Sunday, December 2, 2012

Promises part 2

      So to recap the central point of our last post, Christ merited blessing from God, due to His flawless obedience while on earth. Another way to put it would be in addition to Christ‘s passive obedience that satisfied negative justice (in bearing our sin on the Cross), He also actively obeyed God by perfectly keeping the Mosaic Covenant. So the one thing left unsaid is how we as Gentiles can be related to the nation of Israel (who were the recipients of the vast majority of O.T. promises), so that all of God‘s promises can be “yes“ and “amen“.
      Why did God choose Israel in the first place? What purpose did He have in mind? Deut 4 hints at it:
God's Beacon
Keep them (God's commandments) and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?“(vss. 6-8)
      Isaiah is the prophet which most clearly draws out Israel‘s “purpose statement“; 4 times in his closing chapters, he uses the same language (42:6, 49:6, 51:4-6, 60:1-3) to express His missional will for the nation, to shine as a beacon to all their neighbors and advertise the blessings of obedience to God. But we know the end of the story... Israel failed miserably both to obey God and manifest His righteousness to the nations. So is God‘s purpose frustrated by human depravity?
      Of course, the answer is ‘Ma genoita!‘ (Paul‘s favorite phrase... “God forbid!‘ in Greek). We find a tantalizing hint in the Isa passages: Israel is repeatedly referred to as God‘s servant, both explicitly (41:8, 42:19 with vs. 24, 44:2, 21, 45:4, 49:3) and implicitly; and then something completely shocking... interspersed and interwoven with these texts, there are “servant“ verses that the N.T. authors use and apply to Christ! In Matt 11:5, Jesus expects John‘s followers to recognize His fulfillment of Isa 35:5 and 61:1; Matt 12:18ff applies Isa 42:1ff; numerous verses link Isa 52:1-53:12 to Christ, and most interestingly, Paul identifies the servant of Isa 49:6 as himself in Acts 13:47 and 26:18! It‘s hard to imagine Paul thinking that he was “the restoration of the tribes of Jacob“ or “the Lord‘s salvation to the ends of the earth“; but it makes perfect sense if Paul saw himself sharing the work of the One who personally commissioned him (Acts 9:15) and issued the same orders to the rest of His people (Matt 5:16, 28:19-20). So how do we reconcile this dual identification of the Lord‘s servant as Israel and Christ? As a student of Scripture, I believe that the nation‘s flawed service in the O.T. foreshadowed the perfect fulfillment, an obedient Servant that both glorified and pleased God (Jn 8:29) and was a blindingly pure illumination to the entire world. So to put it simply:

Christ = the True Israel

      If this is true, then it‘s clear how we Gentile dogs are linked to Israel... in Christ. Since He is the recipient of the blessings of obedience, and He graciously allows us to share in His active righteousness, then we are “joint heirs“ (Rom 8:17) with Him. Because of Him, we deserve to be blessed and the wall of separation between ethnic Israel and the rest of the world is demolished (Eph 2:12-18). It reminds me of that old hymn, which now has new meaning for me...

 I'm so glad I'm a part of the Family of God!
 I've been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I'm part of the family,
The Family of God !

For a more scholarly and educated and insightful... well, it's better all around!... article on the topic, I'd recommend Kim Riddlebarger.
photo courtesy of jimmywayne

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