The New Law is Christ

“The new law, then, is spiritual because the Spirit works everything. The former law is written because it goes no further than letters and sounds. Therefore that law is “a shadow” (Heb. 10:1) and an image, the present one is reality and truth. The words and letters are like an image in relation to reality. Before they were realized God foreshadowed them on many occasions by the tongue of the prophets. “I will make,” he says, “a new covenant, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers” (Jer. 31:31-32). What does this mean? “This,” He says, “is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah: I will put my laws within their mind and in their hearts I will write them” (Jer. 31:33)–that is, not composing them by mere sound of words, but by the Lawgiver’s presence, without intermediary. For He says, “no longer shall each man teach his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Jer. 31:34). Because he had obtained this law David also uttered this blessed saying, “I know that the Lord is great” (Ps. 135:5). He says, “I know,” having experienced it himself, not by having head it taught by others. Wherefore he leads others too to the same experience, saying, “O taste and see that the Lord is gracious” (Ps. 34:9).”

(St. Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, p. 95)

A Christian View of Prophecy

This is the 9th Blog in this series which began with Reading Scripture: the Old Testament, the Torah and Prophecy.   The immediate preceding blog is Jesus Fulfills Torah.

Old Testament Forefathers of Christ

The first Christians came to see Jesus not simply as fulfilling specific promises prophecies about the Messiah, but also in fulfilling the entire Torah – the Law, the History, the Promises, the People, and the Covenant.  This caused the first believers to rethink their relationship to or understanding of Torah, the People of God, Covenant, the Messiah and the Nations.  I’ve mentioned some of this in the previous blogs.  The final two blogs of this series will look at the nature of prophecy and the Christian understanding of it and of Christ’s relationship to it.

As we profess in the Nicene creed, God  has through the Holy Spirit  spoken to us by the prophets.

“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets…” (Hebrews 1:1)   

The New Testament mentions prophets and specific prophecies numerous times, but offers us only a few glimpses into what prophecy is or how it works.  

“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”  (2 Peter 1:20-21)

“… and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.  For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”   (1 Corinthians 14:32-33)

Prophet Jeremiah

What we can glean from these verses is that God Himself speaks to us through the intermediary of the prophets – God uses a human intermediary to convey His message to us, presumably as the means for us humans to receive His divine message.  The prophets are an interface point between God and humanity.  Whether inspiration works such that the prophet is able to interpret the divine message into human images and language or the prophet for some reason can understand the divine message though the rest of us cannot is not clear.  God uses the prophet to convey His message.   “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets”  (Amos 3:7).

The prophets don’t just offer what they think God might be doing or saying, they are not guessing or predicting what God is going to do.   Rather God actually moves or inspires the prophets to speak.  So the message of the prophets is a divine message.  The message comes to us in human words and images, through a human intermediary, but it is God speaking to us.  Much has been written about the nature of inspiration, which goes far beyond what I can say here.  We receive prophecy as a message from God not a message from the prophet.  The message from God has a purpose which is not limited by or to the human interpretation of that message.  We can misinterpret the message, we can try to make sense of the message, but we have to be faithful to the message, even if we don’t completely understand it.    This is where the Scriptures, as the written Word of God, are so important because they preserve the message.  The community of the people of God have the responsibility to make sure the message is preserved and faithfully conveyed – only then can its meaning be faithfully discerned or debated.  Finally, the prophets themselves are not mere puppets in the hands of God – they are inspired by God, filled with the Spirit – but the prophets have some control over themselves and speaking the prophecy.  Prophecy is very different from demon possession.   It must be noted that sometimes prophets do not completely comprehend the prophecy, and sometimes they may not even be aware that have uttered a prophecy.

