.

Later in the Old Testament the Promised Land is described as a land flowing with milk and honey, all of the good things in life, but the Hebrews brought with them the bones of Joseph to be buried in this very tomb.  Even then death overshadowed the covenant and the promise.

One of the greatest gifts of the New Covenant is that death is no more and has no sting.  Our Promised Land is a place of healing, wholeness, and holiness.  Death has no place there.

Genesis 15:1-8 and Doubts

abraham-starsThere are billions of people in the world that look to Abraham as the spiritual (or literal) father of their own faith.  Indeed, Abraham is lifted up as the paragon of faith in the New Testament.  In this passage, it is interesting to see how Abraham dealt with doubts:

After these events, the Lord’s word came to Abram in a vision, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector.  Your reward will be very great.” But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer, a man from Damascus.”  He continued, “Since you haven’t given me any children, the head of my household will be my heir.” The Lord’s word came immediately to him, “This man will not be your heir. Your heir will definitely be your very own biological child.”  Then he brought Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them.” He continued, “This is how many children you will have.” Abram trusted the Lord, and the Lord recognized Abram’s high moral character. He said to Abram, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.” But Abram said, “Lord God, how do I know that I will actually possess it?”

Abraham had already left his home, his father, and everything he knew to go to a new land he had never seen as a response to the calling of God.  The Lord had already promised Abraham that his descendants would be given this land and Abraham had traveled all throughout this Promised Land to see the land.  God had already promised that Abraham’s children would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore.  And here Abraham questions God.

I find it extremely telling that Abraham would listen to God and obey God, and yet still have this question about children.  Abraham must have known that God can and does work in ways that are not always what we expect.  He heard the promise about descendants from God before, yet he realized that God never explicitly stated that it would be Abraham’s literal children.  So, after seeing how God protected him in his battle to rescue Lot, Abraham has enough courage to ask God specifically about offspring.

Notice, this means that Abraham believed God, and he believed God would answer his question (which is a sign of faith as well), but he doubted that the promise included he and his wife literally having children.  Once that question was directly answered by God, then Abraham knows that he can converse directly with God, so he asked the next question on his mind.  This question, about the land, was also one of those promises that God had made to Abraham and never really gave much detail to what was meant by it or how God would make it come true.  Now Abraham has the courage to ask about these promises that directly impacted and changed his life forever.

There are times when we catch a glimpse of a promise or calling in our lives by God, but we may not have an explicit understanding of what it means.  If we follow the example of Abraham, and we respond in faith, even if we still have doubts, God will make it abundantly clear to us what we are called to be and do, provided we are honest enough with ourselves and God to admit our doubts and seek answers to them.

John 9:1-7 and Who is Jesus?

jesus.healJesus gets asked several times throughout his ministry who he is, what authority he has to do what he does, and what he actually means by what he says.  Many times his answers are not direct.  This miracle is another instance of Jesus showing all around who he is, but not in a completely direct manner.

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”  Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.  While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work.   While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes.  Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.

There are several things going on in this passage.  First, Jesus shows how illogical it is to assume bad things happen to people because of sin.  This man could not have sinned before he was born so that he was born blind, nor would God have punished him for the sins of his parents.  God holds people accountable for their own sins, not someone else’s sins.

Second, Jesus shows that he is God.  Just two verses before this miracle Jesus answers his accusers with the statement, “I assure you,” Jesus replied, “before Abraham was, I Am” (8:58).  With this statement Jesus tells the religious leaders questioning him that not only is he the One who spoke to Moses from the burning bush on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 3, but because of that fact he is also the One who made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis.  I Am is the divine name of God, and by Jesus using that name for himself, he is telling them he is their God.

Then, immediately following that exchange, we have this miracle.  Here we have a man whose eyes did not form properly.  He was born without working eyes; he was born blind.  Jesus, the I Am, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator, finds this man and takes dirt from the ground to heal him.  Actually, he takes dirt from the ground to create new eyes for him.  He shows everyone that he creates just as he created in Genesis 2:7, where God took dirt from the earth and created man.  Jesus takes dirt from the earth and completes the creation of this particular man.

For all who are paying attention, Jesus just demonstrated that he is, in fact, I Am.

Abraham and Faith

Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac

Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac

As we get closer to Advent, the season in the Christian year when we look forward to the arrival of Christ, I have been thinking about faith.

Faith is what opens up a relationship with God, but what is faith?  I know many people who run to Romans 4 to talk about faith as opposed to working.  Faith is belief, working is trying to earn your place with God.  Abraham is justified, or made right with God, by his faith and not by what he did.  God gave circumcision, the beginning of the Covenant, after Abraham was counted as righteous because of his faith.

This is all true, but it is not all there is to the story.  Abraham had to have enough faith that it changed how he lived.  He had to believe that the God who was speaking to him was actually divine and would live up to His promise, and then he had to prove that he believed it by leaving his father’s house in Haran and going to an unknown land because God said to go (see Genesis 12).

Not only this, but if we go further in the Romans 4 passage, we find this:

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:18-22)

This passage speaks very strongly about Abraham’s faith, but it was faith that led to action.  Sarah was not Mary.  Isaac was not miraculously conceived without a father.  He arrived in the world in the normal way.  Abraham had to have enough faith in God that at 100 years old, he and Sarah tried to have Isaac.

If our faith is not strong enough to change the way we think, live, act, and react in the world, then it is no faith at all.  This is why James can write with confidence that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Interestingly, “faith by itself” in Latin is sola fides.  This was one of the hallmarks of the Reformation and one of the reasons why the issue of faith versus works is such a hot topic, even today.  And interestingly enough, this verse in James is the only place in the entire Bible where the phrase “faith alone” is used.  We would be well to remember that faith alone can never save, because we have to have faith enough to change how we live.

If Abraham had faith alone, Isaac would never have been born and Paul’s entire theology of salvation coming through the promise would be gone, not to mention the fact that Paul would never have been born since the Twelve Tribes of Israel would not have been born since Jacob would not have been born.

The next time you stop and think about salvation by faith, ask God what the Isaac is in your life that He is planning for you, provided your faith is strong enough to change how you act.