Jesus’ freedom proclamation (Juneteenth in the United States)

When [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:16-19

Jesus’ ministry, the good news he brought was one of emancipation, proclamation of freedom to all who are captives. Too often we’ve just seen this in terms of freedom from the  penalty of sin, and hopefully we’ve seen it as freedom from sin’s power, as well. Even though Jesus was not about rescuing Israel from Roman occupation as Israel expected from the Messiah to come, he was about ushering in a kingdom which makes such entities as Rome essentially bystanders, the kingdom of God on the scene, someday to rule completely, but now in a subversive reign. God’s way of change now isn’t easy. It’s Jesus-like, which means cross-shaped. But it brings in the needed, lasting change. But do churches fully appreciate all that means?

Juneteenth is a new national holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when slavery in the United States officially ended. Unfortunately not all the slaves were set free that day, and we know the ugly aftermath which followed. Jesus and the good news in him includes freedom for all peoples to love and worship God, and to live as neighbors to love and be loved. It is not complicated, even though we often make it so. At the same time the web of deceit in refusing to follow through in the simplicity and power of what such freedom means to some extent sadly envelopes so many of us. We fail to see clearly, and therefore we don’t appreciate what others go through even to this day.

May the Lord help us, and lead us to see how we white folks can help people of color to live as equals among us, most importantly how people of color can help us in this. Beginning in the church, even through the church and God’s reign there. In and through Jesus.

no exceptions to God’s rule

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Ephesians 6:10-11

I don’t ordinarily like to string Scripture passages together, but I think these passage can help us understand something of the devil’s tactics against us and how we struggle to think straight when it comes to God’s rule not only in general, but in our lives. There are no exceptions to God’s rule.

By rule I mean both God’s reign and the rule God lays down for that reign. For me, like I’ve said in posts before, I probably have struggled with anxiety and worry more than anything else. Although I’ve managed that better over the last year or more, I still long for more of a breakthrough in overcoming it.

God’s rule for us his children is that in whatever trial we’re in, we’re to consider it nothing but joy, and that we’re not to worry about anything, but instead we’re to pray with supplication- humble request, along with thanksgiving, we’re to make our requests known to God. With the promise that when we do that God’s peace which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

What we’re prone to do is make exceptions to God’s rule. The devil is in the details of that, just like in the story where the serpent challenges God’s word in the garden (Genesis 3). The same holds true for us today. The enemy and/or our own overactive mind will suggest to us that because we had at least some blame for such and such or whatever, that somehow, that no longer applies to God’s rule. This is when we need to discipline our minds and hearts to insist on keeping to what Scripture plainly says. Yes, in certain passages directly pertinent, as well as considering Scripture as a whole. We have a grace-filled, loving God who watches over us and not only can but will take care of it, will take care of everything if we just trust God.

We have to acclimate ourselves to the truth that there’s no exceptions to God’s rule. The enemy will be whispering, yelling, then again whispering in our ear that indeed there are some things which don’t apply. We have to resist the devil with the promise that he will flee from us (James 4:7).

There are no exceptions to God’s rule. We must hold on to that. God will help us. In and through Jesus.

at the heart of the gospel

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1

It’s a little less than six months until Advent, but there’s never an inappropriate time to reflect on its beauty and meaning in the coming of the Messiah. Jesus comes as King, but in a way unlike that of the rulers and authorities of earth. He came and will come, and now comes by the Spirit through the gospel, and he comes to reign. In that reign is most certainly salvation, along with judgment, and from that, justice.

Israel is at the heart of this promise, receiving mercy from God ultimately to extend mercy to others. And Jesus himself is the fulfillment of what God promised to Israel and through Israel to the world.

And this gospel involves a shaking up which in part is the dealing with sin in each individual, including the high and mighty. This kingdom is for the humble, the poor, and the oppressed. The rich must beware, because unless their pockets are open in generosity, they will end up empty.

Mary’s Song is a shorthand for much of what we read in the Bible. The gospel is political, but not like the politics of this world. But don’t be mistaken, it does deal with the politics of this world ultimately, when Jesus returns. And somehow by Christ even now through the church impacts the rulers and authorities, both physical and spiritual.

A missing note I believe all too often in our understanding of the gospel.

For two outstanding reads on this, see Scot McKnight’s, The Real Mary, and The King Jesus Gospel.

trying to make sense of it all

When it comes right down to it, often life both in the short-haul, and frankly in the long-haul has some head scratchers. It doesn’t take long, or much effort to observe that. We’re left with gaping holes, and no explanation for some things. In fact life itself can seem quite counterintuitive to our sense of how it should be. Maybe like in the Job story where Job himself is never told the full scoop, and in the end to simply trust a God too awesome for him to understand.

We like to read novels, or watch films with many unpredictable twists and turns, and with enigmas that leave us wondering, and turning the pages. Life is simply not like the nice, and even to some extent good Hallmark films. We’re sometimes, maybe even often left wondering.

Scripture in a true sense is story, yes true story, but story. Humankind is made as the crown of creation, and yet is not true to their Creator, and therefore the brokenness that follows. God calls Israel to a mission to redeem and restore humanity, essentially to bring in God’s reign to an earth which wants nothing of it. Jesus is the fulfillment of that calling, which today is known and witnessed to in the church.

We all have a story to tell. It may be quite broken and disheveled, but it has its harmony and beauty as well. Somehow in and through Jesus, our story is taken into God’s story. To wonder about that, we need to look no further than the pages of scripture. Somehow something good will come out of the trouble we face in this life.

For me, having lived as long as I have (now over sixty), and continuing to see what I see, I don’t worry much about trying to make sense of everything, or even anything. I try to stay focused as much as possible on the big story, God’s story in Jesus. I want God to deal with all the scattered, broken, or lost pieces of life, according to his will. And go on.

So the story I want to focus on, and tell people about is God’s story in Jesus. And yet sharing my own story, and how it fits into that larger story. By faith we tell others God’s story, and the good news in King Jesus which is at the heart of that. And we wait to tell our own story, if and when that seems appropriate. As a witness to the larger story, to God’s faithfulness and love in his redemptive reign in Jesus.

John Oswalt on the centrality of God’s good rule in the gospel

What does God’s rule entail? It entails a condition where all things are in their proper relation to each other, with nothing left hanging, incomplete, or unfulfilled (peacesalom); it entails a condition where creation purposes are realized (goodtob; cf. Gen. 1:4, 10, etc.); it entails a condition of freedom from every bondage, but particularly the bondage resultant from sin (salvationyesua). Where God reigns, these follow. Of course, this is exactly congruent with what the Christian faith considers its good news (euangelion) to be. This is the content that Christ instructed his disciples to preach from village to village (Matt. 10:1-7): that which Isa. 52:7-10 had spoken of was now present and at hand. Thus Paul’s quotation of the opening words of the verse in Rom. 10:15 is precisely in keeping with the sense of the verse. Christianity understood itself to be about what Isaiah was about, declaring the good news of the universal rule of God in the world with concomitant peace, good, and salvation.

John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 368. (Christopher Wright called my attention to this, with the same quote in his book, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, 182.