Living Out of Context

 

A recent Twitter conversation offers some insight into the thinking of many.

Background: a presidential candidate presents himself as Christian and gay. A Twitter post highlighting this candidate was replied to by a well-known religious figure (XYZ). The reply stated unequivocally that you cannot be Christian and gay. (I am purposely leaving out the names (and politics) involved because there is a greater issue going on here. Politics adds another level of misanthropy to an already contentious and serious issue lurking beneath.)

In a reply to XYZ’s censuring Twitter post, a gay man (rainbow flag tagged) replied:

 “Jesus NEVER SAID ONE WORD about being gay He did however warn us about false prophets – like XYZ.”

After reading many similar replies over the past two years the selective blind-men and the elephant thinking behind such responses goes something like this: Jesus the Progressive revolutionary showed up one day to bring about change we can believe in. God’s initial project – keeping the Law – was too off-putting and not inclusive. Besides, there were no more animal sacrifices the Law required. Jesus deemed the project a failure. And so, he rejected that plan and began a new one of love, grace and mercy, of inclusion and diversity. To make his point Jesus had to kick some butt, the butt of those who judge and of hypocrites (since man is the measure of all things and feelings are truth). And because of the new radical program imparted by Jesus, Biblical accounts like the account of Sodom and Gomorrah therefore must be revised to fit the new narrative: God’s fire and brimstone judgement was not brought on by the attempted homosexual rape of Lot’s guests but due to people not being welcoming and inclusive. Does this sound familiar?

As I have witnessed time and again, the standard replies from gays and social justice warriors (SJWs) on Twitter (as evidenced above) is that Jesus, as Condemner, did not mention homosexuality and therefore gave it a pass. This way of thinking, of course, is not inclusive (except in revisionist form) of all that happened before Jesus showed up, nor of the whole of Scripture and its narrative of the Enduring Context. These gays and SJWs live out of context.

Though the gospel accounts record Jesus saying that he did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but came to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17), it seems that many today think that Jesus did abolish the Law and the Prophets in effect. They understand the gospels as Jesus freeing people from the letter of the Law and offering a more human (read liberal) way of living apart from the Law. They posit a contrast between the (negative) Jews who sought to please God by keeping the Law and the (positive) Jesus who they believe taught that you can only please God by having faith and love. The law-following Jews, stereotyped, are seen as rigid and obsessed with the Law the many deem antiquated. Jesus is seen as modern, flexible and love obsessed. Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees is brought up as the example of this contrast.

The Pharisees were devout men who sought to keep the letter of the law. Jesus did not upbraid them for doing so. Rather, he challenged their keeping the spirit of the Law, their intentionality. And, it would be wrong to superimpose the understanding of the Law held by the Pharisees onto all Judaism at the time of Jesus. The Pharisees were among several religious groups at that time. Each held their own interpretation of the Law. It would be equally wrong to interpret Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees as his rejection of the Law and his replacing it with love.

When the Pharisees test Jesus “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus summarizes all of the commandments with words from the book of the law, the Torah’s Deuteronomy (6:5): Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. And, from Leviticus (19:18): ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

The gospel writer Matthew, whose account was intended for a Jewish audience, recorded Jesus’ the above encounter with the scribes (Matt. 22:34-40). His record of the Sermon on the mount is all about Jesus infusing the Law and Prophets with its intended meaning: to create a people who would represent the true humanity to the world.

When Jesus says, “You’ve heard that it was said…” Jesus is not contradicting the Torah. Jesus was providing a radical interpretation of its meaning and effect – to produce righteousness and life in his kingdom on earth. Jesus ends his sermon with “Be perfect, therefore, as your father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

Like Matthew, the Apostle Paul, a scholar of the law, was keen to present the gospel within the context and continuity of the law and the prophets. He strove to make it clear what the law was intended for and not intended for. Early on Paul was adamant to write that the law was not what declared us righteous or gave us life or the promises of God (Rom. 4:13). He wrote to the church in Galatia in this regard and to admonish them (and Peter’s recent behavior) regarding the Law’s matter of circumcision, Gentile believers and being in the Messiah. He states that his law-keeping heritage is not what produces what is freely offered by the One Who is Faithful to the Law and its promises:

