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Posts Tagged ‘Messiah’

cornerstone[Peter said] “. . . then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’” [Acts 4:10-11, NIV]

This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.

The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone; . . . [Psalm 118:20-22, NIV]

gateOriginally, a cornerstone was foundational to the construction of a building because all other stones would be laid out in reference to it. Later, this stone became more ceremonial with inscriptions and time capsules and the like. I am sure that both Peter and the Old Testament writers were referencing the Messiah as a cornerstone to the faith in its most traditional sense. For the disciples, Jesus was the cornerstone for something very new upon which believers would build a church–a force of change. For the psalmist, the prediction would be that the One Messiah would be rejected (unrecognized for his assigned role to humanity) and despite being a way to God, the way would be closed. And yet, despite rejection, the foundational stone would remain and the “building” would grow.

We are living the outcome, for good and for ill. The “house” is still standing, rooted and grounded by the cornerstone. And inexplicably, this structure is also a gate. As soon as anyone links up with the cornerstone, that person becomes a “gate” for the next person to enter, to connect.

holdinghandsIt’s a strange metaphor when combined, and yet, I get it. In this picture, the gates (the people) are transparent but linked up. We are transparent because we want people to be able to see inside, to behold the glory as it were, the spark and flame of life.

Jesus, the cornerstone of the Church as it was meant to be. Jesus, the cornerstone of my life as it is meant to be as well. Come in. The way is open; the gate is open.

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I am 2It wasn’t the first time Jesus made “I am” statements. In fact, this is the 5th time he is recorded as saying “I am. . . .” The others (all somewhat cryptic and yet captivating as metaphors):

  1. I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35)
  2. I am the Light of the World (John 8:12)
  3. I am the Gate (John 10:9)
  4. I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11)
  5. I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26)
  6. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:16)
  7. I am the Vine (John 15:5)

But are they all metaphor? Instead, I can’t help but wonder if Jesus wasn’t using the simplest transformationof language to communicate the most complicated piece of information: his true identity. In all but one of these phrases, there is way-finding or sustenance. But in the 5th phrase, there is something else: transformation! In essence, he is telling us that without the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Holy Spirit, we are dead. Jesus is life. Jesus gives life where there is death.

walking deadI’m not just talking about heaven and the after-life. I’m talking about now. Most humans are just “walking dead” (amusing that a television show of this title is so popular). And as long as people are dead, it’s hard to imagine life, true life. It happens in the most extraordJesusinary and paradoxical way. Instead of hanging on, we are to let go. Instead of hoarding, we are to give away. Instead of certainty, we are to walk by faith. Instead of wealth, we are encouraged to embrace poverty.

Authentic Christianity, and by that I mean true Jesus followership, is mind-blowing.

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Purify

Refining-FireJohn MacArthur writes, ” ‘He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness,” [Malachi 3:3] is not agreeable to those who want only a soft and sweet Christ.” In particular, it’s critical to understand that the “sons of Levi” referred to were the priests and caretakers of the Temple. They were the ones anointed for Godly service. And by prophet, the warning came that they would be refined by fire.

This is no different from today. God will purify the body of Christ from corrupt men, perhaps not with the speed we would prefer, and yet, we see many fall from grace and exposed.

But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. [Luke 12:48, NIV]

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Photo Art by Cathleen Tarawhiti

Photo Art by Cathleen Tarawhiti

Like most Christians, I have been under the impression that the Jewish understanding of the Messiah was the same as the one I have been taught, that God foretold through the prophets, a savior. But that is not completely the case.

When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign [feeding the 5,000], they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.”  Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain. [John 6:14-15, CEB]

It is true that the Jews were looking for a “mashiach” (a better translation of the word מָשִׁ֫יחַ according to Judaism 101 website) which means anointed compared to “moshiah” (a word more readily translated as savior). The idea of anointing a king can be seen throughout the the Old Testament, from Saul to David and so on. And in many ways, the English word Messiah means the same, but according to the Judaism 101 scholar/writer, the Christian view of “savior” has overtaken the Jewish concept. Whether this is really true, I don’t know, but I found the discussion interesting.

