Tag Archives: Messiah

God of the Foreign

God of the Foreign (CaD Matt 2) Wayfarer

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1 (NIV)

It seems a bit out of place to be sitting here in mid-January reading a text that is normally read exclusively in the month of December for Christmas. Along my journey, however, I’ve learned that it is good for me to read things outside of the “normal” contexts. Doing so allows me to see things with fresh eyes and new perspectives. Jesus spoke of those who had eyes but didn’t really see. My desire in this chapter-a-day journey is always that the eyes of my heart will be fully open to see what God wishes to reveal to me in the quiet. I have found that this sometimes requires me to shift focus, as they say in filmmaking.

Shifting focus away from the entrenched visuals and contexts of a commercialized Christmas this morning, I pulled back to examine “These Three Kings” from where I sit amidst the harsh realities of a deep Iowa winter (current temp feels like -3 degrees F). A few things I noted in my observations:

Nowhere in the text does it say there were only three visitors. It only says that there were three gifts. Also, nowhere in the text does it say they were kings. It does make clear that they represented a group that paid attention to astronomy and practiced a form of astrology.

I then considered that Matthew’s audience was primarily Hebrews, and he was writing to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah they’d been waiting for. Hebrews were keenly aware of two great events in the history of their people. The first was their deliverance out of slavery in Egypt. The second was their captivity and seventy-year exile in Babylon (which was in Persia, directly east of Israel).

When the “Who’s Who” of Hebrew nobility were taken into exile, the prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to them. He told them:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

It would seem, therefore, that at least some of them (e.g. Daniel, Mordecai, and Esther) obeyed. They lived and interacted with the community and culture. They shared their stories with their captors. They even shared prophetic words about stars and the coming messiah who would be “king of the Jews.” They shared prophetic words and conversations which existed outside of the text of the Great Story but were recorded and remembered among the heathen hosts of the exile.

In the quiet this morning, I am struck by the fact that Matthew chooses to record that those who were looking for the Messiah, those who came to seek Him, were not Hebrew priests and scholars but those considered foreigners, aliens, and enemies. Matthew makes clear that the infant Jesus was intimately connected to the exiles of Babylon through these mysterious visitors. He was connected to the exile in Egypt by fleeing Herod the Great’s infamous slaughter of the innocents.

What does this mean for me? Here’s what I’m pondering in the quiet:

  • God, the Creator, is constantly at work in places I don’t expect, and in people I would never recognize.
  • Jesus’ arrival began the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham back in Genesis: all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
  • I find it telling that the Hebrew scholars consulted by Herod showed no interest in pursuing the object of the Magi’s inquiry, but the despised “foreigners” went out of their way to seek Him.

I come full circle this morning, contrasting the icons of a commercialized Christmas and the text of the Great Story. Amid the bling and blather of tinsel and tales, I find there is one wearied Christmas phrase that rings true for me:

The wise still seek Him.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Adding it Up

Adding it Up (CaD Matt 1) Wayfarer

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
Matthew 1:17 (NIV)

I was good at math as a kid. I was always pretty good with numbers. I was mid-semester in the eighth grade when my teacher suggested that I switch to advanced math. She thought I was bored with class (probably) and really needed to be challenged (probably not). Despite my protestations of not wanting to switch classes, she kept at it until I agreed to make the switch.

As I recalled this memory in the quiet this morning, Pippin’s words to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring echoed within: “Short cuts make long delays.”

The shortcut I took to advanced math, created a long delay in my love of math. It was a waypoint in my education. By the time I switched to the advanced math class, I had already missed out on a number of foundational lessons. Without those foundational lessons, I was suddenly lost and confused. I may have been bored with the basic class, but now I was discouraged and felt stupid. Looking back, I realize that it was at this waypoint that I abandoned math as a subject I enjoyed. Through the rest of my education, I avoided math like the plague. I graduated from High School with only one year of math, and I graduated college with one remedial semester of the subject.

It’s ironic that my vocational career has been largely spent around numbers, data, and statistics. That which I was too discouraged to learn in the classroom I found I enjoyed learning on the job. I rediscovered my joy of numbers that withered in me all those years before. I grieve that it happened. The further I get in my spiritual journey, the more I’ve discovered that math is a core way God reveals and expresses Himself in Creation.

