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Oooh Jeremiah: What happened to the seventy years?

May 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Prophets are those who speak the words of God to others. The primary purpose of the prophet is to reveal the will of God to a person or group of people to exhort them to follow Him. Often while speaking the words of God to others, prophets talk about what will happen in the future. Sometimes these predictions are very general, like “I will prepare destroyers against you” (Jer 22:18) Sometimes they are more specific, even including a timeframe for events, like this.

Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.
– 
Jeremiah 25:10-12

The basic idea of this prophecy is that God is going to allow Israel to be sent into exile for seventy years. After seventy years, Babylon, the nation that has the superior strength to take Israel into exile, will be brought down for its own sinful idolatry and mistreatment of others. The implication of Babylon’s destruction is Israel’s freedom. With their oppressor powerless, Israel is free to return to the land of the promise (Jer. 29:10). The people of Israel and Judah who trusted YHWH fully expected to be back in their land at the end of seventy years.

The whole action of the book of Ezra is based on this expectancy of a return after seventy years.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing… “[The Lord] has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem” – Ezra 1:1-2
The time when this was occurring? About 70 years after exile. In a very real way, YHWH was bringing Israel back to their land that they might be His people and He might be their God. In another sense, this form of return, where a foreign king sends some Israelites to go to their land and rebuild the temple under his authority, appears to be much less than the escape from exile Jeremiah talked about. That’s true too.

In Daniel 9 when Daniel noticed the seventy years had passed, he wondered about Israel’s return to their land, because despite being exile, Israel didn’t repent. Daniel said “we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth” (Dan 9:13). God responds  with news of a delay in Israel’s full return from exile because of their disobedience. It was now no longer seventy years, but 490 years.*

About these 490 years, Daniel is told:
Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks… After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary… And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.
– Daniel 9:24-27

Guess what events happen in the last few decades of this time period? Yeah. Ministry of Jesus, his death, resurrection, and the destruction of the temple in CE 70 also predicted by Jesus in Daniel-like language. With those events are the end of the sacrificial system, the death blow to sin, atonement for iniquity, an everlasting righteousness, and a new covenant made with many. However, there’s a nagging question that remains after reading the Daniel passage. Jeremiah’s prophecy was about Israel’s return from exile in seventy years. Daniel’s prophecy of 490 years doesn’t come across that way. Wouldn’t the time extension from seventy to 490 mean the exile would end just a little later.

It does. The end of exile was always the people of God being free to live where God is and where God reigns. With the sacrificial system and temple gone and sin deceased, there is no need for a centralized location to atone for sin. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, God is now wherever his people meet and God reigns wherever his people obey him. Home is now wherever the people of God are being the people of God. Jesus not only freed Israel from exile as prophesied by Jeremiah, but Jesus made it impossible for the people of YHWH to ever be in exile again.**

* If you read Daniel 9, it says seventy weeks. It’s a little complex, but the way the book of Daniel as a whole uses days, it’s pretty clear that it uses a day to represent a year (people sometimes call it a “prophetic day”). Seventy weeks is 490 days. 490 days in Daniel represent 490 years.
**Whew!

Oooh Jeremiah: Their Hope, Our Reality

April 14, 2013 Leave a comment

I really hope some of you are reading through the book of Jeremiah with me. It’s pretty powerful stuff, and I found chapter 23 to be particularly rich.

“Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multipy. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord. Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
– Jeremiah 23:2-6

The sins of Israel and Judah were going to bring them into exile. YHWH made it very clear that Jerusalem’s self-destruction was going to be manifested in the complete obliteration of the city and the departure of its people into a foreign land. That was going to go down, but when God deals with evil, He doesn’t just end the destruction, He brings back the good. The great hope of exiled Israel was a glorious return to their own land where they no longer had fear or dismay and where none were still exiled. Their great hope was to be led by a good shepherd who would direct their paths and guide their interactions with YHWH. The great hope of the exiled people of God was to have a descendant of David back on the throne, his wise rule bringing justice and peace to the kingdom of YHWH. Israel’s great hope is that the Lord would be their righteousness.

Because of the faithfulness of YHWH, our people’s greatest hopes have become our reality. Jesus has brought the promises of God to fulfillment. The good shepherd has come, he is guiding us into all righteousness, is set on keeping us close to Himself, and he is the Love who sets us free from fear. All who were once in exile are back in the kingdom of YHWH, for wherever the Shepherd King is, His kingdom reigns. The righteous Branch of David has come: he walked into Jerusalem, declared Himself King, and took his throne. He brought justice and righteousness by taking all the injustice unrighteousness the world could throw at him and putting it to death. Jesus is alone in truly deserving the name, “The Lord is our righteousness.” We live in a reality that was once our people’s greatest hope.