What resonates most deeply for me however is the idea of waiting and what or who I might be waiting for. How easily I might miss the person or thing or experience if my bias drives my waiting. If I am waiting for a king (a lion) who will, with authority and might, overthrow my circumstances to make all things right, then I would be hard-pressed to see the sacrificial lamb, who is more interested in the “long game” than the individual “play.”

I had never heard that term before: the long game, until recently while watching old seasons of the television series, Homeland. Apparently, this is not uncommon in the “intelligence” world and spy business. Nor had I considered that the work of Christ, the Savior, is a very long game, a very long investment, a twist in the human plot that changes the direction of the world. For that cannot be denied, whatever the belief system, the appearance of Jesus was (and is) a fork in the road of humanity.

Jesus could have taken the road of mashiach, for he was anointed. And he could have overthrown the Roman empire, I have no doubt. Instead, he presented the paradox of faith in the unseen, good overcoming evil, sacrifice replacing power and set it in motion. And in this long game, we can all play a part; we can choose to engage or not.

In my own life, I have set myself up for a number of disappointments by investing my energies in a dream, or rather my interpretations of the dream. I have grasped onto a good idea in lieu of the great idea because I have been impatient or short-sighted. I got caught up in conquering instead of serving, rushing forward instead of waiting, anticipating the endgame instead of living the day itself. I have been chasing the lion.

Like the populace who lined the streets of Jerusalem with Jesus rode in on a donkey, they cried “Hosanna” which can be translated as not just “save us” but “save us now!” They could not see or hear what Jesus was saying all along, “I am saving you, for eternity.”

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bitternessOnce again, I am visiting the book of Ruth. I know this story well, having performed a one woman show for several years as the character of Ruth. But now, as I approach the latter part of my own life, I am more drawn to Naomi’s role.

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara,because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” [Ruth 1:20-21a, NIV]

I have many besetting sins, as we all do, but one of the most tenacious sins is disappointment. That’s right, I call it a sin. It is my warning bell, for out of it I have seen full blown bitterness grow. Disappointment fans the flames of bitterness.

NaomiNaomi had a good life. She had the security of a husband and two sons who would care for her in her old age. When famine struck their land, the family traveled to a neighboring country to start over. Even though they had lost much in the famine, they were still a family. She could endure as long as they were together. But of course, that was not how it turned out at all. Instead, her husband died. And although she had her boys and their new wives, within ten years, the sons died as well. How could this be? All of her dreams and hopes were crushed. There were not even grandchildren to hold the family together. There was no family at all. She sent the widowed daughters away.

Despite the loyalty of Ruth, who traveled with her, Naomi lost hope. (In fact, I could imagine Naomi considered Ruth, a Moabitess after all–a foreigner, nothing but another stone around her neck.) Naomi’s deep disappointment in the outcomes of her life drove her into sorrow, grief, even despair and from those, she blundered into a growing bitterness and resentment toward God who she believed took everything away.

I can’t say my life ever hit such a deep abyss. Besides, I live in a country and in an era where women can be resilient, self-sufficient even. I am not at the complete mercy of a patriarchal society as Middle Eastern women were of that day (and some still).

And yet I have battled with my God. As a long-time believer, I imagined my life would turn out differently. I thought my aspirations had the power of God behind them. But, as the road branched and turned and twisted, I found myself continually looking back, wondering what would have been if I had chosen the other way, had I not married at eighteen or divorced five years later, if I had graduated from college in Indiana instead of Illinois, if I had not gone to New York, if I had not returned home to Indianapolis with my tail between my legs, if I had not married again and moved to Atlanta, if I had not been barren, and so on and on and on.