This came to mind in the quiet this morning as I begin a journey through Matthew’s biography of Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector. He was a numbers guy, so it makes perfect sense that he, just like God, uses numbers to express his purpose and reveal his themes. This, however, is largely hidden from a cursory reading of the text of the first chapter, which is mostly a genealogy (which, let’s be honest, most people skip over).

A couple of things to point out:

Three times Matthew refers to “Jesus the Messiah.” Three is a number of God (e.g. Trinity, three days in the grave, and etc.). Matt’s purpose in writing this biography was largely to explain to his fellow Hebrews that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. He makes this purpose blatantly clear in the first chapter in multiple layers. He says it not only with text but also with the number three.

The Hebrew people knew from the prophets that the Messiah would be a King from the line of David. Not only does the genealogy make this clear, but Matthew chooses to list fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the exile to Jesus. In the Hebrew alphabet, letters perform double duty as numbers. If you take the Hebrew letters that spell “David” and add them together, they total fourteen. Three times Matthew numerically communicates to his Hebrew readers that Jesus was the “son of David” they knew the Messiah would be.

Time and time again in the Great Story I find that God is not who humans expect Him to be. He even says that through the prophet Isaiah: “My ways are not your ways.” The Hebrews of Matthew’s day expected the Messiah to be like human kings who lord over others through power and conscription. With his opening words, Matthew lays the foundation for revealing the Messiah that doesn’t look like the Messiah his fellow Hebrews expected. Jesus, the Messiah Matthew is going to reveal, came to be Lord of those willing to follow through love, servant-heartedness, and suffering. From the very beginning, Matthew expresses clearly that Jesus is the Messiah. From His family tree to His story to the words of prophets, it all adds up.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Rug-Pulling Moments

Rug-Pulling Moments (CaD Ps 89) Wayfarer

You have put an end to his splendor
    and cast his throne to the ground.

Psalm 89:44 (NIV)

This past week Wendy and I enjoyed hosting both of our daughters and their husbands, along with our grandson, Milo. It was a first in many ways. Madison and Garrett just celebrated their first wedding anniversary and it’s the first time that all seven of us were gathered under our roof. It was a really fun week together as a family.

Wendy and I particularly enjoyed three-year-old Milo climbing into our bed early in the morning to cuddle with Papa and Yaya. One morning Taylor joined us one the bed with her cup of morning coffee. A short time later Madison walked in and climbed on the bed, as well. We got to talk, laugh, share stories, and reminisce. What a joy.

On New Year’s Eve, Wendy and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. I couldn’t help but mentally juxtapose the week of being a family together in one house with this relational milestone. Fifteen years ago, the girls were young teenagers reeling from all the changes and turmoil that come when parents divorce and then remarry. It’s messy, and it’s hard when life doesn’t turn the way you planned, and the way you’d always trusted and believed that it would.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 89, is the final song in “Book III” of the compilation of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we know as the book of Psalms. It was likely written after the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. Through the first half of the song the lyrics read like an emotional tour of the “glory days” of King David, of God’s blessing on David, God’s anointing of David, God’s covenant with David, and God’s assurances that the throne of David would be established forever.

Then, the songwriter does a 180-degree pivot. After building up the rosy picture of the Davidic monarchy in all its glory, he quickly yanks the rug out from under me as a reader: “But you have rejected, you have spurned”. It’s such a shocking change of tone that it felt unsettling as I read it in the quiet this morning. And, I couldn’t help but think that this was the songwriter’s intent, to have me feel the shock that he was feeling when life didn’t turn out the way he’d trusted and planned.

The psalmist foreshadows the misunderstanding that surrounded Jesus’ followers when the Messiah’s kingdom turned out to look nothing like what they’d envisioned, believed, and had been taught their whole lives. David’s throne was established forever, which is why the Christmas story we are currently celebrating took place in “the City of David” with a mother and earthly father who were descendants of David. God kept His covenant with David, it just didn’t happen the way everyone expected. As God tells us through the prophet Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55:8 (NIV)

Today’s psalm reminds me of the very human reaction I tend to have whenever life doesn’t turn out the way I planned. Tragedy, unexpected death, life-threatening illness, divorce, job-loss, global pandemic and leave me reeling like having the rugged pulled out from under me. There is shock, there is anger, there is grief, and there are oh so many questions. Like the ancient songwriter, my prayers in these reeling moments on the road of life tend to sound bitter, blaming, and cynical.

