Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pictures from the Old Testament: Circumcision and the Messiah

Circumcision can be a delicate matter, but it's used in the Bible as a picture of our salvation in Christ.  So let's see if we can explore the idea, shall we?

Circumcision was common among many of the nations of the ancient near east, where Abraham was called by God.  The Lord ordered Abraham and his male descendents to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant God had instituted with him: (Gen. 17:1-14).  If foreigners wanted to join the covenant community, their males would also be circumcised, so that act became a sort of initiation ritual.  Any man who didn't carry the identifying sign of the covenant, or fulfill various other rituals of the Old Covenant, would himself be "cut off" (either thrown out of the community or killed). 

Figuratively, God began to use "circumcision of the heart" in the Hebrew scriptures to look forward to a day of changed hearts and obedience to God from an inward motivation.  See Deut. 10:16 and 30:6.  In Jeremiah 4:4 the prophet says the people should circumcise their hearts, but that is figurative in more ways than one, because they couldn't change their hearts; God was looking forward to a whole new covenant. 

But there's another level of understanding.  In a Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53, verse 8 says that this suffering servant would be unjustly 'cut off':  "Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream.  But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people."  Daniel 9:26 also describes how this Anointed One (Hebrew "messiah") would be cut off.  Jesus, as we know, had no sin in himself, but he took on all our sin and died to take it all away (2 Cor 5:21).   He was "cut off," in our place, to bear the blame and the shame of all humanity being "uncircumcised in heart and ears" (Acts 7:51).  So this ancient practice, in a sense, pre-figured not only our own salvation and change of heart, but also the Messiah himself -- Jesus the Christ. 

God has designed a system of symbols and meanings, written into scripture, to show us who he is and how he loves us in many different ways.  This is just one more symbol or idea from the Hebrew Scriptures that looks forward to Jesus.  After all, it's all about him!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Resurrection Body

I'm becoming very thankful that one day, this body will be changed to a more glorious form that will be suitable for eternity.  I think a lot of those I love and serve in the church, along with The Lovely Joanne, feel the same way.  The last six months or so, we've all been assaulted by a myriad of aches and pains, and medical treatments for various body parts that have quit working up to the original specification.  We've been poked and prodded, stabbed with needles and shot with various kinds of rays, given exercises to do and pills to take, in an attempt to get the engine going again.  And in June, of course, Joanne and her father and I said goodbye to her mother, Joyce, as this mortal life ended for her. 

This physical body is not designed to last forever.  David said famously in Psa. 90:10, "Seventy years are given to us!  Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away."   Paul follows up on that in the "resurrection chapter," 1 Cor. 15.  Let's look at v. 53:  "For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies."  The earthly body, not suited to eternity because it decays, "cannot inherit what will last forever" (v. 50).  So God will give us a body, "the new body he wants [us] to have" similar to the way a seed planted in the ground sprouts in a new form (v. 38). 

We received our human body because of Adam, and will receive our spiritual body because of Jesus Christ (v. 45-49).  We will not be disembodied spirits, but will have bodies made for us by God: "For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies" (2 Cor. 5:1-3).  Jesus, after his resurrection, still looked like himself, including the wounds he had suffered on the cross.  He ate and drank with his disciples -- but he could also appear and disappear at will, and travel somehow.  And we will be given bodies like his (Phil. 3:21) so it follows that we, like Jesus, will look much the same as we have before.  (Now, there's a big debate about whether we'll get our hair back, or how much we will weigh -- the Bible doesn't say, and I'm not going there either!  You'll just have to find out later.)

What a relief that will be!  No more doctor visits or hospital stays, blood tests or mammograms.  Proctologists and gynecologists alike will be out of work (not that they'll mind, I'm sure!).  Joints and muscles will work properly again, and we won't be bothered with psoriasis, cancer or Crohn's disease.