“For the prophet is not always consciously aware of what he is saying.  As the Fourth Gospel states of Caiaphas: ‘Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation’ (Jn 2:51).  Caiaphas is an unwitting and involuntary prophet: he does not appreciate, with his conscious mind, the real meaning of the truth that he proclaims, but he says more than he intends or realizes.  If God, without depriving the prophet of his free will, may yet use him as the mouthpiece of a message greater than his own understanding, cannot the same be true also of the holy fool?  Even when actually unbalanced on the psychological level, his mental disabilities may yet be by the Holy Spirit as a way of healing and saving others.”  (Bishop Kallistos Ware,  THE INNER KINGDOM, p 178)

Bishop Kallistos is offering a comment about something beyond the scope of this blog series – that prophecy continues in the Church to this day.  The gift of prophecy still exists in the Church, and some people still exhibit this special gift even though they might not be aware they are doing so.  For our purposes in this blog, the point is that prophecy does not deprive the prophet of his or her free will, though the prophet might be proclaiming something beyond the limits of their ability to understand. 

The fulfillment of a prophecy is not understood until it happens; only then does it become clear to the people that a prophecy has been fulfilled. 

Next:  Prophecy in the Ancient Church

Reading Torah and Keeping God’s Word

This is the 7th Blog in this series which began with Reading Scripture: the Old Testament, the Torah and Prophecy.   The immediate preceding blog is Reading the Old Testament in Consonance with the Saints.

Christ calling St. Paul to become an Apostle

For the Jews, Torah is God’s gift to His people.   Torah is more than just God’s rules as it is God’s instruction to His people on how to live on earth –  It is God’s eternal Wisdom offered in a manner accessible to humans.  Torah is for the Jews what Jesus the Incarnate Word of God is for Orthodox Christians.  St. Paul upon encountering the Risen Lord Jesus received a calling to proclaim a new agreement between God and His people and the world.  St. Paul came to understand that Torah could not cure what was ailing humanity since the fall of Adam in committing the ancestral sin.  Torah, for St. Paul, is God’s Wisdom and instruction, but St. Paul came to believe its role was intended to be temporary serving to prepare the Jews and the world for the Incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus Christ.   The Torah could not make us righteous or holy, but it did point out our rebellious sinfulness quite well.  With the coming of Christ, the Torah has been fulilled and God’s new covenant inaugurated.

“It was probably during the exile in Babylon (my note:  circa 597-538BC) that the so-called Five Books of Moses, also known as the Torah, were edited into their final form, highlighting the ancient story of slavery and freedom, of exile and homecoming, of oppression and Passover—but also setting out the pattern of life for the people who had thus been rescued.  When God frees you from slavery, said the Torah, this is how you must behave, not to earn his favor (as though you could put God in your moral debt), but to express your gratitude, your loyalty, and your determination to live by the covenant because of which God rescued you in the first place.  That is the logic underlying the increasingly focused study and practice of the Torah from the Babylonian exile to the time of Jesus and beyond.

The Torah was never intended as a charter for individuals, as though anyone, anywhere, might decide to try to keep its precepts and see what would happen.  It was given to a people, edited by and for that people, and applied (in the postexilic period at least) to that people; and at is heart it was about how that people would live together, under God and in harmony—that is, justice—with one another.”   (N.T. Wright, SIMPLY CHRISTIAN, p 82) 

Moses: the human author of the Torah

The Torah was never meant to be the Jewish book of magical incantations and spells, which any individual anywhere could pick up and learn how to use for his/her own benefit or to manipulate God.   Torah was meant to inform, form, transform and prepare a people who would then accomplish God’s will on earth to be a light to the nations and bring all to salvation.  The Torah was meant to be read and lived within the community of believers.  For St. Paul, that community – the Jews – lost sight of what the Torah was meant to be to them and what they as the chosen people were meant to be to the world.  In effect, the people of God, meant to be the ark of salvation as Noah’s ark was to him and his family, had failed in their mission to be a light to the nations.  Instead they came to revel in being God’s chosen people who alone received God’s favor. 

“The covenant may have been rock-solid on God’s part, but as Genesis tells the story, it was anything but solid on Abraham’s part.  Right from the beginning we run into the problem that will haunt the narrative throughout: What happens when the lifeboat which sets off to rescue the wrecked ship is itself trapped between the rocks and the waves, itself in need of rescue?  What happens when the people through whom God wants to mount his rescue operation, the people through whom he intends to set the world to rights, themselves need rescuing, themselves need putting to rights?  What happen when Israel becomes part of the problem, not just the bearer of the solution?  As cheerful old Rabbi Lionel Blue once said on the radio, ‘Jews are just like everyone else, only more so.’  The Old Testament underlines that on page after page.

