Elite or responsible?

Privileged... and so

Privilege. Most of us who read this blog are indeed among the privileged, certainly when we take in a global perspective. I appreciate though that we do not consciously live in a global environment but a local one – whether that be a geographic or social context, and so we often have a mixed experience where we are also disadvantaged in some ways. There were many privileged groups in the New Testament times, being a Roman citizen certainly set some apart as elite. It is though the shift of ‘status’ that took place through the Gospel that I am focusing on in this post.

This has come into fresh focus with some of the wider writing I am involved in and also as we have ‘zoomed’ into a situation where the predominant cultural view is that of male dominance, with Paul (and Jesus!) seen as favouring the male.

The great egalitarian text of Paul in one of his earliest pieces of writing is Gal. 3: 28:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Written into the contentious situation where these non-Jewish converts were being subjected to the teaching that any follower of Jesus that was not in compliance to Jewish law was not a ‘full’ member of the community of God’s people.

This bit is strong!!

We even read of Paul confronting Peter face to face, and the strength of the conflict was very strong. There was a good (missiological) argument that had won Peter over. Those who came from James had a compelling argument: ‘how would they ever reach Jews back in the homeland if the Jewish followers of Jesus were fraternising and eating with Gentiles. For the sake of the Gospel you have to pull back, Peter.’ It does not get stronger than that, and if is or this reason I don’t think it was as simple as Peter was making a backward step but he felt compelled to take a compromising step for the sake of non-offence to the Jews, a step for the Gospel. That makes the conflict even stronger. The missiological argument could not overpower the fundamental Gospel one! (Think we have it hard trying to work out what is a godly redemptive compromise!) Back in the day, to be involved in a slave owning group who professed faith could have been argued for: a compromise for the sake of the Gospel… but eventually that compromise was not a compromise for the Gospel but a compromise of the Gospel. Deciding when that shift takes place takes wisdom and insight, and knowing what has changed in our society with respect to the Gospel likewise is very challenging.

Privilege… Either it feeds the demonic idea of elitism / above someone else; or it pushes us toward the ‘responsibility’ element. I consider that over centuries there was a downward trajectory in the life of Israel from the commissioned responsibility for sake of the nations to the elitism of chosenness. I have also been considering (of late) that maybe if we are of the ‘zionist’ bias (not one I can see in the NT at all) maybe there is also a knock on with regard to how we see the gender issue of male and female. Both seem to come from a way of reading Scripture that I find strange, but one I have to respect as I have no reason to suggest that those who read that way are not acting with integrity. I simply hope the reading is not being fuelled by any form of elitism.

With the household codes (the instructions on ‘husbands’, ‘wives’, ‘masters’, ‘slaves’, etc.) Paul follows the conventions of the day where philosophers and religious writers would lay out how their philosophy / religion would not at any level disturb the status quo of the Roman society. In our culture they are not too radical (understatement!!) but in that culture he carefully redefined them. He moved the dominant one from a position of ruling the roost to a place where they were to be an animated source of life.

There was an anonymous letter written to a person names ‘Diognetus’, mid 2nd Century, that suggested that Christians were to the world what the soul was to the body. They were to be present and animating. (The quote below is fairly long, the specific part I am referring to is in bold… so feel free to skip to that point… and apologies for the male language.)

Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonour, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.
Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen.  The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

The explanation is somewhat hellenised, indicating how quickly there was a shift from a Jewish psychology to a Greek-oriented one, but nevertheless the description as an animating life-giving source is very clearly put.

In the Gospel the privilege of Jew over Greek was nullified (I count it all ‘dung’ said one very privileged Jew; the NT era Jews were basically given a generation to respond to Jesus etc.); the rich were always being slapped about – we do not read ‘woe to you poor!’ but we often read ‘woe to you rich’; and in the Gospel any male privilege that might be inferred from creation is totally cancelled. The Greek of Gal. 3:28 seems to deliberately use the same construction as we find in Genesis, but reversing it – no ‘male and female’.

No privilege, indeed we might suggest that there is a bias the other way because of the Gospel! And any privilege that society might give, or we find ourselves in is to promote life (the shift in Paul’s household codes), to work toward an egalitarianism with everyone finding true life, and a corresponding emptying out of the privilege. Privilege is to be temporal and can only be in order to move things in the direction of the new creation.

Which Exodus and where?