I’ve found it to be part of the journey. Like I said in yesterday’s post, these are the stretches of life’s road that lead to digging deeper roots and growing spirit strength. It was hard for me to see it in the middle of the shame of a failed marriage and feeling the anger and disappointment of teenaged daughters. This was never the plan. This was not how it was supposed to work out. Oh, so many questions.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that as a follower of Jesus I need the rug pulled out from beneath me on occasion. Comfortably standing on my own illusions and expectations of what I think life should look like will never allow me to follow Jesus where He is leading me. And even though there are still times when it leaves me reeling for a time, I’ve learned that there are divine purpose in the rug-pulling experiences on this life journey. It usually makes no sense to me in the moment.

Then, down life’s road fifteen years or so, I find myself one morning on the bed together as a family. We’re cuddling the next generation, drinking coffee, swapping stories, and experiencing the joy of being together.

Love Song

Love Song (CaD Ps 45) Wayfarer

The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes;
in many-colored robes she is led to the king;
    behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.

Psalm 45:14 (NRSVCE)

How on earth could you put together an anthology of the lyrics of 150 songs and not have at least one love song in it?

Today’s chapter, Psalm 45, is the lone love song in the book of Psalms. It was penned for the wedding celebration between the King and the princess of another nation who was being married as part of a political alliance between the two countries. The thought was that one king wouldn’t attack another king if that king was a son-in-law. It also meant that you had a family member who had eyes and ears on what was going on within a rival’s palace. This was a common diplomatic practice throughout history even into the last century. If you look at a chart of European royal families it looks like a spider’s web with all the crossing and intersecting lines. Even Queen Elizabeth married her own cousin.

The song is written from the perspective of the bride looking at her groom and singing of how handsome, strong, and powerful he is. The song’s climax is the bride and her virgin bridesmaids walking into the king’s palace and the very next verse is a promise to bear the king many sons (which was a sign of strength and succession), and also a little racy because it alludes to what’s going to happen once she enters the king’s chambers.

The chapter is also interesting from how it was used in history. After the Hebrews returned from exile in Babylon, psalm 45 was considered a messianic psalm pointing to the messiah who would come and ascend the throne of David. That is interesting because marriage was used by Jesus repeatedly as a metaphor when discussing His second coming and the climactic apocalyptic event known as “the Day of the Lord.” The metaphor is that Jesus will come back like a bridegroom to be united with all believers, collectively and metaphorically referenced as the bride.

In my podcast series The Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (I know, I know. I have two episodes left, and I will get a Wayfarer Weekend podcast done this weekend I promise!), I mention that God’s language is metaphor precisely because it can be layered with meaning. When I was a young man attending a fundamentalist Bible college I told to interpret passages like today’s psalm only in terms of its spiritual, prophetic meaning. I mean, we wouldn’t want young people in hormonal overdrive thinking about what’s going on in the king’s bed chamber.

Along my journey, I came to realize that this is not a case of “either or” but “both and.” Yes, there is messianic metaphorical imagery in the song, but that’s not why it was written. It was written as a love song to celebrate a beautiful princess entering the palace and the bed chamber of the king. Man, woman, wedding, love, expression of love, life, pro-creation. That’s beautiful. That’s holy.

[cue: Barry White]

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

God Friended Me

God Friended Me (CaD Ex 28) Wayfarer

Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
Exodus 28:1 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I watched the first season of God Friended Me when it came out a year or two ago. The show is about a preacher’s kid named Miles who is an atheist and has a podcast to discuss is unbelief. God mysteriously “friends” him on Facebook and each episode the “God account” introduces him to a person who Miles is supposed to help, all the while trying to figure out who is behind the God account.

One of the things that I thought was interesting in the writings was that his father is always addressed as “Reverend.” Miles tells people that his dad is a “Reverend.” Everyone addresses his father as “Reverend.” He’s never, that I can remember, referred to as a pastor, priest, preacher, or minister. Just “Reverend.” Which, I kind of found to be unusual to the point of being annoying and one of several reasons I quit watching.

In my experience, clergy across the various denominations, and even religions, are all lumped together in the minds of most people. Either they aren’t sure what to call you, or they simply use whatever word they know from their own experience. And yet, there are major differences in both meaning and role.