But if the God who made the world out of free, boundless, energetic love now sees his world in rebellion, and his rescue operation flawed because of the people chosen to carry it out, what is he to do?”  (N.T. Wright, SIMPLY CHRISTIAN, p 75)

The answer, so Christians believe, is that God sent His own Son into the world to save the world.  Jesus Himself became what Israel was meant to be; for Jesus made incarnate in the world God’s revelation, wisdom and Word.  Jesus did what Torah could not do – reunited God to humanity and healed all of the brokenness and divisions caused by sin.

Next:    Jesus Fulfills Torah

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:8- 17 (c)

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8- 17 (b)

Genesis 9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”

Noah and his sons are totally silent and do not respond to God’s covenant promise – they ask no questions, make no reciprocal promises; no response of theirs even gets recorded, so we have no idea what they thought about God’s speaking let alone His covenant.  In verse :18, they already seem to be going about their business as if nothing happened.  They do not thank God for His promise and they make no promise themselves to in any way honor the covenant.   God had demanded of them some level of civilization before stating the terms of the covenant.  God laid down that killing other humans is unacceptable and that humans themselves must enforce the ban on killing by executing anyone who commits homicide.  In effect God is demanding them to develop their own police force, judicial system, and executioners.   What God precludes is both unlimited vengeance as well as  tolerance of murderous violence.  God has recognized that the human heart’s tendency toward violence is real and will continue.  But God is not going to be the one who has to tame the

Humans are responsible for justice

wickedness in fallen humanity.   God appoints His humans to this task – this is now to be part of humans having dominion over creation: they must enforce dominion over their own hearts and over any tempted to murder.   God places the burden on humans to police themselves.  God has promised not to destroy humanity for its violent wickedness, but insists that humans deal with homicide by killing the murderers.    Executing justice turns out to be a very unsavory business.  Humans now are going to be forced to use the punishment God put upon them for the sin of Eve and Adam – mortality – to establish justice on earth.   God has already seen how humans twist around God-given punishment by making mortality a tool of sinful murder.  Now God is demanding of humans to use mortality wisely and judiciously to establish justice and to contain violence.  God is curtailing the human proclivity to vengeance but is demanding that humans must rid themselves of murderers.  If humans are going to live together they must choose to control the homicidal tendencies of their hearts.   If humans want to continue to have a relationship with the divine, God is insisting that the humans must be willing to purify themselves of violent evil.  Unfortunately this too humans will distort with the rise of armies and warfare in which killing is sanctioned by human civilization not just in defense but in offensive aggression and pre-emptive warfare.   While God sanctioned the death penalty for murderers, He does not demand humans to kill the violent before they sin.

In the Orthodox Prayer Service (Slavonic: Molieben) “in the time of inclement weather, and unseasonable rain”, we find the following petition:   “That He will remember His covenant which He made with Noah, and will not despoil the land and His needy people with grievous wetness, dark, malevolent skies and gloomy fog, but will mercifully spare His inheritance and will command the sun to shine on the earth with fruit-bearing rays and abundant warmth, let us pray to the Lord.”   From that same service there is also this petition (note this prayer asks God to make a new covenant with the petitioners – either assuming God frequently makes covenants with His people and one can petition for a covenant and/or that the covenant with Noah was not eternal but must be remade from time to time):  “Save us from mud, O Lord, and from deep mire, and from deep water, that our days not pass in vanity and our years with sighing.  But remember Your covenant, which You made with Noah, and make one with us, according to Your mercies, with broken hearts we pray to You, hearken and have mercy.”    From the Prayer Service “in time of flood”, we find this prayer: “That He will remember the covenant that He made with Noah and not destroy us with grievous wetness and the stormy breath of winds, but will mercifully spare His inheritance and appease the storm that is laid upon us and the disturbance of the air, and will give a seasonable and peaceful breath to the wind, let us pray to the Lord.”   