An Exodus in Jerusalem

I am currently writing, my fingers getting a little worn out, but enjoying it a lot. I am on to ‘volume 3’ (though they are really ‘volumetes’ so don’t be overly impressed). My writing today coincided with my readings which took me to the Transfiguration stories. There Moses and Elijah (the law and the prophets?) came to meet Jesus and glory was revealed as they talked.

The part that stood out to me was in Luke 9: 31 where they talked of Jesus’ forthcoming Exodus in Jerusalem. The normal word for ‘The Exodus’ is used and I consider very deliberately. Then I thought – cos it lined up with what I am writing about, the ekklesia released / commissioned with the p-small ‘p’ political gospel that means the public sphere is where the good news that Jesus is Lord is to be outworked… an exodus where?

Back up. Original exodus was so that a people called by heaven (and in those designations the people were called an ekklesia, hence Moses was with the ekklesia in the wilderness (Acts 7)) could go to their destiny, to a land flowing with milk and honey. They could escape the place that supplied all their needs… but at a price. The imperial rule of Egypt. Fast forward some 1500 years (from one possible date for the exodus…) and the Exodus is now not in a ‘foreign’ land but in a land that has become foreign to the ways of God, overrun by all kinds of foreigners, or maybe better by one kind of foreigner, the ones who represent the power of Babylon!

An Exodus in Egypt so that there can be a departure.

Now an Exodus in Jerusalem, so that…

Yes I think so! So that there can be a departure to the always-desired destination. As Paul says in Romans 4:13, the descendents of Abraham are not defined by race but by faith (always was the case just radically more so post-cross), and that Abraham was promised not a land but the world (ho kosmos).

The Exodus in Jerusalem was to free a people from all bondage. Nowhere was more in bondage than Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, hence he comes at the fullness of time. There is an Exodus and there is a departure. No lockdown in that city at that time!

An explosive Scripture

Well we can ask which one as there are so many!!

In this little old lockdown era, that signals something much longer term for us all, along with countless thousands of others I have been discovering the world of zoom. Yesterday Brazil, today Germany and so it goes on daily. At the same time I have been writing, working on writing a book, or a series of booklets, not sure what to do with them yet, but one thought I have is of some form of publishing and then with a small group of doing a zoom chat on a chapter per week. So for all the millions who follow this blog put that at the back of your mind as ‘I would love to do that.’

I am trying to write material that would tackle some of the theological issues in a down to earth simple way, not so that I can gain converts to my incredible movement but to be a resource. I am sure that our goal in life is not to convert others to our viewpoint but to help stimulate people to develop their own convictions. Sadly so much of what we can access is predictable and simply re-enforcing the status quo. I think some simple theological principles might help equip us for wider engagement. Or so go my thoughts.

And before the Scripture quote (one I have been looking at in the context of the writing) how about this for a stupendous quote, regarding being inspired by the natural world:

The deep swirling grandeur of our gorgeous planet drifting through space on a mission to increase compassion and wisdom (Stephen Harding).

Moving on to the Scripture I was meditating on yesterday. In John 10: 47-53 we read of a behind the scenes meeting:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

So much detail from the insider meeting. The corruption of the Jewish hierarchy, their collusion with Rome so that in the symbiotic relationship (you scratch my back and I will scratch yours) there was a recognition how everything could be sustained if they did not rock the boat. Jesus was rocking the boat and everything was being challenged, with a focus on the loss of the Temple. They decide Jesus has to be put to death to save the Temple. Ironically Jesus said ‘destroy this Temple and I will raise it in three days’, and he also said that within 40 years of his death the Temple the hierarchy cared about would be destroyed… wait for it… by the Romans. Irony, or irony?

The area that interested me in the text was that ‘Jesus would die for the Jewish nation (and not only…)’. We have focused our theology on ‘and not only…’ and in a very personal way – for the sins of the world = for my sins. However there is a huge theme in Scripture (or at least in the Pauline writings) of ‘the Jew first, then the Gentile’.

I think so much of our theology has been removed from the historical narrative of Scripture so much so that we have approached the Bible as if it was there as a book to develop systematic theology. Here is my illustration. We have a jigsaw puzzle, the biblical texts being the pieces. We know the finished product, the picture on the box (=my theology). I work my way through the pieces finding the ones that fit the picture, ignoring all along that are pieces in there that don’t fit the picture, they seem to belong to another puzzle. But we are convinced we have the right picture! So we proof-text (choose the bits that fit the picture) and ignore the non-proof texts. But the Bible is not a book of systematic theology it is a narrative. (Before moving on I simply need to state very humbly that I do have the correct picture and all texts irregardless of colour, shape or size fit my picture, but I state this humbly.)