A “priest” is typically understood to be a go-between who represents humans before God. In today’s chapter of Exodus, God calls on Aaron and his sons to be priests in the newly established system of sacrifice and worship given through Moses. The chapter goes on to prescribe a very ornate wardrobe for them to wear. The high-priest will be the only one allowed in the “Most Holy Place,” essentially entering God’s presence and representing the Hebrew people before the Almighty. Everything described in the priest’s get-up says that this is a singular and important role. (You can see an artist’s rendition of it in the featured photo of the post, picturing the story of Hanukka.)

In contrast, the term “pastor” is derived from the idea of a shepherd who leads, guides, protects, and provides for the flock. Likewise, the word “minister” means to serve, address, and care for.

From a distance this may just seem like semantics, but it actually has pretty profound implications in one’s understanding of relationship with God. The fundamental question is: “Do I need another human being to be my representative with God?” Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Episcopal doctrine would answer “yes” to that question (though they might all have different takes on it). Most other Protestant categories of believers would answer “no.”

Here’s where it gets interesting. In the book of Hebrews, it is stated that with His death and resurrection, Jesus spiritually became the once-and-for-all High Priest who became the once-and-for-all go-between, intermediary, mediator for humanity. In the system of worship established through Moses in today’s chapter, it is establishing that only Aaron and his male descendants could be priests. According to the family trees given by Matthew and Luke, Jesus was not descended through Aaron but through the royal line of King David. Hebrews explains that Jesus was High Priest, not in the line of Aaron, but “in the order of Melchizedek.” Who’s that? A mysterious character who shows up in the early chapters of the Great Story in Genesis 14 as “priest of God Most High.”

King David would prophetically write about the coming Messiah (Psalm 110):

“The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
‘You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”’

The cool thing established here is that Jesus unites what had previously always been separated. The monarchy and priesthood were separated. The royal line was from David. The priesthood was from Aaron. Jesus, as David himself prophesied, spiritually became both King and Priest.

As Paul wrote to Timothy:

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”

With that distinction, there is no longer need for another human being to be the intermediary between me and God. I have direct access to God and all the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness that flows to me through Jesus delivered by God’s Spirit.

As I read through today’s chapter in Exodus and the ancient, intricate system of worship prescribed, I find myself grateful to be living in this chapter of the Great Story. How cool that my relationship with God does not have to be complicated. John’s beautiful introduction to the Jesus story puts it this way:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Simple.

God friended me.

All I had to do was accept.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

(No Need to) “Wait for It”

 For [God] says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
2 Corinthians 6:2 (NIV)

I  hate waiting. I especially abhor needless and unnecessary waiting.

I confess. I’m convinced this particular disdain and impatience is rooted in being the youngest of four. Growing up I spent years watching my older siblings get to do things before I did. In most cases I can look back from a place of maturity and understand requisite age and size restrictions. Still, there were times when I rightfully argued that capability should have outweighed arbitrary age limits for certain activities. I’m sure of it. At least, that’s the whine of my inner child.

It never ceases to amaze me just how much our childhoods continue to subconsciously affect us in our adult years. Just this past year Wendy came to a sudden revelation about some inner thoughts she had, and their subsequent emotional reactions they created within. She realized that her thoughts weren’t actually her thoughts, but the voice of her mother playing on an endless loop in her brain. Fascinating.

I digress. Back to waiting.

As our local gathering of Jesus followers has been journeying through the book of Acts this year I have been reminded of two major paradigm shifts that happened when God moved humanity from the religious legalism of the Judaic system to the outpouring of Holy Spirit in the first century.

The first paradigm shift was the decentralization of power. Gone was a rigid system in which a human high priest and other humans, simply on the basis of their heredity, have spiritual power and irrevocable spiritual authority over everyone else. By the middle of the story of Acts we’re reading about common, everyday individuals we’ve never heard of, three or four social circles away from the twelve apostles, who God is using to move the Great Story forward. “Wait a minute. Who is this lady, Tabitha? Who is she and where did she come from?”

The second paradigm shift is the lifting of restrictions to experience salvation through Christ and participate fully in the organism Paul refers to as “the body of Christ.” Any and all who choose to follow Jesus have immediate and full spiritual access to all that God has to offer regardless of background, previous record, heredity, socio-economic status, race, gender, politics, education, or age. Any and all who follow Christ receive the indwelling of Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, and a calling to use those gifts, in love, for Jesus’ good will and purpose.

