Awake, O Sleeper (Ps. 3)

Intro if you haven’t read it.

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.” Selah

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;
    I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O Lord!
    Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the Lord;
    your blessing be on your people! Selah

The words of Jesus, when he was pursued by Israel, his son.

His foes are many. They encompass him like bulls of bashan. They are all around him. From the religious elites who do not want to be challenged by his word to the Roman ruler who cannot be bothered with social justice to the stranger in his midst who sold him for 30 pieces of silver. We all have gone astray. Do not speak your word, do not call us to justice, do not make us choose you over our god mammon. We hear you coming and we hide. You cry for us, “where are you?” For you have continually held your hands out to a wayward people, your hands being held out by being stretched on a tree.

We rise against you. Who shall ascend the mount of the LORD? We shall and in the process we will crucify the LORD himself. While we rise against you, you rise above it. While our passions rise and angers flare, your love is constant. We say, “there is no salvation for him in God.” We hope not because that would mean salvation for us and salvation always makes a claim. Salvation delivers by exposing and triumphing over the unjust powers. Go say to Pharaoh. Let Babylon know. Tell it to America. But in the process salvation exposes us. “Who told you that you were naked?” Our sin is our nakedness and you expose it all, and we recoil from the light.

But for him, the LORD is a shield. The LORD is his glory. The LORD is the lifter of his head. He cries and the LORD answers. He answers from his holy hill. He answers in his reign. He answers because of who he is.

Yet he lays down and sleeps. This is the explanation of the LORD’s faithful: Jesus’ death. The LORD is his shield, so it is by their good grace and love that he dies. The LORD is his glory, so it is because of their faithfulness that he dies. The LORD is the lifter of his head, so his head is lifted in bearing his crown, the crown of thorns. So he lays down and sleeps because he dies. He really dies. He takes his last breaths and he is laid in a tomb. Awake o Sleeper, and shine upon us.

And he really awoke again. He was really raised from the dead. The grave could hold him no more. The laments over death and hell become provocations because he now holds the keys. He descended and so he triumphed. He died and so he lives, and so he gives life. The LORD raised him up.

Therefore he is not afraid of the multitudes. He is not afraid of the devil or death or hell. He is not afraid of any of it, for he has conquered. Our shouts of “crucify” do not scare him but he lovingly embraces them. His arms are stretched out to embrace those who have been alienated. We tried to exclude him and he embraces us. He takes in the sins of the world and transforms them. He is not afraid, so we can cry to him.

From crucifixion to death to resurrection. From hoping there is no salvation for him to him being our salvation. All of our schemes are rebuffed. All of our plans are part of his. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And love did that. The embodiment of love, Jesus Christ. And so we cry out, “arise!” He has risen. “O LORD!” He is God in the flesh. “Save me!” He has died to bring the new creation. “O my God!” Finally we understand.

For God strikes our enemies on the cheek. That is, God takes our beatings. “Tell us who is beating you, if you are a prophet.” Our enemy in our eyes has always been God and he responds to our beatings with “here’s the other one.” He takes and transforms our violence. He bears and redeems our sins. Salvation belongs to him and his blessing is upon his covenant people for we are called to take up our cross and follow him.



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.

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.