Kiss the Son (Ps. 2)

If you have not read the intro, I suggest doing so before continuing on.

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;

    the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (ESV)

It is natural to read this Psalm eschatologically. Christ will rule and will reign and will have the nations as his heritage and the earth as his possession. What would it look like to read this Psalm in terms of what Jesus has already accomplished?

The rulers and the kings plot against God and his Christ. They rage, plot, set themselves against, take counsel together. All of this is against God and against his Messiah. But the first verse tips us off. It is in vain. Why is this? I suppose the easy answer would be to say that God is in control or God has a plan through it all or God will end up using their evil schemes in order to accomplish his good plans. There’s something right about all of this. I think there’s also something wrong.

What is their plan? To burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us. To see the Messiah is to see God for the Messiah is the embodiment of God. There is no right understanding of God apart from Jesus and no right understanding of Jesus apart from God. To see Jesus is to see God and to see God is to see Jesus. How should we understand God/Jesus then?

Their goal is to rebel against God and the Messiah’s way. Their plans are from of old: starting in a beautiful garden, running through a jealous brother, a rebellious world, a chosen nation, a holy priesthood, a people called out of darkness into light so that they would declare his praises. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12, ESV)

It’s a perverted sense of freedom. Claiming to be unshackled, unmoored from the benevolent Creating and Redeeming God they have become slaves. Wishing to be alive they have come to serve death. Wishing to be rulers they have become servants. For it is only in serving that we are free. His yoke is easy and his burden is light and all who take it upon themselves will find rest. Not rest in the sense of doing nothing, but rest in the sense of being right where you are supposed to be. To be at home with God, other humans, ourselves, and creation (those alienated others) for the first time. To find that service here, or, let us use the terminology prevalent in the New Testament, to find that being a slave to God in Christ means that we are finally free.

God laughs and holds them in derision. The point is that God is confounding them. Their triumph is really their downfall. This goes back to what’s wrong with seeing this as simply God being in control or using this. It’s not that God is in control and will use even this evil for good: it’s that precisely in their rebelling God is triumphing. There is no lag between the two: the events are one and the same.

For God speaks in his wrath and terrifies them with his fury. Why? What does he say? “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Do not miss the point: the height of their rebellion and the triumph of God is precisely God’s King being set on Zion, God’s holy hill. The triumph of God and thus the King is the crucifixion of Jesus.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15, ESV) Lifted up in crucifixion and lifted up in glory. What Mark whispers John shouts: Jesus’ glory is seen in His crucifixion.

And this is exactly where the kings and the rulers think they have triumphed. This is where God laughs because their destruction is His restoration. Their damnation is His salvation. Their condemnation is His reconciliation. “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Cor. 2:8, ESV) “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col. 2:15, ESV)

Because Jesus is the Father’s Chosen One, wholly beloved, the firstborn of the new creation, and the one who inherits the nations. The language is not unintentional: the nations become His heritage and the ends of the earth His possession. This Crucified Man is the Incarnate God. He comes to do what Adam and Eve were called to do (Gen. 1:27-28), what they failed to do, what Israel failed to do. He comes to be the last Adam, the wholly faithful one, righteous unto death and crushing the head of the serpent.

He breaks their power through being slain. He overthrows them by dying on a cross. He makes them a public spectacle by enduring public shame. With the offer of kingdoms before Him through taking up the sword, He takes up the cross and does not resist the evildoer. He breaks them because He is willing to have His body broken for us. He dashes them into pieces because His obedience is complete, faithful to death with a crucified but whole body so that He might redeem the whole creation.

So kiss the Son. Take refuge in Him. Only in Him are we made whole. Only in following Him in bearing our cross are we united. The way of Jesus Christ is one way: the way of self-sacrificial love that renounces all temptations to power and prestige in humble adoration of the Crucified One.

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Behold the Man! (Ps. 1)

If you have not read the intro, I suggest you do so before carrying on.