In making a systematic theology we run in to the cross of Jesus and sadly often come down to some crude system that splits the Trinity. Jesus is definitely good, the one we call the Father… maybe some anger issues there? That is often the result of seeing the cross in a vertical way… God and humanity. (BTW I have written yesterday a chapter on the ‘wrath’ of God… appetite whetter there.)

If however we follow the biblical trajectory the cross is not primarily presented vertically but horizontally, it is set in a very exact time frame. If so then it needs to be explored what history is it bringing to an end, and what future is it opening up. No need to start with ‘God is angry’ and wrath can then fit in where I think it does elsewhere in Scripture, so we end up making a shift as the writer in Isaiah 53 did, from ‘we considered him smitten of God, BUT…’

Caiaphas prophesying said his death was for the nation. That is historical, that is horizontal, that is narratival, that is Jew first, then the Gentile. So the cross of Jesus answers an historical issue first. If we don’t start there I think our systematic theology will be squeezing the texts to fit with the courthouse dramas that came from the Reformation era not the narratival story of Jesus coming ‘to save his people from their sins’ (Matt. 1:21).

Speaking of bad moods

Well not really about to write about moodiness and certainly never going to get me to confess to any level of moodiness, but going much higher than that! It is so easy to read of ‘the wrath of God’ and picture a moody out of sorts older person who has just had enough. Grumpy and ready to lash out. Then add to that the picture of the cross and Jesus taking the anger that was coming our way.

We continue to have language such as ‘act of God’ for events that take place that we can’t really find someone to blame. Strong language, but also found to some extent within the pages of Scripture (Old Testament). At least on that there is something of a shift from Old to New. In the Old there is a more primitive view of God (did I write that? Yes and would defend that perspective!) with everything coming from God. We can see a shift within the pages of the Old Testament itself. In Kings God entices David to count the people and then well and truly slaps him down for doing it, whereas in Chronicles ‘Satan’ does the enticing. Amazing how theology can change over a few hundred years! (It could be argued that Satan is invented in the sense of discovered as the revelation of spiritual reality developed. The serpent in the garden = Satan is fundamentally a biblical reading back in to the situation.)

Jesus made comments about the theology of an ‘act of God’ when he referenced the tower that fell causing death.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13: 1-5).

Basically it was one of those things (an accident, or through human error in construction) but it was not judgement. And beyond that he calls for a repentance – probably in this setting calling Jews to follow a way of peace and the ways of God otherwise the future will be one of perishing at the hands of the Romans. (Probably to be read that way rather than ‘eternal perishing’ in this context.)

The current coronavirus is one of those things. Dis-ease is in the world and Scripture clearly puts that at our feet. The falls of creation flow from the fall of humanity.

I am just reading a book that has numerous wonderful insights in it. Two days ago I read a comment on John the Baptist, quoting John’s Gospel that the Baptist ‘was not the Light’. The greatest born of woman, one coming in the spirit and power of Elijah was not the Light. He stood within the Old Covenant era, having opened the door to the new. But where he stood meant he could point toward the Light, but not be the Light. Only Jesus is the Light, that enlightens everyone. Gladly we cannot read the Old Testament unless we read it through the New. God’s revelation is not essentially propositional truth (such ‘truth’ will approximate or point toward the Truth). God’s revelation is incarnational, and John nor any writer was the Light.

So back to the bad mood situation.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness (Rom. 1: 18).

Wrath is clearly referenced – but not wrath against people. Wrath against sin, wickedness. My reading today took me to Isaiah 53, I read again these familiar words:

We considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities (Is. 53:4,5).

We had one viewpoint… probably because ‘we’ saw God primarily as a punisher, but – and there is a wonderful ‘but’ something was taking place that is hard to theologise without distorting who God is, it was ‘for’ us.

‘Sin in the hands of an angry God’ would make a good title for a sermon. God is heaven-bent on destroying all that is destructive, and we need to understand this. Otherwise we can live in fear, from legalism, or conversely be over-familiar with someone we don’t even know.

