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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Faith of Jesus to faith in Jesus

The Fourth Gospel presents to us the deeper meaning of the historical life and death of the Lord Jesus. His life fulfills the hopes and promises of God to Israel. He is the new Genesis creation account. He is the Incarnate Word of God, who is identified as "the Lamb of God" (an uncertain reference but possibly connected to the Passover Lamb as well as the Redeemer Lamb) [see the Jewish Apocalyptic works: Test. Jos. 19.8; Test. Ben. 3.8; 1 Enoch 89–90]. At Cana there is a Marriage Feast where Jesus replaces the jars for ritual purity with the superabundant (best) wine (of the Kingdom). Later we will see a Bread miracle and also preaching connected to the Light and Living Waters of the Feast of Tabernacles. Without going into every detail, the Fourth Gospel wants you to know that Jesus is The Fulfillment of Judaism-- its story, its practices, its feasts.

Hence, the unique placement of Jesus' cleansing the Temple (at the beginning not end) may be an intentional thematic theological declaration. While Jesus' self-referential statements provide historical insight into the accusations mentioned in the Synoptics at His trial (that He would destroy the Temple, may have been derived from the statement quoted here); for the Gospel writer's purposes, the statements equate Jesus and the Temple. In a sense, it provides for the idea that Jesus is the new place to encounter God. (He is The True Temple where God's Name is). [The conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well reinforces this: worship in Spirit and truth trumps location.]

In the Synoptics the Scripture quote about a den of thieves is from Jeremiah. Recall his condemnation of the First Temple precedes its demise and the parallels between Jeremiah and Jesus are stunning.

John, however, makes two other Scriptural allusions. Psalm 69 and Zechariah 14. Jesus' zeal for God's House is reflects the words of the psalmist. When a verse is quoted, the reader is supposed to go read the source. Psalm 69 is a stunning prayer about faith, hoped and despair. The Gospel author connects it to Jesus. The second quote is the last verse of Zechariah, (a prophet during the return of the Exiles and reconstruction of the Temple) in the Persian period. Zechariah, a Messianic and apocalyptic work, includes the promise that God will be king of all and that there will be no more traders in the House of God. In a sense, the Fourth Gospel tells us that this is who Jesus really is. God the true King is here! Prophecy is fulfilled!

Jesus passes judgment on the Temple and confronts the men who are the most powerful in all of Jerusalem. This declaration of judgment is His death sentence which He actively, almost aggressively embraces. It is also a revelation of the wrath of God. 

Jesus' bold declaration (destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up) is a profession of His faith in the Father. Jesus almost seems to scoff at the threats. The courage of Jesus is an inspiration to us as we cower beneath our particular burdens and challenges.

One value of Lent is time to ponder Jesus' faith and courage. He is human.The crucifixion was no surprise because Jesus, like any controversial figure, knew what happened to people who stand against the powerful. He understood what the Jewish authorities could do and what the Romans would do to Him. It is His faith in God that allows Him to face it. It is His faith which makes His life a revelation of God's salvation. And it is His faithfulness which draws us to trust Him. The faith of Jesus generates faith in Jesus.

Later theological insights into the deeper meaning of Jesus only serve to give content to what is fundamentally a personal response. In Lent, the one thing we must seek is a deeper relationship with the Lord---to love Him more deeply as we ponder Him more completely.

Each of us is invited into that new life of Jesus. Like Him we are called to trust the Father completely. Like Him we are bound to fidelity whatever the cost. The disciplines of Lent are meant as the practice field where we establish the habit of trusting Him and treasuring Him above our own comfort and safety. Once we understand that resurrection life trumps anything the Enemy can do, then like Jesus we can say, "destroy me if you will, but it is only temporary and some day I will be raised up." To live fully in the freedom of that faith will be hope, peace and joy in any and all circumstances. 

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