Close, But Not Too Close

Have you ever gotten “mixed messages” from someone you love? It’s typically only those you care about that give these messages that are conflicted, often opposing. You might think that our Creator and Savior, as the perfect Communicator, wouldn’t give mixed messages, but He does.

The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever.” Then Moses told the words of the people to the Lord. The Lord also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.”

Exodus 19:9-13 NASB

Notice that God is coming to the people, yet has Moses set bounds around the mountain, setting a penalty of death for any man or animal who approaches. And God then tells Moses to bring the people near when they hear the sound of the Shofar (ram’s horn). The Savior and Redeemer of the people of Israel comes close, tells them to remain at a distance, and then, to come out to meet Him. Those are mixed messages, but only to modern readers.

The Transfiguration is the same way. Jesus is God-in-the-flesh, bringing the transcendent Creator into His creation. Yet, only takes three to see Him as He truly is. And those three don’t really understand what they see. In the same sense, the message of Jesus brings our Creator close, but then, not too close.

But this message, again, is probably only a problem for modern readers. We would be the ones asking why only Peter James and John. Why would God show up, but then not want anyone to see Him? He sounds almost like He’s afraid of being seen. And I believe He is, but not because His creatures would see Him and not be impressed. I believe He doesn’t want them to see Him because the sight would destroy them. He wants them breathing.

The sons of Israel, they get this without it being explained. They have the legends of the gods of Egypt, the gods of Mesopotamia, the gods of Canaan, and probably the Hittites. There are plenty of reminders that people are not to interact with the gods because they can’t, except by invitation to the “realm of the gods”. But this God is coming to them, from His “plane of existence” into theirs. It’s not normal.

But this abnormal behavior is one of the markers of this Yahweh. He is El, the chief of the pantheon. He is Elohim, above all gods. He is the Creator, not one of several who helped create. And what He wants these people He has chosen to know about Him is that He exists. That’s what they need to know. He’s not content being ignored, not any more. He shows up in flame and smoke, and loud shofar, and speaks to Moses from thunder. He wants to speak to them, to reveal Himself to them, but He needs to do so through Moses. So, this dramatic appearance is really to validate Moses.

God wants to have a relationship with us, but on His terms. He has gone to extreme lengths for this relationship, unbelievable lengths. He draws us to Himself, but He also knows there is a limit in our current condition. Perhaps on the other side of “too close” we would step into His realm, and no longer be able to be in this one. Who knows? But the prohibition from touching the mountain or the one touching the mountain (19:12,13) has to refer to “holiness”. They have touched what has touched Yahweh, and have therefore contracted His holiness. Rather than profane their condition by touching others, they must be killed.

Jesus has redeemed Jews and Gentiles alike to be a holy people. We, by coming into contact with Him, have contracted His holiness. But, we modern people have no sense of what this means, no appreciation for it. Maybe it’s a “first-world” problem, and those in “underdeveloped” countries understand it better. But my fear is that holiness is disappearing from our Christian culture. Otherness, being different, living different, seeing this world and the people in it differently, these qualities are going away. At least I don’t see them around me often. Maybe I need new eyes to see, and perhaps, I need to exhibit this holiness more myself.

What about you? Do you embrace this mixed message of a Holy Creator and Redeemer? Do you walk in this “newness of life” seeing as He sees? Or are you taking the contracted holiness and profaning it daily? We choose, you and I. We can either share the holiness, allowing others to contract it from us, or we can profane it, contracting commonality from others. Today, what will you choose?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


A Repeated Biblical Theme

We say that the God having inspired Scripture is all about redemption, but it still surprises us when we see it.  “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.” (Psalm 118:22 ESV).  We know it, we’ve read it, but it still surprises us when we stumble over it in Scripture.

Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant warrior, but he was the son of a harlot. And Gilead was the father of Jephthah.  Gilead’s wife bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.”  So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him.  It came about after a while that the sons of Ammon fought against Israel.  When the sons of Ammon fought against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob; (Judges 11:1-5 NASB)

Does anyone else see David’s story here?  Not exactly, but the “exiled warrior” motif seems similar.  But what else should be similar is the rejection and redemption cycle.  The brothers of Jephthah exile him, as David was exiled by Saul.  Both are wronged by those who should have loved and supported them.  But it’s the kind of people who come around them, those disheartened and considered worthless.  Again with the motif of marginalized warriors.

But both show character, Jephthah, and, later, David both are examples of faith.  Both suffer tragedy.  Yet both stand, and both are faithful through the tragedy.  And, please keep that in mind, that both are faithful, even in tragedy.  We make much of David’s failure with Bathsheba, but he also suffers rejection and exile before, and still remains faithful.  Suffering doesn’t always come as a punishment.  Sometimes suffering just comes, and it becomes a test of our faithfulness.

In both instances, Jephthah and David, they remained faithful in exile.  Yahweh sees, and approves of them, eventually using them to lead His people.  The redemption part isn’t to glory and fame, as much as redemption to the purposes of Yahweh.  He uses them in His plans, these who the people rejected.  He changes the course of His people using the ones in whom they saw no value.

Here’s my takeaway:  1) If you’ve been rejected by people, take heart.  And 2) if you’ve rejected people, take care you see them as their Creator sees them.  There are those Yahweh rejected, but there are far more who were rejected by people only to be redeemed by Yahweh.  We need to be careful we see people and their value as Yahweh sees them.  This takes a sense of our Master found only in learning His character from Scripture and time with Him in prayer.  There’s no short cut.