Yes there are some real hard Scriptures and themes. Maybe we don’t get it right, but we certainly cannot transfer our understanding of (fallen) human emotions on to God.

In the valley

I have always veered on the side of ‘rebuke everything, don’t accept it, give it no room and be positive’. Jude (daughter) mocks me saying that as kids they were simply never allowed to be sick! I am glad for being that stubborn and equally glad that over the years literally many hundreds have found healing. One of the most unusual healings was a woman who kept looking at her hands. I was not sure what was causing her the amazement, then I found out that she was staring in amazement as she had for the first time finger prints. A remarkable sign, going beyond something physical – a restoration of identity.

As a convinced charismatic I am glad to push for healing and the intervention of heaven. There are many reasons for that – the Scriptures give an expectation for this; Paul – if his thorn in the flesh was some kind of physical impairment – pushed for intervention and a reversal UNTIL he heard God speak into the situation. That voice was so real he does not use a simple past tense but one that indicates what he heard is still audible when he wrote years later. He did not need to push forward to hear God say ‘pray for a reversal’. He went for the positive and only a word from heaven could cause him to let go of that. When there was a non-answer (twice) he pushed again. It was not ‘non-healing’ that stopped him praying, but a word from God. All the above helps me be ready to press for the intervention and not be put off when something does not shift as I wish.

However… and the however is not to cancel out the previous perspective but to add to it. In so pushing for the breakthrough we can miss out on the journey. God will be to us something during the process when there is no answer (as we wish) that he will not be when the answer (as we wish) comes. Here is the tension, if we so focus on the outcome we can miss out.

When we are through the situation God is our deliverer and thankfully there is a testimony. But when we are in it, we find a God who shows up in the midst of our inadequacy, who does not show up with the victorious ones, but alongside the conflicted, and sometimes despairing ones. We all handle those times of frustration differently. I know of those who will resort to sounding off with a good (or bad?) handful of expletives thrown in. For those people, they can discover a God who comes alongside – and this is not a theological perspective – and is happy not simply to listen to us but to swear alongside us too! The God we find in Jesus is REAL, and ‘moved into our neighbourhood’.

There is a testimony that we love to hear – the ‘God healed me, set me free’ kind of testimony. There is also the testimony that goes along the lines of ‘I am not through this, I am despairing, I am so frustrated, I don’t always feel good about myself… but I can tell you about an intimacy with the God who gets as frustrated as I do.’ A kind of paraphrase of Heb. 11, or a reflection of Psalm 23:

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

God present in the valley not simply showing up when we are out of it. To be out is wonderful, but to find God in is permanent and humbling. One might just leave us knowing the acts of God, the other goes so much deeper.

Luke 21 – the pestilence

Perhaps I should not have been surprised but I saw a number of articles on the web tying together Jesus’ words in Luke 21: 11 concerning pestilence and the coronavirus. But NO!!!

It would be such a stretch to get to the idea that Jesus was prophesying the virus and thus indicating that we are in the ‘end times’. I even saw one post that said these they had expected these events to be in the first 31/2 years of the 7 year period of tribulation, but were happening now. WOW… (Where do these people get the time from to think all of that… read a little, and only a little history to see where these ideas come from.)

Before having a quick look at Luke 21 here is what I consider is the framework we have to be looking at. The Jewish ‘one-horizon’ view shifts to multiple horizons in the New Testament. The Jewish one horizon view was simply that God will through the Messiah intervene, subduing all his (and therefore Israel’s enemies) causing the great reversal to take place. (Some views had two Messiahs, others saw the intervention without a Messiah – the ‘Jewish’ view is really the Jewish views.)

There were inevitable unforeseen events by those who shared that view. We see that reflected in the road to Emmaus discourse. ‘Did you not understand that first the Son of Man must suffer…?’ being Jesus rhetorical question to the married couple. Fresh horizons had appeared and others were yet to appear. The one horizon was proving inaccurate, multiple horizons needed to be seen.

We might separate out the immediate horizons of the Cross, Burial, Resurrection and Pentecost or we can put them together. Together they effectively make the first horizon. Jesus inaugurated a new day post-his forty days in the wilderness, opening up his earthly ministry, and post-cross another 40 day period of transition to the post-Pentecost ministry of the body of Christ. So the first unseen horizon was that of Easter / Pentecost. Not surprising as a common Jewish view was that when the great reversal took place it would be marked by the resurrection of the dead and an outpouring of the Spirit.