Oh foolish woman I know. To bemoan the loss of what could have been and not revel in what is.

disappointmentToday and tomorrow are still a wonder if I allow them to be. I am ashamed of my bouts of disappointment for they are nothing but unproductive. Disappointment prevents growth in a good way. It interferes with gratitude. And worst of all, disappointment presumes I know the better way, that my ideas of who I was to become or what I was meant to do or how my life should have unfolded were mine alone. But I surrendered that right the day I accepted the Christ spirit. In theory at least.

But surrender to the little life I have rather than the bigger life I aspired to is not always easy. Most of those dreams were self-aggrandizing. In those dreams, I was still the center of the universe.

Naomi could only see her crumbling world, she could could not see the bigger picture. We all have a bigger picture which is why it is so important to trust God in every turn of life, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, this is the believer’s vow to Christ. This mantra can stave off disappointment.

Through Naomi’s daughter-in-law, a child was conceived by Boaz, and the line was preserved. One of the greatest leaders was born as a result, King David, who set in motion the fulfillment of long-time prophecies of a Messiah for the world. That was Naomi’s big picture.

 

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notre dameHow did this get past me after all these years? Honestly, I was so sure that this phrase, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” made most popular in Handel’s Messiah, was from Isaiah, like so much of that great oratorio. Instead, I’m reading along in Job, and there it is jumping out at me.

“But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
and he will stand upon the earth at last.” [Job 19:25, NIV]

Remember now, this is Job, one of the oldest texts and yet the Redeemer appears, the vindicator, the deliverer, the rescuer: only the Messiah, who Job proclaims despite his exhaustive litany of sorrows, losses, betrayals, and sickness. His redeemer lives. And mine.

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shepherdsHow many of us know a shepherd. Honestly? At best I may have met a 4-H person at the Farm Fair. Oh, and one of my library colleagues used to raise a few sheep for the wool which she sheared and spun and created beautiful things. But she wasn’t exactly Little Bo Peep. And although nativity story shepherds have been romanticized, the truth is they were on some of the lowest rungs of the ladder. They were a necessity for the economy, the protection of the sheep, but their jobs were B-O-R-I-N-G. In modern day, I might compare them to a rent-a-cop on the graveyard shift of a storage unit.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. . . . When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. [Luke 2:8-9, 15-16, NIV]

I’ll look into angels tomorrow but for now, let’s look at shepherds. Back in the day, the shepherd metaphor was a good one. The Greek word poimēn word means herdsman or shepherd, but even then, it was seen metaphorically, the one who watches over the flock, the one who protects the herd from outside danger, the one who seeks for lost ones, the one who heals the sick. For these reasons, many have compared shepherds to pastors in a church. And certainly, even Jesus himself, allowed this comparison [John 10:14-16].

What’s funny about shepherds to me is that despite their humble station, the critters they guarded appeared to be quite stupid and over the years, and this has stuck. Despite some contrary information in recent years about sheep being able to recognize faces of other sheep and human caretakers, build relationships, and possibly know how to eat certain plants to make themselves feel better. But mostly, we find sheep to have such a strong flocking instinct and “follower” genes that they will do themselves harm based on who they follow. That metaphor has never been complimentary to the church or people who follow leaders blindly.

But no matter how much we imagine this shepherd/flock relationship, it’s not really in our modern ken or culture. We don’t have a modern counterpart to the stinky, smelly sheep workers who were more comfortable alone with their animals than they were with other people. They were undoubtedly loners and nomadic by nature. They often endured taunts for unappealing acts with their ewes. Was it true? I really don’t know. And yet, these most lowly of men were, according to the story, visited by angels in such a large number that many shepherds (scattered over the fields) saw the spectacle and responded.

It is so often the case that the poor and “least of these” type folks get the message. They have nothing to lose, having little to begin with. The grassroots campaign for the Christ began with them. Come see–go tell. The Messiah has come.

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