Blessed is the man
     who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
     nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
     and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
     planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
     and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
     but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
     nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
     but the way of the wicked will perish. (ESV)

Psalm 1 sits here oddly. It reads much more like something we would find in one of the discourse section of Proverbs. After all, it is not a prayer and is more about instruction. And yet it sits here and its placement is intentional. It serves, with Ps. 2, as an introduction to the book as a whole, a point we will return to below.

The man is blessed. He flourishes. He is in right relation with God and the created order. This man enjoys the good life. But what does that life look like?

The man does not walk, stand, or sit with sinners. The progression might seem backwards. We might think that walking is worse than sitting, but the opposite is actually the case. The man does not make a decision based on the counsel of the sinful. They say not to eat with the tax collectors and the outcasts, but He came to call sinners to repentance. He does not make a way of life of those who try to ruin lives. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, they advise; but He turns the other cheek and His arms are stretched out. He does not come together to plot with those who are trying to tear lives apart. They say that the sinners should not touch Him, but His touch cleanses the impure, heals the sick, and forgives sins.

For this man delights in the law of the Lord. It is to the Lord that he looks for instruction. “Not my will, but Yours be done,” He says. God’s instruction becomes His meditation. It becomes the center of His life, the compass for His direction, the story He inhabits. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)

This Man is like a tree. The imagery is important and connects with Jer. 17:5-8. Making the connection we see that the tree imagery is about being rooted in the land for the good of the world. The dust is driven out of the land, exiled, and not good for anything. This Man is rooted. He is faithful to God above all else. No matter where He goes, God is there. Where Israel has failed, Jesus fulfills. Where Israel faltered, Jesus bears up. Where Israel fell, Jesus rises. He is obedient and so He is like this tree bearing fruit for the good of the world. He is like a tree because His obedience leads Him to be crucified on one.

The wicked will not stand in the judgment. Neither does this man. The Sin Bearing One does not stand, He is fastened to a cross. He does not hold His head high, but hangs His head in loving obedience. He is not wicked and punished by God, but wicked in the eyes of the world and therefore left staggering under the cross He was called to carry. For they did not understand or else they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. For this is God’s glory, this is God’s revelation, this is God in the flesh, the fullest expression of who God is: a Crucified Man.

But the Lord knows the way of the righteous. God knows Jesus is obedient. God knows He has come to bear the sins of Israel and the whole world, to deliver people from alienation, to bring the abundant life which entails bearing one’s cross. God knows the way of the righteous, the way of the Humble One, His own way of self-giving love. God knows, when the world seems to say otherwise.

And this way will endure forever. This way is God’s new thing, God’s new creation by which He is redeeming the world and will redeem it finally. The way of the wicked, the proud, the graceless, the self-righteous, the crucifiers, the ones who did not stand up for the wrongly condemned, this way will perish. For that present sinful reality is fading away because Jesus has been lifted up for all to see so that they may be saved. The Light of the World will grow brighter, for darkness cannot overcome the light. Look to the Crucified One. Turn to Him and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for He is God and there is no other.

Psalm 1 as an introduction to the book as a whole now comes to the forefront. Psalm 1 tells us what it looks like to read Psalms. Seen this way, only those who see Jesus in the Psalms are worthy to enter in. The right reader of the Psalms is the one who sees a man crucified on a tree. No other reading will be allowed. Psalm 1 tells us that the Psalms demand our attention and worship of this man, Jesus of Nazareth; no other posture but bowed reverence is acceptable.

So who is the righteous man? “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.” (Rev. 5:5-6)

The conquering Lion is the slain Lamb.

Christ Prays the Psalms (Intro)

It’s been awhile.

In Richard Hays’ The Conversion of the Imagination, there is this wonderful essay entitled “Christ Prays the Psalms.” Hays uses Rom. 15:3 as a jumping off point, though I am going to quote Rom. 15:1-4 for context, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (ESV)

Notice what Paul does in verse 3. He says that Christ did not please Himself. After all, it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” The citation is from Psalm 69:9. You have probably read this verse quite a few times. I know I had read it a ton and I missed the salient point: who is speaking this verse? Look at the wording again: “the reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” Who is the me? This is linked up and used as support for Christ not pleasing Himself. So who prays Psalm 69:9? Jesus Christ Himself.

