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Monday, February 23, 2015

Saved by Grace in the Jewish Bible

Sunday Office lectionary readings are Deuteronomy 8:1-10; 1 Corinthians 1:17-31; Mark 2:18-22

A reflection on Deuteronomy 8 begins with the declaration that the God of Deuteronomy is the Father of Jesus Christ. There is not a new God in the New Testament. Few places are the continuity of God more apparent than in this book. What follows are the word of God with my comment.

Dtn 1 29I said to you, ‘Have no dread or fear of them. 30The Lord your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, 31and in the wilderness, where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you travelled until you reached this place. 32But in spite of this, you have no trust in the Lord your God...

The parental love of God is the heart of grace. He carries us. And the sin of Israel is a lack of faith: "you have no trust." In both Testaments, we are saved by faith and our salvation is an unwarranted grace. 

Dtn 4 So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you...5 See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. 6You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ 7For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today

The focus and concern of the Bible is NOT heaven. No where do we hear the question, "If you die tonight where will you spend eternity?" While that is THE question which has preoccupied me my whole life and which is central to the religious world in which I live, the Bible is not terribly interested in disembodied existence in heaven. It is very interested in God reigning as King on earth. This worldly focus is apparent in the connection between "being blessed while living in the land" with obedience to God's expectations. "Give heed" "so that" is a conditional. It is another way of saying "if...then." And the focus is on the Promised Land in this world.
Dtn 76For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt…..Blessings for Obedience

12 If you heed these ordinances, by diligently observing them, [Then] the Lord your God will maintain with you the covenant loyalty that he swore to your ancestors; 13he will love you, bless you, and multiply you; he will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, in the land that he swore to your ancestors to give you. 14You shall be the most blessed of peoples, with neither sterility nor barrenness among you or your livestock. 15The Lord will turn away from you every illness…. 

God chose His people out of love, they did not earn it. They did not warrant it. It is a grace. Total, unmerited grace. It is based on love not Law. If you read Paul, understand that his complaint with the Jews of his day are based on this theology found in the Jewish Bible. God saves in grace. However, the love is unconditional, not the covenant. Like our own spouses who love us for free but expect us to be faithful, God expects fidelity. He expects His children to treat each other well. In the Kingdom there cannot be disobedience (because the Kingdom is the New Eden---unmerited gift to enter and conditional to remain). Notice the blessings for fidelity are this worldly. Perhaps we need to think of the after life in those terms. When "Jesus comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead" He plans to stay here. Here is where the New Jerusalem comes. Here.

Matthew 5 The Beatitudes

 Jesus … taught them, saying: 3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (God),4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth….Salt and Light

13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?....4 ‘You are the light of the world….let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.The Law and the Prophets

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill….19Therefore, whoever breaks* one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 

We see this echoed in Jesus' words. I often wondered why the meek inherited the earth when we were going to heaven? Now I know, heaven is coming here, God is going to reign on earth (a New Earth). Jesus reminds the Jews of their vocation: to be God's people. The vocation to serve as Salt and Light are the meaning of God's choice of Israel as His People: to be chosen is a mission as well as status. Obedience to Torah is NOT for salvation, it is for blessings. That is the key. Torah obedience does not earn salvation, God's grace provides salvation, Torah obedience is the expression of faith, gratitude and holiness--it is complying with God's expectations. Neither Jesus, nor Paul nor any New Testament writer divorces faith from faithfulness. Once again, Jesus Believers who are not Jews (Gentiles) are not responding to God within the confines of the Jewish Torah Covenant through Moses. We are not Jews. We are, however, bound to the Jesus Torah (Instruction). Paul calls it the Law of Christ. The "content" of that "Torah" (teaching/instruction/expectation) is found in the words of Jesus as well as the other New Testament writers. Just as the 'commandments' of Deuteronomy replace or change "laws" found in previous books (like Exodus), so the Jesus "Law" also expands on and in places changes or replaces the Laws of the Moses' Covenant People.

Dtn 8 you shall faithfully observe all the instruction [mitzvah; 1st use, see Genesis 26:5 Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge: my commandments (mitzvah), My laws (chuqqa), and My teachings (torah)] that you may thrive and increase and be able to possess the land…Remember the long way that the Lord your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years that He might TEST you by hardships TO LEARN WHAT WAS IN YOUR HEARTS…He subjected you to hardship of hunger and then gave you manna…to TEACH you that Man does not live by bread alone, but that man may live on everything that PROCEEDS from the Mouth of the Lord

God disciplines you just as a man disciplines his son. Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God: walk in His ways and revere Him

The Bible sometimes writes about a God who changes His mind and does not know the future. I have addressed that elsewhere. Here God says the struggles in the wilderness were a way for God to learn what is in their hearts. God wanted to find out! Paul says, in Romans, that Abraham received the promise before the law of Moses was received. Yet in Genesis 26:5 above we see that Abraham did obey God's "laws and commandments" (mizvah and torah are two of the words). Like Abraham, we are not submissive to Moses, he predates Moses, we are outside of Moses. But we do well to assume there are still "mizvah and torah" which apply to us. Grace demands obedience, not to earn the gift, but to grow into the Life of the gifted. I repeat: not to earn the gift but to grow into the fullness of the life of the Gift Giver and the fullness of the gift(s)!!!

We return full circle in the end, the God who saves Israel and carries her as a child is the same Father who disciplines His child. To be a disciple is to follow discipline. To be a disciple is to live in the fullness of being His child. His child. His child....Obedience is the way of freedom and peace. God is consistent. The New builds on the Old (one might better say Olds; because the text has numerous covenants--Adam, Noah, Moses, David; and if you accept the scholarly insights, within the Moses covenant there are several layers over many hundreds of years as it was reinterpreted and reshaped for new situations in new times and places) This world matters. salvation is a grace. Life in relationship with God requires obedience.
Heaven is coming to earth, it already has, and heaven plans to make the earth new. A new place where all will live in joy and peace, in obedience to God's expectations---and no one will consider obedience a burden, but another grace and blessing. For the One who loves us so would only expect us to do what blesses us!

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