March 7, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE READING:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ Jesus. It is the power of God to bring salvation to everyone who believes; first to the Jew and then to the Greek [read ‘to the rest of the world].” (Romans 1.16)
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFLECTION:
The Messianic Promise has always spoken to the “oneness” of the people of faith in God. We know that the history of Israel begins with the unquestioned proposition “in the beginning, GOD.” We must consider diligently that the very rendering of the pre-history and the birth of the nation of Israel was for the Hebrews themselves, first, and then the rest of the world. Strangely, in retrospect, the very words of John the Baptizer which were sent by his disciples to Jesus mimick in great part the prevailing attitude of God’s people from the start. John’s question was, whether for his benefit or that of his disciples, “Are you the ONE or should we expect another?” It would seem strange that John would ask this question of Jesus knowing of his own testimony about Jesus proclaimed in the region of the Jordan. There, as “one crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord; repent and be baptized every one of you (including the opponents and accusers of both John and Jesus),” John declared “Behold, the Lamb of God who comes to silence the sins of the world.” Now, the transition of leadership from the “old” to the “new” was nearing the point of completion. John knew he had to decrease so that the message of Jesus would increase. This did not mean that John’s message was greater than the teaching of the kingdom of righteousness which Jesus offered. It does point out the time of “announcement” was entering the time of “actuality.” Jesus responded, “Go, tell John that the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised up and the poor receive the riches of the teaching of the gospel of the kingdom. Blessed are these who are not offended by this word of mine.” This, of course, was a prelude to a similar proclamation which Jesus made at synagogue in Nazareth. There He had been asked to read from the scroll of the day. It was, as it was ordained, that the reading came from the prophet Isaiah. In that passage were the very words which spoke of the season of Jubilee. As He rolled up the scroll and handed it back to the attendants and sat down, He said “Today, in your hearing, these words of fulfilled [with a new announcement].” What was that announcement? It would be nothing less than the institution of the Messianic Promise. The purpose of that promise was to restore Israel to its original status (as a light to the world and a lamp to the feet of all who would pursue the righteousness of God’s kingdom.) We would hear this in the Sermon on the Mount whose central idea of indentification was “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness leaving Him to provide you with all that is needed.” Imagine that the pursuit of the saving of Israel and restoring it to the glory of God’s purpose was no longer needing their resourcefulness. God was going to provide it to those who were willing to become His true disciples. They were to be of “one heart, one mind, one spirit and one baptism following one Lord, one faith and one allegiance to the God who was One and all that was needed.” Even the greatest commandment declared, “Hear, o Israel, the Lord our God is One. Love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as you yourselves have been loved as the neighbor.”
The neighbor? How was Israel the neighbor of God? Perhaps, we might consider where Israel as the descendants of Adam and Eve lived in order to answer that question. Rather, I would propose that we remember where Adam and Eve did not live. They were no longer residents of the Garden of Eden. Because they did not pursue the righteousness of God and trust His Word fully, they were “shown the door.” No sooner had they passed through the threshold in the “garden wall” that it closed behind them. In fact, it was pulled shut by the angelic guard armed with flashing swords. That angel was en garde all the time to keep any and all of the world and in the world from entering. But, their “slates” were not wiped clean so they could not and would not remember who they were and whose they were. God had demonstrated His mercy and grace and spared their lives when they deserved the harshest penalty of all: death. Instead, God sacrificed animals and took their skins to make covering for both Adam and Eve. With that we might remember the very “tempting” words of the Accuser who probed Eve, and Adam who was standing silently by. He asked the question, “Surely, God did not mean you would die, did He?” The bane of Satan’s existence is God. Not just the presence of God but God’s will and nature of authentic love. Satan knew that this God who put him out of the courts of Heaven according to His righteous justice, could have easily extended the same mercy and grace to Satan, if…. If
Satan would have repented, sought the mercy of God and made the choice to live by grace alone instead of “his treacherous will alone.”
Now, Satan was the “neighbor” of God just as Adam and Eve were neighbors of God. They lived alongside His presence but not in the heavenly realm. When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray effectively, it included “Your will be done and Your kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.” It was all about transformation and restoration to the oneness God desired all the while. This was the hope of the Messianic Promise. One King and One Kingdom. That King was the Messiah. He was the King of kings and Lord of lords. His Kingdom would have no end. But, mind you this is a very serious “but,” it was never to be anything less than GOD’s kingdom. It wasn’t the kingdom of humanity in any of its representations as to nation, government, principality, philosophy, theology, religion, politic, ethnicity, gender or some manifestation of self which enslaved the person to “things of this world.” Let there be no question about this: there is only one kingdom in which the “fruit of the spirit” is the evidence of a “good” life (remembering the definition of “good” which I reviewed a few days ago as that which God ordained, set in place and blessed.)
Mighty ones of God, followers of “the way, the truth and the life” of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah of all (and not just Israel whether politically, spiritually or by birthright), we are called to recognize ourselves as the neighbor of God and beneficiaries of His mercy and grace. Refusing that, we shall be the “no exception to the rule of His love” which is “justice must be served.” That justice is judgment of both “the quick and the dead” as to their true belief in life as it was and is lived in relationship with the One True God and Father of us all. The joyous hope for the believer is that the door to Heaven will be open to us. That very Jesus who is the Christ and Messiah of all is preparing a place for every believer to no longer be the neighbor in search of true peace and life. He has promised that those who receive Him (as the Word), believe in Him (as the Messiah) and surrender themselves to Him (as the Christ) will become children of God and joint heirs in the Kingdom of God with all its rights, privileges and benefits. In that place, we will be as “one.” The circle will remain unbroken and there will be only one circle. Either we are in or we are out, there will be no other way.
Father, You have made it possible for us to be forgiven, reconciled, transformed and welcomed into Your House forever. That possibility is Jesus and He alone who is the door, the shepherd, the judge and protector of all who will believe and live accordingly to the mercy and grace extended to us in His name. May this word be on our lips as poured out from the heart and in our works as poured out by Your Spirit. AMEN.