Still, in a world where the kingdom of God has come in part and is coming in full, we can still live in exile. We can still live in fear. We can still be dismayed. We still experience and enact injustice. Yet, our reality is one of hope fulfilled.

All of these things have been taken care of ultimately and are being taken care of day by day. They are all passing away. The fulfiller of promises has shown he will stop at nothing to set the world to rights. He has removed all the roadblocks on the way home. Jesus has defeated injustice with forgiveness. He has overcome all barriers to relationship to be close enough to encourage us until the dismay dissipates and he will hold us until love has replaced all fear. We live in a time of hope fulfilled. Let us live with our hope filled full.

For My Stuck Friends: Your Freedom Is Paid For

August 25, 2011 3 comments

Another beautiful and simple message from insightful Peter.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. – 1 Peter 1:17-19

You did inherit futile ways from your forefathers: from your dad, from your grandpa, and most importantly, from Adam. Their ways became your ways. This inheritance was not something you had power over that you could reject, but, like a genetic inheritance, one that comes without your consent and controls you. This inheritance owns you. This inheritance holds you captive to futile ways. You cannot escape.
But there is a price that can be paid to free you. Your true Father has paid off your captors and set you free. You were trapped. You were controlled by your inheritance of sin. You were incarcerated in a dark room with no light and no visible way out. And your Dad paid your imprisoner so that you could be free. The cost for your freedom from your inheritance was beyond all riches, and Dad sent a Messiah to pay for your freedom with His own perfect blood. A sacrifice of infinite value in exchange for freedom of an infinite cost. And now, you are ransomed from those who stole you from your Father, free to run into His arms.

This passage is not a guilt trip. It’s not saying, “Look what Jesus did for you. You better live holy or else!” It’s not a passage trying to guilt you into living well. The point of the passage is to communicate how beautiful and powerful and loving the act of God was that freed you. The point is not that you would be sad about how sinful you are despite Jesus’ ransoming act of redemption. Quit making it about you. It’s about God and His Love and His Sacrifice and His Power and His Glory.

Sometimes I think we have grown so accustomed to these ideas of being freed from the slavery of sin, of being redeemed, and of being ransomed from the sin passed from generation to generation that the idea loses its impact on us. We have gotten so used to living in captivity while acknowledging that we are free that reading about the freedom of Jesus does nothing for us. The thing is people, these aren’t just ideas. Peter isn’t just giving us a nice mental image of God saving us through Jesus. It’s a metaphorical description, sure, but it’s a description of what actually happened.

The reality is that your captivity is a thing of the past. The time of being imprisoned by the futile ways of your inheritance is actually over. I know you spent a long time kidnapped, kept in the darkness, trapped and unable to escape. I know you don’t really know life outside of your cell, but it’s still available. I know that you still feel like you are in captivity to your inheritance, but that’s not the reality. The ransom has been paid. The door to your cell has been opened. You can choose to continue to sit in the dark cell, but you are now free to leave.

Do you really want to sit in the futile ways of your forefathers? Haven’t you had enough? You can enter freedom if you would choose to do so. The sin which once overpowered you now has no power over you. You’re free. Conduct yourselves as free people under God’s reign. Live in the kingdom of God. Leave your cage. Stop pretending you’re still in chains. The Messiah has come and you have been ransomed.

Paul’s Journey to Jerusarome (OH! Clever title…)*

May 27, 2010 5 comments

I’m lazy.

If you don’t read this, the following will be less clear.

Jesus blessed the Jews by his bodily presence and through bringing the full force of the kingdom of God to the epicenter of Judaism. But this not where he stopped. Because after he ascended into heaven, he came back at Pentecost and infused his spirit into the body of believers. Then, the believers become markedly like Jesus: preaching the same message, performing similar healings, having similar conflict with authorities, casting out demons, and Jesus is seen to be doing in spirit form through the disciples essentially what he was doing in his body.