(A sidenote the 40 day periods and the 40 year period from Jesus predictions in Luke 21 to the fall of Jerusalem are tied to the Exodus period to the entry to the land. Jesus beginning his 40 days with his baptism, his death being an ‘exodus’ and all paving the way for the entry to the land / lands.)

The second horizon was that of the fall of Jerusalem within a generation, and Jesus clearly prophesied that. (I also consider that Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 is referring to this event.) Such a dramatic and traumatic end of an era. The religious centre, the hope for the nations destroyed, and it marks a major cutting off between Jewish believers in Jesus and Jewish non-believers in Jesus. The followers of Christ abandoned Jerusalem understanding that was exactly what Jesus instructed them to do, leaving behind many residents to the brutal reprisals of Rome, which included many punished with crucifixion.

The third horizon I consider lies future. The parousia of Jesus, the time of the resurrection, final judgement and such events. For me only the book of Revelation is written post-the Fall of Jerusalem (AD70), and it is not obsessed with prophesying events to come but with unveiling the reality of our warfare, of what we are asking to change every time we pray ‘let your kingdom (basileia) come’. The book and that ongoing disciples’ prayer is set in the context of the Empire (basileia) of Rome.

So to Jesus and his words in Luke 21. The immediate context is of the Temple that Jesus said would be utterly destroyed resulting in the question of ‘when will these things take place?’ (21:7). The time frame was future for them, but past for us. Into that time frame – the next 40 years from the time of speaking – Jesus spoke of great traumas and of famines and pestilences. The decades that followed culminating in the brutal assault of Jerusalem (66-70AD) with mass crucifixions, cannibalism inside the city, the appearance of false Messiahs etc., were horrendous. Horrendous within Israel and with a sharp focus on Jerusalem but also deeply traumatic in the wider Imperial world. 68AD saw the year of the four emperors, as civil war broke out, and there seems to be some allusion to that in Revelation with the mortal wound to the head of the beast, but the wonder from the people that the beast survived. (Babylon’s cry, and the tell-tell sign that any institution is embracing Babylon’s values, are that ‘we will survive’ and at any cost, that ‘we will always have children’ but in the process eats the life of the children.)

In Luke 21 Jesus speaks to ‘you‘, speaks of being brought before synagogues, and decisively about Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, and that they will need to flee from the city and from Judea, and that the wrath will come on ‘these people’. Everything is geo-, ethnic- and temporal related. Josephus and other contemporary writers bear out the horrendous nature of those years.

In that context the sign will be visible that the Son of Man will come in the clouds – words spoken by Jesus already to the High Priest that he would personally see that event. This is not some far off future reference, but takes up the Daniel 7 imagery of one like a son of Man coming to the ancient of Days. The kingdom of God is in his hands. The hope for the future is not in a holy place, nor a holy land but in the hands of Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified one, is the resurrected vindicated One. To believe that is the continual challenge for us at all times as we now live in the period of time between the second and third horizon, and for us, as for every post-AD70 generation the Revelation 4, 5 challenge remain central, where Jesus came to the One seated on the throne as only the Lamb of God was able to open the seals (human destiny).

So I guess it is no surprise given the above approach that I do not see any reference to the coronavirus in Scripture. Scripture is ever so helpful in not giving us the future, but in giving us a future hope that cannot be shaken.

Is the coronavirus a sign of the end times? For sure. It is a sign that we have been in the end times ever since Jesus poured out from on high the Spirit, that this whole world is groaning waiting for liberation from its bondage to decay. So it is a sign in a very general sense, but not in a specific way. God might well speak through the current events, and I am sure he is. What is he saying? Our God is always speaking, we might hear different things but they must all focus on his love for us and for the world, that he has not abandoned us… and therefore the call is there to love and not to abandon others. Let your kingdom come.

Sacred space – where?

The ‘Holy Place’, the ‘Holy Land’. Well known phrases but ones that should not go unchallenged. There is an interesting early church servant called Stephen. Acts 6 says of him:

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 

His wisdom did not go down to well with Jews of Cyrene, Alexandria, and those from the provinces of Cilicia and Asia (Acts 6:9) who arranged for false accusations to be made. I consider that one of the marks of jealousy (root: fear of losing one’s place) is to spread rumours and allow half-truths to remain unchallenged. The end result was that he was brought before the Sanhedrin.