This is a radical, transformative spiritual shift (that human organizations and institutions have continually found ways to reverse for two millennia).

In today’s chapter Paul quotes a verse from Isaiah 49. It’s a great messianic prophecy. I get why it would have been one of Paul’s favorite references. All of Paul’s readers who were raised in Judaism would have been raised waiting for the Messiah. It had been 400 years since the last prophet, Malachi, and since then they’d been waiting for what God was going to do. Paul writes to those in Corinth that there is no longer any need to wait for God. All that God has to offer is immediately available to anyone, anywhere, in this very moment.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about my level of patience. I’ve gotten better at waiting along my journey. “Patience” is a fruit of the Spirit that gets developed over time, and I can see how it has developed in me along the way. I’ve also come to embrace that while all that God has to offer is immediately available, this is still a journey. There’s still a story being revealed. I still have to wait for some things to be fully revealed and realized in this finite, time-laden existence. I’m reminded, once again, of the words of the wise Teacher of Ecclesiastes:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

As for following Jesus, Paul writes to the Corinthians, there’s no time like the present moment.

Prophecy and Reality

Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’
Zechariah 6:12-13 (NIV)

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership of late. With the dawn of 2018 I find myself stepping into not one, but two different leadership opportunities. Yesterday one of my colleagues asked me over the phone how I felt. I answered honestly. There’s a certain level of sobriety and humility that comes with any kind of leadership in which others are depending on you.

In today’s chapter Zechariah shares the last of a series of visions he recorded. Prophetic dreams and visions are an admittedly strange lot. Yesterday over morning coffee Wendy compared them to descriptions of what an acid trip is like. They certainly allow for wide-ranging conjecture, and my experience is that they only gain clarity in retrospect.

One of the things about ancient prophecy is that they often have layers of meaning. On one layer they reference current or recent events, but on another layer they reference future events on a broader scale. Jewish scholars long understood Zac’s vision in today’s chapter to be Messianic in nature. The political-religious system of the Ancient Hebrews was dualistic. The monarchy and civil government was the role for a king from David’s line. The high-priest responsible for spiritual leadership was from the line of Aaron. There were always two leaders.

In Zac’s vision there is a blending of the two leaders into one. A crown is fashioned and placed on the head one called “Branch,” who rebuilds the temple and is a “priest on his throne.” Monarchy and priesthood are made One.

Fast forward to Jesus, whom we just learned in our annual telling of the Christmas story is from the royal line of David. Magi come looking for a royal ” King of the Jews.” Jesus indeed spends His ministry proclaiming the “Kingdom of God” and tells the Jewish leaders “I will destroy this temple and rebuild it in three days.” The author of the book of Hebrews identifies Jesus as “high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” Royal line of David. Kingdom of God. High priest proclaiming that with His death and resurrection old things pass away and new things come. The old Temple system is destroyed and a new Temple has come; A Temple not made with bricks and mortar but with flesh and Spirit.

It’s Zechariah’s vision. Harmony of monarchy and priesthood. Two joined in One.

When you read Jesus’ story there is one thing that becomes abundantly clear. Jesus was not the Messiah most people were looking for. That’s the tricky thing with prophecy. You can think and believe it means one thing all you want…until it doesn’t.

Along this life journey I’ve learned that every leader has a target on his or her back. You don’t step into any leadership position with everyone thinking “Oh yeah, he/she is the perfect person; He/She is destined for the job.” There’s always at least some who are thinking, “He/She is not what I expected. I’m not sure about this.”  This morning I’m taking encouragement in the fact that even the King of Kings had to face that human reality.

Answering “The Question”

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked his closest followers one day. The boys gave various possibilities and arguments they’d heard debated over pita bread and humus among the locals in the cafe.

Jesus then asked his closest friends a more penetrating question.

Who do you say that I am?” He asked.

Over 2000 years later that question still resonates and penetrates. It’s a blunt question Jesus asks, and it would seem He wants from me a blunt answer.

“Come on, Tom. Step up. Decide for yourself. Make a declarative statement, because it determines many things. Who do you say that I, Jesus, am? By the way, refusing to answer is an answer that tells me as much as if you just declare what you think and believe.”

When I was a young man I grappled honestly with the answer to this question. I think the answer can change for all of us over time. C.S. Lewis famously speaks of going for a bike ride. When he started the ride he didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah, and when he arrived at his destination he did. Such is the journey of faith.

