Send Them Away?
All Along the Watchtower
All Along the Western Front
Not For Itching Ears
Search Our Site
Connecting Dots… to God
Escape to Reality
Stumbling Into Grace
Following, is a tribute (and a stolen one I might add) to an amazing child of the King of kings. It is a precious privilege to call this tribute’d “friend.” These words were written, I will conjure by a near family member, but must make known, for everyone who knows Gayle, it is reemphasized ten-fold.
Gayle’s French is not the best in the world. And she would be the first to admit this. Her conjugations are often confused, her tenses frequently a bit off, and many times she can’t quite find the right word to say exactly what she wants to say.
Language learning does not come easy for Gayle. While life in rural Africa can at times be very challenging, she often says that the most difficult year of her life was spent in Canada at language school. After language school Africa is a piece of cake! Since Gayle’s primary ministry is to care for her family and keep all of us well, healthy, and happy, she does not get as many opportunities to put her language into practice.
And having difficulty with the language can be discouraging. Outside of our home, all of our conversations are in French or Diola with a smattering of Wolof. But as the ever courageous Gayle likes to say, “I give ’em what I got!” as she seeks to communicate with those around us.
But there is a language that Gayle speaks fluently. A language that she speaks with a perfect accent. And this language has a way of leaving a lasting impression within the heart that is even more profound than even the best French or Diola.
I see her speak it as she cleans off the dirty feet of a barefoot neighborhood child so that she can bandage a wound. I hear it as she sits with our neighbor and holds her baby as they smile and laugh together. The language is spoken without error as she cooks breakfast for and serves those who come to our morning Bible study. I hear perfect conjugations as she cares for her family in a place where life can sometimes be pretty tough. She speaks this language fluently through sweat soaked clothes, dirty feet, a loving smile, and a tender touch.
While my “good” French often clangs like a cymbal, Gayle fluently speaks a language that any heart, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or even language, can understand. She speaks the language of love. And she speaks it with a perfect accent. And when she speaks it, she sounds just like Jesus.
“If I speak with the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1
“Jesus said, ‘A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.'” John 13:34-35
With intent, he bends his heart toward betrayal. The slithering one gleans the vile of his pawn as fangs aim for heel. Almost, not entirely, it brings about an elixir to remedy the emerging pain embracing his crown. He tends from below; a kiss… yesss… an agonizing thrum blurs his sight… intensifies as soldiers grasp his prey.
Unknowing, his house is being plundered.
How dubious it must have been for those first Palm Sunday observers. Some recollected the stories of Alexander in a previous generation on this same road. Busephalus surrounded by shining shields and glistening swords proudly carrying his master king in to the old city. But now?
One from the road via Jericho quizzes the crowd, “Is this one we’ve followed mounting an ass?” “Yes, yes he is,” an answer returns. Zion has yearned for many seasons. She exists with no rightful king. Until now?
The prophet of old had spoken distinctly but even as celebratory shouts of “Hosanna” filled the street being lined with palm branches, a growing number set their face to halt the intrusion. “Make your followers be quiet,” they bid of the man on the donkey. Rocks lining the roadside shudder as if anticipating their opportunity to share in the festivity. They remain dormant as the crowd shouts even louder.
The man and his mount make their way further into the city where soon enough the crowds will gather on his account again. He gazes through compassionate tears. Their joy will turn to anger; their cries to “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!“
At the coaxing from a friend (think firm twist of arm here), what with my growing interest in seeing the significance of leaving the Bible as a single story finding its conclusion in the Christ, I am making my way through N.T. Wright’s “How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels.”
As one would expect, the author spends his earlier pages attempting to convince the reader we have an issue with the way we read the gospel accounts. His point is to show that for most of us, the New Testament could have opened its content immediately following Genesis three, and nothing of our biblical understanding would be swayed one way or the other. His point, here paraphrased, “Each of the four gospel authors pen their accounts as the apex, climax, and conclusion to the entire Old Testament story.”
Picking only one to share here (this book addresses all four), Matthew opens his gospel account with what should get him thrown out of any book writers club today, a genealogy. What’s worse, he closes Jesus’s family tree with a strange revelation of there being three fourteen generational periods combing through Israel’s history, with no explanation why. For the original readers of his story, Matthew had no need to. Me, on the other hand, well, not so much.
According to the author (Wright), it is here (the very first verses of the gospel accounts) that we are left clueless without the old story. Even though the Jews have now spent centuries back in Israel after their exile to Babylon, they have never been able to return to the state of their existence that their fathers enjoyed under David and Solomon. In reality, after returning from Babylon, they have always been under the rule of other nations.
“The great promises of Isaiah and Ezekiel hadn’t yet come true.”
Ezra and Nehemiah cried out, “Here we are, slaves to this day — slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts (Neh. 9:36).” The “fourteen generation clause” is a jubilant proclamation, “Daniel’s Messiah is here!”
When Daniel presented his supplication (Dan. 9), leaning heavily on Jeremiah’s 70 year prophecy, to the Lord, an answer comes to him, “Not seventy years… but seventy weeks of years, or seventy times seven years; 490 years.” Daniel was told that “490 years were decreed for his people and the holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.” To this, NT Wright observes,
“That sounds like a devastatingly depressing answer, and in a way it is. That’s a long time to wait. But the idea of “seventy times seven” has a particular ring to it, more obvious to an ancient Jew than to us today. Every seven days, they had a Sabbath. Every seven years, they had a sabbatical year. And every seven-times-seven years, they had — or at least they were supposed to have had, according to Leviticus — a jubilee. This was when slaves were freed, when land sold off by the family was restored to its original owner, when things got put back as they should be. The jubilee is a fascinating social innovation within the legislation of ancient Israel, a sign that relentless buying and selling of land, goods, and even people won’t be the last word.
But seventy times seven? That sounds like a jubilee of jubilees! So, through four hundred and ninety years — nearly half a millennium — indeed a long time, the point is this: when the time finally arrives, it will be the greatest ‘redemption’ of all. This will be the time of real, utter, and everlasting freedom. That is the hope that sustained the Israelites in the long years of the centuries before the time of Jesus.”
It is the author’s understanding that Matthew “makes this clear beyond cavil, to anyone thinking Jewishly,” that the moment had come with Jesus. “Instead of years, he does it with generations, the generations of Israel’s entire history from Abraham to the present. All the generations to that point were fourteen times three, that is, six sevens — with Jesus we get the seventh seven. He is the jubilee in person. He is the one who will rescue Israel from its long-continued nightmare.”
“He,” says the angel to Joseph, “is the one who will save his people from their sins (1:21).”
Wright here discusses the term “exile” and exactly what it encompassed for Israel, and how “save his people from their sins (their payment for their sin was their exile)” for them, was heard to mean — to be finally and permanently released from exile; to be truly free from the rule of others (if the Son makes you free; you will be free indeed).
So what is the big deal of returning to reading the Bible through the eyes and ears of those who originally received it? What is the point of telling the story of Jesus as the climax of the story of Israel?
The author of this book insists it is of foundational importance, for as he says, “Understand this point, and you will understand almost everything.”
“In Israel’s scriptures, the reason Israel’s story matters is that the creator of the world has chosen and called Israel to be the people through whom he will redeem the world.”
“What God does for Israel is what God is doing in relation to the whole world. That is what it meant to be Israel, to be the people who, for better and worse, carried the destiny of the world on their shoulders. Grasp that, and you have a pathway into the heart of the New Testament.”