Next: God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:18-23 (a)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:8- 17 (b)

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8-17 (a)

Genesis 9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”

God’s promise to never again destroy the earth and to accept as “inevitable” the wickedness in the human heart means God is willing to accept suffering because of and for His creatures.   In deciding to preserve humans rather than annihilate them, God decides to accept having a continuously grieving heart as part of allowing humans to continue to exist. God in effect accepts His own having to suffer as a necessary part of His love for His creation. God can see humans will continue to cause Him pain, and He accepts that as the price He has to pay for having such creatures on His earth.  Allowing the continuance of the human race for God means bearing with the wickedness of humanity and accepting the pain which humans cause Him in his heart.

“…and with every living creature…”   God’s covenant has a global dimension to it.  The covenant is not limited to humans for even non-rational animals are included in it.  The rainbow reminds God that His covenant extends to all animals too.  The protection of life guaranteed in the covenant broadly includes all humans, not just Jews, males, righteous saints, the good, or believers; God’s love and concern encompasses every human being without exception and unconditionally.  The covenant is not limited to rational creatures, to believers, to the rich, to the educated, nor to those who have reached the age of reason.  This divine testament is truly “on behalf of all and for all.”  And why shouldn’t it include animals?  In Psalm 148, one of the Psalms of praises, we call upon not only animals but even inanimate objects to praise God: “Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (148:7-10)

The Rainbow.   Because the ancients tended to believe the sky/heavens was a solid boundary (they had no instruments to examine them closely), they had no modern concept of what the lights in the heavens were exactly (remember they had no electricity so did not and could not see the stars as light bulbs of some sort). The only things they knew created light were the sun and the stars and the moon and fire.  But the stars in heaven gave a more perfect light unlike any fire on earth.  The moon glowed.  The light of the sun was hot – that they could observe.  But what the source of the light was, they could only speculate.  The appearance of a rainbow in heaven was equally mystifying as it was always above them, and could not be explained by human reason. 

“bow in the cloud”     Though modern people tend to see the rainbow as something beautiful, the word “bow” is the word for the weapon “bow” which any archer would use (“weapon” in fact is its only meaning in the bible).  It was a beautiful bow and a sign of a promised peace, but it was seen as a weapon by the biblical authors – a sign of God’s power and anger too.   The author of the text has no understanding of the rainbow as a natural phenomenon caused by water droplets refracting light causing the spectrum of light to appear.  He assumes that the first appearance of a rainbow was after the flood – thus all rainbows are miraculous signs, not natural phenomenon.     

Photo by rwangsa

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant…”   The rainbow is to be a sign to God, not the humans!   When God sees the bow, he promises it will remind Him of the covenant He has made.   When we see the rainbow in the sky, we might consider we are looking at the very same thing which God is looking at that very moment as well.  We both share a common vision of at least one thing in creation.  And if every time God sees the rainbow He is reminded of His covenant with humanity, how much more might we expect God to recognize His peace with us everytime He sees the cross, the sign of God’s New covenant with humanity.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8- 17 (c)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:8- 17 (a)

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:5-7

Genesis 9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”

In 9:8 God is speaking to Noah AND to his sons which is the first time they too are included in “hearing” the invisible God; so however Noah was able to hear and understand God, now too His sons hear God speaking to them.  In 9:17 God appears to be speaking to Noah alone, if the text is to be read literally. 

This is the first explicit covenant between God and Noah.   A covenant is an agreement that binds together two parties that otherwise would be separated.   As a result of the Fall humans had become not only separated from God, but even alienated from Him and had become at enmity with Him.  The covenant endeavors to heal the division and to bind God to humanity again specifically through His chosen servant Noah and Noah’s descendents. In this sense the covenant is with Noahian humanity, not just with the man Noah alone. (Because a covenant “binds together” two parties who might not share a natural union, we can understand how the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is then a New Covenant).  The Genesis 9 covenant asks nothing of the humans and is extended to all of creation (though in the earlier verses :1-7, God promised a blessing to humanity and laid down specific laws regarding not eating the blood of animals and demanding societal punishment upon any who kill other humans).  God promises never to destroy humanity or the earth again, no matter what.  In Isaiah 54:9, God promises to remember His covenant with Noah and not to entirely annihilate faithless Israel.  Noah is the prototype of the faithful remnant who exist in every generation and whom God will remember.    “Noah was found perfect and righteous; in the time of wrath he was taken in exchange; therefore a remnant was left to the earth when the flood came. Everlasting covenants were made with him that all flesh should not be blotted out by a flood” (Sirach 44:17-18).    As stated in the text, this covenant is also a covenant of hope because it makes certain promises about God’s future relationship with all humans.  Hope for the humans is also a trust in the unseen future.  We will not know if God will stay faithful to His promise to “never again” destroy the earth until time has come to an end.   The Covenant for us is thus an agreement of faith.   As Hebrews 11:13, 39-40 attests: “These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. … And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”   We await the fulfillment of God’s eternal promise.