There is a question I like to ask people to get a gauge on them. What book of the Bible that people really like would you go without? For awhile my answers was Psalms. I just never connected with the book. I get that David is upset and sad because people are trying to kill him, but I cannot really identify with that myself. Plus, sometimes he seems so whiny. And while asking for forgiveness is obviously great and something I do, I just didn’t find the Psalms to help a lot in this.

But back to Christ praying the Psalms. So Hays points out that Paul did not argue for Jesus praying this Psalm, he just took it for granted. Moreover, this practice seems to be pretty widespread. After all, in the crucifixion narratives he often quotes the Psalms, so there is good reason for this imaginative link to be established.

Throughout church history, therefore, the Psalms have been a popular place to see Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. But what does it mean to see Jesus in the Old Testament? Lately I have been reading a lot on figural reading/theological interpretation of Scripture. To put it simply, throughout church history there has been an insistence in thinking that there is a spiritual sense alongside a literal sense of the text. Figural reading/theological interpretation of Scripture try to recover that practice.

So take our passage from Psalm 69:9 again, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” The point is not making a connection to Jesus based on systematic theology. That is, they are not saying that we can talk about some systematic theological category like how God uses suffering and then connect this passage with Jesus’ life and death. Nor is the point one of biblical theology, namely, that the righteous have always suffered and so as the supremely righteous one Jesus suffers too. Instead, the point is that to really truly understand Psalm 69:9 is to see Jesus Christ. And this does not go for just Psalm 69:9, but for all of Scripture, even where the New Testament writers do not give us clues.

Frankly, I find the whole thing rather disturbing. It is not natural to me by any means. Even being convinced that figural reading should be practice, I still find myself really uncomfortable with engaging in it and reading some of the ways theologians throughout history and today engage in it. A big way of it becoming natural, though, is just by doing it, so I plan this series as an exercise in the figural reading of Psalms, with my eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of the Psalms.

I am not sure how many days a week I will post, but I hope I will not let the series die. Most of the time a post will just be on one psalm, but longer psalms (like 119) will probably be broken up and maybe some posts will discuss more than one psalm. We will see how it goes.

Nowadays, I really like Psalms. It has become one of my favorite books. But still, I do not expect this to be an easy task. Moreover, my reading is far from a definitive one. This series is one of exploration, of trying to learn to listen, of searching the text until I find King Jesus. There will probably be false starts, slip ups, misreadings, and (hopefully) places where my reading is on the right track but needs to be supplemented. But we must begin somewhere.

To give a taste, not too long ago I had an experience where seeing Christ in the Psalms came naturally. It was this last Easter on Good Friday that I was thinking about Hays’ work and his article “Christ Prays the Psalms.” I was reflecting on the oft-neglected day of Holy Saturday. I had just read a book by a Christian theologian on being diagnosed with incurable cancer. He talked a lot about the lament psalms, another frequent topic of thought for me. While thinking about Holy Saturday, I was not sure what the proper terminology was, so I had to look it up. Before doing so, I thought it should be called Silent Saturday because the crucified God was dead in a tomb and his body was decaying; for a moment, God seemed to blink. All of this made me think about the lament Psalms even more. As is well known, Jesus quotes Psalm 22 on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

So I began reading the Psalms with Holy Saturday in mind. The gospel writers loved reading the lament psalms in terms of Jesus, so maybe I would see something. And as I began doing so, these reading just welled up irresistibly inside me. I had tried to make myself read Scripture prophetically before, to no avail. Now I just opened myself up: maybe God would speak something if I am willing to listen.

I ran across passages like this: “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, ‘There is no salvation for him in God.’ … I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.” (Ps. 3:1-2, 5) Or this one: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Ps. 4:8 ) “Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand…O Lord, save the king! May he answer us when we call.” (Ps. 20:6, 9)

This is already really long, so I will end it with one final word. I have been thinking a lot about the loss of figural reading in the church, how weird it is (to me), how the loss of figural reading is often tied to the anemia of the church, what recovery looks like, etc. And I found myself thinking of a particular vision.

