The Divine Warrior

Show Them No Mercy
Tremper Longman III

The first voice we hear in the New Testament is that of John the Baptist, sounding remarkably like the Old Testament prophets of phase 3:

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matt. 3:7-10; see also vv. 11-12)

John expects that the one coming after him will fill the role of the violent warrior who will rid the land of its oppressors. Imagine his shock later when the one he does recognize through baptism preaches the good news, heals the sick, and exorcises demons. As a matter of fact, we have a record of his reaction in Matthew 11:1-19. John is now in prison and hears reports about Jesus’ ministry. His doubts lead him to send two of his disciples to Jesus to ask the skeptical question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (11:2).

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6)

Through his actions, Jesus informs John that he has in fact chosen the right person. However, Jesus is also subtly changing – indeed, enriching – John’s understanding of his mission. In a nutshell, Jesus is the divine warrior, but he has intensified and heightened the battle. No longer is the battle a physical battle against flesh-and-blood enemies, but rather it is directed toward the spiritual powers and authorities. Furthermore, this battle is fought with nonphysical weapons.

The exorcisms of the New Testament are a case in point. Here we see the violent nature of the conflict. Matthew 8:28-34 (see also Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39) narrates the story of Jesus’ ordering the demons in two demon-possessed men to enter into pigs, which then throw themselves into a lake and are destroyed. The climax of phase 4 is violent but in an ironic way. Paul looks back on the crucifixion and pronounces it a military victory over the demonic realm:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:13-15)

Jesus’ ascension into heaven is also described in military language, indeed by the citation of a holy-war hymn from the Old Testament, Psalm 68:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (Eph. 4:8)

Jesus defeated the powers and authorities, not by killing but by dying!

Advertisements

Creation

Unlocking the Bible: Creation (Genesis 1)
Colin Smith

Imagine nothing. It’s almost impossible. But before the creation there was nothing, except God. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

In schools, we challenge our children’s creativity by giving them materials to work with: ‘See what you can do with this,’ we say. But there were no materials for God to work with in shaping the universe. He created all that exists out of nothing, and He sustains the universe by His own power.

Take a fresh look at what God has created today. Look at the sky; it proclaims the work of God’s hands. Listen to the birds; they testify to God’s gentle care. Every snowflake bears witness to His majesty. Every sunrise speaks of His faithfulness.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard, (Psalm 19:1-3).

Link: Complete Blog Post

Too Great and Marvelous

Contentment
Tim Keller

[1] O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
[2] But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

[3] O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.

– Psalm 131

The believer realizes that the reason God’s actions are often opaque is not because we are wise and he is foolish, but because he is too “great” and “wonderful” for us.

Link: Complete Blog Post

A Psalm of Praise

Under the Unpredictable Plant
Eugene Peterson

[7] When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
[8] Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
[9] But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

– Jonah 2:7-9

The commonest form of prayer in the Psalms is the lament.  It is what we would expect, since it is our commonest condition.  We are in trouble a lot, so we pray in the lament form a lot.  A graduate of the Psalms School of Prayer would know this form best of all, by sheer force of repetition.

Jonah in the belly of the fish was in the worst trouble imaginable.  We naturally expect him to pray a lament.  What we get, though, is its opposite, a psalm of praise, in the standard thanksgiving form.

Circumstances dictated “lament.”  But prayer, while influenced by circumstances, is not determined by them.  Jonah, creative in his praying, chose to pray in the form “praise.”

A School of Prayer

Under the Unpredictable Plant
Eugene Peterson

[1] Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, [2] saying,

“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
[3] For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
[4] Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
[5] The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
[6] at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God.
[7] When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
[8] Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
[9] But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

– Jonah 2:1-9

That Jonah prayed is not remarkable; we commonly pray when we are in desperate circumstances.  But there is something very remarkable about the way Jonah prayed.  He prayed a “set” prayer.  Jonah’s prayer is not spontaneously original self-expression.  It is totally derivative.  Jonah had been to school to learn to pray, and he prayed as he had been taught.  His school was the Psalms.

JOnah-620x335Line by line Jonah’s prayer is furnished with the stock vocabulary of the Psalms:

  • “my distress” from 18:6 and 120:1
  • “Sheol” from 18:4-5
  • “all thy waves and thy billows passed over me” from 42:7
  • “from thy presence” from 139:7
  • “upon thy holy temple” from 5:7
  • “the waters closed in over me” from 69:2
  • “my life from the Pit” from 30:3
  • “my soul fainted within me” from 142:3
  • “into thy holy temple” from 18:6
  • “deliverance belongs to the Lord” from 3:8

And more.  Not a word in the prayer is original.  Jonah got every word – lock, stock, and barrel – out of his Psalms book.

But it is not only a matter of vocabulary, having words at hand for prayer.  The form is also derivative.  For the last hundred years scholars have given careful attention to the particular form that the psalms take (form criticism) and have arranged them in two large categories, laments and thanksgivings.  The categories correspond to the two large conditions in which we humans find ourselves, distress and well-being.  Depending on circumstance and the state of our soul, we cry out in pain or burst forth with praise.  The categories have subdivisions, each form identifiable by its stock opening, middle, and ending.  The rhythms are set.  The vocabulary is assigned.

This is amazing.  Prayer, which we often suppose is truest when most spontaneous – the raw expression of our human condition without contrivance or artifice – shows up in Jonah when he is in the rarest condition imaginable as learned.  Our surprise lessens when we consider language itself: we begin with inarticulate cries and coos, but after years of learning we become capable of crafting sonnets.  Are infant sounds more honest than Shakespeare’s sonnets?  They are both honest, but the sonnets have far more experience in them.  Honesty is essential in prayer, but we are after more.  We are after as much of life as possible – all of life if possible – brought to expression in answering God.  That means learning a form of prayer adequate to the complexity of our lives.