The Covenant.       God makes a covenantal promise to never again destroy the earth and all humans by another flood – the rainbow becomes the sign of that covenant.   But did God leave Himself a loophole?   He won’t destroy the world with a flood, but might He use something else – say fire – to destroy the earth?     In Genesis 8:21, “the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.’”   God seems to rule out ever again destroying all humankind.  He recognizes the human heart is full of evil from the time we are children.  But His covenantal promise to never totally destroy the earth again would also seem to apply to whatever God plans for His final Judgment Day.    Of course in Genesis 8:22, God may have made conditional this promise when He said, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”    The condition being that as long as the earth exists God will not destroy it.  He doesn’t promise that the earth will always exist, but certainly in the New Testament there is much indication that God plans to transfigure the earth at the end of time, not destroy it.  In the Beatitudes for example we read that the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5) – what kind of blessing is that if the earth is to be destroyed anyway?   And how is the rainbow an everlasting covenant if “everlasting” means only for a time?    Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, Jesus answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed … for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.  … As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of man.  They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:20-21,26-27).  The Kingdom of God is in our midst – it is not far away “in heaven” nor does it require the annihilation of the earth for it to be established.  The promise of God in Genesis never to destroy all life again is everlasting. And while God explicitly promises never to destroy all of life again, He never denies the possibility of someday glorifying humanity.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8- 17 (b)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 8:20-22 (b)

See:   Questions His Creation:  Genesis 8:20-22 (a)

Genesis 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” 

 “when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor….”     Though generally it is thought God was pleased by the scent of the roasting meat (as the mention of Noah in the in St. Basil’s Liturgy assumes), the story may have some ambiguity to it.  For though God decides never to destroy humans again, it is precisely when He smells the burning sacrifice that He also remembers  the human heart always inclines towards evil (8:21).  The sacrifice has somehow reminded him of this awful truth.   The fact that a rite is needed to bring about reconciliation between God and human, also reminds God of the reality of the separation caused by human sin between Himself and His human creatures.

“when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor…”    The offering is a barbeque of each clean animal, and God appreciates the smell. The story suggests that the reconciliation between humans and God is accomplished.  God is pleased once again with His human creatures. In what sense God can smell is unknown, but this is the first time in Genesis that this capacity is attributed to God.  Orthodox to this day hope to please God and invoke His favor by burning incense in worship.  Aaron was commanded to perpetually offer incense to the Lord (Exodus 30:8).  In Orthodox services the censer and incense are blessed with the words, “Incense we offer to You, O Christ our God, as an odor of spiritual fragrance.  Receive it upon Your heavenly altar, and send down upon us in return the grace of Your all-holy Spirit.”    As we sing during the Lenten Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, “Let my prayer arise in Your sight as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!”   (Psalm 141:2)     Noah’s offering incense is similar to the description of Aaron in Wisdom 18:21, “For a blameless man was quick to act as their champion; he brought forward the shield of his ministry, prayer and propitiation by incense; he withstood the anger and put an end to the disaster, showing that he was your servant.”