What do we do in the meantime, while we suffer from these things?  We deal with what we have patiently, and look out for one another.  "Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:16).  And with hope in our hearts, let's look forward to the end, when even death will be destroyed completely by Jesus (1 Cor. 15:26).  Amen to that!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Apprentices of Jesus

Mrs. Williamson just celebrated her 97th birthday, and that stirred up wonderful memories for me.  Her late husband hired me to work on their farm for the summer in Kansas when I was just a lad.  He taught me how to drive a tractor and a truck, how to listen carefully to instructions, to remember exactly where in the workshop he said to find the tool he sent me for, and how to work hard and not quit even when it was a long day.  I watched and learned from him how he planned his work to do the harder part first, how he could move a heavy load of hay or grain almost without trying, how to take time to go fishing whenever he could, and many, many other lessons in work and life.  He was a great example. 

Jesus told his disciples “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Mat. 4:19).  For three years or so, they followed him around, camping out under the stars or staying in someone's home, doing the chores as well as watching him perform miracles.  They learned by watching him and imitating what he did.  He even kicked them out of the nest and commanded them to do what he had done (Luke 10:1-10).  They learned what he taught as they went along, and the Holy Spirit was responsible to help them remember and to learn more, even after Jesus ascended bodily to heaven (John 14:26).

Paul told his followers "And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1).  Paul's life was very intense, living among people from city to city and teaching them what Jesus had taught, being persecuted but persisting in teaching the Good News.  And some of Paul's followers did imitate him, even to the point of dying for their beliefs. 

Discipleship is, in some Christian circles, mostly studying the Bible, learning facts about God, and being told to be active in a local church.  A more accurate understanding of "disciple" is that of "apprentice" -- not learning facts so much as learning how.  Like Mr. Williamson taught me.  Like Jesus and Paul taught their apprentices, who would go on to teach others:  "You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others" (2 Tim. 2:2).

Being an apprentice of Jesus is not only studying his words, but action:  staying close to him in prayer and submission, loving as he loved, giving as he gave, even sacrificing ourselves as he did.  And taking on other apprentices, to show them the way as we've been shown.  Do you have an apprentice, learning from you how to walk with Christ?  If not, how about asking Jesus to show you who he has for you?  It could be a family member (the first place to look) or a co-worker or friend.  Even if they don't yet believe as you do, letting them see the peace and joy you have in Jesus can open them up to becoming a believer.  It's never too soon or too late to begin...how about today?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jesus Cleans Us Up

The woman following Jesus that day (Luke 8:40-48) was bleeding, and in Jewish society that meant, according to the purity laws God had given the Israelites through Moses, she was unclean and under  restrictions (see Leviticus 15).  She may have given birth or it may have been something else, but for twelve long years, she had continued to bleed rather than heal naturally.  Anyone and everything she touched became ceremonially unclean -- so it would have become very inconvenient for her to live in a home with her family.  She might have had to live on the streets, suffering the rejection of the public as well. 

Surely, she thought, if she could ask this great teacher, Jesus, for healing, she would be well.  But she was ashamed.  She had received only condemnation from her own people, as they would have concluded her disease was due to sin.  Her shame was so great she couldn't face anyone, let alone this powerful teacher and healer.  She saw her chance as the crowd thronged around him, reached out and touched his garment -- just the little bit of the lower hem that was in her direction for an instant.  Instantly, Luke tells us, her flow was stopped.  She was healed!  (Jesus, as God in the flesh, was not made unclean by her touch; his power cured diseases and uncleanness, showing he was superior over them all!)

Jesus knew his power had healed her, and demanded that she come out in the open so the Father could be given praise for her healing.  So now, all who knew her as a hopeless woman, trapped in her uncleanness, could know God's power. 

Jairus asked openly (v. 41) for healing, and Jesus responded willingly.  The woman was ashamed to ask openly, but she was healed regardless, because she responded to the love and power of God in faith. 

Here's the question:  What is in you right now that needs Jesus' healing power?  Are you ashamed of it?  Are you ready to ask him for healing?  His power is more than enough for your needs.  Admit your need, come close to him, and let his power pour through you.  You will never be the same again!