Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Two Kings and Two Tables

Reading: Acts 11:27-30; 12:20-25
After the second service on Sunday, I had one of those, “I could have had a V-8” moments. By referencing back the completion of Barnabas and Saul's mission in 12:25, it becomes clear that 11:19–12:25 belong together as a unit. However, something that wasn't as clear to me then, now seems as plain as the nose on my face: It ties together two stories about hungry people needing to be fed that result in two very different outcomes under two very different kings.
27Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27-30 ESV)
The believers living in Judea were about to enter into a famine. The prophecy was given in late 43 to early 44 A.D. and is fulfilled in a 4 year famine from 44-48 A.D. The newly formed community of believers in Antioch determined to respond under Christ's Lordship to the need and sent help to the believers in Judea.
Then, in 12:20-24, we have an interesting little parallel story involving hunger and the need to be fed.
20Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food. 21On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22And the people were shouting, "The voice of a god, and not of a man!" 23Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. 24But the word of God increased and multiplied. (Acts 12:20-24 ESV)
The people of Phoenicia (Tyre and Sidon) were dependent on Herod's benevolence for food. Given his displeasure with them, they were coming to resolve this issue. In other words, they were hungry and suddenly had a liking for Herod. Everyone loves the political leader responsible for giving them their food—at least to their face.
This desire to eat leads to their idolatrous worship of Herod. We heard Sunday some of the amazing details from Josephus' description of this same event. But there is a contrast I had missed that speaks volumes about the difference in care under Christ's unseen reign and Herod the powerful earthly king's reign. That difference is highlighted by the closing comment of Acts 12.
25And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. (Acts 12:25 ESV)
Herod didn't complete his service. The only feeding he accomplished that day was to feed the worms; the people under his care received nothing. Barnabas and Saul completed their ministry and, in doing so, the people under Christ's care are fed through the obedience of His people.
This brief little story reveals the importance for all believers to take Christ's teaching regarding our responsibility one to another seriously. In the body of Christ, how we live out our lives in obedience to Christ becomes an extension of His care for His people. This then reflects on the Christ's reputation before the world–His glory. May He be glorified through us.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Call to Worship Fulfilled in the Gospel: A Meditation in Psalm 47

Reading: Psalm 47 ESV
Psalm 47 is a call to worship for the whole world and finds its fulfillment through the Gospel in our own day. For many years I read Psalm 47 with the emphasis on the call to clap your hands and shout. Being raised in a religious tradition that was very staid in its worship, what was surprising in the psalm to me as a teenager was that call to clap my hands in worship. However in the day it was written that was not the startling aspect of the psalm or even the first sentence.
1Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! 2For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.
What would have stood out to the original audience is found in the words, “all peoples.” In this psalm “all peoples” doesn't mean “all Jewish people,” or “all Israeli people,” but rather, it is “all the peoples of the earth” for the Lord is “a great king over all the earth.” In the next verses we see that the same word is used for the Gentile nations of the world around us.
3He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. 4He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
The call to all peoples of the world to worship God with great expression is rooted in the fact that He has subdued peoples (other nations) under the feet of Israel as they inherited the promise land. They can see the evident uniqueness of the Lord as not merely a local deity but as the Great King over the whole earth. He is therefore in a unique position to demand worship from all.
As the psalm continues, it becomes even more clear that the theme stated in the second verse—the Lord is “a great king over all the earth”—is the reason for this call to all peoples everywhere to clap and to shout with loud songs of joy.
5God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
6Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
7For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
8God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
Because God reigns over the nations, the nations (not just Israel) are called to worship Him. Then the most surprising part of the psalm comes at the end.
9The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!
The princes of the peoples (these are the peoples of the whole world again) gather as the people of the God of Abraham. Christopher J. Wright points out that the word supplied in English, “as,” is not in the Hebrew.
"The nobles of the nations" and "the people of the God of Abraham" are simply set in apposition, the one being identified with the other. That God in this context should be specifically named as the God of Abraham is surely significant, in view of the universality of God's promise to Abraham. So the register of the nations will not set the other nations behind, beneath or even merely alongside Israel, but will actually include them as Israel, as part of the people of father Abraham.1
The shields of the earth” is an expression representative of the mighty warriors or leaders of the earth who belong to God. They are either equal to or closely connected with the “princes of the peoples.” Not just the Jewish people but the princes and leaders of the world belong to God, and by implication therefore, all the peoples who belong to those leaders belong to God.
None of this is particularly surprising to the New Testament, but it certainly was surprising in the Old. It is a look forward in keeping with the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). If the princes of the nations are to gather as the people of Abraham, indeed all the nations are called to gather as those people and to clap our hands, and to shout with loud songs of joy. That is a call to be fulfilled in the New Covenant people of God.
Psalm 47 is a call to worship for the whole world and finds its fulfillment through the Gospel in our own day as all peoples on earth are assembling as the people of Israel. So clap your hands and shout with loud songs of joy. It is a call to worship that, as we are seeing in our current series in the book of Acts, echoes through the pages of Acts to the nations of the world.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

1Christopher J. H. Wright. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative (Kindle Locations 6716-6719). Kindle Edition.