“…the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man…”   The last words about God’s heart in 6:6 were that God was totally grieved by humanity.   Here God is at peace and makes a new resolve – He is convinced that He must learn to live at peace with the creatures whom He knowingly endowed with free will – His stubborn, troublesome and evil-doing humans.   He promises not to let the humans provoke Him ever again to such wrath and destruction.   The author of Genesis has God speaking to Himself not to Noah in making this promise.  However, read Ezekiel 20 in which God describes at least 3 other occasions on which He wanted to pour His fury upon the house of Israel because of their sins and totally destroy them, yet decided against it. The notion of the faithful remnant whom God saves from the midst of an otherwise sinful humanity becomes a common theme in the Old Testament.

“the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”     When all is said and done and flood waters have cleansed the earth of violence and wickedness, God expresses a realistic if depressing assessment of human beings –  the human heart is still the source of evil in the world.  Neither God nor the inspired scribes who wrote Genesis attributed the evil of the world to Satan.  No amount of effort on God’s part to change the world can apparently bring about the change needed in the human heart.   Humans did, do and will at times turn their hearts to the greatest of evils.    For those who ask, “Why doesn’t God intervene in our world and change everything?  Why does God let evil exist?”   The answer from Genesis 6-9 is first because He continues to allow humans whose hearts constantly imagine evil to exist.  Second, God did intervene once and it was an abysmal failure – for He wiped out all the wicked, but wickedness remains in the human heart.  As long as there are humans, evil has a source and a home – our hearts. God wants humans to exist, and so He knows this means evil will exist as well.  As long as humans have free will, the potential toward evil must be real and possible or humans are not free.  God created humans not automatons.  He created beings that He wanted to CHOSE the good.  But to do this, He had to give them real and meaningful and dangerous choice.   To have the power to choose the good, we must have the power to choose the evil.  This also is the only way in which human love is possible.  God is love.  He created us in His image and likeness.  We are capable of love, which means we must be able to choose in order to really love (otherwise it isn’t love it is reactive instinct).   The flood story reaffirms what we learned in Genesis 3 about human beings and the reality and risks of free will and love.  Even the flood which cleanses the world of wickedness cannot take away free will, love, choice and the potential for evil from human beings.  And God comes to accept that love also means for Him unconditionally loving humans as they are – faults and sin and all.  God’s love is not a reaction to us (and our God-likeness and our God-given goodness); God’s love is how He chooses to act towards us before we even existed and despite how we behave.  God experiences that true love means pain and risk and rejection.   And despite all the sinful, wicked and evil faults of humans, God so loves the world that He will send His only Son to save the world.  This is true love.   When in the Gospel Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, to love beyond those who love us, He is asking us to love as God realized love demanded Him to love – even those who reject Him and do not love Him back.  God doesn’t ask more of us than He is willing to do.   But He does ask us to do what He does.  Jesus taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44-48).

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 8:20-22 (c)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:17-18 (b)

See:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:17-18 (a)

Genesis 6:17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.

Apostle Peter

In the New Testament, St. Peter uses the story of the flood and Noah’s ark as a prototypical story proving God does separate the good from the wicked, saving the good from a world awash in sin, and punishing the wicked for the sinfulness.  “For if God … did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:4,5,9-10) .  For St. Peter the story of the flood is not as important as a record of past history, its full meaning is found in God’s Judgment Day at the end of the world.

“a flood of waters upon the earth…”   God does not threaten the earth and its people with total annihilation – a return to absolute nothingness – rather God threatens the world with a return to chaos, the waters returning to the cover the earth and to bring an end to the order He had willed for creation.  And He promises an ark of salvation for the faithful, righteous remnant.  He is destroying wickedness in order to protect and preserve His chosen ones.

The ark.   In Wisdom 10:4, it is Wisdom herself who guides Noah to build the ark.  “When the earth was flooded because of him, wisdom again saved it, steering the righteous man by a paltry piece of wood.”  The comparison of the ark to a piece of wood will also connect it to the wood of the Lord’s Cross in Christian poetic imagery.

“…destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die.”   Everything may be an exaggeration for later fish and sea animals do not seem to be included in the list of all that dies.   Perhaps the ancients did not think of fish/sea creatures as having the breath of life since they lived under water.  St. Basil the Great noted that “A fish does not resist God’s law, and we men cannot endure His precepts of salvation!  Do not despise fish because they are dumb and quite unreasoning; rather, fear, lest, in your resistance to the disposition of the Creator, you have even less reason than they.”

