This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is the final episode of a ten-part series: Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. We wrap up the series with a brief introduction to the ever-intriguing subject of the book of Revelation and the topic of what the Bible has to say about the end times.
This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is part 9 of the 10 part series A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. This week we’re providing an overview of “the epistles” or “letters.”
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“Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Revelation 7:3 (NIV)
I have been watching with interest the trailers for the movie Noah. It will be interesting to see what Hollywood is going to do with the story. If you remember, the story begins with God being fed up with the evil of man and deciding to wash the slate clean with a flood. After this act of divine judgment, God makes a covenant never again to wipeout all living creatures on the earth with a flood.
I have heard many people say that God revealed in the Old Testament and God revealed in the New Testament are different. They describe God in the Old Testament a God of judgment while God in the New Testament as a God of love and grace. After my multiple journeys through the whole of God’s Message, I must respectfully disagree. When I was a child I perceived my parents as largely persons of wrath and judgment, but as I matured I perceived the depths of love and grace that were beneath the wrath. I have come to believe that as God’s story is revealed over time and as civilization has matured, we are able to more fully comprehend the person of God as God revealed Himself through the law, then the prophets, then through the resurrected Jesus and God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.
While God revealed Himself as righteous judge in the Old Testament, He also revealed His grace through the salvation of Noah’s family and through covenants with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David. Jesus, in His New Testament arrival and ministry, certainly revealed God’s loving heart and desire for all to choose salvation, but He also spoke often of the Day of Judgment, of death, and of hell. We can see in today’s chapter that God near the end of the story is still a God of judgment. Four angels given power to wreak destructive judgment on the earth are present and ready. They are held back, however, by God’s loving desire to seal and protect His servants on Earth.
Both grace and judgment are part of God’s nature. To choose to see one part without the other leads to misperception. Misperception can lead to all sorts of tragic places.
Chapter-a-Day Genesis 22
“This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you.” Genesis 22:16-17a (NLT)
I confess that I am a Tolkien geek. I read or listen to the unabridged audio of The Lord of the Rings every year or so and have since college. I can’t speak Elvish, so I’m not that kind of Tolkien geek, but when Wendy throws out the occasional trivial question related to the story or the movie (e.g. “What was that haunted castle place in the movie that glowed and the orc army came out of it?”) I generally know the answer (e.g. “Minas Morgul”) and will usually offer some elucidation (e.g. “It means ‘City of the Moon’ and it was actually built by the good guys as a fortress meant to keep the bad guys inside the evil land of Moria, but as Sauron and his evil grew in power, Minas Morgul was captured and given by Sauron to the chief of the Nazgul [a.k.a. the Black Riders] who was actually once a human king from the north subverted by Sauron and the power of the “nine rings for mortal men doomed to die” as referenced in the One Ring inscription and he eventually became known as the “Witch King of Angmar.”) at which point Wendy rolls her eyes, laughs, and says “You’re such a geek.” I know. I’ve confessed this.
So it is that I find myself spending time on the road listening through a series of lectures by The Tolkien Professor, Corey Olsen which are freely available on iTunes. Olsen, an English Professor at Washington College, takes a scholarly route through Tolkien’s works and, as a Tolkien geek, I’m utterly fascinated. In a moment of synchronicity, I was listening just last week to one of Professor Olsen’s lectures on the nature of Evil in Tolkien’s writings and he brought up the subject of Typology and referenced the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac from today’s chapter. Tolkien generously used typology in his writings and stories of Middle Earth. Suddenly I was transported back to being a student in Biblical Hermeneutics class and the study of Typology.
In simple terms, Typology is the study of Old Testament references that foreshadow or echo New Testament events or realities. God is “the author of life,” and as the creative artist and author, He sprinkles the Great Story of history with foreshadowing. So in today’s story, Abraham sacrificing his “one and only Son” is a type of God sending His “one and only Son” to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. “God providing the ram in the thicket” becomes a type of God providing the sacrifice for our sins through Jesus who becomes “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” As I’ve argued in the past, it’s not until you wade into the Old Testament that you gain a full picture of the depth of the whole story God is revealing.
I believe Professor Olsen would make a parallel argument that those who enjoy The Lord of the Rings do not have a full picture of the depth of the whole story Tolkien was telling without wading into the stories Tolkien penned in The Silmarillion and other works. It is no wonder that Tolkien’s works would use this kind of Typology. Tolkien was a professor of Medieval Literature at Oxford and the Christian study of Typology reached its height during the High Middle Ages.
Today, I’m laughing at myself and what a dweeb I can be. I’m also appreciative of a creative God who is the ultimate artist, author and story-teller. I love that all good stories are an echo of the Great Story (or as Tolkien would say, all tales are “leaves off the Great Tree of Tales”). I love when things tie together and tiny moments of unexpected synchronicity occur in life. I love being fascinated.
If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both must die. Purge that evil from Israel. Deuteronomy 22:22 (MSG)
One of the reasons that I love the journey through the Old Testament is that it helps bring important perspective on the familiar stories of the New. Take the law I pulled out of today’s chapter, for example. When I read it, I immediately thought of a familiar story from John’s biography of Jesus:
Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them. The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.
Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”
“No one, Master.”
“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”
All of a sudden, there is greater complexity in the story of the woman caught in adultery and I have a greater appreciation for what Jesus did. Knowing that the law specifically called for both the man and woman caught in adultery to be killed, Jesus was wondering “where’s the dude?” But, Jesus didn’t make it a legal argument, he made it a personal argument. Rather than pointing them to the law, Jesus pointed them to their own sin and shortcomings.
God’s Message tells a story from beginning to end. I may have my favorite chapters, but I will never have the whole picture if I don’t know the whole story.