So at the end we find ourselves in the middle of a valley full of bones. There are many and they are very dry. God cries out, “Son of man, can these bones live?” To which we can only reply, “O Lord GOD, you know.” And He commands us, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.'” (Ezek. 37:1-4, ESV)

May we hear the word of the LORD Jesus pray the Psalms.

Sitting at a Table Eating Animal Crackers

Tonight was a church event where parents could drop off kids that were not yet in middle school and they could go and have a date night while people who volunteered watched and hung out with the kids. I was one of the people who volunteered to hang out with the kids. I had a lot of fun doing so and I enjoyed spending a Friday night helping out.

Snack time eventually rolled around. I went and sat at four conjoining tables by a number of kids. This strange thing started to happen where kids would get up and go to a specific group of kids that were sitting on the floor. Kids kept doing so and it was the same group. I started to pay more attention and the kids in the group on the floor were basically saying things to lead to that outcome. The kids at the table would hear those things and be swayed and they would go join the kids on the floor.

Maybe I should have said something. There were things I heard, but it wasn’t exactly organic. Does it need to be? And we always tell ourselves we have to choose our battles, but I sometimes wonder if that is more out of comfort for ourselves more than anything else. The group of kids I sat by ended up dwindling down to one five year old girl, who decided to stay at the table. Maybe she didn’t hear or maybe she didn’t care, I’m not sure.

As I thought about what was happening, I grew sad. Kids aren’t born innocent and I know they have their flaws, but I see so much potential for good in their lives. It’s hard not to see a sweet five year old girl and not think about the ways in which she can care deeply about the world and thereby work for the good of the world. It’s difficult not to see a fun-loving three year old boy and not think about the way he can delight in the world and through that delight care enough to change the warts he sees. But already this potential was flickering.

And I thought about why I have these thoughts about children and not adults. I am still sad when I see some of the ways we act and how we are selling ourselves short. It is kind of heart breaking to see the ways we can work for the life of the world but then notice that we are content with our nice houses, nice cars, favorite shows, etc. But I don’t see it as much. Is it because the potential isn’t there? There’s still plenty of good and beauty we all can work for, yet seeing this is always dimmer, it’s only a flicker sometimes. So I began to realize my own fickleness.

So I was sitting at a table eating animal crackers and I was sad. Sad because already the potential and beauty of the world, these kids, this specific kid was being lost. And sometimes I worry we won’t ever find that beauty again.

Jesus and Gender Roles

The year was 1905 and a bombastic man by the name of Gilbert Keith Chesterton published a book entitled Heretics that contained essays that criticized the body of doctrine expounded by some of his most famous contemporaries. In a review of Heretics, G.S. Street said, “I shall not begin to worry about my philosophy of life until Mr. Chesterton discloses his.” Given Street’s review, he knew what he was getting himself into. Thus, in response Chesterton said, “It was perhaps an incautious suggestion to make to a person only too ready to write books upon the feeblest provocation.” And that is why Chesterton ended up writing one of my favorite books ever, Orthodoxy.

In a similar vein, this post is an answer to a challenge. Just as Street did not need to read Orthodoxy, my challenger need not read this post. Like Orthodoxy, this post can only be termed a “slovenly autobiography”: “even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel.”

It was a few days ago when I asked the girl I am dating what she thought about male-female marital relationships. She said that she thought the woman should stay home once there are kids and that she does most of the cleaning, etc. This did not mean that the husband does no cleaning, but it’s far from a primary responsibility. Thus I found myself in the peculiar position of thinking that if we were to get married that I should be more involved in the very thing I despise: sweeping floors, doing dishes, and, if I dare mention it, doing laundry.

It’s not that I think women have to get a job and not stay at home. I think that is fine choice that many have made. I’m just not convinced that relationships should have those sort of gender roles automatically, and this for what many might think to be the most peculiar of reasons.