The ark.   St. Symeon the New Theologian interprets the ark using an allegorical typology, as a way for us to understand the New Testament.  “Again, the ark was a type of the Theotokos and Noah of Christ and the men with Noah were a first-fruit of the portion of the Jews, of those who would believe  in Christ, while the wild beasts … constituted a type of the gentiles.”  St. Symeon tempers the analogy a bit noting that the ark saved those who were in it, while Christ saved both his ark (Mary) and all the world from the flood of sin.

In the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, Noah is upheld as a man of faith – he begins building the ark one hundred years before the flood comes.  But Hebrews also uses the story to contrast Noah with the wicked people who no longer believed in God.  Noah alone may have kept faith in God, but by remaining faithful to the Lord he was also calling into judgment all who had forgotten God.   There was no excuse for their forgetting God – Noah was able to remember and so should have they.  “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

Covenant.   This is the first time the word covenant is used in the Bible.  A covenant is an agreement “legally” binding two parties together.  God is promising to bind Himself to a particular people on earth – not necessarily to all people but perhaps to all people through this chosen people.

Next:   God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:17-18 (c)

The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: C

This is the 3rd in the Series.  This follows The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: B

THE ABC’S OF WHY WE NEED CHRSTIMAS
C: Covenant & CreationThe theme of the covenant – God wishes to lead all people to a life of communion with Himself. God wishes to bring all people to Himself by making of them a community of worship dedicated to His service, ruled by His law, the depository of His promises.

New Covenant

Jeremiah 31:31-34
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (see also Jer 32:40; Ezekial 34:25 & 37:26)

Matthew 26:27-28
Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. {28} “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Through the New Covenant through the blood of Jesus human hearts will be changed and the Holy Spirit of God will be given

New Creation

2 Corinthians 5:16-17
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. {17} Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Galatians 6:14-16

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. {15} For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, buta new creation. {16} And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

Romans 8:18-23
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the created universe is waiting with eager expectation for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

Next:  The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: D

The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: B

In the years before blogging, I inconsistently hand wrote or typed on a computer my sermon notes. I used notes to preach from and didn’t fully write out the sermons – the notes were enough to remind me of the points I wanted to make. Looking back at those notes I realize I made cryptic reference to stories or scripture verses which were on my mind for the moment, but sometimes did not record the verses or write out what use I intended to make of them.  I never thought much about wanting to read these sermons again. In fact I didn’t even record many of my sermons – sometimes tossing away the notes after delivering the sermon, deleting them from my computer, or giving away the printed version to whomever asked for them from the congregation.

nativityIn Nativity Lent of 1995 I gave a series of sermons entitled, THE ABC’S OF WHY WE NEED CHRISTMAS (I only know this from the sermon notes I found on my computer – I don’t remember the series).   You can read the notes from first sermon in that series from 19 November 1995 (The ‘A’ of the ‘ABC’s). I will offer in the next couple of blogs the notes I did record on my computer which were the basis of my sermons (which themselves were not recorded). The sermon from 26 November 1995:

B – BLESSING, BERITH(=COVENANT), BAPTISM/birth

In Genesis 3:15, The Lord God to the serpent/tempter: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” This is part of God’s Berith (covenant) with humanity. God intended to give to woman an offspring who would do battle with the serpent/evil and would defeat Satan. This verse is considered to be the Proto-evangel – the first promise in the bible of the Good News of the birth of a child who would be involved in our salvation.

The Lord to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3) A promise of universal salvation through the seed of Abraham – all families on earth will be blessed through Abrahams line.

God’s Berith (covenant) is given as a blessing for all mankind: “These are the terms of the covenant the Lord commanded Moses to make….. Moses said, ‘See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.‘” (Deut 30:15-20)

The Isaiah birth prophecy: For unto a child is born, unto us a son is given (Isaiah 9:6). The prophecy fulfilled, the Berith accomplished by God, the blessing for all the world.

Baptism – the sign of the New Berith (covenant), the blessing from God – a birth to new life.

Next The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: C     Creation and Covenant