Well, that’s my simple view this morning.  I could probably work up some more complex application, but, why cloud what seems so clear?

What do you see through your knothole of our Master?

Passion Week XIXb

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.”  And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:17-20 NASB)

Luke preserves what is possibly the most detail of the Passover meal behind what has become “Communion” among Jesus Followers.  Of course, that “detail” really amounts to an additional cup at the beginning of his description.  I used a book, “Keeping Passover” by Ira Steingroot to examine the elements of the Passover mean and try and get at which cup was which, and where Jesus broke the bread symbolizing His body.  It’s a good book, but I’m still not sure (but that’s not Ira’s fault).

In the book, Steingroot reduces the elements of the meal down to a basic outline.  From there, any Haggadah can be used or built to form a supper.  It was that reduction outline in which I hoped to find the cups and bread referred to by Luke.  It was inconclusive.  And so, again, I want to emphasize that traditions about the Passover since the destruction of the Temple are very different.  The book was really helpful in seeing that Jesus could have used different elements to make different points about Himself (although Steingroot does not correlate the Passover to Jesus at all).

I believe the key in understanding Luke’s presentation is that the “bread” happens very much in the “middle” of the feast, and the cup representing His blood, toward the end.  The first cup mentioned in Luke could either be the first cup (benediction?).  But Luke refers to it as the “cup of thanksgiving”.  It could also be the second cup, which Steingroot doesn’t name in the outline. In either case, these precede the practice of breaking and hiding a piece of the “afikoman” (middle of three matzoh in a 3-chamber pouch).  The breaking and hiding has meaning for followers of Jesus in that His body was broken, and His body buried.  And then the finding of the afikoman refers to Jesus’ resurrection.

After this celebration of the first cup and the bread, a second cup is shared.  This is the one Jesus uses to refer to His blood, inaugurating a new covenant.  This cup could the third cup (cup of Elijah), or the fourth cup which completes the feast.  Luke refers to the cup, “after they had eaten,” but that still could be the cup of Elijah since nothing is consumed after that one either.  It’s really easy to devolve into a discussion about how it could be one or the other, but I don’t think that’s the point.

Mark and Matthew both skip swaths of detail about the Passover meal and which elements Jesus used.  I think that was on purpose.  In both cases, their audience was Jewish.  And I think by skipping those details, they both make it possible to celebrate the memorial apart from Passover.  Otherwise the Jewish believers would have to wait until once a year, and travel to Jerusalem for the feast.  The point was to remember often the inauguration of this new covenant relationship with God.  Luke’s audience may well have been in a different set of circumstances. They were most likely mostly Gentile, so adding some sort of Jewish influence added character necessary to remind them that this was, in fact, a Jewish Festival to begin with.  His inclusion of detail added depth unnecessary to Matthew and Mark.

So the point is not which cup or which time they ate the unleavened bread.  The point is that, for us Gentiles, this communion is built off of a celebration of God’s redemption of His people from bondage.  That, for me, is the point.  It’s rooted in a deep tradition illustrating the character of our Redeemer-King.  Jesus’ new covenant is in keeping with the character of God who redeems His people.  The grace of this new covenant isn’t new.  It’s consistent.  This is a new covenant, not a new god.  This is a new path to the same God. The relationship is somewhat different because of the different path, not because God is somehow different.

But what is different?  Jesus shatters the old with His blood.  It’s an uncomfortable truth that God has stated that the “life is in the blood” over and over.  From Noah’s covenant through the split pieces of sacrifice and Abraham’s covenant, to the altar of the tabernacle and, eventually, the temple; blood has been the price of life.  And so Jesus’ blood becomes the final price paid to end all payments.  The life is still in the blood, that hasn’t changed since Abel.  So, my life is not in my blood, or that of an animal acceptable to God; but through the sacrifice God Himself provides in His Son, Jesus.

I know that’s not exactly earth-shattering or newsworthy perhaps.  It is very comforting for me though.  I don’t have to be anything to be accepted.  I can be anything He wants because I’m already accepted.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

When God Shows Up…

In my distress I called upon the Lord,
Yes, I cried to my God;
And from His temple He heard my voice,
And my cry for help came into His ears.
Then the earth shook and quaked,
The foundations of heaven were trembling
And were shaken, because He was angry.
Smoke went up out of His nostrils,
Fire from His mouth devoured;
Coals were kindled by it.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With thick darkness under His feet.
And He rode on a cherub and flew;
And He appeared on the wings of the wind.
And He made darkness canopies around Him,
A mass of waters, thick clouds of the sky.
From the brightness before Him
Coals of fire were kindled.
The Lord thundered from heaven,
And the Most High uttered His voice.
And He sent out arrows, and scattered them,
Lightning, and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea appeared,
The foundations of the world were laid bare
By the rebuke of the Lord,
At the blast of the breath of His nostrils.
(2 Samuel 22:7-16 NASB)

Let’s sing another ‘hymn’ or ‘praise song’ to our Lord!  Raise your hands to our loving father!  And of course, tremble in absolute utter inability to think a rational thought completely overwhelmed by what His glory truly looks like…

We say glib and trite things like we want God to be close, we want Him to hold us close, and so on.  But really what Jesus said and what Paul repeats is that we can call Him ‘daddy’, the intimate term for our fathers on earth.  Neither Jesus nor Paul ever asserts that this one we can refer to as our intimate Parent is any different than the terrifying images previously described.  We tend to forget that.

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