I held a debate within my heart and mind over a long period of time. There were days when I would have answered “a good man,” “a prophet,” “a great teacher who was somewhat confused about the answer himself.” It was a cold February night in 1981 when I made a declarative decision that changed the course of my life. I came to what was basically the same conclusion Peter came to when Jesus first confronted his followers with the question:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

Hebrews is a letter that was intended to be dispersed specifically among the followers of Jesus scattered across the world who were also Jewish by birth and/or tradition. Who wrote the letter is a matter of long debate across the centuries, but whoever wrote it was educated and very knowledgable about the Hebrew scriptures (what we commonly refer to as the Old Testament). The purpose of this letter we call The Book of Hebrews is to lay out an answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” for Jewish believers.

This morning, I’m once again pondering Jesus’ question anew. While my basic answer to the question has never changed since that cold February night, the answer has grown, matured, deepened, and evolved. When I say today that I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, it means something much fuller, richer and deeper than it did back then. I’m grateful for that, and meditate this morning on the journey that’s brought me from there to here.

It’s been five years since I last trekked through Hebrews on this chapter-a-day journey. I’m looking forward to treading familiar ground from a different waypoint in this life journey.

While We Wait for Deliverance

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—
Isaiah 63:7 (NIV)

We love stories of the lone hero. The mysterious figure shows up out of nowhere to aid the victim(s) of injustice and take out the bad guys who are oppressing the many. We see echoes of this theme from chivalrous medieval tales like Robin Hood, to the great Westerns like High Plains Drifter, and even the classic Samurai movies of Kurosawa.

As I often say, all good stories are echoes of the Great Story. In today’s chapter the prophet Isaiah presents us with a poetic vision of Messiah who stands alone in doling out wrath and vengeance to the oppressive enemies of His people. This theme, and Isaiah’s imagery, is intricately wound into the visions of John’s Revelation, which would come hundreds of year’s later.

Isaiah’s poem starts out all bloody wrath as Messiah alone dispenses divine justice. Then, Isaiah’s poem turns to reveal the kindness and compassion towards the victims of injustice. Isaiah proclaims this kindness towards a rebellious and undeserving people who, in Isaiah’s current circumstances, are suffering from the destruction of their nation and God’s temple. The poem ends with a plea for that mysterious hero to show up.

I’m reminded this morning that we all go through times in our lives which seem dark and hopeless. We long for a hero, mighty to save, to dispense justice. Our hearts pour out pleas for deliverance as an unceasing mantra. Both of these are longings for that which we do not control. Yet amidst the two, the hope for a Deliverer and our pleas for deliverance Isaiah places a simple act:

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal there was an article with advice for those who chronically worry. One expert advised that people “tell themselves a different story.” I think that’s exactly the example Isaiah provides us. Even in the darkest of times, as we wait for deliverance and better times to come, we can recall the stories of blessings we have been graciously afforded, and ways that God has strengthened, provided, and shown us faithfulness.

Reaching the Islands

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
    you islands, and all who live in them.
Isaiah 42:10 (NIV)

 

As I read this morning’s chapter I couldn’t help but notice the word “islands” popping up.

…he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.

Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them.

Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim his praise in the islands.

Today’s chapter, penned by the ancient seer Isaiah, continues his prophesies concerning the coming Messiah. The imagery of the islands speaks the great lengths to which Jesus will reach with His love and Message. Those living in remote isolation will discover hope that Messiah brings. Praises will ring out, not just from the cities and population centers, but also from the remote and distant islands.

I can’t help but think about Paul Simon’s I am a Rock lyrics this morning as I mull over this island metaphor:

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark
December,
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,
But I’ve heard the words before;
It’s sleeping in my memory.
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me,
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain,
And an island never cries.

How apt on this deep, dark December morning to be reminded that many of us dwell on an island amidst a sea of people. This week as we surround ourselves with family and friends, many of us feel more isolated and island-like than ever. Islands can be a place of deep, remote isolation.

That’s exactly why Paul reminded the followers of Jesus living in the bustling capitol of the Roman Empire that there was no distance, or power, that could separate us from the love God that is in Christ Jesus. Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled. Jesus love reaches us no matter how far out or in we have isolated ourselves, or have been isolated.

We simply must have ears to hear Him knocking, and open the door.