His speech is most interesting. Faced with the accusation that he was claiming that Jesus would destroy the Temple and change the customs of Moses, he embarks on a history lesson. A story well recited by all present, but leading somewhere. Let me pull a few things out, before we get to the point being driven home that he was addressing a

stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!

Throughout the speech there are geographical references, and they are references to where God was at work. We have

  • God appeared to Abraham while he was in Mesopotamia (7:2)
  • Later, though with the promise of the land, Abraham did not have even enough ground to put his foot on (7:5).
  • God was with Joseph in Egypt (7:9), paving the way for the people to live in Egypt.
  • Bodies were brought back to be buried (7:16), but to Shechem now located in the despised territory of the Samaritans!
  • Along comes Moses educated in all the wisdom of Egypt (7:22).
  • It was in Midian in the desert near Mount Sinai (7:30) that the burning bush took place. A place described by God as holy, yet an unknown place that could not be revisited as a shrine. A mobile location.
  • Moses led them out and “in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert” (7:36) miraculous wonders were performed.

Startling references to where God was at work – outside Israel, outside the so-called holy land. Very reminiscent of Jesus’ reflections in his home town (Lk. 4) of where (outside Israel) and to whom (non-Jews) God was active! This backdrop sets Stephen up to push the point home. He goes for the Temple.

The Most High does not live in houses made by human hands (7:48).

By contrast the Tabernacle cut across ancient and modern views of sacred space. Shrines and temples are almost invariably built around a theophany, a space considered sacred, the Tabernacle though was mobile. The sacredness had to do with the “pattern he [Moses] had seen” (7.44) and the teaching value that resulted, not with its location.

The end result was two-fold: first the vision Stephen had of the Son of Man at the right of God, surely a clear reference to the Son of Man who came to the Ancient of Days on the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7; hence I do not read that as a reference to the ‘second coming’ of Jesus, and certainly not when Jesus spoke of the sign of the reality being visible to that generation.). The Son of Man (Jesus) was given the authority and the kingdom. Holy space is where there is an opening for Jesus, not a building designated as a sanctuary. The sanctuaries of God are to be planted throughout the earth.

The second ramification of Stephen’s speech was that Stephen was dragged out of the city and stoned.

The ongoing ramification? Cloaks were laid at the approving feet of Paul. But later the mantle of Stephen would rest on him. The persecutor of the ‘Stephens’ became the one who no longer built his security around his ethnic nor geographical identity, and became as radical as Stephen was. And for us? Defend sacred space or become vehicles that open up sacred space.

The Peter response

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that it is possible to fall into the ‘Peter trap’ once we have revelation. So maybe just a quick expansion on this. From Matthew 16 we get this inter-change:

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day and be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!

Reasonably powerful!! We have some:

  • startling revelation
  • followed by Jesus explaining the path ahead
  • provoking Peter to ‘correct’ Jesus’ prediction
  • resulting in an (almost) name change for Peter!

The revelation was accurate, and Jesus proclaimed that it was not based on some human element but that it had come from heaven. Top marks Peter! Revelation comes from the future.

Jesus who is living, not to preserve his life, but to follow the path that is laid out explains where this will lead, but Peter takes exception to this explanation. I consider that on the basis of his revelation he knows he needs to correct Jesus. I don’t this was because of arrogance but because the revelation has brought to Peter an expectation. Jesus is the Messiah (revelation from the future) meets his understanding, his expectation that is shaped by his journey to date. Peter is seeking to keep Jesus on track! Expectation meets revelation and is informed by the journey thus far.

The general expectation was that the Messiah would deliver a people from oppression. The expectation was not of the death of the Messiah but of the overcoming of all opposition by the Messiah. (This is why I do not consider that Judas understood the betrayal as betrayal, but as having the two-fold benefit of personal financial reward and enabling the mission of Jesus to be truly successful.)

I am of the opinion that there is almost certainly a lot of prophetic revelation that proclaims a wonderful future and of the triumph of the Gospel, but that it is inevitably met by an expectation that will not be fulfilled. The path is always ‘first to suffer then glory’ as there are three words tied together in Scripture: suffer – time – glory.

If our expectation is the cross as symbol by which we conquer we will be shocked and disappointed by the path ahead.