If you want, compare a few passages from Luke part 1 and Luke part 2 (Acts) to see what I mean. Luke 3:21-23/Acts 2:1-13 ; Luke 7:1-10/Acts 10:1-11:18 ; Luke 7:11-17/Acts 9:36-43 ; Luke 5:17-26/Acts 9:32-35 ; Luke 22:66-71/Acts 6:8-15, 7:56 ; Luke 4:40-41, 6:17-19 ; Acts 5:12-16.** These events are not the same, but they are similar. The vast number of similar-type events between Luke part 1 and part 2 at least demonstrates that something significant is going on here. I submit to you that Luke frequently utilizes events in Luke part 2 that resemble events in part 1 as narrative prompts for readers to recall the meanings and implications of the events in part 1 to help the reader interpret the meaning of events in part 2.

Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was the climax of Luke part 1. In Luke part 2 (Acts), our deliberate author tells about the journey of another character, who is full of the Spirit of Jesus, and his journey to Jerusalem and then to Rome.
Luke does a very similar thing with Paul’s journey to Jerusalem that he did with Jesus’. He consistently reminds his readers as Paul is journeying from city to city that Paul is going to end up in Jerusalem. Although in the end Paul goes to Rome and dies in Rome and the reader already knows he is going there, Luke typically only mentions Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. I believe this is so the reminders have a dual function, to emphasize the importance of going to Jerusalem and to draw out the likeness of Paul’s journey to Jesus’.

When Luke first mentions Paul’s destiny-driven journey to Rome, he describes it similarly to the start of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Acts 19:21 says, “Paul resolved to go to Jerusalem… He said, ‘ After I have been there, I must also see Rome.'” Luke 9:51 says that Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” The words “resolved” and “resolutely” are both used in the translations instead of the Greek idioms that Luke used to describe the resolution and determination with which both men went to Jerusalem. After this Acts passage, Luke reiterates throughout Luke 20 and 21 that Paul is going to Jerusalem.

In Luke part 1, the author reminds his readers of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and what that meant for the Jewish people in terms of its fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, blessing the Hebrews by bringing the kingdom of God to the core of Judaism. In Acts (Luke part 2), the author also regularly reminds his readers of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem (and then to Rome). Why is he doing this when he talks about Paul’s Roman Holiday? Excellent question Jeremiah. Paul’s journey to Jerusalem/Rome has a similar theological function as Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Woah?

Paul also seems to have similar expectations of the outcome of his trip to Jerusalem. In Acts 20:22-24 Paul says, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there… in every city… prison and hardships are facing me… However, I consider my life worth nothing to me…” Here Paul is implying that he suspects some terrible things are awaiting in Jerusalem, he even hints at death.

Later, Paul’s friends through the Spirit affirm what is going down in Jerusalem. A prophet tied his own hands and feet together with Paul’s belt to illustrate the Spirit’s message to Paul, “‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles'” (Acts 20:11). Like anyone else who was handed over to the Gentiles? Paul’s response, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:13). Jesus and Paul have a strikingly similar readiness for the die for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ, and both appear to have this idea that going to Jerusalem is movement toward their own death.

Perhaps you recall, Luke frequently utilizes events in Luke part 2 that resemble events in part 1 as narrative prompts for readers to recall the meanings and implications of the events in part 1 to help the reader interpret the events in part 2. Paul enters Jerusalem on a good note (21:7), just as Jesus did, but things heat up from there. Paul is taken out of the temple by a Jewish mob and beaten until the Roman authorities wrest him from the mob (21:30-35), the violence of whom “was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers.” Jesus’ beatings rendered him unable to carry his own cross. Both men ended up with their fate in the hands of the Romans because of the hostility of the Jews. Reminiscent. Similar but different.

How about “almost but not quite”? Paul was, just like Jesus, about to be flogged by the Romans at the directive of Roman authorities, but all of the sudden Paul wasn’t flogged because he was a Roman citizen.*** As a reader we’ve had ourselves set up for this dramatic trip to Jerusalem involving a looming expectation of death and explicit foreshadowing of Paul’s suffering there. We are set up for something much like Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem that we are probably well acquainted with. Just when it looks like it’s about to look like the passion story, it shifts and we’re reminded by this new information of Paul’s Roman citizenship that he told us at the outset his story wasn’t ending in Jerusalem.**** His epic journey to Jerusalem then becomes an epic journey to Rome.

Acts 23:11 is the first time that as a reader we hear God chiming in and making His will crystal clear: “‘Take courage” As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.'” Then Paul goes before a smorgasbord of elite Roman rulers to whom he powerfully and insistently presents the story of Jesus Messiah. He gets sent to Rome to bring his testimony before Caesar. Rome. As Jerusalem was the center of Judaism and Hebrew culture, Rome is the center of the world. It is the hub of all of the peoples of the known world. The story of Acts ends with Paul spending years in this historically, narratively, and theologically significant city “boldly and without hindrance” preaching “the kingdom of God and” teaching “about the Lord Jesus Christ” (28:31).

