Tag Archives: Messiah

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.

A Reasonable Mystic

In love a throne will be established;
    in faithfulness a man will sit on it—
    one from the house of David—
one who in judging seeks justice
    and speeds the cause of righteousness.
Isaiah 16:4b-5 (NIV)

Yesterday I has someone approach me about a couple of dreams they’d had in which I played a part in their dreams. This person was nervous to share them with me, but they need not have been. I found the images interesting, though I can’t say for certain what they mean, or if they mean anything at all.

I consider myself a reasonable mystic. I believe that there are things in God’s creation, things of the Spirit, that lie outside our conscious understanding. I believe that God uses the prophetic. I believe that God sometimes speaks through dreams. I equally believe that we humans always mess things up whenever we try to package the divine into a human equation. I don’t believe all dreams are divine. Sometimes dreams are just dreams.

So it is with the ancient prophets. Isaiah was pronouncing a prophetic judgement against the Kingdom of Moab, a small nation that existed on the east side of the Dead Sea. Yet amidst the prophecy against Moab there lies a verse about the Messiah. It sort of sticks out in today’s chapter like a sore thumb.

Love is His throne.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” – Jesus

Faithful is the One who sits on the throne.
“…if we are faithless,
    he remains faithful,
    for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13

One from the House of David.
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11

One who in judging seeks justice.
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
    the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the nations.”
(Jesus quoting Isaiah) Matthew 12:18

and speeds the cause of righteousness.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” -Jesus

The world of the prophetic is an interesting place. It is a place where one prophetic message carries within it a wholly separate, though complementary prophetic message. Within a message for Moab on which Isaiah himself places a three-year timeline (vs. 13) is a prophetic word that would begin to be fulfilled some 700 years later.

And, sometimes dreams, which might otherwise be merely a natural nocturnal brain activity, contain snatches of the divine.

I thanked my friend for sharing the images and dreams with me. I explained that I would store the information and hold on loosely. If it’s something important then it will be made clear at the right time and place. If not, then it was certainly entertaining to hear the dreams described. I am discovering that the divine dance is an exercise in holding the right tension. Cling too tightly, step too mechanically and I step on my Partner’s toes. Hold too loosely and I let my Partner slip away. Then I’m dancing on my own, and that’s always awkward.

Connected Stories

Source: Steve Czajka via Flickr
Source: Steve Czajka via Flickr

The sons of Judah:
Er, Onan and Shelah. These three were born to him by a Canaanite woman, the daughter of Shua. Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar bore Perez and Zerah to Judah. He had five sons in all.
1 Chronicles 2:3 (NIV)

The first section of the record that the scribe penned was following the family line from Adam through Noah to Abraham and Israel. Now the scribe lists out the twelve tribes of Israel, but notice that the scribe immediately moves to the tribe of Judah and ignores the other eleven tribes. Judah was David’s tribe. It was the tribe from which God established His throne.

Often in reading the chapter each day and writing these blog posts I find myself focused in on the micro details of something in the chapter. There’s some little word, phrase, detail or nuance that resonates with me that morning and with where I find myself on life’s road. When reading the long lists and genealogies I also pay attention to the small details that the scribe inserts about certain individuals. I ask myself, “Why did he mention that little detail when he said nothing about all these other people?” Today, however, I found myself thinking about this family tree on the macro level:

  • The long line of descendants tie the stories together. When reading God’s Message we often think about the stories and characters from different eras and ages to be disconnected as if they are random snapshots from different times in history, but when you step back and look at them through time and family line we see that they are all connected. It’s all one storyline and one family. We read the book of Ruth and the touching story of her marriage to Boaz, but we forget that Ruth was Kind David’s great-grandmother.
  • Because God told David that his throne would be established forever, the subsequent generations knew that Messiah would come from David’s line and from the tribe of Judah. When Matthew and Luke write their biographies of Jesus and make claim that Jesus was the Messiah, they knew that their Jewish readers would immediately question Jesus’ claim based on his family tree. That’s why Matthew and Luke trace Jesus’ pedigree back to David, and why the Christmas story of the census that sent Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem was so critical to the larger storyline. Bethlehem was the “City of David” and Jesus, the Messiah, was born in David’s home town. The story of Jesus is intricately woven into to the story of David.
  • There were eleven tribes left out of this list. Siblings don’t abide favorites and the fact that the tribe of Judah was getting the better end of this monarchy thing was not lost on the other tribes. Keep in mind that Judah made David their king long before the rest of the tribes signed on. Keep in mind that Absalom’s rebellion was rooted in powerful individuals from the other tribes while it appears that those of the tribe of Judah maintained their steadfast support of David. Keep in mind that once David’s grandson takes the throne the nation will split in two along these same tribal lines and years of civil war will follow.

Even in our own stories, it is sometimes good to step back and look at things at a macro level. What’s the story of my life? How, if I can see it, does my story connect with the Great Story? What are the overarching theme’s of my story? Who are the main characters of my life epic? Can I see individuals in my story (family, friends, teachers, mentors, spouses, children) who fit classic archetypes?:

  • Innocent
  • Orphan
  • Hero
  • Caregiver
  • Explorer
  • Rebel
  • Lover
  • Creator
  • Jester/Fool
  • Sage
  • Magician
  • Ruler

Today, I’m thinking about my story on a macro level and musing on the larger, connected story being told through my journey. I hope you’ll think about yours. Perhaps over a cup of coffee, a good meal, or a pint we can swap stories.

A Hint of Heaven

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

“The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.”
Revelation 11:15 (NIV)

Those who follow along with these chapter-a-day posts will recognize the fact that I’m not delving into the prophetic interpretation and meanings of John’s Revelation. This is a conscious choice. Having studied and taught the book on multiple occasions, I find that a brief blog post on each chapter would never offer enough time and space to adequately address the often complex world of prophetic writing and imagery. In addition, my chapter-a-day posts have always been intentionally devotional in nature. My primary motivation each morning as I read the text is: “What does God have in the chapter for me today?” These posts have never been an in-depth study, but simply a spiritual thought for each day’s journey.

One of the things that has piqued my interest this time through Revelation is the scenes of heavenly worship that John witnessed and recorded. In particular, I find the verses and words of praise and adoration used by the angels, the elders and the creatures fascinating. I have also been pleased to read some of these words and to connect them with songs both ancient and contemporary that are familiar. It’s had me thinking about what I can do with this in my own personal worship.

Today I ran across the verse above and, of course, the familiar sounds of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus immediately popped into my head. Each year at our high school Winter concert, it is the last piece presented and anyone who wishes to join in can step on stage with the high school choir. There’s always a crowd. It had been a few years since I’d been to the Winter concert, but with Suzanna living with us this year I found myself back on stage with the high school choir this past December. I don’t know if there is something special and powerful in the heavenly words from John’s vision, or if it’s the combination of words and inspired music from Handel’s score, but I can never get through the whole thing without tears.

Reading again John’s vision of God’s throne room these past two weeks, I get the sense that the Hallelujah Chorus is a hint of heaven’s majesty.

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