We can easily fall, and normally do fall, into the Peter trap. That is the one where we verbalise it all, and it seems we (like Peter) look pretty stupid as the future unfolds. But at least in verbalising it we can be corrected. If we push it further and allow our own personal weakness to come strongly into the mix we might go beyond the Peter syndrome to the Judas one. Best avoided!

Demonic power accessing the cross

So the answer was ‘yes’!

Of that I am convinced, just not quite sure how to get there. However, I think that if we use a symbol such as a flag there might be power in what it is calling us to, but if we use the (false) cross there is another added dimension.

The demonic realm love to invade human space as that is the connecting point of heaven and earth. Humanity, made in the image of God is very key to the demonic strategy. Once that space is invaded a process of dehumanising can take place, so that as that increases in scope the connection between heaven and earth decreases. This is why I see sin primarily not as ‘law-breaking’ and subsequent guilt but as falling from the glory of being human.

The demonic then want to invade and pervert every access point between heaven and earth, and it is the cross that in time makes that access point eternal. It is no surprise then that the cross is a focal point for such an invasion, not the cross that becomes the pathway to life, but the cross that oppresses all enemies, the cross as symbol through which we conquer by power.

In all situations to change the meaning of something is key in nullifying the original meaning. This happens all the time organisationally. When a new challenging message comes, the institution seeks first to understand the new language, then the nature of institutional power is that the language gets converted to mean something different to what was the initial intended meaning.

I consider something similar happens with the change of meaning in the cross. (Maybe we could also consider the shift in Israel from a call to the nations as servant, to being superior to the nations demonising them in the process, but in reality just opening themselves up to the demonic!) By changing the meaning probably what takes places is an emptying of the symbol of the cross of its transforming power. It is not then that by pulling on the symbol of the cross that God is pulled in to serve evil, but by perverting the symbol of the cross, there is space for the advance of evil at a frightening level. In the same way that the power of sin (singular) dehumanises, so the perversion of the cross de-crosses the true cross.

Redemption re-humanises. But to do so there has to be a repentance. Maybe we too can re-cross the cross, but through the path of repentance. Confessing the wrong allegiance to power might be a start.

I often follow the Catholic (and early church) practice of crossing myself, but normally only when passing our local church of San Lorenzo. It is a reminder that Jesus asked that I carry the cross. I am happy to do so outside the building dedicated to the one who on August 10, 258 was burnt at the stake in Rome by command of the emperor. He seemed to be committed to the implications of picking up the cross and following Jesus.

There are two crosses. The false one is here to pervert and thus seriously remove the reality of the true cross being the bridge between heaven and earth. Reduce but can never obliterate. If we can recover the true cross, be marked by it, the ugliness of oppressive power will be revealed, the tie between religion and politics will be broken, so that the followers of Jesus can help hold space where a politics (simply meaning the shaping of society) of love can grow. There is a new world we are called to see as a result of the cross of Jesus, and as embrace the cross a new world that is to become ever increasingly visible.

The cross – accessing power

Religion and political power. Now there is a combination that is lethal. Jesus as a prophet went to Jerusalem to die, stating that no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem. Jerusalem should have been a (fallen) symbol of a location for the nations, but we read that the religious verdict from the centre was that it was better he died or the supra-national power of Rome would come and take away their religious privileges.

Religious privilege! How we love that, hence the party that espouses family values, can pull our vote even if on other issues such as a generous immigration policy they are vehemently opposed to. We are in dangerous times, not dangerous primarily because of terrorism, nor the coronavirus, but over the compromise of our faith. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote at one point:

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.

Policies that were in line with God!

I do consider that we are at a very dangerous time of history. I am deeply grateful for the prophetic prayer that has opened space, but we can SOOOO easily fall into the Peter trap. We flow from revelation to rebuking Jesus for the path ahead that he saw. There will be no delivery into the hands of our enemies (the cross) but they will be delivered into our hands (the false cross).

Just as Jesus went to Jerusalem to end the journey of the prophets to that place of death, so Paul ends in Rome. No record of his death there, as it is not about his death, but about our death. Jesus goes to Jerusalem to break the alignment of politics and religion, so leaving Paul pronouncing the Gospel in Rome turning everything on its head.

Many are now beginning to use the cross – even in the former stronghold of atheism, Putin is pulling on religion and the cross. So to the question…

Is there a (demonic) power released when the (false) cross is pulled on.

And to the answer: YES.

End of post!

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