My contention is that our delightful storyteller under the inspiration of the Spirit of God is deliberately comparing Paul’s journey to Jesus’ because of the similar but different theological implications of their respective journeys. One theologically significant aspect of Jesus’ was to bring the Messianic Kingdom and full presence of YHWH to the Hebrew people. Paul’s journey was to bring the Messianic Kingdom and full presence of YHWH to the people of the world. I believe Paul’s journey was, in the context of the story, the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant from way back in Genesis that Peter reminds us of in an important speech in the beginning of Acts. “He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples of the world will be blessed'” (4: Jesus blessed the Jewish people by bringing them Immanuel, “God with us,” hearkening back to the first part of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12: 2). Paul, only through the Spirit of Jesus, in the climactic event of the book of Acts, fulfilled the second part of the covenant by bringing Immanuel to “all peoples of the world.”

Sigh.

* Please laugh at my absurd parenthetical comment.
**Portions of list are borrowed.
*** Also, Paul went before the Sanhedrin like Jesus and the high priest commanded he be struck, like Jesus was beat while before the Sanhedrin, but Paul was not struck. Almost, not quite.
**** However, Paul’s journey to Jerusalem did result in him going to Rome where he was imprisoned and died. Ultimately Paul’s journey was also one to his own death.

Some Different Thoughts On The Past: Maybe It’s Not The Problem

February 3, 2010 4 comments

This is provocative. It’s a little bit stronger language than I would typically use because I want it to be a little provocative. A lot of people I know at a lot of the churches I have been at have a strong focus on trying to find a reason for their current behavior, emotion, attitude, perspective, etc in some past event or past relationship. It’s been happening for a few years in a few different communities of believers. Somewhere around 80% of my Jesus loving friends seem to be convinced that the past is a key to spiritual growth. Most of that group would say it is an absolute necessity. It’s not really talked about, it’s merely assumed that one has to deal with their childhood in order to be like Jesus today.

I don’t discuss the topic much with people. I seem to talk with them a lot about their past and how they’ve been affected by it, but I don’t talk about the underlying presupposition that focusing on one’s past is necessary or even helpful for growing in likeness to Jesus. I just listen to them talk. I don’t mind it. I don’t even mind the idea that the past is so central to transformation. I just don’t actually believe it. And it confuses me, because I don’t think it’s a central theme of Scripture. I don’t even think a very strong case can be made for it in Scripture. And its frustrating when people insist that I need to deal with my daddy issues, ask about sexual abuse, and tell me I have some deep seated issues that I need to start looking at to figure out where they come from.

Being soaked in an environment like this and being a pragmatist, I’ve tried to do these things that involve looking back at my past. I’ve tried to humor friends and family by trying to humbly engage in something I didn’t actually have much respect for. It didn’t really do anything. I thought more about some of the influences that have contributed to some of my habitual sins and areas of difficulty in following Jesus. But seeing influences doesn’t change actions. I never thought that my past is why I am the way I am and have struggled with sins I have. My sinfulness is not the fault of things that have happened to me or things that I was missing in my life as a child. It’s mine!

Maybe the lives of some people really are simply products of their pasts. It was inevitable that they would sin in area A or struggle in area C or be impatient in area Z, but not for me. I am not as good as those people. I have had a choice at every point of sin in my life. And I have chosen wrong. I really am that bad. I have absolutely nothing to attribute my mistakes to but my own dirty heart and my own foolish decisions. That’s it. When I sin it is only because I am proud and selfish, even though I wish I could attribute it to something else. However, taking responsibility for our own actions is essential to understanding the immensity of God’s love.

I do believe that thinking about and discussing some of the more formative relationships of the past can help people feel like they have a more cogent view of themselves. Although that’s somewhat useful in gaining a self perspective that feels like it fits, which I think is important. I look at my past, and while I know it has shaped me, I also see myself as a different person than the one that experienced what I experienced, than the one that did what I did. If I truly become a new creation through Jesus, then I am not the same. If Jesus has truly freed me, then my past experiences and my past person has no necessary effect on me. If the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives truly is all Scripture says it is, then figuring out our childhood or discovering reasons for our habitual relational interactions isn’t really necessary. What is necessary is that we humble ourselves, crucifying ourselves with Christ so that we no longer live but the Messiah lives in us. True life is not about getting over what is behind, but Jesus in us now as we strain to humbly live for all there is in front of us… thoughts?

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