“We are Jews by birth, not “Gentile sinners”. But we know that a person is not declared “righteous” by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.” (Gal. 3:15)

Later in the same passage, he writes of the law’s purpose:

Before this faithfulness arrived, we were kept under guard by the law, in close confinement until the coming faithfulness should be revealed. Thus the law was like a babysitter for us, looking after us until the coming of the Messiah, so that we might be given covenant membership on the basis of faithfulness. (Ga. 3: 23-24)

Earlier, Paul writes of the law, the babysitter, keeping him in line with God’s intention:

Let me explain it like this. Through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with the Messiah. I am, however, alive – but it isn’t me any longer; it’s the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live by the faithfulness of God. (Gal. 3: 19-20)

And…

Let me put it like this. As long as the heir is a child, he is no different than a slave –even if, in fact, he is master of everything! He is kept under guardians and stewards until the time set by his father.

When we were children (babysat children), we were kept in “slavery” under the “elements of the world.” But when the fulness of time arrived, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that he might redeem those under the law, so that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Gal. 4: 1-5).

Pauls’ letter to the church at Rome is an explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ by means of its coherence with and continuity of the Old Testament. Paul writes, as above, that the Law was given to God’s people to shepherd them until an Israelite would one day come and completely obey the perfect law of the Lord (Rom. 5:18). Out of God’s righteousness, his covenant faithfulness, came Jesus, the Messiah, who obeyed his Father perfectly. Pauls’ letter to the church in Rome goes into great detail about the righteousness of God – his faithfulness to the covenants he made, as recorded in the Torah. God’s law would be fulfilled by God’s covenant. The reason God made a covenant with Abraham was to undo the sin of Adam and its effects, as revealed by the law. The law babysat those who received the covenant, keeping them in line with God’s promises until the Faithful One appeared and rescued the world.

 

Returning to the opening conversation, it is important to note that Jesus came to his people Israel. He spoke in the context of what they knew: the law and prophets. He did not speak to pagan issues such as idol worship and homosexuality. The law forbade that behavior. The Jews in Jesus day were well aware of this. Jesus commissioned Paul as “apostle of the gentiles” (Rom. 11:13). Paul did speak to those issues. Maybe that’s why many today reject Paul’s writings and choose an ends-justifying-the-means lawlessness.

In summary, if one hangs their hat on a just few chosen words of Jesus that justifies their worldview, then God’s worldview[i] as recorded in the Law and the Prophets and continued in the New Testament is meaningless to them. They are living out of context, just like the prodigal son.

The Prodigal Son 1888 John Macallan Swan 1847-1910

 

I am reminded of what Grace said at the end of the goings on in C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength:

 

Those who call for Nonsense will find that it comes.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[i] We read in Genesis that God created heaven and earth. It was to be a His temple. Images of God – humans – were placed in the temple. Humans were to tend to it. Humans failed. The garden, the temple, became despoiled by sin. The law would not only act as Israel’s guardian but also the guardian of creation. If humans mess up, the creation is hurt.
Abraham was chosen to undo the sin of Adam. To make this happen, God promised him descendants as many as the stars and a tract of land. His descendants would be the caretakers of that smaller garden. Israel failed as the true humanity. They could not keep the law. They went into exile.
A Savior came to rescue the world. The kingdom of God on earth was initiated. The church was founded with the giving of the Holy Spirit into the likes of Peter, fallible humans. The church was created to reveal the true humanity to the world. The image of God would be restored in humans. Humanity and creation are to be redeemed as the church awaits the appearing of the Lord and final redemption.
God dwells with man in the New Heaven and New Earth. The law of the land: justice, righteousness and peace. There will be no, “Jesus NEVER SAID ONE WORD about …” It will be UNDERSTOOD

 

 

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