You see, I have found a different vision in the life and teachings of an unmarried, middle-aged, Jewish man who lived in the first century AD. He was a man from heaven, God on earth who came to be the long-awaited Messiah and the only true Man. In times of political tension he rejected the sword and in the adoration of crowds he felt called to serve. At one point, two of his followers asked to sit at his right and left hand, but he rebuked their attitudes of striving for positions of authority and glory as the world sees it. His other followers heard of their request and became indignant, but they missed the picture too. The other ten were not mad because James and John hadn’t yet understood the nature of Jesus’ Messiahship and kingdom, but because James and John beat them to the punch. In a place where reading for the first time we might think Jesus would emphasize how distinct he is in order to show why they cannot share in his glory, he instead tells them that He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45) and thereby invites us to participate in that glory.

We find him hanging out with the outcasts of society: prostitutes, tax collectors, and lepers. He cares about children who can offer him nothing. We find him being baptized in order to identify in his nation’s plight. It’s at that baptism that we find John the Baptist being perceptive when John recognizes that he is not even worthy to carry Jesus’ sandal, a statement said to a Man that we later find washing his disciples feet.

In Philippians 2:6-11, we find Paul teaching us that Jesus did not exploit his equality with God but instead took the form of a servant and died on a cross. Why? Did Paul just decide to wax eloquently about the status of Jesus and his suffering? We find the answer before that section: we are supposed to have the same mindset as Jesus by being humble, serving others, and valuing others above ourselves.

So I said that I don’t want a relationship where it’s a sort of score keeping or social contract. I shouldn’t worry about whether I had to do the dishes more than my allotted amount this week nor should I think about laundry and automatically classify it under the category of her duties.

“Yeah but who is actually that selfless?”

Not me, that’s for sure. I don’t think this because deep down I really enjoy doing laundry and want a stake in it. I’m halfway convinced that laundry is part of the fall, if not the main part. If you want to talk about our alienation from the created order, just look at the fact that we have to do laundry.

But I digress. None of us is that selfless. Obviously there will be days where I don’t want to do the dishes even though I should. Clearly there will be times where I will think about how doing the laundry is her job when that is the wrong attitude. Certainly there will be moments when I think about how hard my day is and how easy hers is and deplore the fact that I cannot even come home to a hot meal. But if falling short is a reason to not strive for something better, well, I would have given up on everything a long time ago.

Because I think a great many things are hard: properly understanding the Bible, living out the Christian faith, working on relationships, deeply and truly caring about others who have nothing they can offer me, and, if intuition is worth anything, wanting to do laundry when I get home after a 55-hour work week that was hopelessly tiring and frustrating. But I don’t want to go through life just skating by. I don’t want to get by with good enough. I know those things take work, but I’m not okay with not putting in the effort.

Naturally, all of that can be chalked up to my age. I’m idealistic and want to change the world in ways that haven’t happened. I want to live in a way that not many have gone before me have. And, so the point goes, as I get older I will grow out of this idealism and come back to the real world. Maybe so, but I hope not. I’d rather get my head in the heavens over taming heaven in order to get it into my head.

Then there was talk about compromise and a very perceptive question that was taken as the challenge to write this post: “Yeah but if she’s cool with doing it, what’s the problem?”

On compromise: “‘it is not ideal.’ -Michael Scott” -Brett Lunn. But more seriously, the problem I see it ties into the Biblical material discussed above. I guess I just don’t see it as following the teaching of the text. Maybe that’s just where I’m at and people are at different places (and maybe they are right and I am wrong), but I am not sure splitting up chores along gender lines or what we enjoy is right. We are called to revolutionary servanthood especially in the things we don’t like doing so that we might become more like the One True Man, the only Man who ever showed us what it was like to be Human perfectly, the same Man who ate with outcasts, visited possessed people at tombs, touched the diseased, fed those who wanted him to give into one of the biggest temptations he would face, and washed the feet of those who had followed him for awhile, but still didn’t understand.

I know there will be plenty of times where I would be happier if I didn’t have to do as much cleaning or whatever, but it’s not about happiness and what works best, it’s about wholeness of being, which is perfected in brokenness. As one thinker put it, “I wanna fold clothes for you; I wanna make you feel good.”

Because it’s in petty, unsexy decisions like this that we become more like the Master who taught us, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)